Some of us have seen our fair share of DIY furniture tutorials and we always notice similar methods being used: Stripping, sanding and waxing. But what the heck are all these? If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were referring to stripping and waxing legs. A Google search on stripping wood furniture might even scare off beginners due to all the safety warnings!
Also, are these techniques even essential?? We tend to follow tutorials without understanding why it is even being done. So, I will be publishing a series of guides on these techniques, starting with a How-To guide on stripping wood furniture. In this comprehensive one-stop guide, I will try to break down the basics of stripping wood furniture for all you revamp-aholic!
Scroll to the end to see the pretty & detailed infographics!
‘Stripping furniture’ is such a funny phrase. Or is it just me? I keep imagining the furniture sexily shimmy-ing out of its varnish. Also, do a push-up each time i mention ‘stripping’ in this guide and you will be fit in no time.
Before you decide to go all-in and strip the heck out of your furniture, you must first check if you even NEED to strip them. It’s a messy and long-winded process, so you got to make sure it’s worth it!
Do you need to strip your furniture?
You should not strip furniture if you want to:
Remove dents and minimal scratches on it
You can remove dents with steam and iron and repair scratches with wood repair markers.
Restore a furniture that has a lot of gouges and cracks that require a lot of wood filler
Wood filler doesn’t stain well and will stick out like a sore thumb against the rest of your furniture. Instead of stripping the furniture, repair it with wood filler and paint it.
Paint the furniture.
If you are planning to paint it, there’s no need to strip. You just need to sand it first before painting.
You should strip your furniture if you want to:
Restore a painted furniture back to its original/natural wood stain.
Restore a superficially scratched or damaged furniture
Lighten the colour of the wood
Remove the finish in a furniture with lots of crevices, nooks and crannies that are not easily sanded off
Can I strip the furniture with a sander instead of a chemical stripper?
Yes, you can if:
The furniture has large, flat surfaces.
You can easily use an orbtital sander for this. But remember, you still would need a chemical stripper for nooks & crannies.
It is only a small area of the furniture piece
Safety measures you MUST take
Wear safety goggles, long sleeves & pants, chemical-resistant gloves and respirator with organic vapor cartridges.
Work in a well-ventilated area. If you have to work indoors, open all the windows and doors and ensure you are not working in a carpeted area.
Avoid methylene chloride–based strippers! Read this article on the dangers of methylene chloride in certain chemical strippers.
Have a bucket of water and rags nearby so that you can wipe off any chemical that got on your skin.
Cover up your work environment thoroughly as it gets SUPER messy.
Which chemical stripper should I get?
Most people would use less-noxious strippers that contain NMP (N-Methylpyrrolidone).
CAUTION: According to the State of Californica, NMP can cause reproductive harm to women, and can also irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. If you must use NMP-containing strippers, please use it with extreme caution and equip yourselves with NMP-resistant gloves & safety goggles/face shield.
I highly recommend these 2 products that are NMP-free and effective in stripping wood furniture:
|Products||Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel||Dumond Chemicals Smart Strip|
|Active Time||30min - 24hrs||3-24hrs|
|Ideal For||Any horizontal surfaces||Any surface; perfect for vertical surfaces|
|Removal Method||Contains wax; use mineral spirits to remove||Water-based; use water to remove|
IMPORTANT: Please take a look at the California Department of Public Health’s guide to choosing paint stripping products for a full list of safety considerations.
A disposable metal container and disposable brush
Some strippers can react with plastic, so always use metal.
Wide putty knife – To scrape the finish off
Plastic scouring pads – To gently remove leftover stripper and residue
Round scrappers – Great for scraping rounded, hard-to-reach areas
Make sure the scrappers and pads are furniture-friendly such as those with rounded corners to prevent damage to the wood. For water-based strippers, avoid using steel wool and opt for plastic pads instead.
How to prep your furniture for stripping?
Remove all hardware and accessories (handles, knobs, hinges) from the furniture.
If it has been covered in the old paint or finish, you can let it soak in a bucket of paint remover while you strip the furniture.
Cover any upholstery with a dropcloth and you can try holding it in place with straight pins.
Cover small areas such as gilded edges with painter’s tape and make sure to press down the edges firmly to prevent any seepage of the chemical.
For sensitive finishes that can be damaged by tape, you can consider using a strip of cloth to cover it and tape it in place.
