Q: What's the best way to remove old paint from wooden furniture?

A: That outdated coat could be hiding a future heirloom, but uncovering it requires both elbow grease and certain safety precautions.

Test: First, check for lead in the paint, says Thomas Eberharter, owner of home design company Raven's Knee, in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. Make a small cut in the item with a utility knife to expose its layers, then wipe the groove with a 3M LeadCheck Swab ($24 for eight, amazon.com). If the swab turns red, it's positive for lead, and you should outsource this project to a pro. If not, keep going.

Prep: Designate a workspace outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. Place the piece on top of plastic sheeting to protect the ground from any possible seepage; make sure it extends a few feet in all directions. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants and boots, and put on safety goggles, a fume respirator and nitrile work gloves.

Scrape: Brush on paint stripper (Eberharter suggests Zip-Strip Paint & Varnish Remover; $11 for 21 ounces, shop.rplumber.com). Wait for it to bubble, about 15 minutes. Using a putty knife on flat areas and extra-coarse steel wool on rounded ones, lift off as much of the goop as you can, discarding it in a cardboard box. Repeat until almost all the paint is gone.

Clean: Gently sand the piece to clear out every nook and cranny, and to smooth the surface (strippers can raise the wood grain). Douse the contents of the cardboard box with water — they're highly flammable — and dispose of it outside, per your municipality's requirements, along with the plastic sheet.