This post contains affiliate links.
Hey guys! I get questions all the time about basic painting. You’re inspired to paint your own furniture, but you don’t know where to begin, what products to use, etc. Today, I’m going to walk you through all the steps you need to take in order to get a smooth, professional looking paint job. I’ll start out by describing one method of stripping stain or old paint on furniture so that it will get the best finish possible.
Please Note: Repair work and removal of hardware should be done before moving onto the steps below. My vanity looked rough, but was sound otherwise.
I’ve been working on this vanity in spurts all month and have taken a ton of pictures documenting each step, which makes this the perfect demonstration piece.
As you can see in the before pictures, the finish was very rough and so I knew I would have major prep work to do if I wanted a good paint job.
“Wait! What do you mean by ‘prep work’? The paint says ‘No Prepping, No Sanding, No Nothing’. It says I can just slap it on.”
Well my friends, you can just slap it on if you don’t mind a rough finish; however, if you are going for a very clean, smooth, professional finish, then you need to listen up. All good furniture painters know the importance of good prep work. Some projects will need very little prep while others will need a ton. If you don’t like doing prep work, then choose your projects wisely!
Are you ready to dive on in and see what I got myself into with this beauty?
Evaluating the Piece
On the front you can see light scratches, deeper gouges, faded spots and darkened areas. There was absolutely no way I could lightly sand and degrease this (my prep for most pieces) before starting to paint. Well, I could of course, but the finish would be horribly uneven and every one of those imperfections would show through the paint.
Here’s a close up…
Now can you see what I’m talking about?
Part of this is just build up of dirt and oil from someone’s hands and part of it is the original finish breaking down and appearing crackled.
Note the grooved wood above and below the drawers. We’ll talk more about that in a few minutes, but keep in mind those grooves need to be smooth in order to have a smooth finished product. In this picture, the varnish was chipping off and once again that would have shown up in a new paint job.
And how about the top of the vanity?
“Oh my word” is all I can say.
I bought this piece in a dark garage while talking to the owner. NEVER, EVER do that!!!! You’ll end up missing all kinds of issues because you are distracted. Ask the owner to kindly bring the piece out into the natural light so you can take a better look at it before purchasing. If they refuse, then that’s probably a good sign to walk away otherwise you might end up doing a prep job like me!
I had pulled out the drawers and made sure there weren’t any odors, but I didn’t look closely at the rest of it. Obviously it had issues, but I didn’t realize how extensive they were at the time.
“Well worn” might be an understatement.
“Abused” would be much more accurate.
Although I didn’t find this inside a barn, I have a good feeling it might have lived in one at some point in time.
And finally, let’s take a look at the mirrored top.
The very top portion is thin wood and the carved trim on each side of the big mirror is very fragile.
These are all important things to note before deciding how you are going to strip a piece. Are you going to hand sand it with good ole elbow grease and sandpaper, use an electric sander, or some type of stripping agent?
One Method of Stripping Stain
My stripping method varies from project to project and on occasion will include all the forms I just mentioned.
For this project I started out with Citristrip Gel. This half gallon jug runs about $20.
Citristrip works from the top layer of varnish down to the original wood. You may need to apply several coats of Citristrip to remove all of the varnish. Keep in mind that this means added time and expense for your project. Citristrip isn’t the cheapest or the fastest stripper, but it is safer than chemical strippers.
- safety goggles
- chemical resistant gloves
- coarse steel wool
- a variety of putty knives & scraping tools
- small scrub brush for those small grooves and turned legs
- old towels, paper towels, etc.
- tarp (I prefer a blue plastic tarp that I can hose off )
- well-ventilated area
- mineral spirits
- sand paper
- power sander
- super fine sanding brick
- tack cloths
I’ll just warn you now. This is extremely messy and I’m not sure which is worse, sanding for hours with dust floating around or dealing with the mess this makes. The Citristrip is most definitely better for grooves, turned table legs, and delicate wood trimmings, but it’s still a mess!
If you are planning on staining the piece of furniture once it has been stripped, then it is important to give each piece, each leg, each drawer the same amount and type of attention because this will affect how the wood absorbs the new stain. If one leg needs lots of scrubbing to get the old varnish off, then you will need to do the same amount of scrubbing on the other legs or the stain will not take the same on each leg.
Since you’ve been fairly warned, we can now proceed.
I liberally coated the vanity, drawers, and mirror with Citristrip and left it on for several hours. You can leave it on for up to 24 hours if you have a finish that’s tough to remove, but that wasn’t necessary in this case.
Citristrip had been applied for a few hours at this point. I had scraped the residue off the left front piece of wood to see if the Citristrip needed more processing time.
The gel becomes gummy, goopy, yucky as it’s taking off the finish.
I used an assortment of putty knives, scrapers, and brushes to gently remove the gummy build up that had formed. Make sure you don’t make any new gouges or scratches with the putty knife!
After Citristrip had stripped the old stain and I had removed the Citristrip/old varnish residue with a putty knife, I rinsed the remaining residue off with mineral spirits. Now I could see areas where the stripper hadn’t worked completely and I so I did a second round of applying Citristrip and repeating the above steps. For stubborn areas, I used mineral spirits and steel wool (or a scrub brush depending on the area) to help loosen the old varnish.
Yes, this was a very tedious process and you’re probably starting to see why refinished furniture prices are so high. It takes lots of time and materials before even getting to the fun painting part.
After the wood had thoroughly dried, I used a power sander to go over the top of the dresser and the front of the drawers to even out any knicks or gouges. A power sander leaves “swirls” in the wood so I then used a 100 grit sand paper to ensure the wood was smooth and swirl-free.
I brushed off as much of the dust from sanding as I could and then did a final wipe down with mineral spirits and a lint-free cloth.
I added a long piece of painter’s tape to the inside of the drawer with it extending over the top of the drawer. This allows me to pull the drawers out of the vanity without having to put the hardware back on. The screws were stripped in the hardware on the bottom two drawers and I had to wait until the hubs got home to remove them. Of course, that meant I had more sanding to do where the hardware had been, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
I called it quits at this point and stored this pretty girl away for a couple of weeks while I worked on other projects and traveled to see family. You’ll have to stay tuned to see how she turns out!