In the world of furniture restoration, stripping and sanding are two commonly used techniques for bringing new life to old pieces.

Furniture stripping involves the removal of the old finish, paint, or varnish to reveal the bare wood underneath, while sanding involves smoothing out rough surfaces by using sandpaper. Refinishing furniture is important as it not only enhances its appearance but also protects it from damage.

The purpose of this blog post is to help you decide which method, stripping or sanding, is better for your specific needs by providing you with a comprehensive comparison between the two.

Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or a professional furniture restorer, this post will provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision.


Understanding Furniture Stripping

Furniture stripping refers to the process of removing old, worn-out finishes and paints from furniture surfaces. The purpose of stripping furniture is to reveal the original wood or material underneath, which can then be refinished with a new finish.

There are several advantages to furniture stripping as opposed to sanding. Firstly, stripping can be faster and more efficient, especially for furniture with intricate details or hard-to-reach areas.

Secondly, stripping can remove multiple layers of paint or finish in one go, whereas sanding requires several passes to achieve the same result. There are different types of stripping solutions available, including chemical strippers, heat guns, and abrasive stripping tools.

Chemical strippers are the most commonly used, and they come in both liquid and gel forms. The proper technique for furniture stripping involves applying the stripping solution, waiting for the recommended time, and then scraping off the softened finish with a scraper or putty knife.

It’s important to note that furniture stripping can be a messy and potentially hazardous process, as the chemicals used in stripping solutions can be toxic and flammable. It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and to work in a well-ventilated area to minimize the risks.

Understanding Furniture Sanding

Furniture sanding is a process of removing the top layer of the furniture’s finish using abrasive materials and tools. The goal of sanding is to remove any rough spots, scratches, or dents in the surface, allowing for a smoother and more even finish.

Advantages of furniture sanding include the ability to remove deep scratches and dents, as well as providing a uniform surface for the new finish. Furniture sanding can also help to create a smooth surface that is ready for painting or staining.

There are several types of sanding tools available, including sanding sponges, sandpaper sheets, and sanding blocks. The choice of tool depends on the type of surface being sanded and the desired end result. Sanding blocks are great for large flat surfaces while sanding sponges are ideal for contoured or curved surfaces.

Proper technique for furniture sanding is important to ensure a smooth and even finish. Start with a lower grit sandpaper and gradually increase the grit to achieve a smoother surface. Always sand in the direction of the grain and use a light touch, as over-sanding can damage the wood.

Additionally, be sure to clean the surface thoroughly after sanding to remove any dust or debris that may affect the final finish.

Stripping Vs Sanding – Which is Better?

This is a common question that many homeowners and furniture enthusiasts face when considering refinishing furniture. In this section, we will compare the benefits and drawbacks of both methods, and examine their suitability for different types of furniture.

Stripping furniture refers to the process of removing old paint or varnish from a piece of furniture in order to refinish it. Furniture stripping is often preferred for pieces that have intricate details or carvings, as the process is less likely to damage these features.

However, furniture stripping can be messy, time-consuming, and requires the use of toxic chemicals.On the other hand, sanding furniture involves the use of sandpaper or other abrasive tools to remove old paint or varnish.

Sanding is a quicker and less messy option, but it requires a certain level of skill and may not be suitable for delicate furniture. Additionally, sanding can create a lot of dust, which can be problematic for people with allergies or respiratory issues.

When choosing between stripping and sanding, it is important to consider the type of furniture being refinished. For delicate or intricately carved pieces, stripping is often the better option. For larger, more straightforward pieces, sanding may be more suitable.

It is also important to consider the finish desired. If a smooth, glossy finish is desired, sanding may be the better option as it will result in a smoother surface. If a more rustic or natural finish is desired, stripping may be the better choice as it will reveal the natural grain of the wood.

Both stripping and sanding have their advantages and drawbacks, and the best method for refinishing furniture will depend on the specific project and desired outcome. Before embarking on a refinishing project, it is important to research both methods and consider the factors discussed in this section.

Stripping Vs Sanding – a Comparison

FeatureFurniture StrippingFurniture Sanding
DefinitionThe process of removing old paint or finish from wood by using chemicals.The process of removing the old finish from wood by using sandpaper or abrasive materials.
AdvantagesEffective for removing multiple layers of paint or finish, leaves a smooth surface for refinishing.Can be done by hand or with a power sander, allows for greater control over the process.
DrawbacksRequires protective gear and a well-ventilated area, may result in damage to the wood if not done properly.Takes more time and effort than stripping, can leave noticeable sanding marks if not done properly.
SuitabilityIdeal for furniture with multiple layers of paint or a heavily built-up finish.Ideal for furniture with a single layer of paint or a light finish, or for those looking for more control over the process.
Stripping Vs Sanding – a Comparison

This table provides a quick comparison of the benefits and drawbacks of both furniture stripping and sanding. It highlights the key differences between the two methods and helps users make informed decisions about the best approach for refinishing their furniture.


What are the common chemicals used in furniture stripping?

Common chemicals used in furniture stripping include methylene chloride, N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), and citric-strip.

Is furniture stripping harmful to the environment?

Some of the chemicals used in furniture stripping can be harmful to the environment and toxic to humans if not handled properly. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and proper safety measures when using furniture stripping solutions.

Can furniture sanding damage the wood?

Improper furniture sanding techniques can cause damage to the wood, such as sanding too deeply or using the wrong grit of sandpaper. It’s important to follow proper sanding techniques and use the appropriate grit of sandpaper for the type of wood being sanded.

How long does it take to strip or sand a piece of furniture?

The time it takes to strip or sand a piece of furniture will vary depending on the size and condition of the piece, as well as the method being used. On average, furniture stripping can take several hours, while sanding can take several days.

Can furniture stripping or sanding be done by a beginner?

Furniture stripping and sanding can be done by a beginner with proper instruction and safety precautions. However, it’s always recommended to seek professional help if you’re unsure about a particular step in the process.

Editor’s Note

It is recommended to strip the communion table first, using a non-caustic stripper, such as Circa 1850. The finish can be softened with lacquer thinners or acetone before applying the stripper. Scuffing the finish with 80grit sandpaper before applying the stripper can help the stripper get under the finish faster.

It’s important to follow the instructions on the label and not to poke or scrape the stripper with a scraper, brush, or steel pad. Sanding can then be done after the finish has been stripped to smooth the surface.


Both furniture stripping and sanding have their own advantages and drawbacks, and the best method for refinishing furniture depends on several factors such as the type of furniture, the desired outcome, and personal preference.

Furniture stripping is best for removing thick layers of paint or varnish, while sanding is best for removing only the top layer and preparing the surface for a new finish. When choosing a method, it’s important to consider the type of furniture, the condition of the surface, and the desired outcome.

In general, it’s always recommended to use the gentlest method that will achieve the desired results, to avoid damaging the furniture. Ultimately, whether you choose to strip or sand your furniture, the end goal should always be to enhance its appearance and prolong its lifespan.

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