A Beginners Guide to Stripping Furniture
Truth be told I detest stripping furniture, it's just not my jam. Sometimes though, a pieces comes along and it catches my breath and suddenly my need to strip it becomes over powering. This vintage dresser was one of those pieces. It's a pretty simple vintage dresser but the grain the drawers specifically caught my eye and I Knew it had to be stripped.
Here is the before of this dresser.
You can see if you look closely (or maybe you can't lol) the gorgeous hues and depth in this wood grain. As is typical with vintage pieces the varnish was thick, yellowed, dry in some places and just ick and it was covering up all the gorgeous details.
Stripping furniture SUCKS, not gonna lie, I hate it. But with my 5 tips you'll be stripping your furniture like a pro!
Step 1 Get the right supplies before you start!
My motto in life and specifically at any task I'm about to embark on is "work smarter not harder'. Having the right materials up front can be the difference will save you from wanting to pull your hair out and giving up before you start.
Here are my MUST haves
Safety Goggles (you only get one pair of eyes! protect them)
putty knife of choice
TSP cleaning agent
Step 2 Sweat Equity; Using your Muscles & Applying TSP
The next step is, in my opinion, is one of the most important when stripping your pieces. TSP! If you've never used TSP before then you are missing out. This is a step we take before every single custom paint we do. This stuff is magic! We use a spray bottle that has a fine mist option, mix 2 tsp of TSP with a full spray bottle of warm water, mix until dissolved.
Spray the entire pieces down until it's dripping, wait 5 min then using your gloves and your steel wool scrub in the direction of the wood grain. Once you've loosened al the all 'ick', use some rages to wipe it dry. You could skip this step if you wanted but I feel like the citristrip does a MUCH better job working on the varnish removal when it's not working first to get through the years of grime build up that are generally found on these project pieces. You'll go through less work later too in the stripping process.
Step 3 Apply your Citristrip
I like to apply my stripper in a zig zag pattern, then take a 2" chip brush and evenly distribute across the pieces, applying in the direction of the wood grain. Once you have a nice thick coat, set your timer (I generally do about 15 min) and WALK away! Do not try to take it off before it's bubbling and ready, if you do it will be a sticky mess and you'll regret it. (I may or may not be speaking from experience!)
Step 4 Removing the strip and varnish
When you come back to the pieces you'll be able to see the varnish as started to bubble a little and turn a whiteish color. My stripping tool of choice is this 3" metal putty knife. It has a very clean, thin, sharp line and it's perfect for stripping varnish. When applying the knife to the pieces do so at an approx 30degree angle and push away from you going in the direction of the wood grain. Do not go against the grain or you'll end up with scratches across your beautiful grain!
This step requires LOTS of rags. We tend to do sweeping motions from side to side, moving the goop off the dresser and into a piece of paper towel. Old newspaper or junk mail works perfectly here as well!
You'll notice some of the varnish comes right off slick as anything and a few areas more often than not will have a high sheen to them and be super stubborn to break through. Not to worry! Once you're done removing as much as you can, You'll need to add more Citristrip to those areas and repeat this step again (sometimes several times) to get a nice flat wood grain surface.
YOU WILL notice that as you remove the strip some areas are a bit gooey and feel thick and syrupy.... this is normal and is okay! Keep scrapping with your putty knife until you get as much of the goop off as you can!
Step 5 More muscles, more TSP, more wiping and you're almost done!
After you have stripped the piece and have a smooth and not varnish surface ( this means it will no longer have a sheen to it, it will have a non sheen matte finish) You'll need to clean off the rest of the strip that knife missed. To this we spray down the piece with a very thin mist of TSP, with no 'sitting' time this time you'll use the steel wool to rub in the direction of the wood grain, once you have loosened most of the residue that's left you can begin trying with paper towels. Sometimes we repeat this step as needed :) it's not always needed.
Here is what ours looks like up close once we were done stripping. It's simply swoon worthy! Our plan is to paint the base outside the dresser a natural organic slate blue and to seal the top and the drawers with a seal that will pull out even more grain! I'll be sure to share our after when it's complete!
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