Knotty pine paneling can be easy to strip, if you use the right materials.

How to Remove Varnish From Knotty Pine Paneling

by Mike Matthews

Think of knotty pine paneling as a comfort wood, much as meatloaf and macaroni and cheese qualify as comfort foods. Knotty pine probably peaked in the 1950s, when the light yellow or amber wood -- punctuated by dark red knots -- was protected by a finish of varnish or shellac. Those original finishes may now need to be removed and replaced, but today's stripping technology will make the refinishing process safer and easier than ever before.

Remove any objects from the wall. Place a drop cloth onto the floor adjoining the wall surfaces to protect your flooring from accidental spills.

Open a container of a N-methylpyrrolidone paint and varnish remover.

Apply a thin layer of NMP paste to the entire surface of the paneling, using a disposable paintbrush. Fill any crevices in the paneling.

Leave the paste in place for two hours.

Peel off the old varnish gently without scratching the knotty pine, using a plastic putty knife. Collect the peeled-off residue in a bucket for later disposal.

Items you will need

  • Drop cloth
  • NMP paint and varnish remover
  • Disposable paintbrush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Plastic bucket


  • NMP-based strippers are usually supplied in a paste form that adheres easily to vertical surfaces. While some other types of varnish removers may discolor the knotty pine, NMP strippers will leave the wood unharmed.
  • NMP strippers are often blended with other chemicals in products that are described as eco-friendly. As a result, stripping times may vary. Read the product's instructions for specific details.
  • NMP is a powerful but slow-acting chemical stripper that requires more time than volatile liquid stripping chemicals.
  • The NMP works by dissolving the adhesive bond of the varnish to the wood, which means that you can slip the putty knife under the paste and pull the varnish away from the wood.
  • Some NMP strippers are formulated to change colors when the stripping action is complete.


  • Wear plastic gloves and safety glasses when removing varnish.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Any chemical that is strong enough to strip paint will carry some health risks, although NMP-based paint and varnish removers are less dangerous than traditional strippers that contain volatile solvents.
  • Avoid brightly colored chemical strippers as they may contain dyes or pigments that will discolor the knotty pine.

About the Author

Mike Matthews is editor of Green Building Product News, a national publication that covers sustainable innovations in building and remodeling, and he has spoken at national conferences on green building. He has also served as founding editor of "Paint Dealer" magazine.

Photo Credits

  • NA/ Images