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I bought these secondhand cross-back chairs and I think they look great. However I think they will look even better if they have a brighter colour.

I'm looking to suggestions for easy ways to make them look like the last pics.

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I'm looking to suggestions for easy ways to make them look like the last pics.

There's no easy way to do this, sorry.

Regardless of whether the chairs have coloured finish on them or are conventionally stained (with a clear finish over that) you have to remove the finish. The preferred way of doing this on anything that isn't just a series of flat surfaces is by using chemical stripper, and this is a time-consuming, messy, tedious job on anything more complex than a simple table (as any guide that demonstrates the manual stripping of a chair will make very plain1). Home stripping has also been made more difficult in recent years with the almost complete removal of methylene chloride-based strippers from the reach of the general public in the US, Europe and possibly other markets because of overt concern about the risks to users (which were real, but massively blown out of proportion..... especially in the US). See note at bottom about commercial stripping.

Scraping, with or without use of a heat gun, and sanding are other methods for removing finish but the design of the chair I think means neither are viable (certainly not without disassembly), and sanding is anyway the worst way to remove finish from furniture as covered in numerous previous Answers.

If it's coloured finish
It's impossible to tell for sure from the photo but it looks like the chair is covered in a coloured finish, which would be good news. If it is coloured finish it means that once that finish is removed most of the colour will go with it.

Unfortunately the important word here is most — there's no guarantee ahead of time that you'll get back to a uniform bare-wood appearance because wood always has areas that are more absorbent than others. These areas can hold on to the colour from a coloured varnish/lacquer much more stubbornly that everywhere else.

If it's stain
If the wood is stained it's a completely different story and it may be effectively impossible to remove the colour from the wood.

It's not completely impossible to remove stain from wood, it's just that the chairs have interconnected and crossing pieces, some quite thin, so you don't have the sanding leeway you'd have if you were trying to do the same job on a simple table with square-section legs2.


Commercial dip-tank stripping is available in a lot of places. While a lot of bad things are said about this sort of process, claiming it will ruin anything and everything that is treated this way, the fact is that even pros sometimes make use of this option. And yes, on antiques. It is not without its risks3, but when you get a piece of furniture back from such a stripping service you've saved better than 95% of the time and effort the process would have taken otherwise.


1 See Michael Dresdner doing this in his very comprehensive book on finishing, The New Wood Finishing Book starting on p53. If you don't have local access to a copy this can be borrowed for reading on Archive.org after joining (membership is free).

2 Dresdner goes on to tackle this subject in the following pages of his book, beginning on p58. If you find the wood is stained I advise going into it expecting that you won't be successful to avoid disappointment.

3 Joints may be loosened, the wood may be irretrievably discoloured, grain can be heavily raised and there can sometimes be warpage, but the worst of this does not by any means happen to the majority of pieces (or nobody would be willing to use it!)

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  • Thanks for your reply, very helpful and informative 👍
    – Zedzdead
    Jul 2 at 21:31
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OK looks like my options are using a paint stripper, sandpaper or a using a heat gun. Despite the health hazards involved, the first seems to be the easiest one.

Then after finishing I'd have to apply varnish.

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    You're probably going to want to remove the cane seat before applying any of those three things to prevent damage. Also, the chair in your picture is stained, not painted, so I'm not certain how well a paint stripper will work, but it's certainly worth a shot. At a minimum, the paint stripper will get the clear protectant finish (varnish, polyurethane, etc.) off.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 2 at 12:35
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    You might find that the underlying wood isn’t really that light. (Test a small area before committing to stripping.) If so, just scuff and paint. Jul 2 at 14:27

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