How To: Strip Furniture
Don't kick a good piece of wood furniture to the curb just because its finish no longer suits the latest craze. Learn how to strip off that outdated look and reveal a blank canvas that's ready to be remade.
You’ll be surprised at the gems you uncover once you strip the paint and lacquer off your attic, yard sale, or thrift store scores. Good quality furniture, no matter what era it’s from, is worthy of a second chance. You can give a deserving piece a modern makeover with no more than a weekend’s time and a little elbow grease. Everything old becomes new again, eventually—don’t be afraid to help the process along with these instructions for stripping down your furniture finds.
Chemical strippers are harsh, so make sure you wear protective clothing, such as safety glasses, rubber gloves, and a respirator mask, when performing this project. Work outside in a well-ventilated area, and cover your workspace with a tarp or some newspaper to avoid getting any stripper in unwanted places.
Apply a liberal, thick coat of stripper to the piece with a nylon brush or roller, and work in sections to ensure the most consistent results. Let the stripper sit for at least 10 minutes or longer, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. You’ll start to notice the finish bubbling and wrinkling as the stripper softens and dissolves it, which is a surefire sign that the chemicals are hard at work. After the stripper has had time to take action, test to see if it’s ready for the next step by skimming over a small section of the surface with a scraper. If the finish comes up, it’s ready to be removed. If not, allow the stripper to sit a few minutes longer.
Once it’s ready, begin scraping off the unwanted finish, always working with the grain. For flat surfaces, plastic or metal scrapers will do the trick. If you choose metal, however, remember to round the corners in order to avoid gouging or damaging the wood. For crevices and detailed areas, use stiff-bristle brushes or fine steel wool to get the finish off. Soaking the steel wool in the stripper may help with removing overall stubborn spots as well. As you work, deposit what you remove into a metal coffee can to make cleanup safe and easy.
Check the instructions on the stripper’s packaging to determine how best to remove any lingering product from the wood. One common method involves going over the surface with lacquer thinner and an abrasive pad, and finishing by wiping the piece down with a bit more thinner and a clean rag. But always check your specific product, as some may require mineral spirits or simply soap and water for proper removal. When the wood looks dull and dry, the piece is completely stripped. If you notice any particularly shiny spots, repeat the stripping process to get rid of them for good.
Mix wood shavings or kitty litter into the coffee can containing the waste, and leave it open in a safe space to allow the solvents to evaporate. Double-check with your municipality to see if there are special disposal laws in your area that you should be aware of. Wait 48 hours for the piece to completely dry out, and then apply your next DIY decorative touch.