Furniture Finishing Tips: Wood Stripping Basics

by Diane Henkler on 05/15/2013

I am loving the look of raw wood lately. It is classic and goes with everything. I see more and more of it popping up in catalogs, decorating magazines, and Pinterest. It is a classic country look that style setting retailers have restyled to fit their brand.


Have you been in a Restoration Hardware store since they re-branded a few years ago?    Going into the store is like stepping into a dark Film Noir set, but with lots of raw wood and silver mixed in for masculine appeal. Not the look I am after, but when I look past the branding and see something that truly inspires me – like a perfectly designed table, I take note!

I would never want the whole “manufactured perfection” of any style setting retailer – as it is someone else’s style.   I don’t want Shake n’ Bake perfection – I want to create a home that is perfect only for me and my family’s life + style.

Taking a few bits and pieces that inspire me from retail style and putting my own stamp on them is what takes the “manufactured perfection” out of the equation.

After being inspired by a raw wood table the brand sells, I stripped my kitchen table  recently.  I do not like to strip furniture, it is much easier to paint, but to get the look I am after – furniture stripping is required.   Having had success with the table along with the little voice in my head that kept telling me “Just Do It” has me in the process of stripping another hand-me down piece. I have improved upon my method and have a few furniture finishing tips to share with you.

Do you remember the post I did on creating your own furniture by combining two non-matching pieces?


I have used these two pieces in many different ways, but they have been in my kitchen like this for awhile.  I love the glass fronted cabinet, but not the aged stain that has taken on an orange hue over the years.

I never painted it, because even though I love painted furniture, I also think there needs to be a mix of finishes to create a nice flow and appeal to the decor. Too much of one thing ends up looking like a furniture showroom.

Since I liked the burled design in the wood on the cabinet – it is the piece I chose to stay wood tone.

Recently I pinned the photo below along with many others of pieces with raw or natural wood finishes.   They helped make my decision to – go for it! Why have inspiration boards if we are never going to take action and make the inspiration happen to make our style + life the way we envision?

Photo: Country Living

It can always be re-stained or repainted if I don’t like how it comes out, right?

I am not entirely finished with the cabinet, but I will show you how the process is going.


I know why I didn’t do a lot of furniture stripping in the past –it is smelly, messy and you need to be careful as the stripper is a powerful chemical.  Since I still had some left from the brand I used for my kitchen table stripping project, I used it. If I am going to strip furniture again, I would look for a product that is more natural and not as harmful to humans and the environment. If anyone knows of a good brand, please share in the comments.

I took the cabinet out to my garage and placed it on a plastic shower curtain liner I bought at the dollar store.  I opened the garage doors wide so there was plenty of ventilation and went to work.


Supplies Needed:

Wood Stain and Finish Stripper
Eye protection – clear goggles
Rubber gloves – thick ones or double up thin pairs.
Scouring pad or steel wool
Bucket of water
Old paint brush
Mineral Spirits



Make sure to wear eye protection, rubber gloves, long sleeves and pants. If the stripper touches your skin – it burns!

I used a rag and an old paint brush to apply the stripper to the cabinet. I let it do its work which took about 15 minutes.  I then dipped a piece of steel wool into a bucket of water and scrubbed it over the wood until I removed all the stripper along with the stain/varnish gunk.  I had to clean out the steel wool pad a few times in the bucket of water while I worked.

I did the drawers first and then worked on the cabinet. After finishing the process, I wiped everything down with mineral spirits to remove any stripper residue.


I brought the cabinet back inside to work on a few detailed areas that still had some stain on them.  I put some foil down to protect the top of the sideboard the cabinet is on.


I brushed on a tiny bit of wood stripper, let it sit for about 10 minutes and then scrubbed it off with a wet SOS pad.   I rinsed it off with a damp rag and let dry.


I am very excited about how it came out.  I may add a coat of paste wax to bring out the patina of the wood.


As I mentioned earlier – stripping furniture is a messy job – the inside of the cabinet took a beating from the stripper.  One step forward for this project and one step back.  Nothing a sanding block and a fresh coat of paint can’t fix.


Back out to the garage again for the cabinet to get more clean-up and polish.

I will show you the completed AFTER soon.  I am also giving the sideboard a little bit of a makeover, too.  It won’t be its first.

Have you ever stripped a piece of furniture. Any tips to make the process less messy or easier?






{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sheena May 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Looks good so far. I am in the process of learning tips about painting furniture. I have several painting projects I have been working on lately so I have been reading lots of post about painting. What is paste wax??


