How to Strip – Furniture, that is

Oftentimes, the furniture I come across when digging through the trenches of garage sales, Craigslist, flea markets, thrift stores, and the occasional garbage night is still in really great shape.  Aside from a few knicks or dings or surface imperfections, the wood itself is of good quality and has gorgeous grain.  IF you take the time to unearth it.

I learned early – my first roadside dresser – that gorgeous wood grain could easily be lurking under layers of stain or paint.  I also learned that stripping is messy business and not for the faint of heart.  I tackled that first dresser with gusto, and vowed never to strip that many layers again!  Paint does not strip as easily as stain – several coats of stripper are required.  So I don’t tackle those jobs anymore.  But I also can’t bear to see a beautiful piece of wood furniture covered up with paint!

If you walk through my store, yes, many pieces are painted.  But please realize, they were already painted when I got them, I just REpainted them.  Or, a lot of times, their surface was a veneer and not suitable for stain.  Rest assured, I’ve never painted over anything that could have been saved!

An example of a dresser I stripped and stained a few years ago. The grain was there, but not nearly as prominent as it is now!

That being said, I wanted to give everyone a quick look at what stripping a piece of furniture entails.  You know, in case you considered tackling it.  And after reading this, maybe you will consider letting us professionals handle the dirty work :)

I got started on these two end tables that were purchased from my “stash” of furniture available for customization.  My client loved the look and color of the set, but there were several imperfections on the surface (scratches, watermarks, scuffs, etc).

The product I use is by Kwik Strip – a general furniture stripping medium that can be used with a spray bottle for better coverage.

Kwik Strip Gel Furniture Stripper

Its consistency is that of runny Jell0.  And upon instant contact with your skin, it burns like crazy!  Although, I find gloves hindering, so I bite the bullet more than I should.  For this job, just the tops of the tables were being stripped – the rest of the areas were still in great shape.  I spray the stripping gel over the surface, careful not to get it on any areas I want to retain.  If a drop lands in an unwelcome spot, you’re too late.  Instant strippage! Yes, I made that word up!

After the gel is sprayed on



Stray drops of stripper on the wood


Following the instructions on the can, I wait for the gel to work is magic before scraping it off.  If things weren’t messy already, this is where they get crazy!  Using a large metal scraper, I scrape the gel into a slop bucket.

Scraping off the gel

As you can see on the left of the photo, some stain/varnish residue was still there, which required a second coat of stripper once this step was over.  Two coats in all.

Once I’ve cleaned up my mess, I go over all the stripped areas with an orbital palm sander.  This removes any varnish left behind and smooths out any further imperfections.

Post strip and sand, pre-stain

This shot shows both tables after having been stripped and sanded and ready for stain.  As you can see, those two light spots in the middle of the top level didn’t go away.  Because they are the same size in the same spot on both tables, my assumption is maybe lamp bases that got too hot??  I sanded them as best I could, but too much sanding could chew through the top veneer and possibly expose the “core” of the wood.  I have confidence that once they are stained and varnished, the spots will be minimized.

So there you have it.  Furniture stripping in a nutshell.  If I haven’t scared you from trying it yourself, good luck!  If chemical burns and sludgy goopy messes turn you off, I would love to help you out by tackling your piece!  Send me a picture or stop by the store.  We can discuss whether your item is suitable for stripping and staining :)

Next time, I will show you the finished product after it has been stained and varnished to match the rest of the wood color.


  1. Amber Milliren

    Great post Jess. I can easily say that you’ve made me very happy and confident in leaving the stripping (of the end tables!) to you! I can’t wait to see the final product and admire them in our new living room, thanks so much!

    • Thank you! It’s a messy job, but someone has to do it :) I think you and Mark will really like them when they are done.

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