Is it Better to Sand vs. Strip Wood Furniture: When to Use Each

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 06/12/23 • 

If you’re looking to repair or refinish your wood furniture, sanding and stripping are effective methods of removing old finishes. However, each method has pros and cons, which you should consider before choosing. In this article, we’ll discuss their differences, when to use each method, and their pros and cons.

Sanding vs. Stripping: Their Differences

Sanding wood furniture is straightforward and involves using sandpaper to remove a finish. It is one of our favorite methods of removing a finish because it works. When sanding a piece of furniture, you’ll need to choose a sandpaper grit that will cut through the finish down to the bare wood. You can start with a #150 grit and see how it goes. If you need to remove more, you can lower the grit to #120, #100, or #80 grits. Check out our sandpaper grits guide.

Stripping furniture is another way of removing a finish from wood and usually involves different methods, from using a heat gun or using chemicals. The former is much more effective for stripping a finish and is the most popular method most users employ. Some of the chemicals used to strip furniture include Citristrip, Minwax, furniture refinisher, and lacquer thinner.

When to Sand Furniture

Sanding is a better way of removing a finish if you’re working with a mostly flat piece of furniture with no intricate details. When using a power tool, like an orbital sander, to remove a finish, the process is much faster compared to hand sanding. Hand sanding will take more time and effort, especially if you’re sanding a larger piece of furniture.

Sanding Down a Wood Finish with Sandpaper to Remove The Finish

Sanding Down a Wood Finish with Sandpaper to Remove The Finish

If you intend to repaint the furniture, you don’t need to sand it down to bare wood completely. You can remove the top coat and prime the surface for a new coat. However, if you plan to stain the furniture, you’ll need to completely sand it down before applying the stain.

Compared to stripping, sanding is also a cheaper method of removing a finish, and it’s chemical and odor-free. If you’re looking to avoid chemical strippers, sanding is the way to go. Other chemical-free methods of stripping wood are also used, like using a heat gun or using a carbide scraper.

Pros of Sanding

Cons of Sanding

When to Strip Furniture

Stripping is a faster and easier method of removing a stain or finish. If you plan to stain a piece of furniture, stripping is good for removing most of the paint faster compared to sanding. For intricate details and tight spots, a finish stripper will be much more effective compared to sanding.

Although it is a fast method of removing a finish from wood, you must be patient and let the stripper dissolve the finish. Sometimes you will wait for about 24 hours, so the stripper works effectively. After that, you’ll use a scraper or cloth to remove the sludge, which can be messy.

Applied Citrstrip and Covered With Nylon Paper

Applied Citrstrip and Covered With Nylon Paper

If you’re working with wood veneer, a stripper is better to avoid destroying the veneer’s surface. When working with wood, you’ll get most of the finish out, but you might have to sand a little before you can stain or refinish. Although stripping takes less effort, you’re exposed to harsh chemicals depending on the stripper you use. However, there are also less toxic chemical strippers you can choose from, such as citristrip and soy-based strippers.

Pros of Stripping

Cons of Stripping


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