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Workshop Series – Furniture Stripping 101


Welcome to the workshop series brought to you by Mustard Seed Creations and Funky Junky Interiors!

As a continuation of the furniture refinishing and painting series, I’m going to cover furniture stripping.  Donna is dishing some great photography tips, so make sure you visit her blogafter you read this post.

When I did a post on stripping furniture several months ago, I shared my hatred of it.  That post certainly did not inspire people to go out and try it on their own.  Since then, I’ve warmed to the process.  I learned that my hatred of it stemmed from using the wrong products and working on intricate pieces with a billion coats of paint.  Only the bravest and/or stupidest DIYers should tackle those.  (I fall in one or both of those categories frequently, but not when it comes to paint removal!)
So, the first rule to DIY furniture stripping is to find a good candidate for the procedure.
The best pieces are:
1.) Solid wood and well built, so they are worth the mess and effort
2.) Pieces with large, flat surfaces
3.) Those that only have a few coats of paint
These rules are a reason I like stripping the tops of pieces only.  When you get into the bases, legs, drawers, etc, it can get a little complicated and tedious.  I would only strip an entire piece if it was really, really, really worth it.  But, that’s me.  You might be braver and/or stupider than I am.
Stripping furniture is like giving birth.  It’s messy and not fun when you’re going through it, but it’s very rewarding when you’re done.  Ok, it’s not really like giving birth. You don’t need an epidural and your dresser will let you sleep through the night.

Paint removal is a messy job, but it’s much easier with water based stripping agents that can be disposed of normally.  You just let them air dry and throw them in the trash.  I am not a fan of working with oil based products and chemicals that could spontaneously combust in my basement.  I was a little skeptical that the water based products would have the “umph” to get the job done, but this product does a great job.

You can purchase this at Wal-Mart for about $9.00 a bottle and it does a fine job.
The other supplies you need for stripping are gloves, a respirator mask, a chip brush (natural bristle brushes that you can purchase for about $.50 apiece), a putty knife, steel wool, a receptacle to put the removed paint in (I like to use a paint tray liner or a cardboard box.)  You don’t need a respirator if you’re working outside, but it’s never a bad idea to go overboard on protection where your lungs are concerned.
Apply a liberal layer of the stripping agent on your surface.  For a table or dresser top, I like to pour it on and use the brush to move it around evenly.  The directions on the bottle say to let it sit for 5 minutes, but I generally let it sit for about 15 minutes.  You don’t want to leave it on for too long or it will start to dry and it is even harder to remove.
You should start to see your paint  or poly bubble and pull away from the surface.
Use a putty knife to gently remove the loose paint and stripper.  For the edges or other areas that are curved or difficult to reach with a putty knife, use a steel wool pad.
Continue this process until you’ve exposed the natural wood.
Once you get a piece to the stage pictured below, apply one more coat of the stripping agent, allow it to sit for a few minutes and then scrub it with a steel wool pad.  Wash away any remaining residue with warm water and a rag.  Allow the piece to fully dry and then lightly sand before applying paint or stain.
I finish off most pieces with a dark walnut stain and about four coats of Wipe-on Poly in gloss by MinWax.  I’ll cover this process in the later workshop.
Stripping this freebie, 1980’s crackled finished mirror frame transformed it into an updated and expensive-looking piece.
Paint stripper can also be used to create a look of age on a piece.  I stripped this headboard of its cream paint, but left some around the edges to simulate paint that has been worn with age.
To recap – For a simple DIY paint stripping experience remember these basic tips:
1.) Stick to pieces that make sense to strip (solid wood, well built, large fat areas, etc.)
2.) Use water based agents
3.) Allow the remover to sit until it’s ready
3.) Use steel wool to get into the crannies
Donna, I know you haven’t done any furniture stripping in your DIY career, but do you have any questions or other preparation tips to share?

Donna: “I don’t really have anything to add in the stripping department yet. :) However, I just wanted to mention, I’m particularly impressed you seem to be doing the opposite of what most would do in the refinishing furniture world, and that’s to allow some wood to peek through your painted designs.

You’ve really put the furniture two-toned effect on the blogmap. I’m not against painting furniture at all, however my point is, watching you refinish furniture through your eyes has really opened up a different catagory for me. Wood and paint marry so well in the right circumstances. The touch of wood also helps anchor a room as well. I now look at every furniture piece as a potential two-toned variation rather than painted out all one colour. There is so much more than can be done than paint something out all in one coat of the same tone!

I also appreciated a previous tip from you on WHY you tend to leave the tops of furniture woodtoned. Durability was one, and now we also know, it’s because it’s EASIER to do a flat surface. Invaluable information that I’m willing to put to work when I find the right piece. Awesome advice!”

Yes, Donna, a natural wood finish is much more durable that a surface painted in latex.  Paint can easily be chipped and scratched.  White can especially show wear from keys, change, spills and not every piece looks good with that kind of distress.

Whew!  I think we managed to get through a post about stripping without the obvious puns and jokes.

Next week we’ll cover more preparation techniques including sanding and deglossing.  Make sure you visit Funky Junk Interiors to get some golden information on great picture-taking for your blog.

