Removing paint on old furniture (refinishing project)

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Forum topic by JustAWS posted 11-12-2018 03:52 PM 746 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3 posts in 640 days

11-12-2018 03:52 PM

Topic tags/keywords: refinishing paint removal finishing refurbishing question paint stripper staining

Hi everyone,

First post, though I’ve come here via Google many times in the past for other questions. I’ve got one now that I haven’t found an answer for, searching via LJ’s search function and Google.


I have two pieces of wood furniture I’m refinishing, a bookshelf and a sewing cabinet. The bookshelf was painted black, and after I started sanding it I found out it had an atrocious layer of red and green checkerboard that looked like it was drawn with markers. There was a white layer between the black paint and the checkerboard, presumably a primer coat.

The sewing cabinet was painted at some point, and stained, but I’m not sure in which order. Also don’t know if it was a water or gel based stain used in the past. It also has some light gouges/deep scratches in a couple areas.

I started the project knowing nothing about woodworking or furniture refinishing, including not knowing anything about something as obvious as paint stripping. I started by trying to sand the pieces, removed most of the paint that way, then eventually bought paint stripper (the Soy based paint stripper from Woodcraft).

The paint stripper did NOTHING. I don’t know if it’s because it doesn’t work on gel stain, or if I’d already removed too much of the paint for it to react with, but the stripper only removed a very superficial top layer of the remaining paint and I ended up having to re-sand areas I’d already removed all the paint from.

Tools Used:

Random Orbit Sander (DeWalt)
Detail Sander (Ryobi)
Oscillating Multi Tool (Porter Cable)
Hand Sanding Blocks (Warner, Woodriver)
Sanding Detailing Sticks (Lumberton)
Contour Sanding Pads (Woodriver)
Abrasive Cleaning Stick (Powertec)
Sandpaper (3M, Mirka, Coceca, other)

With both the Ryobi Mouse detail sander and the sanding head on the Porter Cable multitool, the point of the triangle has seemingly melted off from where I’ve tried to sand in the corners (I probably applied too much pressure). I’ve tried using a 1” square of paper on the detail sander to get into the corners, but with the edge already ground down and rounded over, I can’t get good contact from the paper to the wood/paint.

When I use the hand sanding block with a sharp right angle, I can remove about one pass’s worth of paint before the grit gets filled with paint. I’ve used the abrasive cleaning stick to remove the gunk and make more passes, with varying degrees of success.

It seems that fresh paper does a good job of removing the paint along the corners where two edges meet, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to use a fresh section of the paper in a sanding block and actually have the paper stay tight in the block when I have to move it over a couple millimeters after each pass, and the paper has already been cut to fit in the block.

The contour sanding blocks have done a great job of making the paint removal of the rounded details of the sewing cabinet much easier, and have helped with the bookshelf legs as well. I’ve also just taken strips of sandpaper and used a shoeshine motion (can’t think of a better description) to pull the sandpaper back and forth along the rounded bookshelf legs. Again, the only place with any significant amount of paint remaining is in the corners where the legs meet the base of the shelf.

I tried using the sanding sticks on the corners, but they seem to be intended to use to sand front to back, not side to side (in the direction of the stick, if that makes sense). It kinda worked, but it felt like the narrow paper on the stick was going to rip using it that way.

Current Status:

I’ve sanded about 90% of both pieces of furniture to remove the paint. I’m left with the interior corners and the legs on the bookshelf, and some of the rounded portions of the sewing cabinet doors as the last areas with paint on them.

I’ve used 40-80 grit sandpaper for the paint removal, depending on what I’ve had available and how much of the bare wood would be exposed to the sanding pad vs. the paint that I was trying to remove.

For the most part, the wood hasn’t shown many sanding marks, except when I’ve tried to use the 40 grit paper with the detail sander or multitool in the corners. I’ll be going over those areas again with the ROS, and I’m planning to go over all of the surfaces with 100 or 120 grit paper, before I move on to staining.

I’m going to use a General Finishes gel stain and wipe on poly once I’m done.


