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How To: Chemical Strip Your Furniture

Terra George All Blog Posts How To

How to remove paint

We have chemically stripped 100's of pieces and we always try new ways and experiment to get the job done fast, easy and with a professional finish.

Today I am sharing with you all our hot tips and tricks that actually work to save you time and money!

Before we get started lets get inspired! Lets take a look at some of our personal favorite pieces we've stripped and refinished for our fabulous clients...

Ellen's solid teak desk she brought back from her travels in Indonesia we stripped, repaired and refinished using Greystokes in a "wash".

Audra's antique lawyer cabinet we stripped, repaired and "washed" in Greystokes.

Audra's antique folding table stripped and layered with Greystokes, Little White and Cast Black "washes" and dry brushed with Little White.

Lisa & Bob's precious side table stripped and "washed" with Greystokes, Little White and Cast Black many times over for the perfect layered finish.

april & sheldon kitchenapril & sheldon kitchen

April & Sheldon's 1970's kitchen in Kelowna we stripped off 7+ different layers of paint colours and "white washed" using Little White to prepare their home for new renters.


STEP #1:

Find your project and take an BEFORE photo

Here's my project for this tutorial a solid oak dining table we purchased from our clients Laura & Nick. I plan to strip the entire piece and update with Saman Water Based Stain.

Before you get started make sure to take the safety precautions.

Your work area:

preferably outside or in a well ventilated area and you must take care to keep the area free of open flame. No smoking while you work, and stay away from appliances with pilot lights.

Preparing the Furniture:

Before you start to apply paint and varnish remover, remove all hardware from the piece of furniture -- knobs, handles, hinges, decorative locks ect. If the piece of furniture has doors or drawers, remove them and work on them separately.

HOT TIP: label your hardware or take a photo for how to reassemble with ease. 

After I removed the top and hardware I cleaned my project with TSP eco and 300 Grit Pad... I hate working with dirty furniture I always clean a piece first to remove the smell, grime, and waxy build up the previous owners used to clean/polish their furniture.


Mask, drop cloth, safety glasses, stripping gloves, long sleeves, long pants, closed toe shoes, tie back hair if its long, and have access to fresh cold water in case you get chemical stripper on your bare skin.

There are many ways to remove an old finish, some them more difficult than others.

Shellac and lacquer finishes are the easiest to remove, requiring only methyl hydrate, lacquer thinner with steel wool and some muscles!



Before you use paint and varnish stripper on a piece of furniture, take a minute to test the finish with methyl hydrate and lacquer thinner. Older furniture often has a shellac or lacquer finish, but it's hard to know what the finish is just by looking. Shellac and lacquer are clear finishes, like varnish, but they're much easier to remove. The time you spend to test the finish could save you hours of work.


50% Methyl Hydrate with 50% Lacquer Thinner in a metal tray.

Put on your stripping gloves and take a piece of steel wool and saturate in your mixture. Rub the area and let dry. If the the finish comes off you know it has shellac or lacquer on it.

Here's a dresser with shellac/lacquer finish on it...

stripping laquer

Removing shellacRemoving shellacRemoving laquer

If the finish does not come off you will need to use Furniture Stripper/Remover.


The tougher finishes, paint and varnish, are more common; these are removed with paint and varnish stripper.

There are many types of stripper on the market we have used about 40 different types/brands and continue to try other new brands ... our favorite is Dad's!

Dad's Easy Spray Remover

HOT TIP: Inexpensive paint and varnish strippers soften old finishes, but they're not necessarily the bargain they appear to be. First of all, these removers may contain a waxy substance: paraffin. Paraffin gives the wood an oily look and feel and prevents the new finish from adhering properly. It must be removed with your Methyl Hydrate & Laquer Thinner before the new finish can be applied. Not only is this another step in the stripping process, but the additional money spent on turpentine or mineral spirits can be considerable. In the long run, you may end up spending as much as you would for the more expensive paint and varnish removers.


When using Dad's Easy Spray shake the can and pour the stripper into the spray bottle.

You want to spray and saturate the surface with a heavy coat or stripper and allow it to penetrate for 15 minutes before you start scraping.


When scraping we suggest using a Maple scrapers as they will not damage the wood surface like metal scrapers will.

I like having a variety of tools handy here's my new maple scraper, corner scraper and a chip brush.

HOT TIP: If you need to move the remover around the chip brush will not be effected by the remover but foam brushes and synthetic brushes will melt!

When scraping always do your best follow the grain especially heavy grain like Oak as it has a heavy grain pattern. You do not want to damage as it will show when finished.


HOT TIP: When stripping curved surfaces ie. spindles, legs ect. The trick is packaging. Apply a very thick coating of semi-paste remover to the rung, round, or slat; then fold a piece of aluminum foil over the part to enclose the remover in a package or envelope. The aluminum foil helps hold the remover against the part and also prevents the remover from evaporating too quickly.

Rope trick when removing a finish off furniture

HOT TIP: Several applications of paint remover may be necessary on turnings with crevices and joints. To remove the softened finish, use a piece of string or hemp rope.

HOT TIP: One of the best tools for refinishing is a rubber kitchen scraper. Use it to remove the softened finish from moldings and other hard-to-get-at and easily damaged areas

CLEANING with Steel Wool

Steel wool is the best way to remove leftover spots from flat, round, and all easy-to-get-at areas. Dip some medium-fine (O) steel wool in chemical paint remover, and try to scrub the remaining finish off. If necessary, repeat the stripping process with another application of the remover or rub it down with your methyl hydrate & lacquer thinner. When the wool becomes full of old finish, throw it away and use a new piece. Once dry give a light sand with 240 grit sandpaper.

 Cleaning after you've chemically stripped your furniture

Once your project is completely stripped, lightly sanded and cleaned with TSP ECO... once dry use a Tack Cloth if needed to remove any dust from sanding .

It's now time to finish your project!

We decided use Saman Iron Earth water-based stain.

For detailed directions on how to use Samana Water-Based Stain click here.

 Before and after stripping furniture

Before we stained the top we decided to cut off the bevel to give the table a more modern look.Stripping furniture

 Things You'll Need:

Another way to remove paint is using a Heat Gun...

Earlex Heat Gun

If you're nervous about using chemicals to remove paint the Earlex heat gun is another option. This is a very slow process however it does have it's advantages and disadvantages.

Earlex Heat Gun

When using the Earlex heat gun with one hand and a scarper in the other you can heat the paint until it starts to bubble and scrap off the paint. As you can see it's less messy and can be done inside your home.

removing paint with a heat gun

I was excited to try this technique using our new Earlex Heat gun. Here's a side of a door we're working on repairing for our clients.


Here's one pass as you can see it didn't remove all the paint and now I am going to have to clean with the methyl hydrate, lacquer thinner and steel wool. Once dry I give the surface a light sand with an orbital sander using 120 grit to remove the burn marks caused from the heat gun.

Dip Tanks....

Dip tanks for stripping furniture

Another option is hiring a company to dip your furniture into their tank of stripper. This may seam like a great idea but the disadvantage is quality furniture is actually built/ laminated together with wood glue. When a piece of furniture sits in the stripper it can eat away the glue causing your furniture to become weakened and possibly break down the road.


I hope I have inspired you to try stripping your furniture! I can honestly tell you if you give it a try you will have a new appreciation and understanding for the time and costs involved with refinishing furniture. The end result leaves you with more finishing options i.e. staining, washes etc... overall just a better finish!


Happy Painting & Refinishing Everyone!






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