2 Diane Henkler May 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Hi Sheena – Paste wax is a protective finish you put over chalk paint. When you buff it with a soft cloth it brings up a protective barrier and shine. You could also use clear non-yellowing polyurethane to protect the finish instead of wax. Wax works best on unfinished or stained wood as well as chalk paint. Most latex paints alone are not porous enough to allow the wax to penetrate. You are better off using Polyurethane to protect painted pieces done in latex paint. Oil based paints usually don’t need a protective finish.


3 Linda May 15, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Love the basket as well atop your hutch full of faux hydrangeas.
Can’t wait to see the finish!!


4 Claudia May 15, 2013 at 11:58 pm

I just read this blog today and they were removing paint. It seems rather costly, but if you use it enough it might be well worth it. Here is the link to the blog:


5 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

Hi Claudia – That is a very cool paint remover. I am not sure it would work with sealer and stain removal, though. I will have to look into in more detail. It would be worth it if it did. Not as messy, less smell, and zero chemicals.


6 Heidi @ Honeybearlane May 16, 2013 at 1:03 am

Love the mix/matched look of the two cabinets! I have stripped (furniture) before and I use the Orange stuff…Citristrip. It works well but is gooey and gross. I want to try those heat guns that are supposed to make the paint bubble up. How are you going to treat the raw wood after it’s stripped? I’m curious to see! PS you have a great collection of white china!


7 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

Hi Heidi – I am going to use clear paste wax over it. I may add some liming wax – but am still on the fence about that. The photo with all the white ironstone is from Country Living. I do have a collection in my dining room, but only about half of what is the CL photo :)


8 Marty August 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

I have used the orange stuff on delicate pieces and regular wood. It is great. Less smelly and I feel much safer using it. I actually used it indoors with the back door open and fans going to stay out of the rain and humidity.


9 abi May 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

This post has come at the perfect time- I am new to furniture stripping too. Im renovating a dresser for our barn, and getting nowhere with sanding, so I’m going to strip it instead. Ive bought Nitromors this morning- will be trying it tonight when the kids are in bed. It seems pretty toxic!


10 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 9:59 am

Hi Abi. It Nitromors a brand that is sold in the UK? I have not heard of it before. How was it to use?


11 abi May 16, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Yes- I’m in Devon in England. Ive got to say the Nitromors was
a)Very stinky!
b) Not very effective. I had read conflicting reviews on the product, but decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Though it was relatively simple to apply, it just didn’t blister at all like it was supposed to.

I only had what I thought was a thin layer of varnish to remove, but now I’m wondering if it is actually a stain….being new to furniture renovating, I’m making it all up as I go along.


12 Tonya May 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hi Diane – Love the look of the raw wood….and I love reading your blog! Call me crazy but I kind of like the “distressed” look the inside has now. I think it adds to the charm of the piece. Can’t wait to see the finished product!!


13 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Hi Tonya – The photo does not show how bad it really is. Bubbled up with a brown orange tinge – not a pretty distressed look.


14 Desi May 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm

You may want to try Soy Gel by Franmar. It is non-toxic. You can order online or find out what local retailer carries it. I bought it at Woodcraft. I used it on a small intricate table that I had bought on craigslist. It had 3 different coats of paint on it and came out great!


15 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Hi Desi – I will check it out now. Online shopping is the best. Thanks for sharing what you know with the rest of us.


16 Susan June 23, 2013 at 6:05 am

I have used Soy Gel by Franmar also. It works slower than the toxic strippers but it doesn’t dry out as fast. You can apply it, cover the surface with saran wrap, and leave it alone for a while, even overnight.


17 Diane Henkler June 23, 2013 at 11:58 am

Thanks for the top Susan, sounds like a great option. I will look for it and give it a try.


18 Julie J. May 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Hi Diane,

I recently ran across your blog when searching furniture makeovers on google. I was immediately hooked! We have very similiar styles. I will be moving into a new house in June and I will be stealing some….well, most of your ideas once we are settled! This furniture stripping post is so helpful. We have a terrible little dresser that is half stripped and now we are trying to forget it exists. Because we didn’t know the right way to do it, the project was a nightmare. I now feel I can start again and do it right. Thanks for the blog!


19 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Thanks for taking the time to say hi Julie. How exciting to be moving into a new house in June. I bet your mind is on overload about now. Enjoy the process of decorating your new home.


