How to strip wooden furniture

How to strip wooden furniture

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

198 guides

If you're looking to customise, repaint or treat your wooden furniture, you will have to start by stripping it. There are a few main ways to do so including using a chemical stripper or heat gun, or sanding. Follow our guide for handy tips to help you strip your wooden furniture like a pro.

Important features

  • Surface type
  • Type of furniture
  • Stripping method
  • Tools required
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Why strip wooden furniture?

To give your furniture a makeover


Stripping a piece of wooden furniture is great for giving your pieces a fresh lease of life or a new look to chime in with the rest of your interior. Old, pale, varnished oak is out while white-washed and aged wooden furniture is in! Alternatively, why not go all out with a metallic paint for a seriously modern effect?

To apply a fungicidal or pest control treatment


Furniture can fall victim to wood-eating insects. It's not uncommon to find a cupboard infested by furniture beetles or a shelf filled with wood worms or mites. Stripping your furniture will help to provide your pieces with greater protection. It will also allow products to penetrate the material more effectively as varnishing or painting furniture creates an airtight seal. In short, if you want to treat the wood properly, you must start by preparing your surface.

Different methods of stripping wood

There are a few main ways to strip a piece of wooden furniture. We'll cover these techniques below as well as a fourth method which often proves effective and offers an excellent finish.

With more than one way to strip wooden furniture, your decision will come down to a few criteria.

  • The type of furniture: is your furniture partially upholstered? Does it have any glazed surfaces? Any moulding? Is it made up of large, flat surfaces? Is it curved? Are you dealing with a chair, a wardrobe or a table?
  • The size of the surface you want to strip: you may need to invest in specialist tools, depending on how large your surface is.
  • The type of product you want to strip: there's no point in applying strong chemicals if you're only looking to strip wax.
  • The number of layers you want to strip: some furniture items have been painted and repainted so much that you'll find yourself stripping away three layers rather than one.
  • The type of finish you want: your choice of tools and products will depend on your standards and the amount of time you're willing to spend.
  • The types of tools you have at your disposal: for example, do you have a compressor? Or just some nylon paint brushes? What about a heat gun? Are you planning to use this project as an excuse to invest in some new tools?

You'll soon realise that some stripping jobs should only be started if you have the right tools at hand; otherwise, you run the risk of ending up with a less than satisfactory result. There are several different stripping techniques.

  • Blast cleaning: this will require the use of an air compressor, a blast cleaner and an abrasive.
  • Thermal blasting: requires the use of a heat gun and the right nozzles for your surface.
  • Chemical stripping: involves applying a chemical stripper or some caustic soda with a nylon paint brush (while wearing appropriate safety wear).
  • Sanding: using the right type of sander for your surface. While you can strip a surface by sanding alone, this is also an essential part of the three techniques described above.

It's worth noting that removing wax from a piece of furniture is generally considered a separate process to stripping.

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Chemical stripper

3 essential steps to stripping furniture

1. Examine the material you want to remove


Before you start stripping, you will have to determine whether you are working with wax or varnish. To do so, wet a cloth with some rubbing alcohol and wipe it over part of the furniture. If the cloth takes on the colour of the furniture, the piece is coated in wax; if the cloth doesn't change colour, it has been varnished. You can also carry out a similar test using fine grit sandpaper: if the paper gets clogged up, it's wax; if you get dust, it's varnish.

2. Strip your furniture


Your choice of stripping technique depends on your tools, the type of furniture you're working with, the surface you aim to strip and the type of finish you want. You can keep your job environmentally friendly by choosing eco-friendly products. Safety goggles, gloves and a protective mask will be required.

3. Sanding


Whether you've decided to sandblast, heat blast or chemically strip, you simply have to rid your surfaces of all wood paint, lacquer, wax, gilding, varnish, walnut stain or bleaching agents such as oxalic acid (also known as wood bleach).

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Walnut stain

Blast cleaning furniture

Blast cleaning is a very effective stripping technique and provides impeccable results. It is best done outdoors or in a well-ventilated space indoors. Under no circumstances should you attempt to blast clean your dresser while it's still in the living room next to the TV! Blast cleaning allows you to strip every last corner with ease; you can tackle corners, moulding, cornices and sculpted wood with no trouble at all. Finish by giving your furniture a once over with a fine grit sandpaper and your work is done!

  • Tools required : compressor, blast cleaning kit, abrasive.
  • PPE: safety goggles, noise-cancelling headphones and mask with respiratory protection.
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Sandblasting kit

Applying a chemical stripper

Stripping wooden furniture using a chemical stripper is effective but does require more time and isn't usually the most environmentally friendly option. Chemical strippers should be applied using a nylon paint brush in a well-ventilated area. The ground should be protected with tarp, old cardboard boxes or newspaper. You must apply your stripper according to the manufacturer's instructions. This usually involves applying a lot of product to match the number of paint layers you are attempting to remove.

