A lot of people hate stripping furniture, but I have found that if you have the right tools and process the task does not have to be so daunting. I have tried many organic and chemical strippers and have found that the best product for my purposes is Aircraft Paint Remover. This stuff is strong and you must wear chemical resistant gloves and a respirator and work in a well-ventilated area. After trial and error with respect to both gloves and respirators, I found a couple of products I liked and have included links in my Amazon store. I have also learned that I cannot strip furniture in my basement… this is an outdoor endeavor.
Weather conditions matter when it comes to paint stripper. Read your instructions, generally you need about 60 degrees for optimal performance and given that you don’t want the product to dry out on your furniture, its best to avoid wind, high heat and bright sun. Your instructions will indicate how long to allow the stripper to work…mine says 5-15 minutes and I often see the finish lifting or bubbling at the 5-minute mark.
Before I apply stripper, I make sure I have all my supplies available….a plastic spatula to scrape off the stripper, a paper plate to scrape it into, paint stripper afterwash (I use Klean Strip) and 0000 steel wool to remove the remaining residue.
Once my piece is free of all stripper, I begin sanding. I have tried skipping stripper and starting with sanding but find it is more time consuming and prefer to get a head start with the stripper. I just replaced my 20 year old orbital sander with a new model from Dewalt and couldn’t be happier with the decision! With sandpaper, the lower the number, the coarser the grit. I start with a 60 or 80 grit and then then move up to 100 or 120 then 150 or 180, finishing with 220. If you plan to stain a piece, most stains indicate to go no higher than 220 grit prior to staining.
I have used a variety of brands and types of stains. Colors and dry times vary by and within brands. If using a traditional stain, I apply a pre-stain conditioner. Gel stains, which actually do not require stripping and sanding, often call for a slip coat of mineral spirits to help the stain spread smoothly. There are a variety of options for sealing your stained top, including waxes, polyurethane and furniture oils and often my choice is dictated by appearance and planned use for a piece.