I have a coffee table that has a lot of decorative work along the outside, such as flowers/leaves and rosettes that are part of the original woodwork (i.e., not created and fastened on after the fact).

I want to refinish the table, but the commercial stain remover that I used did not get all the stain out of the recessed parts of the decorative carving. Additionally, there are stain remnants in the notches cut out for the center glass pieces.

How do I remove the stain from the notches and the decorative carving without ruining the aesthetics of the piece?

  • 1
    I think this would depend on the age of the piece and the intricacy of the details. I believe there are some people that use an alternation of pressure and vacuum with solvents in giant tanks to do work like this, but it is expensive and hard on the wood. Have you considered bleaching or gel type stains to simply mask this stain that was not removed? Mar 17, 2015 at 18:46

3 Answers 3


It will be a lot of work but I have two different suggestions.

Use your stain remover again, but this time be more specific and use an (old) toothbrush to apply it and 'clean' it back off when it is time. A toothbrush can can work the remover into the small places and can work just like getting plaque off your teeth.

If it's mostly gone, you can try the same trick with bleach, but be careful, it is also dangerous as well (health hazards) and if it is too strong can damage the wood.

There is always the question of how much do you want off? because done well, leaving some of the old stain in the grooves can give it a nice 'antique' look and feel as well.


Reapplication and mechanical manipulation are your friends (as suggested above). If this is critical project, then there are a number of more extreme paths.

  • a second round with a different product may help.
  • your stain remover may come in a thicker solution or a gel. This will slow the evaporation time and thus lengthen the time the goo is removing stain.
  • you can soak cotton balls, cotton rags, etc. with the stain remover and cover the tricky area (The danger here is discoloration or problems with the wood becoming too wet: swelling, ungluing, etc.)
  • you can use dental picks, scrapers, or custom-made tools (grounding hacksaw blades work well) - after you have applied the remover and let it sit for a bit, use the scrapers. You should be able to remove the softened top layer of the finish. Once you reach a harder, dryer area of finish, reapply the finish and repeat the process. (The danger here is cutting and scraping into the wood itself.)

All the above entails more time breathing nasty and life-shortening chemicals. Please use common sense and ventilation (and a respirator if you have one; you don't? there are many available in the $20-$50 range).


There are special spools of abrasive material that is almost like a sandpaper shoe lace. That might be worth looking into for sanding the stain out of intricate designs in some cases.

Mitchell's sanding cord
(source: mitchellsabrasives.com)

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