Refinishing Furniture

So let me be clear…I am NO expert, but I did spend a month refinishing an antique dresser and it turned out pretty gorgeous if I do say so myself, so I will tell you about my process and what I learned. All products you may need are linked at the bottom of this page, but please read the steps as you may/may not need to follow them all.

Firstly, there was nothing wrong with the dresser before nor do not have anything against painted furniture. I do think however, that a nice antique should not be painted; the keyword here is nice. If you happen upon an old piece of real wood furniture that has been painted and are thinking of restoring it to it’s original condition, you’ve come to the right place! When I purchased this dresser for $50 from a seller on Etsy, it was already painted white, so I first painted on top of it with that cobalt color. Shortly thereafter, I painted by bedroom navy, and it was just too much blue, so I decided to strip the dresser down to the natural wood.

Etsy listing photo

Now, when I say I decided to strip it to the natural wood, I naively thought I would simply strip off the paint and be done in a day or two. It took me a MONTH, and my bedroom was a disaster for all of that time. Not only were the contents of the dresser everywhere, but fumes from the chemicals and so. much. dust littered the air. Keep in mind I live in NYC, so a garage or outdoor workspace is not an option. Hopefully you’re able to take this project outside if you decide to do it. I don’t say any of this to deter you, but just giving you fair warning that this is a messy, tedious and frustrating process. I am SO happy I did it however because the end result was SO worth it! Below I outline the very long, but fruitful process that I followed.

The Process

Before you can really get started, it’s important to know what kind of paint the furniture is painted with. Chalk or regular wall paint? Hopefully for your sake it’s regular, because I can tell you from experience, chalk paint is an absolute b***h to remove. Chalk paint, like the name implies, is chalky: it has a very matte finish (more on chalk paint here). If it’s chalk paint, I advise you to skip step 2 and proceed to 3-5. If you have regular paint on there, step 2 and 5 may be the only ones you need (yay!).

STEP ONEPrepping and mentally prepping

Remove all the hardware and drawers. Put a cloth or old sheet down to protect the floor. Open windows for ventilation. Have a glass of wine.

STEP TWOStripping

I started with this stuff called CitriStrip (linked) and a paint scraper (linked). CitriStrip works on latex and oil based paints and, as paint strippers go, is pretty benign. I used a wide paint brush (linked) to slab a generous coating on, and quickly learned that the key is to keep it wet by using saran wrap (linked) I’m sorry, I HATE using plastic like that, but it really does help. You may like CitriStrip because it doesn’t contain any harsh fumes, so it really doesn’t have an unpleasant smell at all.

For me, the CitriStrip worked well on taking that top coat of blue paint off, but it did NOT work at all for white chalk paint, so I moved on to step 3.

STEP THREEMore stripping

I headed to the paint store and asked them for advice on a strong paint stripper. They directed me to a product called KwikStrip (linked), which, as the will tell you, is definitely stronger. If you’re outside, or at least have a good deal of ventilation, KwikStrip is a good move, its pretty effective, still took a good deal of elbow grease to get the chalk paint off, but it worked. Unlike CitriStrip, using saran wrap to keep the liquid wet will not help, so once you apply it, you have to start scraping a few minutes later.


As you can imagine, stripping a huge 8 drawer dresser was tedious. Even with the KwikStrip, there were still some spots where the paint would not budge, and I just got sick of it, so I ordered a Mouse Sander (linked). The sander was definitely the most effective product I used, and when the end finally came into sight. Fair warning however, the sander is very dusty, so I’m glad I had stripped off the majority of the paint first. A note about sanding, sand in the direction of the grain. For example, the wood on the top of the dresser ran lengthwise, so instead of moving the sander back and forth, I went side to side.

STEP FIVE- Condtioning and Staining

However you do it, after you’ve gotten every little speck of paint out of every little crevice, the most exciting part is staining! Don’t be worried if it looks awful prior to staining, mine did (see below) and once I put the conditioner + stain on, it was everything I had envisioned.

Make sure you wipe all the dust off with a wet cloth and follow the instructions on the can. First, apply a wood conditioner (linked). After conditioning, the finale is staining, Remember that the longer you leave the stain on, the darker it will be. I used special walnut (linked) and wiped it off with a microfiber cloth (linked) almost immediately to get a warm, light-medium brown finish.




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