barb blairbefore & after basicsbefore and afterpaint

before & after basics: stripping furniture

by Barb

hello friends! this is  barb blair from knack, where i transform furniture on a weekly basis and love every minute of it. i opened knack studio about three years ago, but have been painting furniture for the past 8 years. in that time period there have been numerous creative experiences, which ultimately led to my passion for transformation and all things “furniture”.

i am thrilled to be joining you all as a new contributor here on d*s to share my passion, tips, and tricks with all of you! today and every thursday i hope you’ll join me before and after basics. each week i’m going to walk you through the basic steps you’ll need to tackle some of the methods you see in each week’s before & after projects. from paint washes and stains to stripping and painting furniture, i’ll teach you everything you need to know to create your own before & after masterpieces.

today we are going to tackle stripping furniture! the process of stripping wood back to its natural beauty (by removing layers of old paint and varnish) is truly a labor of love. but if you have the patience, the process is a win win situation in the end! even if you’re planning on stripping down the layers to repaint again, this process will teach you the skills you need to get down to the heart of your favorite piece. so let’s get started!

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

What You’ll Need:

* chemically resistant rubber gloves

* stripper

* xx and 00 steel wool pads

*  2 ” paint brush for application

* painters tool

* safety glasses

* respirator/mask

* paint thinner

* drop cloth

* small wooden dowel sharpened

Please Note: time needed for a project like this will vary depending on the stripping agent that you choose. citristrip {i’m a huge fan of this product! } and peel away, while more environmentally friendly, take a little bit longer to work than the pro stripper methylene chloride brands. so give yourself  at least 2 days to complete this project. patience and strict adherence to safety precautions are the only experience required! so, on that note let’s get started!


1. take some time to read the instructions on the back of the container, and make sure that you have the floor area covered where you will be working…it gets SUPER messy!

2. remove all hardware, and cover any areas that you do not want to get the stripping agent on.  pour the stripping agent into a metal paint tray for easy access and begin to apply a nice thick layer of stripper to your piece of furniture covering every little square inch using a brush. be careful to not over brush when applying the stripper as it will break the film that forms to prevent evaporation.

3. now comes the tricky, patience part i was telling you about. you will want to let this sit for several hours before trying to scrape the paint off with your painters tool. the paint should slide right off if the stripper has done it’s job. if not, reapply again. most of the time if you apply in the morning and take off in the afternoon all should be well and good. look for the bubbles, they are a good indicator that it is time to scrape.

4. be careful not to gouge your wood when scraping, the finish should come off very easily if ready, and then use steel wool or a scrubbing pad to remove any leftover residue.

5. once the piece is completely stripped down to the wood and you are satisfied, you can begin the cleaning process. use steel wool and either water or paint thinner, depending on the stripper you have used, and wipe down the piece entirely making sure all of the leftover stripping agent is removed. be careful not to saturate your piece too much with liquid.

6. once your piece is completely cleaned, set aside and let dry for several hours then begin sanding with 120 grit paper and move to 180 or 220 depending on whether the wood is a soft or hard wood.

now my friends, your piece is ready for whatever finish you decide to put on it!

just remember :

1. safety is super important, so follow all necessary precautions

2. be patient

3. make sure to let all stripping residue dry, and dispose of properly

*top image found here

*stripping process shots courtesy of centsational girl

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  • Thank goodness the big picture was the after. I thought you were going to paint that great grain. Good job!!

    • Were stripping an old dresser set that was painted blue but there is this white underneath that we cannot get off. Do you have any tips? Were using Klean Strip

  • Neat article! Very informative. I’ve never done paint stripping, but I have successfully stripped varnish/stain off my great-grandmother’s old dresser and our dining room set that we adopted from my mother’s co-worker. I use QuickStrip for stripping stains. It works pretty well. I just finished stripping a mid-century chair I found at a consignment shop with QuickStrip, but next time I’ll have to see if our local hardware stores carry Citistrip. One thing I do after I strip it, before I re-stain or paint, I dilute some Murphy’s Wood Soap and give the bare wood a little TLC.

  • janae, a piano is a big job, but totally doable! i might consult someone who has done a piano before and get some tips from them on protecting all of the parts:) good luck with your project!

    jen o, thank you for all of the helpful tidbits! i used plastic wrap on parts of the piece that i did….just so i could see what it was all about! i found it a bit messy, frustrating and the stripper ate holes in it, but that is just me personally. i did read about using plastic wrap several times in researching stripping furniture, so if it works for you….do it! :)

    katie, that murphy’s oil soap tip is great! i’ll have to try that next time!

  • I also did a stripping job with Citristrip – it was easy to work with. As a suggestion, I used heavy duty foil to line my metal paint tray, since I had a big stripping job (cabinets). This allowed me to get rid of the foil when I was done and reuse the tray. Also, I had to stop midway in my job (take care of other things) and I wrapped my brush in foil scraps to keep it from drying out so I could reuse it as well. This is something experienced painters do as well, but sometimes use plastic wrap; foil is better since the stripper won’t melt it.

  • Awesome! Will this work for stripping kitchen cabinets as well? If it won’t, would you consider doing a tutorial about it?

  • I’ll never use Citristrip again…just a word to any other impatient types out there. It’s great it you don’t mind waiting the 4 hours it will take to work (don’t believe the bottle–it can’t work in much less time), and also do remember to lay it on super thick (like a half of inch of gel), or you’ll have to lay it on twice.

  • sue….i don’t mind at all friend! you are too cute:) …thank you for your constant positive energy!

  • I’m am really looking forward to these before and after basics as I have always had aspirations to but never knew how. Am very thankful for these wonderful tutorials!

