Friday, September 16, 2011

Stripping wood furniture: My how to & a lesson learned

A recent furniture renovation was supposed to be an fairly easy project, however ended up taking a lot more time than anticipated but ended up being a great learning experience.  
Great way to learn is fixing your mistakes, right?

I picked up this table at my local Goodwill with a $15 price tag and instantly knew the plans I had for her.  I wanted to paint the bottom white and stain the top darker, a very popular look lately. 

Where the failure occurred:
I sanded the entire table with my electric palm sander using a 120 grit removing all the gloss protective finish from the top.  I took my time being sure {to what I thought} was removing the finish to make the remainder of the project easier.  After I sanded, I did as usual, and wiped down with my tack cloth and grabbed my Miniwax Stain.  After the first coat sat for about 5 minutes I started to see this:

See the little spots? That's not what you want to see when staining... I knew something didn't go as it was supposed too. 

I was tempted to call it a lost cause since it was a cheap table to begin with and in my eyes was a failure.  But, I called on some of my favorite ladies I envy with their talents and skills of redoing furniture.

Marian @ Miss Mustard Seed  and Natalie @ Natty by Design

I emailed them in a frantic mess explaining what I did up until this point and what's the best options to rescue the piece.  Both suggested the same thing {strip the piece and start from scratch..again}.
Marian helped me better understand when to strip rather than sand and why the pooling occurred.
Natalie suggested a specific brand of paint stripper to use, and explained how she tackles pieces.

So the next day I set out and picked up
* Citristrip {what Natalie suggested}
* rubber gloves that were paint stripper safe
* plastic scrapper {metal can cause damage on soft wood when stripping}
* mineral spirits
* steel wool 0000
* lint free cloths

I already had some Jasco paint stripper on hand and was really curious between the two, which I'd like better so I decided to take the opportunity and strip the table half and half to see the differences.

What I did to strip
I laid out plastic tarp {be careful, can be slippery} and ensured I had PLENTY of ventilation.  Wiped down the table to be sure it was clean of any dust/lint. 

Following the instructions on each bottle {which were the same} I applied ample amount of paint stripper over the entire table.  If you use a brush I suggest using a cheap one you can just dispose of afterwards.  Don't apply the strip like you would paint, coat in one direction and don't go over the area more than once.  Each time you "swipe" the brush with thinner you're evaporating more of the chemicals that is used to strip the paint.  Just lay on a thick layer and let it be.

Initial reaction between the two:
Citristrip didn't have as harsh of a smell and was easier to ensure you were applying a thick layer.
However, I could see Jasco paint stripper working instantly which made me to initially believe it would work better.

I let it sit for 20 minutes without touching it.  Then came back and lightly scrapped a little bit off both sides to see if it stripped easily.  If it doesn't in your case let it sit for another 10 minutes, then try again.  If it still doesn't remove easily, you will need to completely scrape the surface and reapply more stripper as after 40 minutes the essential chemicals for stripping have evaporated off and will not be strong enough. 
The paint stripper will have bubbles on the surface, and the Citristrip didn't seem to bubble in the same way.
{After 20 minutes}

In my case 20 minutes was long enough and I began scrapping away.  I used an old empty paint can to collect the scrapings for easier clean up.
You'll want to scrape lightly without a lot of pressure as you can easily dent your wood at this point if it's a soft wood.

{After I scraped the entire table}
I actually ended up thinking the Citristrip worked better at an overall removal

Then I used steel wool and wiped it down to ensure the remover was completely off, and then gave it a good wipe down with mineral spirits and a lint free cloth.  Change the surface of the cloth often {after a couple wipes} to an unused portion of the cloth.  You don't want to wipe the table with a part of the cloth that has remover on it, as this step is to remove any left over paint remover. 

Voila, a brand new slate to begin the staining process..{again}
While this did take a bit of time, it sure is easier than finding out after you begin staining that you didn't sand off the finish entirely. 

