Stripping Down

By Kate Riley November 1, 2009

I heart strippers. 

No not those kind.  I knew your mind would go there. 

No, I like the kind of strippers that take layers of paint off an old piece of furniture.

Last week, I was working on a dresser and nightstand combo for my brother’s bachelor pad.  I found this set at the local thrift for $25 dollars for the pair.  They’re solid wood !  However, the chipped pistachio green paint job was not the shade we were going for. 

So with the help of a chemical stripper, I took them from this:

dresser and nightstand

To this:

dresser final from side

I picked these pieces because of their modern streamlined design and the pewter hardware.  Also because they were inexpensive and the perfect size for his small bedroom space.  He rents in San Francisco where large bedrooms are very rare.  I thought it a good idea to strip the paint off of the pieces to get right to the wood so we could start over with primer and paint.  A chemical stripper was the fastest answer. 

I’ve used Klean-Strip chemical stripper before on my staircase to remove layers of varnish.  Chemical strippers are nasty to say the least.  The old school versions like these use methelyne chloride and are extremely toxic.  They require gloves and plenty of ventilation.  In addition, one must always take the proper precautions with the removal of potentially lead based paint.

These days you can find safer greener products that use alternative ingredients to remove paint.  A grand idea but with one small drawback – those products typically take a lot longer to get the end result.  Shame on me, but I’m terribly impatient.  So I reused the chemical stripper I already had because it works so darn fast. 

klean strip

Wearing gloves, I spread the product over the surface with a paper towel.  After a few minutes, it started to bubble. 

stripper in action

Wowza.  This stuff worked fast.  You can purchase a special plastic tool to scrape off the paint.  I just used my chisel. 

stripper and chisel

It’s remarkable how well this product works to remove layers of old paint.  Once I was down to the primer level, I whipped out my Black & Decker sander with a 220 fine sanding pad to get down to the raw wood.

black and decker

A second application of the stripper would likely have removed the primer as well, but since I wanted to smooth out the surface, I went right to the sander. 

After the stripper removed the paint, I spray primed with two coats of gray primer. 

spray primer

Then I finished these pieces off the fast way:  with two coats of Rustoleum’s ‘London Gray’ spray paint, a beautiful mushroom gray color.  For the front detail, I mixed up some metallic taupe and black craft paint to create a pewter color.   Then I painted it by hand for a suble tone on tone effect. 

Chipped Pistachio Paint Before:

nate before

Scrumptious Muted Gray After:

nate after

nates final from right

So sleek !   And doesn’t the hardware now look like it belongs?  I wouldn’t think to replace it.  I love the pewter tone and the intricate design of these pulls.  Sheeesh, the $25 bucks I paid for them was worth it just for the hardware.  My brother was so delighted, he made a special trip just to pick them up and bring them to his pad in San Francisco.  Next weekend, we’ll put the finishing touches on his room.  That is, if I dare go near the Bay Area.  Did you hear what happened to the Bay Bridge ?

Now about those strippers.  There is a lot of great information available out there for anyone looking at removing paint from wall trim, furniture, or other wood finishes.  Here’s a great article by DIY Network.  This Old House posted about safer stripper products taking over the market.  And as always, Layla and Kevin at The Lettered Cottage blog are continuously fixing up their place, so check out their recent post on using a Citrustrip Gel to take several layers of paint off an old door.

Have you ever stripped ?  Wait, that didn’t come out right. 

If you have ever used a stripper product to remove paint, I’d love to hear your experience, especially with the newer safer products.


  1. Wow. I think any man would love to have those in their room. Very impressive. I wonder how you get the spray paint to be so smooth on the surface? When I try my spray painting projects, the surface always has this slightly spotty texture. Granted I haven’t used it for very long, so it might just be me. :P

  2. I have a kidney shape desk from Walmart, it about two years. It has a little water damage from me put cold glasses of water on it. I want to refinish it with either paint or contact paper. It is made from black laminated engineered wood work surface and shelf with polyurethane finish. Which one would be a better choice and how can I do it cheaply?