How to apply the Stripper?
Paint the strippers thickly but use the brush to distribute the remover only. Brushing the solution causes it to dry up faster.
Paint in Zones
Especially for large furnitures as you have to scrape the finish off before the stripper dries
You can only scrape off the finish when the stripper is wet.
Pro Tip: After brushing on the stripper, cover the area with a plastic trash bag, saran wrap, aluminium foil or drop cloth to prevent it from drying too fast.
It’s best to work on a flat surface to prevent any dripping. If possible, turn the furniture as you go along.
Semi-Paste remover for vertical surface
For surfaces that can’t be laid flat, use a semi-paste remover such as Dumond Chemicals Smart Strip!
Add a second coat if the first one dries up before you could scrape it off or there are still residual finish after scraping
Have a disposable, metal can/container nearby to clean off your putty knife after scraping.
Caution: Remember to let the gunk dry completely before disposing it
Strippers like Citristrip takes up to 30 minutes (effective up to 24 hours) to work while Dumond Chemicals Smart Strip takes up to 3 hours (effective up to 24 hours). The treated area should have bubbles or cracks on it.
Remove the foil/wrap/cloth and rub your gloved finger on a small area.
If you can easily rub your finger up to the bare wood, it is ready to be scraped off.
If you cannot easily rub it off till the bare wood, wait for an additional 10 minutes and try again
If you still cannot rub the finish easily off the treated area, you will need to add another coat of remover
For a wash-away remover, rinse off the old one as much as you can. Then apply another coat of the remover and restart the process.
For a non-wash-away remover, scrape away as much of the finish as you can with a wide putty knife and apply another coat of remover after.
Try the finger test again after 30 minutes.
Keep doing this until you’re able to easily reach the bare wood.
How to remove & scrape it all off?
For wash-away remover, use water and steel wool to remove it.
Remember to thoroughly dry the wood after with towel as water can damage the wood. Let it air-dry for a few days before you continue.
For non-wash-away remover, use a scraper and steel wool to remove it.
You can even remove it with denatured alcohol by spreading it with a soft cloth. Dry the wood first before wiping it with mineral spirits this time to prepare for refinishing.
For wax/paraffin-containing remover, scrub it with turpentine/mineral spirits to remove it.
Remember to change the cleaning rag frequently to prevent the wax/paraffin from transferring back to the wood
If you are changing the removers during the stripping process, remove the first chemical COMPLETELY before you apply another one.
For curves and carvings, use medium-fine steel wool to remove the finish and use any cleaning tools listed below for nooks and crannies.
Try to stick to wood or plastic tools for delicate carvings.
For nooks and crannies, use wired brushes and even sewing pins.
You can also insert any piece of string or sanding/hemp rope into these crevices and move it back and forth, like you are polishing a shoe.
Finish tend to build up in these areas, so you would usually need to apply the remover several times to clear it away.
What if I still have leftover finish even after all these steps?
First of all, try to wipe away the residue with a disposable rag.
Then use steel wool to remove these residues. Dip it in paint remover and try to scrub it off.
Still not removed? Try sandpaper but BE CAREFUL not to oversand and leave depressions on it.
Keep in mind that sandpaper will always leave scratches on furniture no matter how fine it is. Sand with the wood grain, not against it.
Use medium-grit sandpaper first to remove the residue, and finish it off with a fine-grit or very-fine-grit sandpaper.
Don’t be afraid to apply a second coat of stripper for these spots. Repeat the process.
For the extremely stubborn spots at hard-to-reach areas and crevices, you can try using a scraper to remove it but do it CAREFULLY. Make sure you don’t accidentally scratch or gouge the wood.
Dispose the chemical strippers & the removed gunk in clean tin/paint can with a lid.
Dry your used rags, coverings, cloths and brushes thoroughly before throwing it.
Chemical strippers and stains are a fire hazard and can combust spontaneously.
And that’s it! I try not to cram too much information but at the same time provide everything you basically need to know about stripping wood furniture! I hope this guide to stripping wood furniture helps you when it comes to your future DIY furniture revamp projects!
I have done a guide and infographic on sanding furniture and choosing the right paint for furniture where i compared latex, chalk, milk, mineral, oil and enamel paint! I am currently working on more guides for furniture waxing and staining! Keep up to date with the latest furniture craft tips and infographics by subscribing to my newsletter below!