How to Refinish Furniture With a Raw Wood Look

9 Materials
5 Hours

Are you looking to update vintage, antique or dated furniture? See how to refinish furniture with a raw wood look for a fresh modern feel. Learn how to get this rustic modern furniture makeover in just 3 easy steps!

Not only will you learn how to quickly and easily strip off paint, but we will also share the best way to bleach wood. Then you can show off the natural beauty of the wood.

For years now we have seen the trend to paint all wood surfaces. But now I’m loving the trend, getting back to the natural wood look. It’s so refreshing!

Have you been wondering how to refinish furniture? It may look like a daunting task, but with the right products it can be done quickly and easily.

Just follow along and see how we transformed this old dresser into this beautiful natural wood look.

Before the Furniture Refinishing

At first glance, you may think that this dresser is great just as is. Steph purchased this dresser for Little Miss’ bedroom makeover, but on closer inspection we realized that the paint finish was not up to par. 

The dresser was painted poorly, brush marks every which way. It would need to be sanded down or stripped, even if it was to just be repainted.

After some thought, Steph decided she would like to try a natural or raw look finish. I’m so glad she did, we love the results!

Supplies Used:


Chemical Resistant Gloves


Plastic Paint Scraper

Medium Grit Steel Wool

Brass or Stainless steel brush

Palm Sander


Wood Bleach



Clear Wax

Waxing Brush

Strip Off Old Paint Finish

Between the two of us we have probably refinished more than 100 pieces of furniture. It is something we love to do!

To take an old discarded piece of furniture and turn it into an heirloom is so rewarding. Not to mention the thrill of the hunt at flea markets and thrift stores. 

Are you wondering how to refinish furniture for a special piece in your home?

We have tried many products over the years for removing old paint finishes. However, we decided to try something new this time, Citristrip™ and we are thrilled with the results.

If you are looking for an easy way to remove an old painted finish, this is the product to use.

This is not an endorsed post, we genuinely loved the results we got and want to share it with you.

Safety First

When working with chemicals be sure to use protective gloves and goggles. Even though Citristrip™ smells citrusy and doesn’t have any strong fumes, it is still important to protect your eyes and skin. A chemical burn really hurts, trust me, I know.

We would also suggest that you wear long sleeves and pants. If it flips and hits your arms or legs, you’ll be glad you did.

If you are more of a visual learner, we have created a short video of how to refinish furniture. Just click on the link.

Apply Paint & Varnish Stripper

Apply Citristrip™ generously with an old paint brush. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

If you let it sit longer than 30 minutes, cover the furniture with plastic wrap. This will keep the product moist and actively lifting the old paint finish.

We let the stripper sit on for 2 hours. Test an area with a plastic scraper and see if the paint has softened and lifts easily from the wood.

Remove Old Paint Finish with a Plastic Paint Scraper

You can see here that the paint is already starting to pull away from the furniture piece.

Once the paint has softened and has lifted from the wood, take a plastic paint scraper and scrape off the old paint in the direction of the wood grain.

This is what one of the drawers looked like after one application of the Citristrip™.

The dresser had many more curves and grooves where the paint finish remained. However, we will show you how this is easily removed as well.

Sand Furniture Piece

On the areas of the drawers and dresser that did not have grooves or curves we used our palm sander with medium grit sandpaper to remove any remaining finish. This was really quick and easy to do. 

Another way to remove the remaining finish would be to reapply the stripper, wait for it to soften the paint and scrap with the plastic scraper.

This is what the drawer looked like after sanding with the medium grit sandpaper.

Remove Old Paint Finish from Molding & Grooves

We did have some areas that had molding and curves that we were unable to sand.

To remove the paint from these areas apply more stripper. We ran out of Citristrip™ and used Jasco paint remover for this part.

Wait a few minutes for the product to dissolve the paint then scrape with an old toothbrush or a wire brush. Brush in the direction of the grain of the wood, then follow up with a medium grit steel wool pad.

We prefer to use a wire brush. It quickly pulls out the paint from the grooves.