  3. They are so beautiful. Your work is just exquisite! I’m working on my first piece ever, and I’m not having good results. For one thing, I did not have the right products, I tried to re-use my roller and the paint bubbled, well, I’ve learned my leason! ;-)

  4. Those look great! I think you chose the perfect color. It looks like they were destined to be that color with the hardware and the great sleek lines. I’ve never used paint stripper, but I’m sure I will in the future, so thanks for the links!

  5. Great transformation. Chemical Strippers really are amazing – cuts sanding time in a 1/3 vs. trying to get that finish off the hard way.

    How hard was it to get into the grooves and trim work?

  6. Great to see how easy it was to take that paint off. I just today was thinking about taking the paint off of my kitchen cabinets — a daunting project, but less so if I get the help of a stripper (hehehe).

  7. I’ve stripped a bunch of trim in our house using the Silent Paint Remover. It works pretty well but does require sanding at the end.

  8. Yes………..but it was college & I was broke & really needed the money. HA! =]

    If you ever get tired of me telling you how awesome your creations are, just let me know. But it’s true! This transformation is AMAZING, K!

  9. My parents live in Oakland (I grew up there) they’ll be avoiding SF as much as possible until they get darned bridge fixed, how crazy was that?

  10. I have never stripped, but your post is making me give it some consideration. ;) Great pictures…I didn’t know how that chemical stuff works. How many times did you have to do the application of the stripper?

  11. Nope, never stripped! But after seeing this transformation I think I might start! – What a great piece! is there anything you can’t do???

  12. I love that stripper and have a huge thing of it. It’s definitely not the safest product, but it gets the job done the fastest for sure! The pieces look great–I love the sleek, modern style, and the paint treatment look good as well. Great job.

  13. I have a few projects that need to be stripped – one being my staircase. I am bookmarking this post for reference. Your projects always turn out so great. I love the sleek color and the finish is so smooth. Great job!

  14. Thanks so much for this post! I am in the process of stripping a 50 yr. old bookcase, and the “safe” products are not doing the job. I am headed to the hardware store to pick up some Klean Strip and can’t wait to see if it works! Your project looks great!

  15. man i wish i had awesome thrift stores like that here! or at least i can go more often to grab the good stuff. when i go theres really nothing good left… but anyways, it looks effing amazing!!!!! great job! i love it!

  16. I’m well acquainted with stripping but haven’t had much luck yet. We have 216 spindles covered in 7 layers of paint, most of which are lead and some that are milk paint, on our main staircase that we’re slowly stripping. We’re trying to avoid having to take them out because the railing will never be the same. They’re very intricate and neither the chemical stripper or the citrus gel is working very well on them. However, I have had pretty good luck with the citrus gel when it comes to stripping flat surfaces and trim and the smell is actually pretty good.

  17. Wow! I love your projects! You make them look so easy =) I’ve never stripped, but I sure wish I could find a great piece of furniture to work on and try it. Wonderful job, keep it up, girl!

  18. Oh yes…the bay Bridge. What a mess! I think I heard on the radio this mornign that it will open tonight. Luckily I don’t use it regularly. More importantly…..WOW, this is such a great transformation. What a lucky brother you have! Not only did he get something awesome for his new pad, you saved the ugliest piece of furniture ever and turned it into something perfect for him!

  19. I think these came out beautifully (oops sorry, they’re for a guy. I meant ‘handsomely!’). When you paint the drawers do you paint the sides & insides as well or do you leave them alone?

  20. Wow – simply wow!! Those turned out fabulous. Recently refinished a veneer piece with stripper – the horrible eat through the gloves and your hand kind – however on veneer it is much safer than sanding – you just have to leave it on less time – truly a gorgeous result for you this time! Keep stripping and keep blogging – love your site

  21. Hey! Thanks for the shout out! :-)
    Your dresser turned out FABULOUS. You’re absolutely right- that gray is SCRUMPTIOUS!!!

    Great work!


  22. girl, you are WICKED AWESOME and these pieces demonstrate exactly why. your eye for design is just fantastic and you always do such stunning renovations. kudos!

