Using caustic paint stripper on an old cabinet door.

Using a Paint-Varnish Stripper


Using a Stripper to Remove Old Furniture Finish Involves Working with Powerful Chemicals

If you are thinking of using a stripper to remove the old finish from an antique piece of furniture, you should be aware of certain issues surrounding the use of powerful chemicals. There are a few different ways to strip furniture, but the most common method is by applying pre-mixed furniture stripper that you can buy at a local hardware store.

The factors that you should think about before starting your project are as follows:

  • Using a stripper involves chemicals that can pose health risks.
  • Not knowing how to use furniture stripper correctly can cause damage to the furniture.
  • When applying and removing furniture stripper it is important to use the right tools and materials.

Tips for Using a Stripper

  1. One of the most important aspects of using a stripper to remove old finish is choosing the correct type, and applying it the right way. Furniture stripper is available in varying strengths and in order to prevent damage, it is recommended to use the weakest stripper that will get the job done. If a stripper that is too strong is used, you will risk damaging the wood. When you are working with antique wood and you are putting in time and money to get the piece ready for refinishing, you are not going to want to deal with damage that could have been avoided.
  2. There are different types of strippers that work best on paint, on varnish and on stain. Do not attempt to use a stripper that is meant for one type finish on another type of finish.
  3. Do not spend a lot of money on paint brushes or foam brushes that will be used to apply furniture stripper. Chances are you will throw away the brushes after you use them, so it is silly to waste money on expensive ones. Applying stripper is simple and it does not have to be applied in even coats. Therefore, use old or inexpensive brushes.
  4. Try to not dip the brush you are using into the large container of stripper. Instead, pour the amount you think you will use into an old glass container and use that as your source for dipping the brush you are using. If you need more stripper, simply pour more into the glass container. When you do it this way you will avoid contaminating the entire container of stripper and you will be able to save the unused (and uncontaminated) portion for use on a later date.
  5. Apply furniture stripper on the top of the piece first, and then move down the sides of the piece until you reach the bottom. This method helps with dripping and making sure that the entire piece is covered.
  6. Don’t attempt to remove the old finish using a metal scraper. Because the stripper will cause the underlying wood to become soft, a metal scraper can inadvertently scratch the wood, and scratches will become visible after the new finish is applied.
  7. After removing the old finish and cleaning the piece, let the furniture dry for at least two days before re-finishing it. However, don’t wait too long to complete the process because unfinished wood requires protection from moisture and other environmental conditions.


Using a stripper to remove finish is the quickest and easiest way to prepare a piece for a new coating. Besides the tips listed above, there are many other methods for ensuring that the stripper is used properly and safely. Be sure to use caution when opening a container of stripper and also wear appropriate safety items such as eye goggles, chemical-safe gloves, and protective clothing. Make sure to follow all of the directions on the container and also use the correct materials and tools to scrape off the old finish.

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