Before I stained the table top again, I applied a wood conditioner which I'd suggest if stripping any soft woods.  Once you apply the conditioner you can stain the piece within 15 minutes but don't want to wait longer than two hours.

After all said and done, I was very happy to take the time to strip the piece as I LOVE the results:


What do you think?  Let me know if you have any questions about the products I used, or any paint stripping questions!


{I wasn't paid or compensated by Jasco or Citristrip for this post and all opinions and thoughts are my own}


  1. This turned out awesome! There's nothing worse than a botched project and it's SO hard to find the will to start over. Way to go!

  2. Happy dance, indeed! It looks great.

    Miss Mustard Seed

  3. Pamela I hadn't seen this table! It is AMAZING! you did an AWESOME job!!
    I LOVE IT! I wouldn't have had the patience for that!

  4. YOu already know how much I love this table! Great job and way to stick with it and do it right!

  5. Hi, Pamela

    The table looks awesome! Just love the colors.


  6. Hey there, Im about to do a farmhouse table & that stain is the perfect shade for the top. What is it?? Thanks!

  7. it looks awesome!
    story of my life is botched projects and having to redo them. keeps things interesting!
    i love it.


  8. Looks amazing and your post is very helpful!

    I'm also kind of jealous of your $15 thrift store find. I've never had that kind of luck!

  9. Wow! Your patience and hard work definitely paid off! It's a beautiful piece.

    How nice of Natalie and Marian to help! I have a couple of pieces of furniture that I'm going to be redoing and this tutorial will definitely help.

    Have a great day!

  10. Hi Pamela! Just found your blog! That coffee table turned out fabulous! Love it. I just read your "about me" and I'm pretty sure we should be friends. :) Can't wait to look around!

  11. I included your table in my Thrifty Inspiration round-up today. Thanks for such a helpful post!

  12. Beautiful!Well worth all the work and frustration. What a great transformation!

  13. ok so i have a question? how do you know when to use sand paper or to use the paint stripper?

    btw the table is awesome!

  14. I love the table sand was just searching the internet about chalk paint when I found your blog. My question is unrelated though...where did you get the gray rug in the photo? :-)

    1. Home Depot on clearance for like $50! Keep an eye out there they often have huge rugs on great sales.

  15. Great tutorial! I'm hoping to start on my kitchen table, soon. This will be a great help to me. Thank you!

  16. It came out fantastic. Have you ever used zip strip?

    1. I haven't, and I haven't heard of it either ... will check it out!

  17. Thanks for this tutorial! I'm attempting to strip my cabinets for a different look. I tried sanding the paint off but it's taking a while, even using my father-in-law's industrial-grade sander. The paint is thick and so solid. I'm thinking of using stripper to help a bit.

    Your instructions are clear and give me courage. Thanks!

  18. Hi - this tutorial is great! I love the look of your finished table and hoping it's still in style 3 years later because I'm doing it either way, lol. I have an almost identical piece that is solid cherry but looks like it is covered in varnish. Should I bother trying to sand it or just go straight to the chemical stripper? Also, do you know what stain you used to refinished the's perfect. Unfortunately, I know nothing about wood or refinishing furniture but I love a good DIY project. Please help if you can! Thank you!

    1. Hey Kate!
      Way to take the jump and dive into a project you haven't done before - best way to learn! I'd go straight for the chemical stripper and honestly CitraStrip is a great product and I suggest it more and more now compared to other strippers. But with a varnish, it'll be a lot of work to be sure you completely remove all residue from the top.
      I believe I used Provencial, it's like my favorite MinWax stain color I use it for everything! Just take your time, wear protective gear and do it outside or in an extremely well ventilated area. Follow instructions for the staining process, you won't want to leave it on too long or it'll be tacky and more difficult to get the finish you want.

      GOOD LUCK!

