Stripping Furniture

A bed frame with peeling paint.
What You'll Need
2” natural bristle brush (not synthetic)
Drywall knife
Steel wool
Rags or paper towels
3/8” or 5/16” wooden dowel
Mineral spirits or paint thinner
Lacquer thinner
Rubber gloves

Stripping furniture is a multistep process that requires patience and precision. But with a little planning and attention to detail, you can salvage old, worn furniture and make it look new again. Here are some steps to help you along the way.

Step 1 - Select Your Supplies

Your supply list will vary depending on the project, but below is a basic list of supplies.


The stripper you select depends on the project and your personal preferences. A water-based stripper, as the label suggests, is easily washable with water and more environmentally friendly than other options. However, this material does elevate the grain of the wood. This means that it requires a little more elbow work since you must sand the piece completely once you've finished the stripping process.

On the contrary, a solvent-based stripper does not raise the grain of the wood, but this option means that you’ll need to be more vigilant in how you handle the product. Sanding will be kept to a minimum.

You will also find liquid and semi-paste options. The liquid variety strips in a shorter time, but can be messy to work with. Semi-paste adheres with less mess, especially on vertical surfaces, and is effective in removing the old finish from all of the cracks and crevices, but may take longer to work.

Drywall Knife

You will want a 3" flexible blade drywall knife. Dull the edge and round the corners slightly with a file. This will help prevent gouging the wood when you scrape off the old finish.

Steel Wool

Have both XX and 00 grades on hand to help remove what the putty knife doesn't get, as well as to work on carvings and legs.

Rubber Gloves

The kind sold for washing dishes won’t last, so don’t bother. Instead, go for an industrial grade option.

Step 2 - Prep Your Work Space

Select a well-lit and very well-ventilated area for your project. Also, make sure that your work space falls within the recommended temperature range for the stripper to work effectively. Dress in clothing that can be thrown away if necessary. Lay several layers of newspaper throughout the work space to catch drips and grime from your furniture through the stripping process.

Step 3 - Apply the Stripper

Follow the directions on your product. Many people try to rush it. The very talented people who created the stripper know their stuff. They put directions on the can so you'll get good results and use their product again, so take their recommendations to heart. Use your brush to apply a coat of the stripper, ensuring that your application thoroughly covers all of the surfaces including the grooves. Set a timer and be patient at this point. It will save you a lot of work and frustration in the future.

Warning—Never use stripper near an open flame. Always work in a well-ventilated area such as a patio or open garage. Use eye protection and a face mask.

Step 4 - Scrape Off Your Finish

When your required time has elapsed, you should see the old finish beginning to bubble on the surface. Use your flexible drywall knife to remove the old material, one strip at a time. Wipe your tool on old rags or washcloths between each scrape. Deep cracks and crevices can be difficult to get into. A quick cheat here is to cut your dowel into five or six-inch sections and sharpen both ends using a pencil sharpener or sharp blade. This will allow you to scrape the grime out of tight spaces without marring the wood surface. Any leftover residue will affect your final project. Take the time to pay attention to the details so that you're happy with the end result.

Step 5 - Clean Your Surface

The wood stripper will only remove the top layer and will not remove grease, oil, or wax. Wipe your surface with mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean the wood at this point. If you've used a solvent-based stripper, use lacquer thinner as a final wash. It will remove the last traces of stripper and neutralize any left in the cracks and crevices. Make sure your wood is completely dry before sanding.

Wood furniture can make a beautiful statement in your home. But over time, it wears and takes a beating from use. Stripping furniture not only gives you a chance to imprint your own style on the piece, but it brings the furniture back to life!