Safety, safety, safety:
The following suggestions and safety equipment are essential: Be sure your work area is well ventilated. Many of the products you'll be using are flammable. If you're near a gas water heater, turn off the pilot light while you're working. Wear chemical-resistant gloves and safety glasses.
Tools and supplies:
You will need: Putty knife, synthetic stripping pads, sandpaper, steel wool, a sanding block, rags, tack rags, an old toothbrush, and cotton swabs.
Stripping the old finish:
Be sure and wear gloves and safety glasses. Follow manufacturer's directions carefully on the can of stripper.
Remove and store drawer pulls and other hardware. Apply a heavy coat of stripper with a brush. Work on a small area at a time - don't apply stripper to the entire piece. Leave the stripper undisturbed on the surface from 10 to 30 minutes, or until the old finish begins to loosen from the wood. Use a Putty knife to push the old finish off, scraping in the direction of the grain.
Use a synthetic stripping pad dipped in stripper, rather than steel wool, to remove stubborn spots. (Steel wool can react to the new water- based strippers.) Use an old toothbrush or cotton swabs dipped in stripper to remove finish from tight corners or ornate carvings.
Stripper raises the grain of the wood, so when the piece is completely stripped it will have to be rubbed with a finishing pad or lightly sanded with fine sandpaper or steel wool.
When the wood is stripped and sanded smooth, lightly rub over it with a tack cloth to remove any dust. Now you're ready for the fun part - applying the finish!
Choosing the finish:
There are two basic types of wood finishes: penetrating finishes and surface coatings.
Penetrating finishes soak into the wood; surface coatings form a thin film on top of the wood. Stains, linseed oil, tung oil, and wood preservatives are all penetrating finishes. They can be used by themselves, or coated with a surface coating.
Surface coatings, such as paint, varnish, lacquer and urethanes, dry to a hard film that protects the wood surface.
Applying the new finish:
Before applying a stain, test the color in an inconspicuous spot, such as the bottom of a chair seat. Wear gloves! work on one surface area at a time, preferably with the surface horizontal. Dip a soft cloth in the stain (after it has been thoroughly mixed), squeeze out excess stain and wipe it onto he wood, working in the direction of the grain. Use a second rag to wipe off any excess stain. Let it dry and apply a second coat.