Our New (High)boy Part 1: How to Strip and Stain Tutorial

Remember our lovely Drexel dresser that’s now gone? Well, be prepared to meet its replacement.

I decided to do this dresser in a two-part tutorial because I did two completely new things, well and new to the blog. The first tutorial I’m sharing with you is about stripping and staining wood. I have done this before, but not since I have been blogging. And this one just turned out so great that it is perfect for a tutorial!

I love the style that Miss Mustard Seed (my fave blogger) often uses, which is a dark stained wood top paired with a painted bottom piece, typically a dresser.

Miss Mustard Seed ~ furniture restoration

I especially wanted to go with this style for the dresser because it is beautiful solid wood and I not only wanted to keep the exposed wood top, but I wanted to use Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint (more on that on the next tutorial).

highboy The wood on top of this dresser however was a little to red for me, it being mahogany, but it was in pretty good condition and I knew that it would be a fairly simple fix.

So what I did first was a little stripping. That sounded a little bit scandalous. I like to use Citristrip because it is very low odor. I don’t use a mask and I have even heard of people using this stripper inside. Which is saying a lot about a stripper which is a product usually best suited for outside to let all the smelly fumes vent.

stripperSuper cheap chip brushes are the way to go to apply the stripper because you can just throw them away! I actually just pour a little stripper on the dresser top and spread it around instead of pouring it in a metal pail and creating more work. According to the directions, you can start scraping in as soon as 30 minutes or up to 24 hours after applying. I usually wait a little bit longer and for this I waited about eight hours I believe. stripper appliedI have learned from past experiences to use a plastic furniture stripping knife because if you use a metal putty knife and are not careful, the metal can nick the wood and damage it. I’m speaking from past experience. Trust me.

So you just scrape off the stripper in lines along the grain.

This is the results after one round of Citristrip.

IMG_9011I noticed after removing the first go of the stripper that there were still a few areas that had not been stripped. I could tell because these areas were still shining like the rest of the dresser.

So I applied another coat of Citristrip just to these areas and again let it sit for a few hours. After I scraped it off, there were a few stubborn spots including the edges, so I decided to do a quick run over the top with our orbital sander.

I wanted to make sure that the top was completely stripped of all previous varnish so that the new stain would be nice and even. But first I cleaned off the leftover Citristrip with a soft towel and mineral spirits.

Then I used a medium grit sanding pad on the orbital and just went over the top a few times (always with the grain) so that it was all smooth. I wiped it off again with a soft cloth and minerals spirits to make sure I got all the wood dust off.

Side note: There were a few (deep) scratches on top of the dresser prior to me starting this project. I have learned from the past to not over-sand those areas in order to try to make it completely smooth, because it will not stain evenly (it will be lighter where you sanded so much). Lesson learned: sand evenly.

IMG_9022I was now ready for my first staining step. I used another chip brush to apply a pre-stain wood conditioner as this agent promotes an even, uniform stain over the wood and helps to avoid streaks and blotches in the stain. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

IMG_9024Brush it all over and leave it on for a few minutes before wiping up any excess. After it dries you are ready for your first coat of stain- and you have to do it soon (within the time frame of 15 minutes to 2 hours). It looks dark already below from the wood conditioner, and also because the original wood is… well, dark. IMG_9027I love walnut stain because it is dark and warm, sans the red tone. I used it here on my Ikea desktop.

I used another chip brush to apply a coat of stain to the entire top and sides. You just brush it on, leaving the excess. I waited about 10 minutes since the original wood was dark and then used paper towels to wipe off the excess stain. I didn’t get photos of this (I think I was prepping for the painted portion of the dresser while waiting), but the Ikea tutorial linked above does have photos of this process.

IMG_9031What I got was a beautiful dark stain. Remember the scratches? If you look closely you can still see them, but now they are stained. Let’s just call it character.

Per the directions, you need to let the newly-stained piece dry for a minimum of 8 hours before you can apply a topcoat. I complied by this and eight hours later was ready to poly.

I love to use polyurethane for wood staining projects because it enhances the warmth of the wood. Polyurethane has an amber tint to it and so is not a good choice over painted pieces. However, it is great for wood as a topcoat, and this one is a satin finish, so you don’t end up with that super-super-shiny finish that I’m not a fan of. Like it says on the bottle, hand rubbed beauty. I mean, doesn’t that say enough?

Minwax Pint Wipe-On Satin Polyurethane

Anyways, applying the polyurethane is super easy. You just pour a little onto a soft cloth and rub it in! I waited a few hours (2-3 per the directions) and then applied another coat. I don’t sand between coats (like it says to) unless it doesn’t feel smooth.

Voila. I am in love with the result and love running my hand over the top of this dresser. Am I a werido? It is as smooth as butter- and looks it. I don’t care what you think.


The dark walnut finish is perfect and exactly what I was going for. And the wood is beautiful, isn’t it?!IMG_9248 Tune in later this week for Part 2- the painting technique. It’s a new one and looks fabulous. And don’t worry, you will see the second part soon, because unlike our bathroom reno (yup… still not quite there yet), the piece is done and looking fabulous.

Linked up to Miss Mustard Seed’s Furniture Feature Friday

Thrifty Decor Chick’s October Before and After


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