Bleaching the Wood

Bleaching the wood is totally optional. Steph wanted a lighter natural wood finish for this dresser. We believe this dresser is cherrywood and that was not the look she was going for.

We have bleached wood a couple of other times using household bleach. But, did you know there is a specific bleach for wood?

Wood bleach is easy to use and much more effective. Usually you will achieve the desired look in just one application, instead of multiple applications with household bleach. 

It also does not have the strong smell associated with household bleach.

Pro tip: You will want to wear protective clothing and eye coverings with this also. Believe me, I was just the photographer for this portion of the project and some of the solution flipped onto my hand and it really burns. But, it is easily neutralized with vinegar.

Apply Solution A

We used Zinnser Wood Bleach, which is a 2 part solution. We were unable to find this at any of our local hardware stores, but you can find online. A link for it is in our supply section.

Do not mix solutions A and B, the instructions say you will get an adverse reaction. We don’t know what that is, but be safe! Also use a seperate sponge for each when applying.

Wearing chemical resistant gloves, pour solution A into a container. Apply solution A with a sponge over the entire wood surface to be lightened.

Let this solution sit on the wood for 5 minutes for a soft wood and 10 minutes for a hard wood.

We let it sit for 10 minutes. You do need to keep it wet the entire time, so you may need to reapply.

Apply Solution B

After 10 minutes, it is time to apply solution B. Pour solution B into another container and apply to the wet wood surface. 

Neutralize Bleach Solution with Vinegar

Once you are happy with the results from bleaching the wood, the surface will need to be neutralized.

To do this make a vinegar mixture of 50% vinegar and 50% water. Wipe down the entire piece with this mixture and let dry.

Final Sanding

To prepare the wood for the topcoat, sand with a fine grit sandpaper. We used a 220 grit sandpaper. 

Once you are satisfied, wipe down all the surfaces with a tack cloth or a damp cloth to remove all the dust.

Apply Protective Topcoat

There are several different options for a protective topcoat. Each will have it’s own pros and cons. 

You can apply an oil-based polyurethane. My favorite is  Minwax™ Wipe On Poly. However, an oil-based product will yellow on lighter finishes, so we didn’t want to use this.

A water-based polyurethane would also provide great protection. We love  Varathane™ Triple Thick Polyurethane in a matte finish. This will need to be applied with a brush and is a little more time consuming.

However, this time we wanted the beauty of a hand rubbed finish, a more natural look. We chose to use a clear wax. We like to use Behr Clear Wax.

Apply the Behr Clear Wax with a stiff bristled waxing brush using a circular motion. This will ensure that the wax is worked into the grain and grooves of the wood furniture. 

Take a clean cotton cloth and gently wipe off any excess wax. Let dry until it is no longer tacky. 

Using a clean cotton cloth, buff to a beautiful hand rubbed finish. We like to use old cotton t-shirts for this.

The Reveal

Isn’t she beautiful?! I love the beauty of the natural and light wood grain.

We cleaned up the original hardware, which had been spray painted silver. Also, the top drawer had a few challenges. To see how we remedied this go to our website.

The natural wood look is a gorgeous contrast against the navy wall. This dresser really did have lovely lines that really didn’t stand out in it’s former state.

Do you feel confident now learning how to refinish furniture? 

Do you have an heirloom at your home that needs an update or facelift?

We would love to hear from you. Let us know if you decide to refinish a piece of furniture and what you plan to do with it.

Thank you for spending a little time with us today! 

For More DIY Ideas & projects, as well as more projects from this Bedroom Makeover, please check out our website.


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Frequently asked questions

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3 of 17 questions
  • Wrenda Crain Wrenda Crain on Jul 03, 2020

    Just the look I want ! How do I subscribe to your Site ?

  • Cary B Glass Cary B Glass on Jul 03, 2020

    My table is not painted but it is 40 years old withe the original stain, do I do this project the same way?

  • Diana Diana on Jul 03, 2020

    Did you use the process on the whole piece or just the drawer fronts?


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