How to Refinish Furniture | With a Raw Wood Look

Are you looking to update vintage, antique or dated furniture? See how to refinish furniture with a raw wood look for a fresh modern feel. Learn how to get this rustic modern furniture makeover in just 3 easy steps! 

Not only will you learn how to quickly and easily strip off paint, but we will also share the best way to bleach wood. Then you can show off the natural beauty of the wood.

For years now we have seen the trend to paint all wood surfaces. But now I’m loving the trend, getting back to the natural wood look. It’s so refreshing!

Have you been wondering how to refinish furniture? It may look like a daunting task, but with the right products it can be done quickly and easily.

Just follow along and see how we transformed this old dresser into this beautiful natural wood look.

Before the furniture refinishing

How to Refinish Furniture

At first glance, you may think that this dresser is great just as is. Steph purchased this dresser for Little Miss’ bedroom makeover, but on closer inspection we realized that the paint finish was not up to par. 

The dresser was painted poorly, brush marks every which way. It would need to be sanded down or stripped, even if it was to just be repainted.

After some thought, Steph decided she would like to try a natural or raw look finish. I’m so glad she did, we love the results!

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Supplies: How to Refinish Furniture

How to Refinish Furniture | Strip Off Old Finish

How to Refinish Furniture

Between the two of us we have probably refinished more than 100 pieces of furniture. It is something we love to do!

To take an old discarded piece of furniture and turn it into an heirloom is so rewarding. Not to mention the thrill of the hunt at flea markets and thrift stores. 

Are you wondering how to refinish furniture for a special piece in your home?

We have tried many products over the years for removing old paint finishes. However, we decided to try something new this time, Citristrip™ and we are thrilled with the results.

If you are looking for an easy way to remove an old painted finish, this is the product to use.

This is not an endorsed post, we genuinely loved the results we got and want to share it with you.

Safety First

When working with chemicals be sure to use protective gloves and goggles. Even though Citristrip™ smells citrusy and doesn’t have any strong fumes, it is still important to protect your eyes and skin. A chemical burn really hurts, trust me, I know.

We would also suggest that you wear long sleeves and pants. If it flips and hits your arms or legs, you’ll be glad you did.

If you are more of a visual learner, we have created a short video of how to refinish furniture. Just click on the link below.

Apply Paint and Varnish Stripper

How to Refinish Furniture

Apply Citristrip™ generously with an old paint brush. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

If you let it sit longer than 30 minutes, cover the furniture with plastic wrap. This will keep the product moist and actively lifting the old paint finish.

How to Refinish Furniture
How to Refinish Furniture

We let the stripper sit on for 2 hours. Test an area with a plastic scraper and see if the paint has softened and lifts easily from the wood.

How to Refinish Furniture

You can see here that the paint is already starting to pull away from the furniture piece.

How to Refinish Furniture

Once the paint has softened and has lifted from the wood, take a plastic paint scraper and scrape off the old paint in the direction of the wood grain.

How to Refinish Furniture

This is what one of the drawers looked like after one application of the Citristrip™.

How to Refinish Furniture

The dresser had many more curves and grooves where the paint finish remained. However, we will show you how this is easily removed as well.

How to Refinish furniture | Sanding

How to Refinish Furniture

On the areas of the drawers and dresser that did not have grooves or curves we used our palm sander with medium grit sandpaper to remove any remaining finish. This was really quick and easy to do. 

Another way to remove the remaining finish would be to reapply the stripper, wait for it to soften the paint and scrap with the plastic scraper.

How to Refinish Furniture

This is what the drawer looked like after sanding with the medium grit sandpaper.

How to Refinish Furniture

We did have some areas that had molding and curves that we were unable to sand.

To remove the paint from these areas apply more stripper. We ran out of Citristrip™ and used Jasco paint remover for this part.

Wait a few minutes for the product to dissolve the paint then scrape with an old toothbrush or a wire brush. Brush in the direction of the grain of the wood, then follow up with a medium grit steel wool pad.

We prefer to use a wire brush. It quickly pulls out the paint from the grooves.

Bleaching the wood

Bleaching the wood is totally optional. Steph wanted a lighter natural wood finish for this dresser. We believe this dresser is cherrywood and that was not the look she was going for.

We have bleached wood a couple of other times using household bleach. But, did you know there is a specific bleach for wood?

Wood bleach is easy to use and much more effective. Usually you will achieve the desired look in just one application, instead of multiple applications with household bleach. 

It also does not have the strong smell associated with household bleach.

Pro tip: You will want to wear protective clothing and eye coverings with this also. Believe me, I was just the photographer for this portion of the project and some of the solution flipped onto my hand and it really burns. But, it is easily neutralized with vinegar.

How to Refinish Furniture
How to Refinish Furniture

We used Zinnser Wood Bleach, which is a 2 part solution. We were unable to find this at any of our local hardware stores, but you can find online. A link for it is in our supply section.

Do not mix solutions A and B, the instructions say you will get an adverse reaction. We don’t know what that is, but be safe!  Also use a seperate sponge for each when applying.

Wearing chemical resistant gloves, pour solution A into a container. Apply solution A with a sponge over the entire wood surface to be lightened.