20 Janet May 16, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I like to use Ready Strip Plus and Citristrip. I found both at Home Depot. The Citristrip works well with paint (still messy), but I found that it became more liquidy when I used it to remove just stain. My favorite for stain removal is the Ready Strip (green container). It has a slight sweet sent that’s not too overpowering when used in a well ventilated area. You have to leave both of these products on longer than the harsher chemical strippers, but they are better for the environment and easier to deal with in my opinion.


21 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Thanks Janet -I will check out both on my next trip to the home improvement store – which will probably be tomorrow, as it seems I am there just about everyday :)


22 vivien alsibahie May 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Love what you did with the dresser. Here in UK we have a paint stripper that is non-toxic, I didn’t even use gloves! it has no smell and no fumes it is the best stripper I have ever used, it removed several layers of paint and a layer of varnish! produced in EU by Eco Solutions Ltd


23 Diane Henkler May 16, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Hi Vivien – Sounds wonderful, I will have to look for it or maybe order it online. Thanks


24 Sheryll & Critters. May 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I have no experience. But gosh, you make it sound so easy….. eccckkk. I am a coward.


25 abi May 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

Ive looked again at what I managed last night with the Nitromors, its taken off some of the finish, but its not great.
Thanks for the tip Vivien. I’ve ordered Homestrip by Ecosolutions from website Toolstation. Looking forward to trying it out on Monday when it arrives. Hoping the environmentally friendly version is more effective- (plus it has the advantage of me being able to work indoors- which is benefit in our British climate)


26 Suzanne June 7, 2013 at 7:02 am

Hi Diane!
Love your blog and I wanted to let you know that within the last month I had to strip an old maple desk from the 50′s that had a couple coats of paint, some oil based. I used Smart Strip which you can buy online or at Sherwin-Williams and I was awesome!

It has a fluffy pudding consistency to it so it easily stays on vertical surfaces and they say it stays moist for up to 24 hours, but I didn’t wait that long. It’s water based, there’s no odor and best of all, I didn’t even have to use gloves! Can you tell I love the stuff?!

The downside is the price, it is pricey, but if you wait for it to go on sale at SW you’ll save some cash. If you’re planning on doing more of the raw wood thing, which I love, especially wood and paint on the same piece, check into it, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!


27 Diane Henkler June 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Hi Suzanne – Thanks for sharing this. I will be buying Smart Strip for my next furniture stripping project.


28 Charles August 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm

I like that you refinished this piece. It looks awesome.
A few months ago I refinished two hardwood floors in my home. Using gunstock stain and polyurethane. Being a first timer it has blemishes bc of the floor sander leaving start and stop marks. This was not visible till after all was dry. Stripping is a much better idea from sanding. Keep posting, I’ll keep reading. Thanks


29 Kathleen August 27, 2013 at 3:23 pm


I’ve stripped a 15×16 dinning rooms molding in a 160 year old home using ready strip. Why do people paint that beautiful molding :0(
During my trial and error time, I tried the heat gun and never saw a slower process. I tried those horrible, stinking chemical strippers that had to have plastic placed on it to work and hated it. The smell was awful and trying to get the plastic wrap just right was a pain, plus they didn’t work as well.
12 years ago or more I found Readi strip and feel its the easiest to use and honestly doesn’t smell.
I guess I had 5+ coats of paint and varnish below that to remove. The varnish was impossible to remove with heat. It just made it gooey and just moved around without really coming off. I was really frustrated, but the Readi strip had a spray for that and I swear it worked. I was thrilled!
A local big time painter told me there are paint remover strips out there that work great, but I can’t find them. He said you just put them on the paint and walk away till morning than just pull the strip off. If anyone ever heard of these I would love to know, but as of now I love and highly recommend Readi strip.
I wish everyone luck in their stripping adventures. It’s so much fun to see what’s beneath all that paint.
My next move will be to try and strip furniture. It has to be easier than decorative molding :0)
Oh, on a side note, I recommend an old butter knife for those deep recess’ some decorative wood has.


30 furnituregeeks September 6, 2013 at 12:46 am

This is really very interesting. I will try this method today at home. Thanks for the post.


31 Maureen March 20, 2014 at 3:52 pm

use citristrip it is the best – can be used indoor very minimal smell, safe, takes off layers of paint and varnish with a plastic scraper . can be left to “work” for up to 24 hours, I left for about 8 hours and was amazed how layers and layers of paint just scraped off!


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