There are so many pieces of furniture I’ve come across that just look sad. Maybe it’s an awful attempt at a shabby chic paint job, a lackluster upkeep or it could just need a bit of pizzazz. If you are willing to put in the elbow grease to breathe new life into an old piece of furniture the results can be very rewarding.
Like many people, I have started projects with the best of intentions, then conveniently got pulled away to something else and had left a half-finished piece of art or craft to gather dust. My biggest and most dusty project came about in June of 2019 when I decided to refinish a dresser I bought at the Bend Goodwill. I liked the shape of it and the character of the old, splitting pieces of wood, but I hated the color.
So in July, I began stripping it of paint. Layer after layer for two days using half a quart jug of CitriStrip Stripping Gel and making a mess of the garage floor in the process.
The wood was nice, better than I expected, it was rich and warm and I thought I would keep it in its original state. Then it sat in the garage for a year.
Over that year I went back and forth on what to do with it until finally for
Labor Day, I made a decision and painted it black, giving it a fresh and clean look.
I am not a professional furniture restorer or refurbisher, and any true antique of any value should not be restored by an amateur over a long weekend but should instead be put into more expert hands. But if you just have an old piece of relatively non-valuable furniture laying around, or want to try something different on another piece in your house, here’s how:
- Paint stripper
- A cheap, clean paintbrush you can throw away
- A small plastic tub or container with a lid
- Rubber or disposable gloves
- Plastic wrap or trash bags
- Putty knives
- Wire brush (optional for detail work)
- Mineral spirits
- Clean rags
- Wood filler (optional for cracks or holes to fill)
- Sander or sandpaper
- Paint, stain or mineral oil (depending on the finish you want)
- Paint roller
Prepping your space
This is a messy job so prepare your area by throwing down a paint tarp or sheet you don’t care about under the piece of furniture. Take off any hardware or removable pieces and take out any drawers.
Read all instructions on your paint stripper and make sure you are doing this in a well-ventilated environment, as even the gels that are marked “safe for indoor use” can get pungent.
Pour a small amount of paint stripper into the small plastic tub or container and start generously slathering it over the surface of the furniture piece your working with.
Stripping the paint
After you have applied the paint stripper to all painted surfaces, you can either leave it to do its work for a couple of hours and check it, or for best results, cover all the surfaces in plastic and wait overnight. The plastic keeps the paint stripper from drying out and keeps it working and eating through the layers of paint.
Put on your gloves and remove the plastic once enough time has passed. Throw the plastic away, and using a putty knife, begin to scrape away the paint. Depending on the thickness of the paint, how dry the paint stripper is and how long you let it sit, results can vary as to how much you actually remove, so multiple coats of paint stripper may be necessary.
Use steel wool or a wire brush to remove paint from detailed surfaces.
Depending on the wood of the furniture, over-scraping can lead to permanent scratches or gouges on the wood.
Cleanup and finishing
Once all the paint has been removed sand over any rough spots with a hand sander or manually with some sandpaper.
Using a clean rag, finish cleaning the piece by rubbing using mineral spirits all over the areas where the paint stripper was used. This may take multiple rags.
If the wood looks good and the paint is completely removed, you can leave the piece as is using mineral oil to maintain and protect or stain it the tint of your choice. If the wood isn’t in the greatest shape or you want to add some color back into it, fill in any cracks or holes using wood filler and paint it your desired color using a paint roller designed for furniture for best results. After you paint, make sure to put a protective layer of clear polyurethane to prevent scratching or flaking.