Using an Environmentally Friendly Paint Stripper
Before refinishing furniture, old paint or varnish must be stripped off. Several options are available. You could sand and scrape the paint off, but that would take a very long time. You could use a strong paint stripper, but you'd need to wear gloves, a respirator, safety glasses and protective clothing. A third option is to use an environmentally friendly paint stripper, which takes a little longer to do the job but is safer for you and the environment.
Disposable brushes come in handy for paint-stripping jobs. Another useful tool is the stripping pad; some brands have handles so you can use them without getting your hands covered in stripper. It's a good idea to have a bucket of water nearby when you begin your job.
Start by reading the label on the stripper. Shake the can thoroughly, and pour the stripper into a container. Dip the paintbrush into the stripper, and apply a 1/8"-thick coat to the furniture. Allow the stripper to remain on the furniture for about 4 hours (the length of time may vary, depending on the product's strength).
After the stripper has had time to dissolve the paint or varnish, apply a thin second coat to soften it up, and begin scraping it off with a putty knife. Be careful not to gouge the wood. When you've removed most of the paint, begin wiping the furniture with a stripping pad to remove the rest of the stripper. Wear eye protection to prevent splashing stripper into your eyes.
Keep used stripper in a separate location, and dispose of it according to local regulations. This is especially important when dealing with lead-based paint.
Allow the furniture to dry, then sand it smooth. You may want to use a sponge sander to clean out areas that are difficult to reach. When you've removed all the dried stripper, wipe the furniture with a tack cloth. Then you can begin refinishing it.