Lessons Learned The Hard Way: How NOT To Strip A Bar Stool

DIY / Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

When updating furniture, things don’t always go as planned. Lessons learned while learning to strip furniture.

I wasn’t going to share this, but since in the real world, DIY projects do not always go as planned, I thought it necessary to share how I got a little over confident and made an incorrect assumption during one of my recent endeavors.

While it was a relatively minor mistake and the project was salvaged, I created unnecessary work for myself (and my husband).

After successfully stripping and spray painting our console table, I planned to use the same process to update some bar stools to use at our our kitchen island.

Since the first project went smoothly, I figured this one would too.

Logical, right?


The four stools had a shiny finish, which I assumed to be a thin clear coat or polyurethane finish.

Since I was planning to spray paint the stools, I knew I needed to remove the shiny finish to make sure the paint would stick.

I’d just had a great experience using the chemical stripper, so instead of testing a small inconspicuous area of ONE bar stool, I decided to go ahead and coat one, and try sanding one. Then, after stripping those two stools, I’d select the easiest method to strip the other two remaining stools.

Honestly, after what happened, I have no idea WHAT was on the stools. Perhaps it was a clear coat…but it was certainly not compatible with the chemicals used.

Half Sanded Bar Stool
Half Sanded Bar Stool

After easily sanding the larger, flat surfaces, I found sanding the spindles on the legs to be cumbersome and awkward work.

It wasn’t that the sanding was a terribly difficult task, it was more that the idea of painting on a chemical stripper seemed MUCH easier.

AND, for the record, painting on the stripper WAS easier than sanding the stool.

Bar Stool With Chemical Stripper Applied
Bar Stool With Chemical Stripper Applied

SO, being lazy that day, after painting one stool with stripper, I decided to paint the remainder of the stool that was half sanded.

Why not just go the easy route?

Or so I thought.

HOWEVER, after the stripper had been applied, the wood literally swallowed it up.

INTO the grain.

Chemical Stripper Soaked INTO the Wood Grain
Difficult to see, but here is Chemical Stripper (CitriStrip) Soaked INTO the actual Wood Grain, below the top surface

You don’t have to be an experienced DIY’er to know that this is a bad thing.



What little clear coat was there evaporated into thin air, leaving the porous wood free to absorb the chemicals from the stripper.

With the stripper IN the wood grain, there was absolutely NO way the paint would stick.

It HAD to be removed.

It could not be removed by scraping with a putty knife.

It could not be removed by wiping clean with mineral spirits.

(Mineral spirits simply removed the top layer of stripper from the surface, but all along the stool, there was chemical soaked into the wood grain itself)

So, after deciding I didn’t FEEL like sanding off the VERY THIN the clear coat, I now had to sand down even FURTHER to remove the chemicals from the wood.

AND, instead of just saw dust, I now had paint stripper tainted saw dust.

It. Was. Nasty.

And required me to remove my contacts and rinse my eyes with saline after suddenly they got VERY itchy. Yikes!

Sanding this deep, even with rough sand paper was HARD work.

Especially on the spindles.

Talk about a workout; with extremely poor ergonomics.

My arms and back were so sore half way through the first stool, that I finally swallowed my pride and asked for my husband to help me sand the other stool (which was thankfully only half-coated).

While he was a WILLING and gracious helper, I can say with confidence that he did not appreciate my lack of testing the stripper before applying it to not one, but TWO stools.

And, he was right. Seriously, I’m a biochemist!

I KNOW that not all chemicals react the same way on different surfaces.

In fact, I could have probably figured out a way to do a simple test to see WHAT type of coating it WAS.

BEFORE I started.

What was I thinking!?

I am grateful my husband helped (and did a great job).

Otherwise, that stool might still be sitting in my garage, and we’d just have 3 painted bar stools in our kitchen today.

After all that, I used 100 grit sandpaper to strip the remaining two stools, and found those to be less work than even ONE with the chemical stripper added to it.

I then went over all four stools with mineral spirits to remove any saw dust (or chemical dust) from the surface to prep for paint.

Not my brightest moment.


What are the lessons learned here?

  • Always, always TEST before you apply ANY chemical to a whole piece
  • When sanding wood with a chemical residue, remove contacts, and wear eye protection
  • A chemical stripper is not always better (or easier) than elbow grease and sand paper
  • As is noted on the CitriStrip label and on most reputable DIY sites…all clear coats are NOT created equal (To figure out what kind of finish you’re dealing with and what chemical to can be used to remove it, read this)
  • If you do enough DIY projects, you’ll find a way to mess something up; thankfully, many of these errors can be fixed, but will likely require some extra work (and help)
  • Don’t forget the basics and to follow instructions, even if you’ve used a chemical before

I think it is safe to say, that most of those lessons are basic! Things I knew and took care to follow before my first project with chemical stripper.

In DIY projects, no project is ever the same, and I should have never assumed the finish on the stools would respond the same way as on my console table.

Over confidence is NEVER a good thing when playing with chemicals.

The good news is, after removing all the chemical stripper, and sanding the other two stools, the paint adhered well.

At least fixing the problem with all that work was worth it, even if it my lack of wisdom took me on an annoying, arm-tiring detour.

Next time I strip something I’ll remember to go back to the basics and not get overconfident that everything will be ‘just like last time’.


I’ll post soon with photos of the finished, painted stools.

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