In the workshop- Secrets and Tips to Stripping Furniture Part 1


Recently, it occurred to me that one way I can help all of you is by providing some concrete tips on how to successfully refinish furniture. As with any endeavor, it is often the technique that is the key to success.  For example, with cooking recipes which give you ingredients and steps to take in preparing a dish – what is not disclosed is how you go about the finer details.  For example – dicing the vegetables to the correct size or knowing to preheat a pan.  These finer details are what I refer to as technique.

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to do a series of posts that provide specific information that you can use when refurbishing your own pieces of furniture. These posts will focus on techniques that I use, which I find to be helpful.

First, I want to share with you some tips on stripping furniture.  I almost always use Citristrip.  It is safer than many other furniture strippers because it emits less fumes and can be used indoors.  That being said, it is still a mixture of harsh chemicals.  I generally use citristrip outside or in the garage.  It should be known without being said that you should wear gloves, work in a well ventilated area and wear eye protection.

Stripping furniture is messy.  It’s gloppy, sticky, smelly work. Here are a few ways to make it a bit easier for yourself.

1. When applying citristrip, brush on a very thick coat.  Particularly on areas that are decorative or carved.  Such as the curved legs of a table or key escutcheons.

2. Use a chip brush (disposable brushes) or some other brush that is not high quality. I do clean these inexpensive brushes and reuse them.  However, I prefer to keep my good paint brushes separate and dedicate them only to applying paint.

3. After applying the stripper on the entire piece of furniture cover it with Saran Wrap or some other plastic wrap.  This will prevent the stripper from drying out and flaking off.  It will also allow the stripper to soak into the existing paint/finish more effectively.

4. This is the one piece of advice I would say is most useful.  Although the stripper says it works after 30 minutes- please, please-  wait 4-5 hours before you peel off the Saran Wrap/ plastic wrap and start removing the old paint.  Most of the time, I will let the stripper sit on the piece of furniture overnight. 

5. The reason I leave the stripper on for a longer period of time is because it is so much easier to scrap off the old paint or finish.  The extra time allows the chemicals to penetrate the paint so that you can literally scrape it off in entire sheets.

6. You will likely need to apply multiple coats of stripper.  Recently, I worked on a small project which required that I apply the stripper five times. It literally took me a week just to strip the paint off this piece of furniture.  Part of the challenge is that there were at least 6 coats of paint that needed to be removed.

7. In addition to a thin scrapper to remove old paint, I also use a toothbrush, cotton twine . toothpicks and Q tips.  The scrappers work great for large flat areas on a piece of furniture.  A toothbrush is great for cleaning out decorative areas.  The twine is great for removing built up paint on spindles.  I use it like a floss to get into the grooves of spindles or other round areas. The toothpicks and Q tips can clean out delicate decorative details. The table below is a good example of when twine was used to get to all the sections of the pedestal base. I used a toothbrush to clean the old finish off the paws which create the legs on the table.






8. You probably won’t get all the paint or old finish off the piece of furniture.  There will be some of the old paint/finish in crevices and in difficult to reach areas. Just accept this.  Do your best but at some point, it’s just better to move on.  Which brings me to another suggestion:

9. Have a back up plan.  There have been so many times when I wanted to bring out the wood in an old piece of furniture and ended up having to paint it.  My suggestion is to have a plan A and a backup plan (Plan B) in the event plan A doesn’t work out.  The table above, I wanted to restore the original wood but because it ended up needing so many repairs, I had to paint it. Although, ultimately I was happy with how it turned out.



10. Be patient.  Stripping furniture is a process that can’t be rushed. It takes time and persistence.  Just accept that at the beginning.  Allow yourself plenty of time.  Things won’t always go as planned so it’s best to expect this at the outset.

In the next post, I will share with you some tips on getting your piece cleaned and sanded.

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