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  1. Oh my goodness thank you so much for the great tips!


  2. Yes! Thank you for the advice! I am loving your workshop series, and have a coffee table that will be getting worked on ASAP thanks to your tips!

  3. Great tutorial as always! Thanks for sharing all of your tips :).

  4. Thanks for the tips! I have one more piece after I'm done with my dresser and then I'll be on the hunt for something I can strip! :)

  5. This is a wonderful tutorial and just what I need as I am about to begin redoing a 1943 buffet, I'll be back for your next tips.
    thank you so much

  6. Thank you for the great tips! I have a couple of huge (to me) projects for warmer weather in the shed room. I do want to use safer products and make less mess!

  7. Anonymous says:

    i seriously enjoy your own posting type, very helpful.
    don't quit and also keep penning for the reason that it just that is worth to read it.
    looking forward to see much more of your own well written articles, thankx 😉

  8. Great, great post!! I needed to see this. You are awesome!
    Now when I get questions from my readers about refinishing furniture, I can send them this link. Yes!

  9. What a great topic. I have been putting off an endless list of stripping tasks which need to be done for my restoration projects. Do you have any advice for stripping a 100 year old bead board ceiling? I saw a cool product on Martha Stewart a month or so ago. It was called Peel Away. I've been trying to find it locally..with no luck.

    One of the things that I really love about staining the tops of painted furniture…is the warmth it adds to a room.

    Happy Wednesday!

    : )

    Julie M.

  10. What stripping product to use was helpful. Thanks!

  11. I love stripping furniture and am waiting on the weather to warm up to takle my latest project. I have an old hutch that has an ugly shade of pink paint and who knows what else under that.

    Another tool I use to get into cracks or details in carved wood are nut picks. A little tip my Mother taught me when I redid my first piece in college. They have various size tips and can really get the paint out of the grooves. You do have to be careful not to gouge the wood with to much pressure but they work wonders on hard to reach places.

  12. Marian,
    I love what you do. I think this piece looks perfect with the dark stained top. You can really transform a piece of furniture into a masterpiece.
    I used to strip furniture for an antique dealer, when I was in high school. It is a lot of work! But it is well worth the time, when it comes out like yours did!
    Thanks for sharing all of your great tips!
    Take Care,

  13. I feel like such a ninny! I have always stripped the entire piece…what was I thinking?! Your idea of stripping just the top and painting the base makes so much more sense. Great post!

  14. Great tips and it all looks fairly easy to do. I have one problem though. Putting poly on…I always get dust no matter how well I clean the surface. How do you get a clear shiny surface? Inquiring minds would like to know. This is why I do painted tops…no dust specks show. LOL!

  15. I really like the idea of just stripping the top. It saves time, aggravation, and still retains an aged appearance on the bottom portion.

  16. i normally use the caustic stuff, but if this works in 15 minutes, too, i'd buy some and give it a try. thanks for the recommendation.

  17. i normally use the caustic stuff, but if this works in 15 minutes, too, i'd buy some and give it a try. thanks for the recommendation.

  18. HI! My name is Karen and I am new to visiting your blog (actually, blogging in general) and I want to tell you how completely fascinating your posts are. I haven't been through everything yet, and feel this is like a book that needs to be read from cover to cover. I also have the love of painting furniture and creating interesting and original pieces from vintage finds. I have a shop on Cape Cod and have done a lot of painting. I am ALWAYS looking to learn more, get rid of some of the things that frustrate me, and share what I have learned to hopefully spare fellow enthusiasts from pulling out their hair!

    Your place is such a valuable find.
    After I have read through it completely, I will take you up on your offer to answer questions!

    This is so exciting…Thank you so much! The best to you, Karen

  19. Gorgeous! I'm wracking my brain trying to come up with a furniture piece in my house that I could do that to.

  20. Ask for the products that can really improve your home needs !
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  21. I think Donna said it al! :)

  22. ! Thanks for sharing all of your tips :).
    home jobs india

  23. this is a great tutorial for paint removal. thank you.
    i have been working on our 180 yr old farmhouse for several years removing layers of paint. i am concerned about taking precautions and have found that the product & tools used is important.
    may i suggest another product that i absolutely love. back to nature multistrip is a "greener" product. it takes longer to set before removal but it works so well and doesn't have the caustic junk in it.
    check out my blog for more information and how it was used in our kitchen reno.
    ~judi 😉

  24. Shelley says:

    Hi Marian. Just wondering your thoughts on this tutorial now that you use chalk paint and wax. What would you do differently? Thank you so much for all that you share!!!
    ~ Shelley

  25. I purchased the same stripping agent you pictured and the paint did not bubble and did not come off. Is there are reason why it would not work? Thanks!!

  26. Your blog is so incredibly inspiring, helpful, and useful to me as I just bought a beautiful maple hutch off of Craigslist and getting ready to paint it. Thanks for all the wonderful tips and for passing along what you have learned. Blessings!!

  27. keep us posted!!! She is so cute! I would be frantic if I lost her.

  28. A toothbrush works great for small and curved areas.


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