Your antique furniture dates from before the twentieth century? It is a safe bet that it is a work of handmade cabinetmaker, a unique work of art. To maintain the market value of your furniture, it is important not to repaint it. The wood is noble and your furniture too. The latter has its own shade, hue, and DNA. If you still want to repaint your furniture, be careful however to apply a primer first so that the paint is not absorbed by the furniture. If you come to change your mind, it will be possible to return to natural wood without damaging the furniture.

Ok, you have decided to keep the natural look of the furniture but its appearance is tarnished and dull for now. Don’t be afraid! In a few moments, you will have the information you need to restore a nice look to your antique furniture. Before putting any finishing product on your furniture, one of the most delicate tasks will be to strip it.


There are several stripping methods depending on the type of finishing product to be removed, the thickness and number of ornaments that will make the task more or less laborious.


The mechanical stripping by sanding is the softest method but also the slowest! For this type of stripping, it is important to take precautions by wearing gloves and mask against dust. In fact, old paints often contain lead and sanding them produces toxic dusts. As a general rule, we start with a grain sanding paper of 80 up to 180 or 220 grit. Using an electric sander will greatly accelerate the work, but the irregular surfaces must still be sanded out by hand. The big disadvantage of this technique is that it could produce scratches that are very difficult to remove. This method is therefore to be avoided for furniture of great value.


A faster technique is to use a heat gun that can be rented in any good tool rental shop. This tool acts as a hairdryer except that it can spray air up to 600 °C. This method is very powerful, but also very dangerous and for you and for the furniture. It is therefore necessary to perform this task without the presence of young children and to take precautions to avoid burning. For furniture, it is important to pay attention to any glued parts (veneers, windows and drapery support, etc.) and to avoid leaving the dryer in the same place for too long and thus avoiding burning the wood. By moving the heat gun at about ten centimeters away from the surface, paint burning will be avoided.

Once the coat of paint or varnish is softened, it can be removed with a scraper, sandpaper or a steel wool. Again, the risk of scratching the cabinet with the scraper or sandpaper is real. This is why you will get a finer finish starting with a medium steel wool to begin with, and then a fine steel wool towards the end of the stripping process.


Chemical stripping is the most popular method especially when the furniture contains a lot of ornamentation. Strippers of any kind (spray, liquid, gel, paste) and even ecological stripper are available. Ecological strippers are less powerful than conventional chemical ones. It is therefore necessary to apply a greater number of layers. It is important to thoroughly stir your stripper and apply in regular coats to make it react evenly with your finishing product. After making sure to saturate the varnish or paint, allow it to work according to the manufacturer's instructions. A finish starting to get duller by place is often a sign that the stripper has begun to act. To avoid any form of scratches in the wood, prefer a steel wool and rub in the direction of the grain of the wood. A good cabinetmaker trick to know if the stripping is done... no mark will appear on a fine sandpaper (grit 300).

While this method is very effective in removing excess lacquer or paint, it can be problematic when applying the finish. Because the stripper contains active compounds, it may be necessary to neutralize them either with methyl hydrate (wood alcohol), mineral spirits solvents or water. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packaging. Also note that some types of wood may become black due to the use of pickling. So, make sure you know the type of wood or do a test in an inconspicuous place of your furniture.


You want a faultless restoration but are not convinced of wanting to do it yourself. It is always possible to call on professionals. Among the most widely used techniques are immersion in a solvent bath similar to chemical etching or micro-scrubbing, or a projection of a fine abrasive which will give the effect of sandblasting without the marks that a paper could leave sand.

Whatever the stripping technique or the combination of techniques you choose, it is essential that everything is practiced according to the rules of the art since the surface preparation is a key step to achieve a beautiful finish.

Do not hesitate to share your tips and tricks for furniture stripping.

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