  19. Thanks so much for all the advice! I am going to tackle the job this weekend!

  20. Happy to say I actually started this project. Unfortunately, it's taking me forever but I refuse to give up! I'm doing a living room set (coffee table and two ends) so all three pieces at once is a big challenge for a newbie. CitraStrip definitely removed the thick layer of varnish but it only took some of the stain off at first. I gave it 24 hours to dry afterwards and saw better results the next day. Still, the wood itself has a very deep red tone. I sanded and sanded last night until I thought all was well. When I applied the wood conditioner that red color popped right back out at me! I still went ahead and applied just one coat of the stain you recommended. This morning I was hoping it would have balanced out a bit but it looks like I'm closer to red. I'm going to do another round with Citrastrip tonight and see how it goes. Assuming the first round had to work hard to get off the varnish I am hoping this time it will remove all the original stain buried in there. I really love the Provincial stain and don't want to settle for a light red version of what I started with. I will definitely post pics when it's all finally done!

  21. Kate,

    That sounds like so much work so I REALLY hope that it ends up turning out just how you want it!! GOOD LUCK!

  22. Great blog post! I don’t understand how long it will require me to obtain through all of them!
    furniture stores

  23. Happy to say the pieces came out great!! But as fate would have it I overlooked the most important part - does the furniture fit in my new living room. Sad to say it but - no. They are too small in the new space and look like doll house furniture, lol. Really nice doll house furniture. SO, I need to rethink where they will go. I don't regret doing it because it was a great first experience and taught me a lot. That sense of accomplishment is still there and I laugh telling people how my project how it turned out. I learned a very valuable lesson :)

    1. OH NO!!! But what a positive outlook to have on it. Do you have a smaller den area or maybe an entryway you could put them?
      Glad they turned out so great too :)


  24. OMG. I love Citristrip. I have learned, however, when removing stain to neutralize it with water and a scrubbie. Mineral Spirits, in addition to adding an evil chemical back into an environmentally friendly situation, can reliquify dark stain back into the wood. Sadly, I've had to do a 3rd coat (1 for paint, 2 for deep stain removal) to suck the now-magenta stain out of the wood.
    Also, if you leave this on and maybe even put plastic bags over it to press the Citristrip back against the wood, you never need steel wool, metal scrapers, or anything harsh. The way it lifts paint out of detail, I only use an eyeglass kit screwdriver to get the tiny bits left behind.
    I never even sand, actually, unless it's simply to brush off raised grain. I want until well dry and use 180 to 220. Done. But you must leave it on a bit longer for true, EASY success!
    I like your work. Found you via Pinterest.

    1. Christine & Pamela, I realize it's a year later but I stumbled on this post via a google search and am in the process of a coffee table re-do right now :) Trying to do the same thing.

      I feel like the mineral spirits isn't getting up all the residue either... little pieces of stain keep peeling up. Do I need to re-citristrip? Christine, are you suggesting citristrip + putting it in a plastic bag ? Do I scrape, and then wait to sand off the leftovers until it's dry?

      I think I'm missing something :)

  25. My goodness, I think you're overthinking this! Did you read Pamela's posts?
    Plus, stain doesn't peel.

    Put Citristrip on. Press plastic bags onto the Citristrip so it stays in contact with the wood.


    In 8 hours or so peel back the plastic bags.
    With a plastic (not metal!) scraper smooth with the grain what's left into a garbage bag or something.
    Then and only then, take WATER, not mineral spirits, and wash it down with a plastic scrubbie. I use a dish scrubbie.

    When the piece is absolutely, completely dry, then very lightly sand to smooth the grain. If there is Citristrip residue, just sand it off, too. LIGHTLY.

    I've only run into one thing Citristrip wouldn't strip, but neither would chemical strippers. I decided it was meant to remain painted.

    I'm not trying to hijack but this showed up in my mailbox. Pictures would be great... somehow... Pamela!?


Love hearing back from my readers, you make my day! Thanks, Pamela of PBJstories

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