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Furniture Finishing Tips: Wood Stripping Basics

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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
  • Rag
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Drop cloth or shower curtain


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. *To see some tips about how to care for an unfinished piece, check my post here.


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?


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  1. 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!

      1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. 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 :)

    2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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??

    1. 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.

      1. I am familiar with stripping and and painting with lots of products, because my dad was a painting contractor. But one thing I haven’t had experience with is stripping a piece and keeping its natural wood finish. I just stripped a solid wood cherry buffet that I plan to use as my bathroom vanity with a vessel sink. So my question is, how do protect the surface from water but still keep it the natural wood look without being shiny? I’m thinking 4 to 6 coats of something and have purchased a BM oil based poly, but worried that’s it will be too shiny. I have 9 grandkids that will be washing hands a treat this sink and vanity! ?

        1. The Benjamin Moore poly is a satin, but still afraid it will be shiny and compromise the beautiful natural wood look. They said they did not make a matte finish. But I know oilbase is the best water protection.

        2. Hi again Cynthia – I responded to your other comment with the products you could use, but I also wanted to tell you that around the sink in my powder room, I used paste wax. It is semi-shiny, but does dull with time. It protects the wood very well as any water that gets on it simply beads up and stays on top. When it does wear, all I will have to do is rub and buff on another coat.