Sunday, April 17, 2011

How to Strip Furniture

I have just finished a beautiful 1930's extension table that I'll reveal in a post tomorrow but I have had so many people ask me about stripping back furniture that I thought I'd post how I do it.  Often I won't need a chemical stripper and I just use a handsander and use progressively finer sandpaper to remove the damaged surface but in extreme cases, I resort to a chemical stripper.

I bought this lot of furniture in January on eBay.

It had been previously stained and lacquered a revolting bright red fake mahogany. This was awful to remove and I literally spent days sanding this back.  Thank god for Citristrip.

This was the bright red of the furniture before it had a Lilyfield Life makeover. Good lord, what were they thinking.

Shake the can and pour into a metal container. I used the tin trays you use for BBQ fat collection. Citristrip stays wet for ages and your brushes are washable in water.

Brush on reasonably thickly. If you are too sparse then it doesn't work as well. I think you need at least 2mm of stripper. Wait until the surface bubbles.  This may take 30 mins or more depending on the weather and also the surface. Don't get impatient because if you do it too soon then you'll just end up needing to reapply. I am so impatient that I probably made the job much more tedious than it needed to be.

Citristrip is very nice as it stays wet for ages (24 hours) so if you get interrupted then your surface doesn't dry out. Especially helpful when you're squeezing in furniture restoration in around your kids and you're meant to be cooking dinner and instead you've snuck out to the carport to work on a piece and realise the dinner's burning and the kids are fighting.....(a glimpse of my life!)

Then with the paint scraper remove the gunk. Make sure you only GO WITH THE GRAIN! And be gentle as you don't want to gouge the wood. Once the majority of the lacquer is off then I wash it down with a household scourer (the green ones with the sponge on the back) making sure all the stripper is removed. You may need to repeat the stripping process on difficult bits.

Then once the wood is dry start sanding. I start with P80, then 120 then finally 240 sandpaper. For curved areas I use the sanding foam blocks. Once again GO WITH THE GRAIN. The more time you spend on these steps the more beautiful your finished piece will be so it's worth the effort. If you have black marks in the wood you may want to wash down with bleach or Oxalic acid.

Then wipe down with a damp cloth and stain or finish as you desire.  This is the surface below that I was stripping above.  No more luminescent red.

Hope this helps.
Fiona xx


  1. Great tutorial! Thanks for the info, your furniture looks gorgeous now!

  2. Gorgeous. Such a beautiful and professional job. Hugs, Marty

  3. Thanks so much. I have a similar cabinet outside which I started sanding but it hasn't really worked so stripping is the way to go I think :)

  4. I'm a little surprised that you didn't mention that the dark old shellac finish on a lot of Australian furniture can be quite easily removed by scrubbing with metho and steel wool.
    I haven't sanded a piece for a long time as I was often keeping the timber with a clear finish, and sanding takes all the character away.

  5. Just found you via Pinterest!
    I hope by now you've learned the trick of pressing plastic bags into the Citristrip to hold it against the wood? Leaving it overnight? I've found up to 7 layers of paint have come off in sheets this way. Very gratifying!

    I've also discovered that a 2nd coat and overnight wait will suck that God-awful red stain out of the wood. I neutralize with water and (also) a scrubbie so I don't reactivate the stain back into the wood. Ask me how I know mineral spirits reliquifies that magenta goo back into the wood. No, don't ask. It wasted time, product and energy. I've also found that wiping it down (on its side to sluice the goo off more easily) with the scrubbie also negates much of the need to sand! Just a smoothing swipe once COMPLETELY dry with a higher grit and I'm done.

    I love this stuff and don't know how I ever, ever thought I'd strip furniture without it. Nothing like doing a piece in front of the TV, in your pajamas, and wiping the spills up with your hands.
    I'm loving your work and your articles. Thanks for sharing all your experiences!

    1. thanks so much Christine -that is such good information! I am going to check it out next time i am stripping something. thank you. xx


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