Details and TMI: Stripping, Staining, Finishing, Mistakes, Fixes

What a happy day to find out that people liked the dresser makeover!

I don’t always go into a ton of details on my posts because, well to be honest, I didn’t think people really read my blog…there are a LOT of DIYers out there!

But, thanks to Hometalk, people were pretty interested in the dresser.  SO…this is the complete adventure of a first-time stripper/stainer, all details included, in case you’re thinking of becoming a first time stripper/stainer, too!

how to refinish furniture

The Dream Team

Now, I’m not a by-the-book person. I may become one…but when someone says “use cheesecloth” to remove stripper and I happen to have an old clean sock with a hole in it, I go with the sock. Sorry…it worked just fine.  However, if that had resulted in a mistake and I SHOULD have used the cheesecloth, I promise I would tell you.

So, here’s my not-by-the-book experience:


I found a couple of recommendations for Klean Strip stripper. It promised to work in 15 minutes, and it delivered on that promise!Klean Strip Stripper

I applied the gel-like mixture with a paint brush and it had the old stuff bubbling in minutes.

Furniture stripping

It was chilly outside (mid to upper 50s) and I was working in my garage with the doors open for circulation. Mostly, I had the best success with removing the stripper after just 10 minutes using putty knives and paper towels.  If I waited longer, it dried.   (There’s an interesting Hometalk post that appeared regarding plastic wrap and stripper…check out the details here, which one of my visitors was also kind enough to recommend for next time.)

A few spots were stubborn and I reapplied the stripper to those areas…in some cases a few times!

Full disclosure: I also used a dollar store-ish, long-handled scrubbing brush to get into some of the super stubborn areas and grain crevasses. I tend to use what’s on hand.  NOT my best idea (for safety reasons), but I’m stubborn and it was nearby.  Next time I would go with a toothbrush.  Why? because that goop stings/burns when it gets to rest on your skin…even in small dots. The scrub brush did indeed clean out the creases, AND sprayed the stuff everywhere!  And when you’re a nearsighted dope doing this in junky shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt, you’re exposing skin. SO…COVER UP, WEAR GLOVES, AND USE A SMALL SOFT BRUSH!!! LESSON LEARNED#1!!!!

Over a few days, I stripped the piece in stages starting with the dresser top, then the sides, then all the drawers.  We had a new empty quart-sized paint can, and I poured the stripper into the can and doled it out from there. You’re supposed to pour the unused stripper back into the Klean Strip can…but my paint can had a lid so I just tapped it back on until the next session.  And when I went back to it the next day and used my putty knife to open it, it nearly flew off into the air with an audible pop. Which leads me to

LESSON LEARNED #2: Pour the unused stripper back into the can it came in with the very hard to open top…it’s hard to open for a reason!!! Now, I began paying attention to warnings of “spontaneous combustion” and from that day forward, I put all used rags and paper towels in a water-filled bucket until I could safely discard them (I let them dry out SINGLE LAYER in the driveway then threw them away.  You voices of experience may have a better idea).

After all the paint was removed to my satisfaction, I took a rag dipped in mineral spirits and wiped all the surfaces “clean.”

Sanding and Pre-staining:

Minwax pre-stain How to stain furniture

I gave all the wood surfaces a light sanding with a fine-grit pad we had on hand and removed any lingering dust with a damp cloth. I used Minwax Pre-stain Wood Conditioner to “prevent blotchiness.”  It said it would, and I guess it did…so I was glad I followed that instruction.

Staining and Painting:


I dipped the clean cotton sock into the stain (Minwax Wood Finish in Red Mahogany) to apply.  The wood soaked it right in…though in some places not enough.  So, I added a heavier layer and let it dry.  LESSON LEARNED #3. DO NOT LET STAIN DRY. It won’t. In a do-over world, apply stain, let it set for 5-15 minutes and wipe off the surface, taking along the stain that doesn’t soak into the wood.

IF you let the stain dry, fear not!  Apply another coat of stain right over it, let it sit for about five minutes, and it will mix well with your mistake layer.  You can then wipe off the residue (along with your mistake layer)…ideally with cheesecloth or a non shedding rag…but we have a LOT of single clean white cotton socks (with holes), so I just stayed with it.  No regrets.

Once I was happy with the color, I stopped applying stain. Mostly two coats…and a touch up with a third in a couple of places.

I had only intended to paint the frame, leaving the fronts, top and sided stained.  But the wood on the side was not very nice…so I painted the sides as well.  I used paint on hand: Rust-oleum American Accents in Canyon Black, satin finish and happily it was a smooth and uneventful process…phew!

Then I let it dry.

Which was not easy…did I mention it was chilly and raining outside?  The paint part dried fine, but the stained wood was pretty tacky.  Small print on the back of the stain-covered can says: “Dry time may be extended due to high-humidity, low temperatures or inadequate ventilation.”  I carefully moved the pieces into our back hallway.  Nothing better than crafting in the middle of your most-used entrance 🙂

The surface stayed tacky for at least a full day…I was worried that I didn’t wipe enough of the stain off… It seemed fairly dry the next day so I moved on to…


Furniture makeover Minwax Polyurethane

I applied a thin coat of Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane (semi-gloss) and started to panic a little because the top (just the top) stayed tacky. I waited…even overnight.

I moved a fan into the back hall, but a few hours later, by now a full day…it was still pretty tacky in a few places. Now I was starting to panic a lot; was the heavy stain back to haunt me?  Would I have to restrip and start all over?

I started surfing for a solution…a few led me to believe I would indeed have to start over.  BUT…I found a couple of folks who suggested wiping the tacky surfaces with a light rub of mineral spirits.  AND those folks, those wonderful tip sharers, saved the day!!

Because once the top was dry from the mineral spirit rub, there wasn’t even a hint of tackiness. It was smooth as can be…and ready for drawer pulls.

And that, for anyone who has read this far (and thank you, if you have), was WAY too much information for a Hometalk post, but is the true story behind The Story of K 🙂







  • Mickey

    This is AMAZING! I SO appreciate the step by step details of your FABULOUS transition. Lots of good old fashion elbow grease, & it paid off in SPADES! One small detail…. Nothing to do with all your hard work. Totally a personal preference. You may need to sell me on those drawer pulls. It’s such a bold, masterful, piece, (can you tell I’m in <3 with it?) Why go whimsical with the pulls?

    • EmDirr

      Thank you, Mickey! (Sorry you were filtered as spam 🙁 )

      “Why go whimsical with the pulls?”
      The short answer is that I’m a flawed mix of impatient and frugal (kids are ALWAYS IN OUR POCKETS), lol!!

      The long answer (and everyone who knows me knows I always have a long answer) is that the hardware holes were 3.25″ apart… The local big boxes didn’t have anything that worked in that size. Didn’t want to fill and redrill them and mess up the wood… Looked on line at hardware suppliers for post and bail (I think that’s what it’s called when the handles swing…that was my first choice) in a silver finish. They were pricey per handle and I would have to wait for them to arrive. Was feeling a little frustrated and then I remembered reading a blogger who made her own. So…it solved my problem for now. (I actually was looking into modifying silverware…but it won’t end up in my kitchen after all.) So, the beads work fine and are the right price…and I have the option of swapping them out later (when the money tree reblooms, lol) for a different look. Plus, I’m a little quirky so it’s kind of reflective of me 🙂