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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  • Great tutorial! I have a few pieces I want to strip and re-varnish in the house right now.

    Is the process much different when you are stripping varnish as opposed to paint? The pieces I have are varnished in dated tones or the finish is just pretty beat up.


  • Thank you for this! I bought a stripper (haha) ages ago intending to beautify some of my furniture, but I’ve been terrified to use it. This makes me far less afraid, and I feel like I know what I’m getting into.

  • I’m really looking forward to this series as I have a couple of night stands that are in need of repairs!
    One question I have (maybe a future post?), how do you strip paint off hardware? Thanks!

    • Take paint thinner, acetone, mineral spirits, your chemical stripper you used….almost ..anything you have on hand and soak hardware untill paint or finish softens

  • I am very excited for this series!!! I am a big fan of what you do at Knack, Barb, and am anxious to hear all your pearls of wisdom when it comes to furniture diy!

  • THANK YOU FOR THIS!! I’ve been taking in some old pieces ever since I started reading d*s — just little things like a foot stool, a tiny shelf, a side table — but they are all in need of some TLC. My problem was, I didn’t know how! I am SO looking forward to this series, and this is a great first post. (The aforementioned side table needs to be stripped, sanded, and repainted.)


  • In step 5, you say “either water or paint thinner, depending on the stripper you have used.” How do you know which to use?

  • Really interested in trying Citristrip now! Thanks for the product recommendation! :)

    I tried PeelAway a few years ago but didn’t have very good luck with it. I really wish I’d tested it in a less conspicuous area. It turned the wood dull and dark. It’s not terribly bad – but noticeable enough. Have you run into that before? I’m not sure what happened.

  • Make sure you read the instructions on the can. We bought paint stripper and waited for several hours, only to come back and see that everything was dry. Turns out the paint stripper we bought needed only 10-15 minutes of standing.

  • I’ve used Citristrip on both wood and hardware and it worked great. Read the usage instructions and do a test patch, but I’m pretty sure it works on most surfaces. For tough oil-based paints or lots of layers that might require standing overnight, you can wrap the piece (depending on the size I guess) in a plastic bag or plastic wrap to make sure the Citristrip doesn’t dry out.

  • WELCOME!!!!!!!!!!

    I’ve mentioned before in my comments on this blog that ever since I’ve started to blog, I’ve seen so many, many projects that I’d like to attempt, but I don’t see a lot of ‘JUST THE BASICS’… so this is absolutely perfect and I can’t wait to see more:).

  • Awesome column!! I’ve also been hoping you would start a series like this. If possible, in future columns please cover the best types of paints and finishes to use and how to create different aging effects.

  • Thank you so much for posting about HOW to do some of these diy projects. I’m hoping soon there will be one on how to reupholster at some point…I have a sofa project I’m dying to tackle but have no idea how to do it.

  • Yay! Welcome, welcome!! I’m so happy this is a new series on DS! I’ve passed on a few furniture pieces within the last month because I felt intimidated about how to even start with a furniture make-over.

    I’m sure you have lots of topics you’ll cover so if I can make a vote to cover what types of finishes and paints go best with different types of woods, that would be great!!

  • Yay Barb! When I originally read you were starting to contribue I was so excited because this is something I have really been wanting to learn. Thank you so much!

  • Barb, you are truly an inspiration. I looove that you are a new contributer to design*sponge. Thursdays are my new favorite days :O)

  • Ah! Yes!
    I have been meaning to strip a side table for months now but haven’t had the balls to do it without better instruction. This is perfect!!

  • Have been waiting for these instructions to fall into my lap! Thank you for the detailed how-to. I have been suffering my parents’ old bedroom suite and its rust-hued stain for too long!

    I do have a question: does this process work for paint only or varnish/stain as well? I am interested in stripping the stained pieces I currently own.

    Thanks again and welcome!

  • Great tutorial! I’ve been hoping for homething like this!! I’d love to know some rules about striping veneered pieces. I have a couple of great modern dressers that have been painted and I would like to strip them, however I am unsure if I can because they are veneered wood rather than solid wood. I am afraid that if I apply a stripper I may end up removing the veneer in addition to the paint. Would love any information on this subject.

  • Yay! I”m so glad to see Barb here! I’ve been stalking he blog for a while now-hehe- I love everything she does! Welcome Barb! Looking forward to Thursdays even more now!!

  • “Then begin sanding with 120 grit paper and move to 180 or 220 depending on whether the wood is a soft or hard wood.”

    Does that mean soft gets 220 and hard 180?

    Would one use this same method (stripping, same type of stripper, then sanding) on a wood veneer?


  • I have never loved stripping furniture but reading this made me want to find a new project and try it all over again. The one step I need the most help on is the patience part. :)

  • @breanna: wood veneer is very thin and it’s far too easy to sand right through it when in the finishing process. it is wood, so it will technically respond to the stripper, but it’s probably more advisable to gently remove the veneer and replace it altogether.
    i’ve used strippers that worked in less than 5 minutes of standing – especially on varnished vs painted surfaces. always pay attention to the appearance of the piece as the stripper is working. also, most strippers are capable of spontaneous combustion if disposed of improperly. brushes should be thoroughly cleaned with mineral spirits and all scraped off residue should be allowed to fully dry and sealed in a metal can.

