I'm refinishing a bakers box and it has some scratches and tape over it. Am I supposed to sand the stain off or just the poly?

I generally like the color. I could darken it a shade to a darker walnut. It seems to have a lot of nooks so I think sanding off the stain would be a risk.

How deep should i sand to refinish this? Could I just take off the coat of poly and stain a bit darker? What should grit should i use to remove it?

General thoughts?

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  • 3
    Highly, highly recommend you not do this by sanding! But if you do decide that sanding is what you want to do then be prepared for the amount of work that's actually needed — every surface needs to be sanded multiple times. Also, to do it right the piece needs to be disassembled and all hardware removed before sanding is started.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 9:10
  • What would your alternative suggestion be? I went to woodcraft and they suggested this soy based finish remover, then a very light sanding, then adding new stain and finish.
    – tjcinnamon
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 13:52
  • 1
    That's a pretty good suggestion (I'm surprised!) I don't know how soy-based finish removers will work with this piece's finish which is a big unknown, but just in general stripping to refinish a piece is very often the best way to go and it's frequently the route a real professional would choose. It's best for the wood (less risk of accidental damage from over-sanding edges and corners) and way less physical effort for the person doing the job. [contd]
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 19:29
  • But be aware, it's still lots of work. For a piece this size the whole project is a lot more work than many written guides suggest — just the stripping, cleaning down, drying and light sanding might take you two full weekends. So this could easily take a full month to complete if working weekends only.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 19:30

1 Answer 1


I would use a set of cabinet scrapers.

There is a little extra setup because you need a vice of some type, burnisher (very hard steel rod), and a bastard mill file (and/or some hard sharpening stone like DMT diamond impregnated stones, I got mine at home depot for $30).

You can find lots of videos on how to sharpen these things, but it comes down to making a square edge at the end, work hardening it by rubbing the burnisher on both sides next to the edge, then putting the scraper straight up and burnishing the top and then tilting the burnisher to "turn the burr" which makes the end like a little hook.

Then you push or pull this edge along and it will shave off very thin (type II-III) wood or poly shavings.

It sounds like it is more trouble than it is worth. But for a project like this it will very quickly take off even shavings until you get down to even wood. Sandpaper, in my opinion, is going to lead to more wobbly edges as it is kind of difficult to sand perfectly evenly, especially around corners like that.

On top of that a single scraper will last forever, and has all but replaced sandpaper for me (except for some very deep bowl shapes). They also come in all different profiles to match different edge profiles.

  • Should I take off the finish or take it off down to the stain? It just the finish, would a chemical definisher work?
    – tjcinnamon
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 17:57
  • @tjcinnamon: I haven't used any chemical finishes so I can't say. But if you scraped it I would probably take it down through the stain since otherwise the poly will encapsulate that part of the wood, so any subsequent stains you apply won't get down there. But it will look kind of cool, there is some oak I tried staining -> scraping -> finishing. Since the top of the wood was much lighter than the stained pores, it had a distinct look, kind of tiger-ish.
    – jbord39
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 17:59
  • Hmmmmm. The idea of taking it down to the wood has me nervous. I may sand a corner and see what happens. But you're right if I go down too far it'll go past the stain and then the new stain won't match up. I wonder if I do chemical to avoid sanding and then sand the rough parts gently. I'm not a professional in the least so I might ruin the whole darn thing trying to sand it all the way down and restaining it
    – tjcinnamon
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 18:23
  • The stain usually penetrates only a very tiny amount of wood. You are not going to be able to get the poly off without also taking off stain in at least some places. (And that is assuming it is stain first and poly second; sometimes "stains" are really tinted poly, which means taking the poly off is taking the stain off.) It is going to be much easier to sand or scrape down to bare wood, and then redo both the stain and the poly. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 3:31
  • @tjcinnamon The scratch that reveals pale wood underneath gives a good indication of how this piece was finished. It's not stained, it's got a coloured topcoat on it (probably tinted varnish, similar to what is sold as "gel stain"). So any sanding will reveal pale wood, which if it's not done uniformly looks awful. Hence why if you sand you need to sand the entire thing and start again.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 9:16

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