How to Strip Wooden Furniture

Additional Stripping Techniques for Furniture

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Remove non-wash-away compounds with a scraper or steel wool; minimize the mess by dumping the scrapings into a bucket. Be careful not to gouge the wood.

Different removers require different removal techniques. Once your testing proves that the finish is ready for final removal, use the appropriate technique as detailed below for wash-away, waxed, or nonwaxed removers.

To remove the wash-away compounds, use water and medium-fine steel wool. Do not use a scraper, putty knife, sandpaper, power equipment, or heat. It's easiest to simply hose off the furniture outside. If that's impossible, use a brush to apply the water and steel-wool the wood clean. On curved or carved areas, use the special removal techniques listed below. When the finish is off, thoroughly dry the wood with a soft towel or other absorbent cloth. Keep in mind that water is harmful to wood; dry the wood immediately. Let the wood air-dry for several days before you continue with the refinishing process.

Remove non-wash-away compounds with a scraper and steel wool; scrape very carefully so you don't gouge the wood. To minimize the mess, dump the scrapings into a bucket as you work. On curved or carved areas, use the special removal techniques listed below.

If the remover contains paraffin or wax, immediately scrub the surface with turpentine or mineral spirits. Work the turpentine or mineral spirits into all the dips, dings, cracks, and carvings. Change the cleaning cloth frequently; otherwise, the paraffin or wax will be transferred from the cloth back onto the wood. The paraffin or wax should be removed now, not sanded off later.

During the stripping process, you may want to change removers, especially when the remover you're using isn't doing a very good job. Make the switch. But do not mix paint and varnish removers; follow through on the complete removal of the first chemical before you apply another one. There's no danger involved here; the mixtures may simply not work.

It's a good idea to treat even non-wash-away, nonwax removers with denatured alcohol. Liberally spread the alcohol over the bare wood with a clean, soft cloth. Dry the wood thoroughly. Finally, wipe the bare wood thoroughly with mineral spirits to prepare it for refinishing.

As soon as you finish working, lay out paper coverings, plastic dropcloths, brushes, and cloths used to apply the paint and varnish remover and allow them to dry. Then dispose of them properly. Do not wad waste materials up and stuff them into a wastebasket or trash can. The chemicals in the remover could cause spontaneous combustion.

There are shortcuts you can try to remove old finish from legs, curves, and other nonflat surfaces on your wooden furniture. Let's review these shortcuts in the next section.