Let this solution sit on the wood for 5 minutes for a soft wood and 10 minutes for a hard wood.

We let it sit for 10 minutes. You do need to keep it wet the entire time, so you may need to reapply.

How to Refinish Furniture
How to Refinish Furniture

After 10 minutes, it is time to apply solution B. Pour solution B into another container and apply to the wet wood surface. 

When completely dry, neutralize with a solution of vinegar and water with a 1:1 ratio.

How to Refinish Furniture

Here you can see the difference between the drawers. The one on the top has not been bleached. The drawer on the bottom has had one application of the wood bleaching solutions.

Touch up if necessary

How to Refinish Furniture
How to Refinish Furniture

Somehow we had 2 spots that did not get one or more of the solutions. This was a quick fix!

How to Refinish Furniture
How to Refinish Furniture

We reapplied solution A and let it sit, then reapplied solution B just on the spots that were missed.

Neutralize the Bleaching Solution

How to Refinish Furniture

Once you are happy with the results from bleaching the wood, the surface will need to be neutralized.

To do this make a vinegar mixture of 50% vinegar and 50% water. Wipe down the entire piece with this mixture and let dry.

Prep before applying top coat

How to Refinish Furniture

To prepare the wood for the topcoat, sand with a fine grit sandpaper. We used a 220 grit sandpaper. 

Once you are satisfied, wipe down all the surfaces with a tack cloth or a damp cloth to remove all the dust.

Apply protective top coat

There are several different options for a protective topcoat. Each will have it’s own pros and cons. 

You can apply an oil-based polyurethane. My favorite is Minwax™ Wipe On Poly. However, an oil-based product will yellow on lighter finishes, so we didn’t want to use this.

A water-based polyurethane would also provide great protection. We love Varathane™ Triple Thick Polyurethane in a matte finish. This will need to be applied with a brush and is a little more time consuming.

However, this time we wanted the beauty of a hand rubbed finish, a more natural look. We chose to use a clear wax. We like to use Behr Clear Wax.

How to Refinish Furniture

Apply the Behr Clear Wax with a stiff bristled waxing brush using a circular motion. This will ensure that the wax is worked into the grain and grooves of the wood furniture. 

Take a clean cotton cloth and gently wipe off any excess wax. Let dry until it is no longer tacky. 

How to Refinish Furniture

Using a clean cotton cloth, buff to a beautiful hand rubbed finish. We like to use old cotton t-shirts for this.

How to Refinish Furniture

Isn’t she beautiful?! I love the beauty of the natural and light wood grain.

We cleaned up the original hardware, which had been spray painted silver. Also, the top drawer had a few challenges, you can see how we removed the spray paint from the hardware and fixed our dilemma with the top drawer here.

How to Refinish Furniture

The natural wood look is a gorgeous contrast against the navy wall.

How to Refinish Furniture

This dresser really did have lovely lines that really didn’t stand out in it’s former state.

How to Refinish Furniture

Do you feel confident now learning how to refinish furniture? 

Do you have an heirloom at your home that needs an update or facelift?

We would love to hear from you. Let us know if you decide to refinish a piece of furniture and what you plan to do with it.

Thank you for spending a little time with us today! 

We’re always excited to share what we’ve been working on. If you’re new here, WELCOME! We love having new readers and friends! You can learn more about us here.

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And as always here at Sunny Side Design

WE HOPE TO BRING YOUR HOME TO THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET!

How to Refinish Furniture

For more DIY furniture projects click on the images below.

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You can also find our video tutorials on our YouTube channel. 

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Love the piece! Do you think this technique would also work on mahogany?

    1. I have the same question , do you think this technique would also work on mahogany?

      1. Mary, I have not tried to bleach mahogany. I’ve used this technique on walnut and cherry with great results. I would try it in an inconspicuous place to make sure you are happy with the results.

    2. Beatriz, I have not tried to bleach mahogany. I’ve used this technique on walnut and cherry with great results. I would try it in an inconspicuous place to make sure you are happy with the results.

  2. I have that same dresser in Mia’s room – it was a hand me down & has been painted white. I love seeing the potential this piece of furniture has! WOW!

    Does this same method work with removing chalk paint?

    1. How fun Renee! Yes, the Citristrip will remove all types of paint. We recently used it on old French style twin beds that had an oil-based paint, which is a little more difficult to remove. But it did the job. Check out our website in the next day or 2 and see how we made a French inspired daybed from 2 twin beds.

  3. At first I wasn’t sure I’d like this but I really do now! Well done. I use a new, soft shoe buff brush to buff my wax. It gets into those pesky trim places. Also it’s easier on my hands somehow. If any brush marks are left I then use tee shirt material to smooth it out. This piece is really exceptional, great job.

    1. Thank you Jauquetta, the is a great tip. We will definitely try that next time we wax.

  4. I love Citristrip and it’s the only thing I use. I am in love with this makeover! It looks so much more beautiful rather than painted. Not everything needs paint and this is one of those…lol. I have to say you did a supburb job!

    1. Thank you Shirley! We are thrilled with the results a well. And Citristrip is now our favorite stripper as well. I couldn’t help but gasp when I saw how easily it removed the old paint. Thank you for following along.

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