Earlier this morning I got a message from a friend asking how to strip and stain a rocker she found curbside. She’s wanting to redo the chair as a gift for her soon-to-be-born grandchild’s nursery. The baby is due in April. Here’s a photo of what she’ll be working with:
All in all I’d say it’s a pretty great find – definitely something I’d have swung over to the side of the road and chucked in the back of my SUV. The structure appears to be sound, it’s not missing any rungs or spindles and the lines on the arms and back are gorgeous.
Sure, the upholstery has seen better days and the finish is worn away but hey, it was free.
So, Gloria asked “What is the easiest way / product to strip a chair?”
When I zoomed in to check the condition of the finish things got hairy.
Like, I literally saw hair on the wood.
Without knowing what the former owner had done I can only speculate that either this chair back had previously been padded and upholstered or it sat in a chicken coop. I can’t be certain. Either way the wood was sticky and it wound up feathered.
Gloria had already attempted to clean up the chair top with acetone and a wimpy stripper. While the furry gunk did eventually come off, at that rate it was working the kid would be walking before she finished. So, she turned to me for help.
Getting Ready to Get Ready to Refinish
Any time I prepare a piece of furniture to be made-over (regardless if its real wood or fake and whether I plan to paint or stain it) I always, always, always start with a good cleaning and let it air dry. Even if the very next step would be to strip the existing finish, removing as much dirt and debris first is the way to go.
Think about it, when you go to the salon for a haircut or highlight what’s the very first thing they do? Exactly.
For Glo’s chair I told her to grab some 000 steel wool, dip that into mineral spirits and wipe the entire thing down along the grain. Steel wool can and will gouge the wood so it’s important not to cause unnecessary work for yourself. Next, she’s going to want to use real chemicals to remove the tar and feathers.
Now listen, I’m all for being eco-friendly and kind to your 5 senses however, I also want the time I spend working on a furniture flip to be productive. That’s why my go-to get-all-the-previous-lord-only-knows-what-the-hell-someone-else-decided-to-cover-this-wood-with-crap-off concoction is Zinsser® StripFast Power Stripper. Yes, it stinks and yes, it burns BUT it works. Just cover your nose and mouth and hands and you’ll be fine.
Undressed Wood – The Right Way to Strip
Shake up the stripper and pour it into a glass container (salsa jars work great) so you can easily dip your chip brush in. Brush it on to the wood thick-ly in small 12″ x 12″ sections. The tendency will be to pour and spread over a large area but I’m telling you not to. After the existing finish bubbles up and breaks apart it will take much longer to scrape off than you think. And while you’re scraping over here the chemicals will keep reacting over there and then dry out completely. You’ll have to start over and that’s a waste of product, time and money.
Speaking of scraping, there are different types of scrapers to choose from – nylon, plastic, metal. I’m sure they all have their pros/cons so it’s really your call which you use. Personally, I prefer my Pampered Chef pan scrapers over anything else. They are easy to hold, easy to clean and never gouge my wood.
Whatever you use, be sure to have a plastic grocery bag handy so you have somewhere to scrape the gunk off in to. And because you really want to learn from my mistakes, go ahead and soak a rag with mineral spirits now. That way, if you do happen to get the super goo on your skin, you can wipe it off before it really starts to burn.
Once you’ve worked a large enough area clean, wipe it down with mineral spirits to stop the chemical reaction (use a different rag than I mentioned having on hand earlier). Keep going until everything you wanted stripped is stripped. Depending how many layers of life a piece had, it might take more than one pass to get it all removed.
Now take a break, grab a beverage and let the wood air dry for a while before coming back with 220-grit sandpaper.
Then, going along the grain, sand the wood to open it up in preparation for new stain/paint. Afterwards, I vacuum the dust off with my shop-vac. You can also brush it off with a dust brush and wipe with a tack cloth. DIY Tip: You don’t have to spend money on tack cloths. Instead, use old socks or t-shirts sprayed with adhesive tack spray. However you choose to do it, you’ll need to get the crud out of the nooks and crannies so the new finish has somewhere to go. Not doing so is equal to adding water to dirt to get mud…and that’s probably not the look you are going for.
From here there are different ways to proceed depending on your plan for your piece of furniture. Since Gloria wants to stain her rocking chair that’s the tutorial I’ll be working on next. Be sure to check back for updates and let me know if you have anything to add from your own furniture-flipping experiences.