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How to Re-stain Dark Furniture to a Lighter Color

If you love your furniture piece but don't love the color anymore, there is definitely a DIY solution! We cannot promise that it will be an effortless process, but we can attest to the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction after seeing the end result.

This nightstand needed a change of color in order to compliment new style elements incorporated into the bedroom space. Opting to buy a new nightstand was unnecessary because the furniture piece was in great condition and the design fit the style of the living space. The goal was to remove the red tone in the wood and create a more natural and lighter oak color. We couldn't be more thrilled with the end result! Keep reading to learn about the materials and tools we used for this project, the step by step guide, and the pros and cons.

Materials + Tools

  • Klean Strip Paint Stripper

  • Heat gun

  • Scraper tool

  • Safety gear: goggles, masks, and gloves

  • Electric orbit sander + corner sander

  • Clean cloths

  • Foam paint brushes

  • Water-based wood stain

  • Semi-gloss water-based polyurethane

Step By Step

Step 1: Prep + Clean

The first course of action was to clean the nightstand with a damp towel to remove any accumulated dust or dirt. Then, we disassembled the nightstand to ensure all the nooks and crannies of the furniture piece were accessible. Lastly, we placed all the screws, bolts, and washers in plastic bags and labeled them accordingly.

Step 2: Stripping/Removing the Stain

There are different methods to strip an existing stain on furniture such as using a liquid chemical stripper, heat, steam, and power sanding. Since this was our first re-staining project, we were unsure of which method would be the most effective for this project. Thus, we chose to use the liquid chemical stripper because it is a widely used and low-cost technique. However, we quickly learned about the challenges of using a liquid chemical stripper. After a frustrating experience with using this stripping technique, I (Maria) expressed my frustration to a more experienced mentor (my father) and he quickly suggested that we use a heat gun instead. A heat gun is basically an extremely hot blow dryer and it is used to soften paint, varnish, and other finishes. As the paint softens with the heat it begins to bubble up and can be removed with a scraper tool. Although this method was much more effective compared to the liquid chemical stripper, it was definitely not a time-efficient technique. So there we were, again, re-thinking our approach. Although it appeared that we had reached an impasse, we decided to forgo using other types of chemical strippers and used a power sander.

Step 3: Sanding

Generally, sanding is done after removing the paint or stain by using a chemical stripper. However, we decided to use an electric sander to strip the stain and sand the furniture all at once. We used an electric orbit sander for large, flat surfaces and an electric corner sander for small to reach areas.

To be honest, using an electric sander was the best decision we made. We would go as far and suggest to bypass using a chemical stripper. However, we do advise that you do your research and ensure that power sanding is an appropriate method for the type of furniture you wish to refinish.

Step 4: Staining

Once we finished sanding all the pieces of the nightstand, we vacuumed and wiped away all the remaining dust particles. The new color stain we chose for the nightstand was called Golden Pecan Oak. It was a water-based wood stain from Behr with a fast drying time. Before opening up the paint canister we made sure to put on disposable gloves to protect our skin. The new color stain was applied using a foam paint brush. Since our goal was to achieve a lighter color, we decided to apply two thin layers of color stain to help control the coloration. After staining all furniture pieces, we waited one hour to ensure adequate drying.

Step 5: Applying the Protective Coat

To protect the furniture, we bought a semi-gloss, water-based polyurethane coating from Behr. It was very easy to apply. We used a foam paint brush to apply the polyurethane finish and also wore protective equipment during application. We applied two layers of the protective coating and allowed one hour of dry time.

Step 6: Reassembling

The final step after all the arduous work was to reassemble the furniture! The reassembling process was quick and easy because we had all screws, bolts, and washers in organized, plastic bags.

Step 7: Enjoy + Be Proud!

We are so thrilled with the outcome! We definitely achieved the goal for this piece of furniture! The color is brighter and lighter. It will now compliment the interior design style of the bedroom it resides in.

Post Project Thoughts

As our first re-staining project, we couldn't be happier and prouder of the end result. However, there were definitely challenges we encountered during the process. In particular, we encountered various challenges during the stripping/removing stage of the project. Below we share the pros and cons of using the following techniques-

Liquid Chemical Stripper



  • Helps remove paint, varnish, or stain from large surface area

  • Dangerous to work with

  • Easy to apply

  • Does not remove multiple layers of paint, varnish, or stain

  • Messy and goopy

Heat Gun



  • Helps remove multiple layers of paint, varnish, or stain all at once

  • Removing paint with a heat gun is a very slow process.

  • Easy to use/handle

  • Possibility of burning yourself and the wood/furniture

  • ​Wrist ache from holding heating gun for too long

Final Thoughts

This project took approximately 3-4 full days to complete. After understanding which stripping method worked best for this project, we did not encounter any additional challenges. We believe this project can be easily executed with the appropriate technique, materials and tools. We cannot wait to take on another DIY furniture refinish project! Let us know what you think of the transformation by commenting below! Thank you for reading!

- Maria & Liz

Young female

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