· Homekeeping Tips · Crafts & DIY Projects · How To Strip and Stain Wood

How To Strip and Stain Wood


Hi Everyone! It is LATE friday night here in NYC and I am SO happy to be going home in the morning! What an amazing week. I promise when I get home I will fill you in on all the stuff that has been going on here. I really want to thank you for welcoming the guest bloggers that I have had on in my absence. I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have.

Please welcome Ashley who is a DIY’er at Little Yellow Barn.

Take it away Ashley…..

Hi, I’m Ashley from Little Yellow Barn. Jill was nice enough to let me guest post on her site today and I couldn’t be more excited about it! :)

Last week her daughter in-law asked me to refinish her dining table and chairs… as soon as I saw it I knew I’d be up for the job. I LOVE tables like this, big and chunky with cute, dainty chairs.

I’ll be honest, staining is not one of my favorite things to do! :) I LOVE the end result, but the process can be rough. HOWEVER, don’t be discouraged! I finally found some paint strippers that I can’t believe I’ve lived without for so long! It makes the process much more doable!

So why do I stain if I despise it so much? Well, this might sound crazy, but in this weird DIY mind of mine, there’s nothing like taking an old piece of furniture, removing all the nasty, clumpy layers of paint, then seeing that bare surface and bringing it back to life with a beautiful stain. I know, I’m crazy, but if you’ve refinished before you SO know what I mean! :)

On to the good stuff…

HOW TO Strip and Stain Wood


Paint Stripper
Paint brush
Plastic putty knife. (Metal ones can easily scratch the surface. I use them only if I HAVE to.)
Wire stripper brush (in the paint tools section)
Clean rags (Lots of them. Preferably that can be thrown away.)
Denatured Alcohol (next to the paint thinner) opt.
Electric Sander (opt.)
Sand Paper, Medium and Fine grit.
Sealer (I like Minwax Polyurethane)
Foam brush or roller

1. Stripping. Let me tell you a little about this before we start. A lot of paint removers are fast acting which seems appealing. I’ve worked with a lot of them and let me tell you these are not fun to work with! They end up in SUCH a gooey mess it’s unbelievable! After doing a lot of research on them I decided to test out the two I thought looked like the best.

First off, Citristrip. It’s nice because it’s sold at Home Depot and so it’s very convenient if you live close to one.


Next up, Smart Strip, sold in various stores including Sherwin Williams.


Both are comparable in pricing. And honestly I can’t tell you which one I like better yet. So far they seem similar, just different in textures. They both reacted great to different surfaces that I’ve stripped. I’m sure one of these days I’ll decide which one I like better, but for now, look at the bright side, you have options! :)

Ok, so here we go…

*Place stripper into a glass bowl and using your paint brush apply in 1/4in thickness. Let sit for 3-24 hours. It starts working immediately, but I like to let it sit at least 6 hours. Check on it every couple hours to make sure it’s not drying on the surface. If it has dried you probably haven’t put a thick enough coat on it.



2. Using your plastic putty knife, start scraping the stripper working with the grain. Scrape until you can’t scrape anymore.






3. Here’s where your wire bristle brush becomes your best friend. Using the brush, start scrubbing with the grain of the wood to scrape off any remaining paint, varnish or remover that’s left on the wood. Again, scrub until you can’t anymore. If there’s still a little paint left, no worries. If it’s still pretty thick you can apply a second coat. If there’s just a little remaining, don’t worry about it! If you NEED to you can try scraping with a metal putty knife, but again, be careful!





4. Use a rag to wipe off the surface, then if necessary, put a little denatured alcohol on the rag and wipe it clean. Let dry.

5. Depending on the condition of the wood, use your electric sander with the appropriate grit to sand down the surface. If it’s in great condition and all paint/stain has been removed, use a fine grit. If any paint, stain or anything else is left use a medium. In some cases you might need to start out with coarse, but try to stay away from that. You always want to move down in grit also. So if you’ve used coarse, go over it with a medium, followed by fine. If you just used medium, follow it with fine. Continue sanding until surface is down to bare wood and nice and smooth. I usually rub sand paper over what I’ve done with the electric sander just to make sure it’s all perfect.



