Stripping a Table, A Method for Lightening Dark Wood Furniture

Give furniture a new look with this simple method for stripping a table top. I’m sharing the best way I have found for lightening dark wood furniture (with no sanding necessary!)

When I picked up this oak foyer table on Craigslist years ago, I loved the look of dark stained wood. I painted the base a creamy white, and gel stained the top this dark java. After several years of use, it’s looking a bit worn.

lightening dark wood furniture, stripping a table top

I have been gradually favoring lighter wood tones, but how in the world do you go about lightening dark wood furniture?

Sanding off the finish is such a messy job, and a big struggle too if there are any grooves or details in the wood. On the other hand, stripping a table had me concerned about dangerous fumes and chemicals. Post contains affiliate links.

The best way I have found so far for stripping a table without sanding is Citristip. It doesn’t have overwhelming fumes, in fact the citrus smell is not unpleasant, although I still use it in a well ventilated area.  It worked so well on the farmhouse coffee table, so I used it again to lighten up this foyer table without a ton of sanding. 

stripping a table with citristrip, lighten dark wood

Stripping a Table Supplies:

After dusting the tabletop, I wiped on a coat of citristrip with a rag. I find it’s better to be generous, as a very light coat may not penetrate all the layers of stain and varnish. 

Stripping a dark wood table with citristrip

Then, I just let it sit for about an hour. The next part is so satisfying.

Time to use a scraper to remove the loosened finish from the table! I used a metal scraper and I wasn’t overly careful, but only because I like a rustic distressed finish. A plastic scraper is ideal to prevent any scratches or gauges. 

stripping a table, lightening dark wood furniture without sanding

Once you remove as much loose finish as you can, clean up any goop with a rag and mineral spirits. The mineral spirits dissolves the citristrip, making it easy to clean up. 

I ended up needing one more coat of citristrip where it didn’t penetrate all the way through the layers of stain. 

So I wiped some on wherever it was still needed, and came back 15 to 30 minutes later. Then, I scraped again to remove the old finish. To get any stubborn spots and crannies, I scrubbed lightly with steel wool.

Finally, I cleaned up the whole surface with mineral spirits, and wiped clean.

To seal the top, I applied two coats of General Finishes gel stain in Nutmeg. There was a bit leftover from staining the steel front door. I love this stain for anytime I am refinishing (with or without stripping.)

general finishes gel stain, table top makeover

It doubles as a sealer, and since it is thicker and stays on the surface, it smooths out any imperfections. The color looks much darker when you first apply, but as it is spreads out it looks very similar to the shade on the can.

refinishing a table with gel stain

It is amazing what a difference changing the tabletop finish made to this little area. It really brightened up the foyer!

refinishing a table top lighter, Easily strip and refinish a table top without sanding. 
Under the stairs foyer table makeover, spring and summer foyer table decor

Have you tried lightening dark wood furniture? I’d love to hear about it!

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