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How to Strip Wooden Furniture

Post-Stripping Cleanup Techniques

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. One of the best tools for refinishing is a rubber kitchen scraper. Use it to remove the softened finish from moldings and other hard-to-get-at and easily damaged areas.

Even after you go through the whole chemical removal process, there may still be some spots of finish that refuse to come off. There are a few ways to handle these spots. The following are some of those alternatives.

Steel Wool

Steel wool is the best way to remove leftover spots from flat, round, and all easy-to-get-at areas. Dip some medium-fine (O) steel wool in chemical paint remover, and try to scrub the remaining finish off. If necessary, repeat the stripping process with another application of the remover. Once the finish comes loose, wash it off with water if it's a wash-away remover; rub it down with turpentine or mineral spirits if the remover contains wax; or, if the remover is neither washable nor waxed, rub it down with denatured alcohol. When the wool becomes full of old finish, throw it away and use a new piece.



If steel wool doesn't completely remove residual spots, try sandpaper, but be careful not to leave depressions in the wood surface. You could use sandpaper throughout to strip the finish off the furniture, but this is a time-consuming process and one much more likely to damage the wood.

Regardless of how fine it is, sandpaper works by scratching the wood surface. The final scratches are usually so tiny you can't see them when the wood is refinished, but you should keep the scratching idea in mind; it will prevent you from sanding too much.

Work by hand, with a sanding block on flat surfaces and a foam block on curves; sand rounds gently with the paper alone. Sand with the wood grain; sanding against the grain may scratch the wood permanently. Use medium-grit paper to remove the last traces of the old finish, and then lightly sand along the wood grain with fine-grit paper. This last fine-grit sanding should adequately prepare the wood for the finishing process. If you don't think the wood is smooth enough at this point, finish up the job with a very-fine-grit sandpaper.


Sometimes normal flat-surface techniques just can't remove the finish from hard-to-get-at areas. When this is the case, you can usually remove the stubborn spots with scrapers. Used with caution, these are very effective tools; they can easily scratch or gouge the wood, however, so be careful. Scrape tight spots between grits of sandpaper or grades of steel wool to minimize differences in texture and height between scraped and sanded surfaces.

A good sharp pull scraper fits into corners to remove finish; or use it on flats, contours, and tapers. The scraper must be used with the grain, so be sure you know the direction of the grain before you start working. Keep the blade of the scraper sharp -- scraper blades dull fast, so sharpen them frequently with a smooth-cut file.

Scrapers come in all shapes and sizes: putty knives, paint scrapers, pull scrapers, cabinet scrapers, and scraper blades (which are just pieces of metal with a sharpened edge). On some projects, you may be able to use a sharp butt chisel as a scraper; for tiny jobs, the edge of a coin can be effective. Don't overlook other scraping tools -- rubber spatulas, knives, bottle caps, golf tees, utility knife blades, screwdriver tips, and your thumbnail. For some jobs, you may even find that a car windshield scraper works best.

Electric Drill Attachments

Useful electric drill attachments include a wire brush and a rotary sanding attachment -- not a disc sanding attachment. The sanding attachment consists of small strips of sandpaper that spin around as the drill spins. Either of these attachments can be used on hard-to-get-at places when the hand-powered methods fail, but both of them can quickly damage the wood. If you do have to use electric drill attachments, work slowly and carefully.

Removing the old finish from furniture can take many forms. Now you should have a better grasp of you options and objectives.

©Publications International, Ltd.