6. Once your surface is bare wood, clean it really well and make sure all the dust is removed.

7. Using a clean rag or paint brush, apply your well-mixed stain to the wood in even strokes covering the entire surface. Follow the directions of the stain on the back of the can, but usually it sits 5-15 minutes. Wipe off the stain with another clean rag. DO NOT LET THE STAIN DRY!!! It WILL make the surface sticky and you’ll have to use mineral spirits to clean it off.




8. If you want your piece darker, apply a second coat of stain waiting the appropriate amount of time in between coats and following the directions above again.

9. After your stain is completely dry (again, check the directions) you’ll want to coat it with a sealer. I like Minwax Polyurethane. It’s an oil based sealer and very durable. Follow the directions on the can as well. Give your piece a few coats, waiting appropriate amount of time in between coats. You can see the finish in this picture, how it gives the wood a renewed shiny surface. Also, Polyurethane comes in a few different finishes if you like less shiny pieces.




Jourdan McLaws & Ashley Treu

Read This Next

Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Homekeeping Tips

  • My question: how can you tell when you’re down to bare wood? I thought I was, started applying polyurethane and it’s not curing correctly. This seems so important but I can’t find anything about it online.

  • Oh, my. Found you via Pinterest and am so sorry to see someone misuse their tools and work themselves to death.

    I hope in this subsequent year, Ashley has learned to leave Citristrip on for a few hours vs. minutes. It lifts paint up in ribbons, but if you are impatient, you may as well use the old, chemical strippers. You’ll need extra coats, scrapers, sanders, etc. Just leave the darned stuff on and leave it ALONE.

    You can even cover it by pressing plastic bags into the stripper, to hold it against the wood. A 2nd coat will remove stain. Like scraping off BBQ sauce.
    Do this right and you save time, product, money and God knows, energy and health.

    You also don’t need mineral spirits, because it neutralizes with water. What’s the point of environmentally friendly strippers if you then use really toxic chemicals?

    As far as a primer? Kilz is made for drywall. It’s not the most effective primer for wood. Zinzzer, BIN, Stx (by Inslx, now owned by BM) and many other adhesive and/or oil based primers ( not the same as oil based paint) are so much more effective.

    Either way, her work is lovely. But OMG, what a waste of time, product and energy she’s putting out there as necessary!

  • […] being, including the mental, emotions which have held us tight and perhaps prepared us for danger. And when we find something “breath-taking,” we gasp. Our breath is something we do more than 14,000 […]

  • I have the same exact table that I painted a distressed white. Now I’m into driftwood everywhere so I will be stripping it again using the CitrusStrip and going for a driftwood finish using Driftwood Weathered Wood Finish. Does a fantastic driftwood look especially on oak.

  • How To Give A Room A Color Makeover Pt. 2 – The Big Reveal! Plus A Sherwin-Williams Giveaway! | One Good Thing by Jillee says:

    […] Now the most refinishing I’ve ever done is a couple of table lamps and some picture frames, so I turned to my husband’s cousin’s wife (is that confusing enough for you?), Ashley, who happens to be a total pro at refinishing furniture (Little Yellow Barn). She whipped that table into shape and it looks just gorgeous! (For directions on staining furniture, see this guest post by Ashley). […]

  • Definitely believe that you just said. Your best reason got on the net easy and simple thing to learn. I say for you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries them to function not learn about. You were able to hit the nail upon the very best and defined out the event not having side-effects , people could please take a signal. Will likely be returning to have more. Thanks

  • I want to redo my dining room table. It is stained. Do I follow the same process as this? Will the paint stripper remove the polyurethane coating? Or, should I just sand everything off?

  • You should try something called 1776. It is the best stuff I have used and does not raise the grain of the wood. We order it online. There is something similiar at menards but not quite.

  • I’ve painted my front exterior door and it looks horrible! Going to strip, it’s not wood. How do I avoid brush markes? The paint I used said no brush marks, ha ha, that was a joke. Any recommendations?

    • If I were you I’d sand it down just to smooth it out, then you can use a spray primer. I have a spray gun that I use for all my projects. If you already own an air compressor you can buy the air gun for not that expensive. Mine was under $100. If that’s not an option my favorite primer is KILZ. You can buy it in a spray can, it’s oil based and the coverage is great! Give it a couple coats, lightly sand it then you can use a spray paint on the door, and finally a sealer to coat it. This isn’t the most cost effective option, but it would work great! Just make sure the spray paint and sealer you buy can be used outdoors … I’m assuming half of the door is outside?? … Good luck! Email me if you have anymore questions! :)

    • Jess: I’ve tried every wallpaper compound known to womankind and by far, the best was…slightly watered down fabric softener. Wither with or without one of those rolly-pricker things. I’ve had to do two big stripping jobs on walls where the paper was NOT put up properly. Basically they committed the cardinal sin of hanging paper on unprimed sheetrock. The upshot is that the paste and paper are absored and bound into the paper on the sheetrock. This makes it a major headache to try to get off without removing sheetrock paper and even some of the actual sheetrock itself!.

