How to Strip Furniture

DIY Tips

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In the old days, thick varnish or paint covered up a lot of sins, including beautiful clear wood of all kinds.

How to Strip Furniture - DIY Tips

Tastes have changed - now we like wood in all its variety, even if it's a bit dinged and worn. 

Stripping layers and layers of paint or varnish (or both) is routine to some of us, we can see the beauty of what's underneath in our minds eye.

The first coat of stripper starting to work on the old paint

But it's a terrifying process! 

First you have to find the right products, and reading the warnings on the label could really put you off, if you don't have a hand to hold. 

No hand?  That's okay, I'm here to show you how to do it.

The supplies you'll need for stripping old furniture

These are the supplies I use for my furniture refinishing projects;

  • Stripper - yes, it's a chemical and could harm the environment.  I'll help with that.
  • Gloves - get the cheapest examination gloves you can from the drugstore, but also chemical resistant gloves - ask at the hardware store where you buy the stripper.
  • Goggles or safety glasses.
  • Cheap paintbrushes that you can just throw away after.
  • A small bucket or coffee can with water and a damp rag - you'll thank me for this one.
  • Steel wool, various grades, including fine.
  • Newspaper to work on.
  • A glass jar that can be discarded after your work is done.
  • A scraper - there are several kinds that I use, depending on what I'm stripping.  For larger surfaces (a table) use a draw scraper.  For turned legs (a chair) use something smaller, like one inch wide paint scraper.
  • And, your piece of furniture.

Put the gloves and goggles on before you start. 

You'll never be able to get them on when the fun starts (when the stripper goes on). 

Gloves are crucial.  If by chance the stripper splashes up and onto bare skin, that's where the damp rag comes in.  The chemical is neutralized by water.

Don't rely on examination gloves when you work with stripper - they're not thick enough

Open the can of stripper - it usually has a child proof (and adult proof!) cap on it, so it takes some doing. 

Pour some of the stripper into a glass jar (don't use plastic, it will melt) and put the lid back on the container.

Use one of your throwaway brushes to spread it onto your piece, paying special attention to the grooves and any kind of carving.

The paint peeling off with time and more stripper

Then wait.  Add more stripper to areas that seem to be drying out more.  The paint or varnish could bubble or crack, but don't attempt to scrape it yet.

Scrub the paintbrush around to move the stripping compound into new areas. 

After about ten minutes, you can start scraping to see what's underneath (go on, I know you're dying to!)

Add more of the gel, moving it into areas that aren't bubbling or cracking so much.  Work at it, and soon all the paint or finish will be slipping and falling off.

To get into the tiny crannies and grooves, use a bamboo skewer.

It depends on what kind of paint it is, how it appears at this point. 

Keep in mind that lots of time the paint contained lead, which is why you have the newspaper covering everything. Once the main part of the paint is off, go over it again with the gel, using a piece of steel wool this time.  This can take a while to get it down to the wood.

The finished mirror, complete with reflection

Disposal of the waste - fold everything (old paint, examination gloves, used steel wool) up in the newspaper, and put it into the trash or take it to your local paint recycling station. 

The chemical resistant gloves will dry and you can use them again, putting them somewhere dry.  Don't put them in a closed bag as this will make them melt together.  Store the can of stripper with other paint products, avoiding heat and freezing.

Stuff you'll need from Amazon;

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