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I'm trying to restore a piece of furniture that has sentimental value. It is currently stained with a very dark (mahogany?) color:

The original stain

However, I would like to stain it a much lighter color (Maple, using Cabots). I assume that if I don't completely remove the existing stain then it's going to end up a hot mess. I'm finding it very difficult to remove the existing stain because it's not a professionally made piece of furniture, so it has a lot of nooks and crannies and I don't think the wood was well-sanded before it was originally stained, so there are lots of indentations and rough surfaces.

So far I've managed to achieve this state:

After sanding

This was by using very course (40 grit) paper with orbital and detail sanders:

The sanders

Can anyone offer advice to ensure I'm successful with this project? Specific questions include:

  • I will have to remove all existing stain, right? Is there some magic I'm not aware of that would make this more practical?
  • Can I improve my strip-back process? I feel like it's taken an awful long time to strip back even this one small part of the furniture, and it's still not completely done. My only plan of attack right now is 40 grit, then 80, then a very fine (120). I came to the realization today that I might have to do some parts by hand, which worries me.
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    120 isn’t a very fine sanding for a last pass; you should sand to at least 220 in my opinion. I am not aware of anyway other than sanding to remove that stain. Hopefully someone else will have an idea – UnhandledExcepSean Jan 12 at 13:20
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Try applying a household bleach full strength in a small area you've sanded. Chlorine bleach will remove dye without harming the wood, but it won't remove pigments. It looks like you've sanded away most of those already, so this may be a good final step.

Two part bleaches are another option; they're stronger but will lighten the wood. That's usually not a problem if you're going to stain the piece, but it will tend to homogenize contrasting grains. The potential upside is that these bleaches can decolor some pigments, which is a lot less work than trying to get them out of the pores.

For the spaces the sander won't reach I'd try a chemical stripper along with a brass toothbrush. Painter's tools (5 in 1 tools) are also handy because they won't gouge easily. Plastic putty knives are even safer, if less effective.

It's not magic, but using a gel stain might help. They sit on top of the wood to prevent blotching, but that means they have a fair amount of pigment added. It's not going to give coverage like paint, but it may disguise small amounts of the previous finish.

  • Unfortunately, bleaching didn't really do anything apart from leave a yellowish stain on the wood. – me-- Jan 14 at 22:30

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