Two applications may be necessary for furniture covered with a thick layer of paint. You will then have to wait for the stripper to take effect (this can take a few minutes or a few hours) before scraping off the paint using a scraper tool that matches your surface in terms of both size and design.

  • Tools: paint brush, scraper tool, cloth, floor protection, stripper.
  • PPE: safety goggles, respiratory protection (important), protective gloves (recommended).
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Chemical stripper

Stripping using caustic soda

Everbuild EVBCAUSTIC Caustic Soda Powder 500g

Just like with chemical stripping, caustic soda must be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. The caustic soda should be applied using a paint brush; this should be done very carefully as this is a highly corrosive product. Apply the product according to the number of paint layers you have to strip and wait for it to take effect.

  • Tools: paint brush, scraper tool, cloth, floor protection, caustic soda.
  • PPE: safety goggles, respiratory protection, protective gloves (essential).
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Caustic soda

Heat stripping your furniture

Terratek 2000W Heat Gun Professional Hot Air Gun, 2 Temperature Settings 350°C & 600°C, Ideal for Stripping Paint, Soldering Pipes, Shrinking PVC

Using a heat gun is an effective and environmentally friendly to strip furniture. Be sure to choose your nozzle to match the surface you are stripping. This process should not take too long. In fact, you can end up darkening the wood if it is heated too much. You will then have to finish the job by using a scraper tool suited to the surface you want to strip. A large, flat scraper can be use for flat surfaces while a pointed one is best for working into ridges, corners and so on.

  • Tools: heat gun, cloth, scraper.
  • PPE: safety goggles, respiratory protection, protective gloves.
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Heat gun

How to remove wax

Wooden High Table for Bar Restaurant Bistro 80x80 GERRY

Removing wax from furniture is a similar process to chemical stripping, except for the fact that wax remover is generally a much less corrosive product. Apply a generous layer using a brush. After waiting for the wax remover to get to work, you simply need to wipe down your furniture using some steel wool, working in the direction of the wood grain. To deactivate the wax remover, you will have to apply some 95% rubbing alcohol with cotton wool. A wood brightener can then be applied, followed by more alcohol, if you plan to re-wax your furniture. Otherwise, you can simply sand down your furniture using fine grit sandpaper.

  • Tools: paint brush, steel wool, cotton wool, cloth, floor protection, wax remover, wood brightener, fine grit sandpaper, 95% rubbing alcohol.
  • PPE: safety goggles, respiratory protection, protective gloves.
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Professional cleaners

Stripping by sanding

Metabo SXE 3150 230v 150mm Random Orbit Disc Sander

Using a sander to strip is perhaps the most popular technique, but it may not be the most effective, especially if your paint is thick as you'll find your sandpaper quickly gets clogged up quickly. You can sand using an orbital sander (ideal for curved surfaces), a random orbital sander (for large, flat surfaces) or a finishing sander with a 1/4 sheet or triangular base (great for corners).

Sanding by hand

Depending on the size of your surface, you can also sand by hand using a sanding block. Any detailed parts should be sanded by hand, using a delta sander (with a triangular base) or a multi-purpose Dremel-type tool. Whether you're working by hand or using a sander, you should always go from the coarsest to the finest grit and be sure to move with the wood grain. Sanding should be done after any stripping method and once you've finished, the piece should be dusted off with a blow gun or wiped with a cloth. There should be no dust left on your surfaces when it comes to applying a new coat of varnish, lacquer or wood paint.

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Finishing sanders

Choosing a stripping technique

Type of furniture

Stripping method

Tools required

Waxed furniture

Wax remover + sanding or wood brightener

Wax remover, cotton wool, steel wool, 95% rubbing alcohol, wood brightener or sander and sandpaper, PPE

Furniture with multiple layers of paint or complex moulding

Chemical stripper + sanding

Chemical stripper or caustic soda, scraper, sander and sandpaper, PPE

Furniture with flat surfaces

Heat gun + sanding

Heat gun, scraper, sander and sandpaper, PPE

Furniture with one layer of varnish

Sanding or chemical stripper

Chemical stripper or caustic soda, scraper, sander and sandpaper, PPE

If you have the tools at your disposal, blast cleaning is suitable for all types of furniture and product removal (varnish, paint, etc.).

Finally, do not hesitate to take advantage of this time to give your furniture a makeover to match the rest of your pieces or fit accessories such as new door handles.

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter, 198 guides

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Redo a roof with wooden beams? Check.Advise Mister everybody in the DIY shop? Check.Redo the bathroom plumbing? Check.Fit together, build the walls, paint a partition, throw my hammer in a rage thinking that it will fix the problem? Check. The DIY motto ? Learning is better than delegating… well, it's also a question about your wallet! The satisfaction? The beer at the end of the job! What do the best have in common? The influence of Gyro Gearloose, Mac Gyver and Carol Smiley depending on your generation, a good dose of curiosity, a average hand-eye coordination and a taste for risks… and if it doesn't work, try again! Advise you? I'll do my best!

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