  • barb- this is so great! my husband and i have an old queen anne style dresser that has a horrible paint job and i want to strip it and then do some sort of pickling stain.
    this is a great place for us to start and makes me less intimidated!

  • My before & after/diy skills are in their infancy so please excuse my question –
    My mom recently found a darling dresser for my new house at a flea market. It obv needs a fresh coat of paint but I was hoping not to need to spend the time stripping the old paint. Would it be a mistake to prime and paint over the semi-glossy paint that’s already there? Thank you!

  • alex,

    i’m excited for you as you embark on your first piece!

    painting over paint can be tricky…there are a couple things you want to check out first. take a cotton ball with denatured alcohol on it and see if the paint comes off when you wipe it. then you know it is latex paint and can be painted over. next, sand your piece with a 120 grit and if all of the paint stays put you are ok to prime and paint, but if your paint starts to “roll” off” or peel at all it will need to be stripped down. have fun!


  • Barb, I’m so pleased for you that you will be adding to the mix here at DS! Love your blog for Knack and now I can’t wait to read more!

  • Thank you for the tutorial. I have an old cupboard that I inherited when we purchased the house and it has a ton of layers of paint. Everytime I walk by I think…oh my gosh, how am I going to get all this paint off! Once the weather cools off here in Alabama I want to tackle this project.

  • Hi Barb! I have kind of a silly question for you. How do you clean your brushs? I used the not-so-green stripper and it says to wash with soap and cold water. I did with the hose in my yard – but I worry about the chemicals getting in the dirt – especially since I have kiddos running around. I do not have a laundry sink, just a regular dish sink or the tub, but again, I’m worried about cleaning brushes where dishes and babies go. I was just wondering how you go about cleaning your brushes? By the way I am a huge fan of your pieces – all of them! just amazing!

  • Im kind of addicted to D*S but am pretty much ignorant as of how to do any of this myself…so THANK YOU! I can use tutorials like these that break it down for us simple folks!

  • now after you strip..what’s the best kind of paint to use afterwards? oil based? water? spray? i’ve heard mixed things

  • nikki, sorry i am just now seeing this! better late than never right!? thank you so much for your very kind words about my work! i am so glad that you like it! i always rinse my brushes in the sink either at home or in the studio, it is wise to have a utility type sink where you can rinse away and not be worried about the little ones or chemicals on dishes.

    beth, i use latex paint every time. it works great, and there is a new paint by behr that is a paint and primer in one….it works fantastic on stripped surfaces!

  • Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I have a wood dresser that is varnished. Will this method work for this as well. Also may I send a picture so you can offer any other tips and tricks.

  • Great article! I have stripped a lot of furniture in the past and the new citrus remover is amazing. I just used the spray version for a Shaker style rocking chair and it was great though it sprays a further distance, FYI.

    Another tip is that YES it is messy scraping the paint off but be careful of getting the removed paint on your shoes or you could end up tracking it into the house and it could fuse into your floors, which I found out when my husband was stripping the windowsills.

    Taking your time is very good advice. : )

  • I wish I had read this too… I bought a small dresser and bought a primer to apply to skip the procces of sanding that was a mistake so after 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of oil base paint I find my self having to do it all over again. 1step is stripping I am using the citurs spray instead of the brush applying one i wish I had bought tne brush applying one because when I spray it it gets into the drawers and I dont mean too… Anyhow I am glad I found this tutorial I can now get it done right…

  • I have used a stripper on a old sewing machine. It has one coat of paint. I have put ten coats of stopper and left it like it said but it didn’t do anything. What do I need to do.

  • Great article! I have stripped a lot of furniture in the past and the new citrus remover is amazing. I dont mean too… Anyhow I am glad I found this tutorial I can now get it done right…

  • I’m confused, I’m refinishing a Hoosier cabinet. after I get all the paint off, wipe it down with paint thinner and damp cloth. Why would I start to sand it again. Then I’d have to wipe it down again, right?

  • I use citri strip all the time, the key is to lay it on thick then cover with a garbage bag! It will take the paint, stain right off. Then I use a coarse steel wool soaked in mineral spirits and it does the job.

    • I am stripping an old built-in bathroom cabinet*
      Would you sand it? (wouldnt it be uneven) Or would you use plaster to fill and then sand?

      Sorry im new to this :)

  • Do you recommend Paint Stipper After Wash (on the CitiStrip site) or does Murphy’s Soap work as well.

    • I’m stripping a library table that was painted, and now I have it down to the mahogany finish. What do I wash that mahogany finish with before I varnish or stain?

  • I’ve been using Citristrip with great results. Instead of using a paint brush to apply it, I fold a section of paper towel so it’s about 2 x 3 inches and use that to apply it like a paint brush and spread it around. Also I find that covering it with wax paper (pretty inexpensive and doesn’ t get eaten through) and gently pressing it down to get rid of most of the air trapped underneath seams to allow using less of the stripping goo. I put it on pretty liberally, but not even close to the amounts described by others. It does take patience. I tend to put it on in the morning and remove it at night or vice verse. I’ve got plenty of other things to do while I’m “waiting” for the magic goo to do it’s thing. I have been wondering about the best way to clean the wood once the stripper has been removed. I’m going to try the Murphy’s oil soap… maybe in combination with some steel wool. Anyone tried this?

  • Help! I used citristrip for my dresser but for some reason it left pink spots on one side on the top like two or three making a line. I tried everything to get it off because when I do the stain it looks really nice except for those spots. Now the wood has that pink orange color and just looks horrible wuth the stain.

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