  23. That’s just beautiful! I love the new colors, and it looks terrific with the hardware ( I’m a ucker for elegant lined pewter anything).

  24. I used a Citrus stripper on a painted laminate bathroom counter (don’t ask, it was a previous owner’s idea!) and it worked like a charm. I’ve been dreaming of stripping and restaining my orangish oak staircase, did you sand yours down after stripping it?
    The dressers are beautiful, love that color.

  25. Wow! Those turned out great! I will have to check out the strippers mentioned. I have a wood table that needs refinishing. Thanks for sharing with us!

  26. Those look great!

    I’ve used 3M’s Safest Stripper. It worked very well on some old gold paint on chairs we re-did for my in-laws. I have VERY sensitive skin and I didn’t even need to wear gloves. It does take more elbow grease to get the job done, but that’s not deal breaker for me.

  27. Wow! They turned out great! That style and color is perfect for a bachelor pad.

    You have a very lucky brother.

  28. I remember seeing an infomercial sometime in the 90s for a stripper and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was so disappointed that I didn’t have anything I could convince my parents we needed to strip and re-paint.

  29. Beautiful. I live in such a hole that I only heard the other day about the bridge. I never watch the news, so I had no idea. Charisse just shook her head and laughed at me. Yes…I was born yesterday. Come on by sometime…Holly at

  30. The gray shade is perfect for these sleek masculine nightstands. The hardware is perfect for the new look! Your brother is lucky to have such a talented sister who is willing to help him decorate with style for less!

  31. I’ve found some great used dressers but sometimes they have a pungent cat urine smell (hope that’s not too graphic for anyone). So I’ve opted not to buy. Does anyone have a cure for this or should I keep bypassing furniture which, apparently, has doubled as a litter box? Thanks!

    By the way – your brother is a very lucky young man! Wish I had a sister so talented and generous! :)

  32. Your adventures at the Thrift Store have inspired me! The only problem is that in my area, there are NO deals such as this to be found! :(

    I love your blog, however!

  33. How come I’m not seeing your posts any longer in my feeder/reader – has anyone else mentioned this to you (I’m sure they have!) The last post I have from you is 10.27……. Help!

  34. I love how those turned out! It amazes me when people see a diamond in the rough and makes something look so fabulous. Great work!

    Michelle @ FTSN

  35. They came out great! The hardware is fantastic, so glad it wasn’t painted over and you were able to reuse it.

  36. Wonderful colour. I purchased an infrared paint stripper to do renovations in our home..

    Lucky brother!

  37. This is sleek & stylish…so eclectic looking. You’ve really outdone yourself and by the looks of all the comments the people in blog land agree and applaud you! Marvelous job!

  38. Still amazed at spray paint transformations! I wouldn’t have thought to use stripper instead of a sander. Great job!

  39. Yes, I have stripped. Oh you mean for paint? ah, oh … no.
    I’ve just found your website and its perfect!! I’m trying my hand at DIY and going to the hardware store leaves me feeling pretty ignorant. So I’ll read your website before I go there again. Thanks for sharing!!
    Elizabeth – NZ

  40. I went to RustOleum’s site to check out their colors, and specifically get a better look at London Gray. I’m sure it could be the computer monitor, but it looked substantially darker on their site than it does on these pieces. Did you mix it with anything, or do you think the primer made it lighter, or is it just lighter than the can lid? Thanks for your answer! I can’t wait to try that color, and that stripper out!

  41. Why did you strip the paint? Why not just sand it down a bit, then primer and repaint? I just found your blog and I’m totally inspired and I’m not sure if it’s a “duh!” question lol but Im confused since it looks like it could’ve just been sanded a bit..?

  42. When I was stripping a chest that had a coat of really resistant of paint on it, I put the stripper on and then laid some saran wrap over it to keep the stripper from evaporating so it could work longer. After a while I just lifted the saran wrap off and gobs of paint came off with it! Neato!

  43. this is great! i’m new to the furniture refinishing world but have a few projects i’m hoping to undertake. when do you strip the paint and when do you just start off with sanding? thanks for the help!

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