How the heck do I remove the remaining paint, especially on the inner corners?

The sides of the bookshelf are pulling away from the shelves, and I can see dowels inside the cracks/creases (the wood isn’t breaking, it’s just where the separate wood sections are meeting) that are forming.

Is the best way to firm up the shelf to use a syringe of wood glue and to clamp the pieces back together? I plan to do that before I move on to staining.

Regarding the gouges in the sewing cabinet: Is there a good way to fill those in that will allow staining to match the rest of the surface? They’re deep enough that when I did my passes with the ROS, the stain in the gouges was untouched while the rest of the stain was removed. I’m worried that if I try to get into them at all, I’ll just make them worse. Is this a job for wood filler/wood putty? Sawdust and wood glue? Just ignore it and move on?

Wrap Up:

I know I wrote a lot, so thank you for reading this far.

If pictures would be helpful, I can take some to add detail to this post.

-- JAWS: Just Another Woodworking Schmuck

5 replies so far

View Rich's profile


5718 posts in 1398 days

#1 posted 11-12-2018 04:13 PM

A cabinet scraper is the best bet for getting into the corners. You can pick one up for a few bucks and watch some videos on how to set a burr on it and the proper way to use it. It’ll make lots of your work easier than sanding.

For the separating parts, yes, just inject some glue and clamp it up.

I can’t help you with the gouges without seeing them. A photo would help.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View bilyo's profile


1137 posts in 1911 days

#2 posted 11-15-2018 07:41 PM

You have put a lot of time and effort into this project. What you needed to start was a stronger stripper. With all the layers of unknown finishes, I think about the only products that will do a good job are those that contain methylene chloride, like Kleen Strip. Although most of the work is done, a product like this will help you finish it up allowing you to get all of the old finishes out of the corners and crevices. A scraper like Rich suggested will also be helpful in removing the softened finish after the chemical has done its work. Just carefully follow the directions on the container. This can be nasty stuff. Dress for it with safety glasses, rubber gloves, and do the work in a well ventilated area; outdoors if you can. This is also a messy process. So protect yourself and all the surrounding surfaces including the floor.

For the joints that are coming apart, if you can take them all the way apart without damaging anything further, that would be best. You can then clean off the old glue and get new glue on all mating surfaces. If you can’t do it with out breaking something then, as Rich suggested, just get glue on as much of the contact surfaces as you can and clamp it together.

For the gouges; only you can decide if they are severe enough to be filled. With a coarse grained wood like oak, they may not be obvious enough to bother filling. Otherwise, as you are applying the stripper, use a stiff brush like an old toothbrush, to clean out the gouge. Then when it has dried, use some 5 minute epoxy to slightly over fill the gouge. Then sand smooth. If you like, add a small amount of fine sanding dust to the epoxy to give some color. If you are going to use stain before finishing, you may not need to color the epoxy. Experiment.

View HokieKen's profile


14562 posts in 1947 days

#3 posted 11-15-2018 08:00 PM

I’m with bilyo. I’ve refinished a few pieces both painted and stained. I’ve learned to use stripper and if it doesn’t work, try a different one. And the “environmentally friendly” ones… don’t usually work nearly as well. I’ve had good success with Kleen Strip and Jasco strippers.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View OSU55's profile


2651 posts in 2798 days

#4 posted 11-15-2018 09:01 PM

Yep the metheme chloride strippers are the only way to go, and a hand scraper to remove the corners etc. I did a lot of this years ago. Its one of the reasons I decided to make my own furniture – lot of nasty work and was never completely pleased with the end result. I still have some pieces I did 25+ yrs ago.

View WoodenDreams's profile (online now)


1097 posts in 719 days

#5 posted 11-16-2018 05:29 AM

There are finishing and paint strippers on the market. A friend of ours bought a house with built-in hardwood cabinets & trim moldings in each room was painted over. he used a liquid stripper, let it soak, then used a card scraper. No sanding needed. Took him 6 months to do 7 rooms, but WOW, What a awesome difference & raised the value of his house.

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