      I got a spray bottle, a ginormous bottle of super cheap dollar store fabric softener. You are just watering down the softener so it can come out of the spray bottle. You could also use it full strength and just slap it on with a cheap sponge brush. Work in manageable sections so that one are is soaking while you are peeling another. Let it soak in until the paper is well saturated and start peeling. vinyl paper will work too, you just may have to peel off the top vinyl layer and then repeat on the paper part beneath. That plastic scraper from above (it looks like a 4-5 inch plastic putt knife) will help move the stubborn spots.

      The pricker thing will let the softener get into the pper layers, BUT it will make it harder to peel the paper off in big long strips, which is the ideal. So start without pricking on the edges and see how it goes before you poke holes in the who thing. and warm humid days are good for this king of project since they help the whole process. I tried using steam and found it a real pain and not as effective. but I could use my iron on low with a wek wahscloth for super stubborn spots.

      Use a mild cleaner and water to remove the softener residue.

      And the moral of this story is, if your walls are NOT primed or painted already, be sure you to this BEFORE you hang wallpaper or it may never come down again.

  • Amazing looking results. This post is great timing for me! I have a couple of pieces I am soon to refinish that are stained pieces. Would you use the same strippers for stain that you did with the painted pieces? Thanks so much!

  • I’ve been stripping & staining furniture I’ve found in thrift stores for years. I just love to watch the stripper bubble up! I really, really hate to see that someone has painted on wood!! The beauty & integrity of the wood should not be covered up with paint!!

  • Great post. Have plans to refinish my childhood dresser, so this post really caught my eye. Very thorough instructions. Can’t wait to give it a try. Thanks.

  • I need to repaint (not stain) my front door, which is builder grade wood. Will the stripping agents you recommend work for this? Would I follow the same instructions above except using paint instead of stain? Thanks!

    • Yes! Also if you’re not staining it doesn’t have to be PERFECTLY down to bare wood. These products should work great! :) Good luck!

    • My husband is a painter and i can’t ask him right now but i am pretty sure you just need to sand the door smooth and then repaint. Ask some one at your local paint store. if you are really changing colors then you will need prime it. Do you know if the door was done in oil or latex the first time?

  • WOW…..it looks amazing!! I have never refinished any furniture but my sister used to do it a lot in the 80’s. Are there harmful chemicals involved in the products you recommended?? That is my only concern.

    • Citristrip and Smart Strip are both safe. You can get it on your fingers and it doesn’t burn AT ALL like most chemical strippers. I forgot to mention this in my post, that’s why these are so nice to work with! :)

      • Ahhh that was my question. I am trying to cut down on the harsh chemical that I work around, so thanks for letting us know that. I am going to get cracking on my grandfathers dresser now. Thank you..

  • I will attest that Citristrip is by far the best stuff to work with. When I first saw it on the shelf, I twisted open the cap and thought, “how can something that smells this good, work?” I had a coupon so in the cart it went. Nothing compares!
    Table looks great!

  • This post was very nice but stripping & refinishing a flat surface seems a piece of cake compared to the doing the edges & turnings of legs & pedestal. It would be most helpful to have some instruction on how to those parts.

    • Hi Tracy… honestly the wire bristle brush is the most help. Those awkward places that are hard to reach almost NEED stripper. Otherwise you’re sanding LIKE CRAZY! After you strip, use the bristle brush on those areas. You can buy them bigger or smaller so for the cracks I like the smaller ones. After you get everything out you most likely will still have to sand :( but using the brush really helps!

  • my mom and a friend of hers refinished just about every piece of furniture in their respective houses back in the ’70’s–some they stained, and some they “antiqued” (a big fad at that time–the deep red is gorgeous!)–and a lot of it she worked on outside. i didn’t ‘catch’ this particular bug, but am left with lots of beautiful furniture, so i would encourage it!
    thanks for this how-to, ashley!

  • >