  • Great article!
    I agree about Citristrip.. it’s great! I used it for stripping varnish on a set of chairs and it worked fantastic; it’s just a really mucky job stripping varnish, in my opinion. Make sure you have some old rags around to wipe the muck off your scraping tools while you’re going along.

  • hello , hello…

    thank you so much for all of the feedback! it is so encouraging to read…and after researching and completing this project…it feels good to know that it is helpful to you all:)

    i think someone mentioned this in the comments, but i want to say it again…as said in the post please do read ALL of the instructions on the back of the container you are using! each project is different and it is so important to follow instructions.

    lindsay , the piece that i just stripped is a modern mid century piece that is wood and veneer and it had a layer of latex paint, oil primer, and then the original varnish and the citristrip went all the way to the bare wood. so in my experience it would work on varnish as well.
    nina, you can strip hardware with citristrip as well, and then anna left you a great link for the crockpot method! thank you anna! xo
    tracy, if you use the citristrip or any natural stripper you can use water to wash it down and stop the chemical, but i have found that even with the natural products the best thing to use is odorless mineral spirits.
    jacquelyn, i have not had this particular thing happen but i have never used peel away. it is always good to test the product in an inconspicuous area first like you said. i hope it goes better for you next time!
    rebecca, stripping veneer can be tricky, it depends on the shape of the veneer… the stripper could cause it to lift, so i would suggest a test spot.
    amanda, the little wooden dowel is to be used to get into all of the little nooks and crannies that can’t be reached any other way. you can sharpen it in a pencil sharpener to get a nice point!
    breanna, the sanding numbers are just recommendations….really i would start out using a very fine sand paper and if you feel like you need heavier and your wood surface can stand it then move to something more hefty. you just want to be careful not to gouge your wood or scratch the surface . most of the pieces that i have stripped have been solid wood, but this last piece was a mid century wood/ veneer piece. i personally had no problems with the veneer parts , but would highly recommend doing a test section on your piece.

    thanks again all for your sweet support! happy furniture rehabbing!


  • I just stripped a bunch of wood doors that had about 1/2″ of paint built up with the BEST paint remover!

    It is called PEEL AWAY.

    You paint it on, then cover it with their special paper, wait a day (or less) and the paint just lifts right off with a paint scraper. It doesn’t smell bad at all and it is says it is enviromentally friendly. I used Peel Away 7 on my wood doors and Peel Away 6 on metal frames and hardware. You can buy it at Home Depot.

    I cannot recommend this stuff enough!
    Of course, wear protective gloves and eyewear….

  • I echo the sentiment that is a column I’ve been waiting for. One of my summer goals is to strip four pieces of furniture so as I progress, I’d love to learn some insider tips. I’ve been using Franmar’s Soy Gel stripper. It was recommended to me – you can literally strip pieces indoor b/c of the zero odour. It is pricey compared to chemical strippers but I’ve had luck with it (hard to find in Canada).

  • kate, this shot is a piece that i chose for beauty of the wood not the actual piece that i finished.

    kirsty, i have not put a finish on my piece yet…just stripped and sanded. i will tell you that i would love to leave it that way with a wax or light stain to finish it off, but it is for a client in portland , and they are thinking other thoughts! :) but i am fine with that too…shhhhh!

  • Hello Barb! Wonderful to see you over here. My mom and I would love to try this out…your piece came out gorgeous!!

  • This gives me the courage to finish refinishing a bureau that’s been sitting on our front deck for almost a month now. I got frustrated when I couldn’t get the paint to come off, but now I know I was overbrushing and making the stripper dry too fast.

    Thanks, thanks, thanks! I’m looking forward to more posts. :)

  • Yay Barb! When I originally read you were starting to contribue I was so excited because this is something I have really been wanting to learn. Thank you so much!

  • This is a great addition to Design Sponge! I’m restoring an antique trunk right now. I was looking for some helpful books on the subject but couldn’t find anything so I started a blog to hopefully help others learn from my successes and mistakes.

  • Real cratsmanship that table is Barb, I was going to throw out my old table but instead have started to transform it thks to your guide.

  • On a recent project we found plastic wrap essential for the 24 hour wait period our citristrip paint removal required (inside wood work). I want to add that it took 2 and even 3 applications to get the wood cleaned of paint. A friend suggested putting on SAWDUST over the eco friendly strippers before removal, as it will ‘scrape’ off the goo more easily (we didn’t try that, but I am passing this tip on).
    For taking off brown, dull varnish, plain ammonia applied with really soft steel wool works very well instead of stripper.
    p.s. Piano? toxic stripper variety was used to remove heavy dead black varnish off of an upright antique piano–lots of hard work, but worth it.

  • 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.

  • What if a chunk of wood comes off during stripping. What would you recommend to do? Sand?

    • 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.