A medium-strength stripper is all you usually need for a sideboard.

Stripping a Mahogany Sideboard

by Chris Deziel

Refinishing a mahogany sideboard is a rewarding project that gives you a sense of accomplishment as well as an attractive piece of furniture that you and your family will enjoy for many years to come. The biggest obstacle to the payoff, however, is the process of stripping off the old finish. This messy procedure involves caustic chemicals, but you can't avoid it. The old finish must go, and you must sand the wood properly, or the new finish won't adhere. So get out the rubber gloves and goggles and take consolation in the fact that the job doesn't take long. Stripping is best tackled when your children are napping or away for a few hours.

Cover the floors in a well-ventilated workspace with newspaper or a canvas dropcloth. Move the sideboard into the space and set it upright. Remove all the metal hardware with a screwdriver and set the doors aside. You can strip them separately.

Pour some stripper into an empty paint can. Use a low-VOC, water-based stripper on a stained and lacquered sideboard. To remove paint, however, you need a more traditional product that contains methylene chloride.

Put on rubber gloves and goggles; paint the stripper on a section of the sideboard, such as a side or part of the front, with an old paintbrush. Remember that you will scrape off the stripper before it dries, so don't cover the entire sideboard at once.

Let the stripper sit for 10 minutes until the finish starts to bubble and run. Scrape off as much as you can with a putty knife or paint scraper. Deposit all the scrapings onto a sheet of newspaper to keep them all together. If the finish doesn't scrape easily, give the stripper a little more time to work and spread it more to keep it from drying out.

Paint more stripper on the areas that still have finish and rub it off with fine-steel wool. Keep a large bowl of lacquer thinner handy to clean stripper off the steel wool. The lacquer thinner also helps dissolve the finish.

Scrape finish from the corners and along the edges with a pull scraper. Use moderate pressure to avoid scratching the wood. Use a small flat-head screwdriver or dental tool to remove finish from recesses in carving and molding.

Wash the entire sideboard with a rag dipped in water after you finish stripping. Water neutralizes the stripper and also removes any remaining residue.

Strip the doors and drawers separately by laying them flat on a pair of sawhorses. Wash them with water after stripping; then let them dry before sanding.

Items you will need

  • Newspaper
  • Dropcloths
  • Screwdriver
  • Stripper
  • Paint can
  • Natural-bristle paintbrush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Goggles
  • Paint scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Fine steel wool
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Pull scraper
  • Small flat-head screwdriver
  • Dental tool
  • Rag
  • Water
  • Sawhorses


  • Don't worry if you leave small patches of residue after you've washed the piece down; they'll come off when you sand.


  • Chemical strippers are caustic and can burn your skin and eyes. Methylene chloride is a suspected carcinogen. Wear rubber gloves, protective clothing and goggles when working with it. If you get any on you, flush affected areas with plenty of water.
  • Mix all the stripper residue with sawdust or cat litter and dispose of it as hazardous waste.
  • Store the stripper and methylene chloride on a shelf away from the reach of children.

About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images