How To Strip Wood Furniture
Refinishing furniture you received from a family member, got at a yard sale, or even out of the dumpster can save you money. Not only that, it gives you the satisfaction that you turned something old and used into something amazing. Why spend hundreds of dollars to furnish your home when you can create a work of art for pennies on the dollar? Before you start enjoying your new furniture, the first thing you have to do is strip the current finish off of the wood. So, let’s talk about how to strip wood furniture.
Which Stripper Is Right For Your Project
Just about any stripper will work on any real wood project you may have. However, you may just want to scrape and sand the MDF and Plywood projects. Strippers are filled with different chemicals and even the ones claiming they are safe can actually harm you. Be sure to read the back of the bottle to find out what chemicals are in the stripper as well as what safety precautions you should be taking.
Four Types Of Strippers
- Methylene Chloride – Those that strip furniture for their main source of income typically use this stripper because it works well and it works fast. However, if it touches your skin it will burn and it smells pretty bad. The fumes can be hard to breathe and can make some health problems worse. Always use this type of stripper outside or in a well-ventilated area. For safety cover your exposed skin and wear goggles and a respirator.
- N-Methyl Pyrrolidone (NMP) – Although this type of stripper works slower than the Methylene chloride, it is less noxious because it contains NMP. Even though it has a citrus smell, be sure to still wear that respirator and goggles. Always cover any exposed skin as well.
- Safer Stripper – There is a stripper called Safest Stripper that has very little fumes and it won’t burn your skin. Unfortunately, it takes up to 24 hours to work. The safer strippers like this contain water which may cause the grain of the wood to rise. You’ll have extra sanding to do should you choose this stripper.
- Refinishers – Refinishers are strictly for removing clear finishes. They dissolve clear finishes like shellac. They are not meant to strip paint. Be sure to follow the safety precautions outlined in the methylene chloride type of stripper.
Tools Needed For Stripping Furniture Finishes
- Metal Container and Disposable Brush – Strippers can basically eat plastic containers so purchasing a metal container is recommended. If you don’t want to purchase a pan, consider buying a foil pan or even use a coffee can. When deciding what type of brush you use, consider using an old paint brush or buying a cheap brush.
- Scrapers and Pads – Grab a wide putty knife to scoop the finish after it has been softened by the stripper. Round off the corners of the putty knife so that you do not scrape into the wood of your furniture when scraping it. You can also use a 3” x 3” piece of plywood, approximately ¼” thick to scrape the finish. Scouring pads that are made of plastic are good tools to remove any stripper or other residue leftover on the wood.
- Dental Picks and Brass Brushes – When you have a piece of furniture with fine details, a dental pick is a good tool to use to pick out the finish. Brand new picks will scratch the wood, though, so dull picks are best. Using a brass brush for woods with large pores or chair legs is best. The brass bristles are much softer than the steel bristles.
- Round Scrapers – Sometimes there are places in the wood that a putty knife can’t get to. A great example of this would be dog scratches in hardwood floors. A round scraper works best for this problem. You can fashion a round scraper by putting a screw into a dowel or a fender washer into a pair of locking pliers.
Useful Tips For Stripping Furniture
- Use A Thick Coat – Most strippers are less like paint and more like a gel. Consider brushing the stripper on thick. If the first coat dries before you have the time to scrape it off, apply a second coat.
- Zone Strip – When you are planning to strip a large piece of furniture, like an antique pool table restoration project, plan to strip it in zones. This will allow you to strip the furniture before it dries and it will be more successful.
- Reduce Evaporation – Strippers only work if they are wet. If you allow it to dry, you will not have a successfully finished strip. To keep your piece from drying or evaporating too quickly, cover it with a drop cloth or plastic bag.
- Easy Cleaning – When you are in the process of scraping off the finish, get an old cardboard box. As you strip the finish, clean off your putty knife using the edges of the box. Once the residue dries, you can dispose of the cardboard box.
- Is It Worth It? – Underneath the paint on some pieces of furniture are problems. Consider only stripping a small part of the furniture to see any problems before starting a project you may not want to do.
- Repainting = No Stripping – If you plan on repainting a piece of furniture you may not really need to strip it. Simply wash it with Trisodium Phosphate and water and sand.
- Removing Stain – The strippers are great at removing clear finishes. Unfortunately, they don’t always remove the stain on some surfaces. If you only want to get down to the natural wood, strip as much stain as you can off of the project using a lacquer thinner and pad. If you cannot remove all of the stain consider staining the furniture with the same color stain or one slightly darker.
- Hardware Stripping – One of the best parts of refinishing furniture is making the hardware come back to life. If you have hardware with a lot of paint on it, grab an old crockpot, fill it with water and a few drops of dish soap. Place your hardware into the crockpot and cook on low overnight. The next morning, the paint should fall off of the hardware.
Start Refinishing Your Furniture Today
Using these tips and information you are now ready to get started on your refinishing project. Determine what tools you will need to buy, the stripper that will work best for your project, and get started. Refinishing furniture for your own use can be a satisfying feeling. Once you get the process down, you’ll be keeping an eye out for more projects to do.