How to strip paint from wood drawer handles

Stripping is SO. MUCH. WORK. I picked up this dresser and it is so absolutely gorgeous. The original owner did paint the built-in wooden handles and with the vision I have for it, I want the bare wood showing.

Usually I’d sand them down but with an area so delicate I thought I’d try my hand at stripping the paint off. It was a process that I was not expecting. Because of the fumes and since I don’t have a garage, the deck was the only place to do this.


  • Your piece of furniture
  • Circa 1850 heavy paint & varnish remover – I got this at Turkstra Lumber, a local store. Check your local lumber/hardware store for it.
  • Mineral spirits
  • Painters tape
  • Steel wool
  • Foil plate
  • Foam sponge brush
  • Blue Shop Towel – these are great because they are lint-free. They don’t have little pieces that come off when you’re using them.
  • Rubber gloves

Tools used:

  • Putty knife

NOTE: While I used a putty knife to take off the remover, there were several small spots that the knife caught and the wood did get gouged a bit. Circa 1850 does have an angled maple scraper that I have ordered. I couldn’t find a store in Canada that sells it so it will be coming from the US.


  1. Tape the area around where you’re going to apply the remover. This prevents it from getting where you don’t want it.
  1. Put on gloves and apply remover. I poured a little into a foil pie plate and used a sponge brush.
  2. Wait 15 minutes. In retrospect, I should have chosen a less windy day so the remover didn’t dry while it was doing it’s magic. The applied area will start to bubble.
  1. I used a metal putty knife to start scraping it off. Using the pressure of my index finger, I lightly pushed on the edge of the blade at an angle so that I didn’t damage the wood.
  1. Apply second coat and repeat, if necessary.
  2. For those hard to get or stubborn areas, dip a hunk of steel wool in the remover and scrub. This is definitely going to take some elbow grease!
  3. Once the handle is clean of any paint, use a blue shop towel (you could also use any rag you have around the house) to rub mineral spirits on it to take off any leftover remover.

Before you stain them and the drawer fronts, make sure to give them a light sand. Nothing crazy – you want the stain to look the same on the whole thing.

Here is a before and after of the whole project! I painted the frame in Annie Sloan chalk paint “Athenian Black” and used her glossy lacquer to seal it.

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