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I don’t claim to be a handyman (or a handywoman!). However, I sure do love a good DIY project (especially if it saves money). This past weekend, I redid some furniture for my fiancé’s new apartment. We didn’t want to buy brand new furniture since we’ll probably buy new furniture when we buy a house in a few years. So, we decided to furnish his apartment on the cheap.
One of the easiest ways to fill your space is by purchasing secondhand treasures from garage sales, estate sales, and thrift and antique stores. You could even pick up furniture pieces found on a neighbor’s curb. I have to admit, my fiancé’s side table that will be sitting next to his armchair was found on the curb. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
Most of the time, secondhand wooden furniture might need a little refinishing, but there’s nothing like watching the old turn new like the way antique wooden furniture looks after receiving a little TLC.
That said, I thought I’d share with you a step-by-step guide to refinishing wooden furniture.
How to Refinish Furniture
It might seem simple, but refinishing wood requires the proper tools, time and patience to get the job done right. While it’s possible to turn the task into an easy weekend project, make sure you give yourself enough time and space to follow through on all the steps.
The process of refinishing wood includes these steps:
- Removing the old finish
- Filling the grain (optional)
- Applying sanding sealer (optional)
- Staining the wood
- Appling a clear coat
Removing the Old Finish
The first step when refinishing wooden furniture – removing the old finish – is likely the most tiresome and messy. There are two ways to go about this task: chemical stripping and sanding.
Chemical strippers, also known as paint and finish strippers, are the most efficient products for removing paint and varnish from wooden furniture.
Before you begin stripping the old paint and varnish, here are some recommended supplies:
- Rubber gloves
- Eye protection
- Dust mask
- Chemical wood stain and finish stripper
- Putty knife or scraper tool
- Steel wool
Be sure you have adequate ventilation in whatever space you’re working in. Chemicals can be harmful when inhaled.
Also, note that for most purposes, you’ll want a thicker formula, like a gel or paste. Liquid paint strippers will run and can only be used on horizontal surfaces. For smaller projects, an aerosol spray stripper is a quicker and easier alternative.
Follow manufacturer instructions for using the paint stripper, but in general, apply a thick coat of the stripper and wait for the amount of time noted on the container. Remove as much paint and varnish as possible with a putty knife or scraper tool, wiping the blade of your tool between scrapes. Follow up with steel wool for tougher spots if you need to.
Then allow the wood to dry thoroughly before continuing on to the next step.
Even after using the chemical stripper, you’ll still need to sand the wood.
While sanding doesn’t emit harmful chemical fumes, make sure you still have enough ventilation in whatever space you’re working in, as sanding does release dust and debris into the air.
Recommended supplies include:
- Rubber gloves
- Dust mask
- Eye protection
- Palm sander (This is the one we bought my mom, who loves to redo furniture. She loves it!)
- Sanding block or sandpaper
Always make sure to sand in the same direction as the grain, rather than against the grain. The quality of your final work is really going to depend on how much care you take with this step. Taking enough time to sand the piece thoroughly will make a big difference.
- Use a palm sander (80 – 150 grit) to remove most of the finish
- Repeat step one until you see bare wood
- Use the palm sander (150 – 200+ grit) to get rid of any remaining stain or paint until the whole piece is bare
For areas that are awkward or impossible to reach with the sander, you might need to use a sanding block or a small piece of sandpaper to finish the job.
Remove any sanding residue when finished.
Fill the Grain
This is an optional step, and whether you choose to do this step depends largely on the type of grain in your furniture. Woods with a tight grain will not require grain filler, but if your furniture has a more open grain, like oak or mahogany, you may want to apply filler.
Be sure to choose the right pigment for the filler. To emphasize the grain of the wood, select a color that contrasts with the natural color of the wood or the color you intend to stain it. To de-emphasize the wood grain, select a color that closely matches the anticipated finished color of the wood.
- Use a rag or stiff paintbrush to apply the filler and work it into the grain
- Remove excess filler with a plastic scraper or putty knife
- Once the filler dries completely, lightly sand the furniture, making sure to sand with the grain
Apply Sanding Sealer
Applying a sanding sealer is another optional step when refinishing wood. It helps your wood absorb the stain more evenly.
Recommended supplies include:
It’s a pretty simple process that often produces worthwhile results:
- Apply a heavy coat of sanding sealer and allow it to soak into the wood
- Wipe off any excess sealer with a clean rag
- Let the sealer dry
- Lightly sand the surface for a more even application
There are several options when it comes to staining wood. You can choose from water-based stains, oil-based ones, gel stains and one-step stains/finishes.
When applying stain, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the product. Stain is easiest to apply with a staining pad, but a paintbrush is also a good option. Just follow these steps:
- Apply a generous coat of stain to the wood
- Remove any excess stain with a clean cloth and wipe lightly with the grain to avoid streaking
- Apply another coat of stain to the surface of the wood
You might need to apply multiple coats until the desired color is achieved. Be sure to let the stain dry between coats.
Apply a Clear Coat
You should consider many factors when determining the type of finish to use. Consider what look you’re going for, your skill level, how durable you need the finish to be and how the item will be used.
For easy application, use a clear coat and apply evenly, following the natural lines of the wood.
- Apply a layer of clear coat directly to the wood
- Lightly sand the surface
- Apply the final layer
After applying the final layer, you’ll need to allow the wood to fully cure for 24 hours before use.
Whether you’re an experienced handyman or a rookie like me, following these easy steps will reap a professional-looking refinishing job, giving your furniture new life.
So if you’re looking to buy a fixer-upper or just refreshing your garage-sale-picking treasures in your current home, follow this guide for a seamless and successful project.
Do you have your own tips and tricks for refinishing wooden furniture? Let us know in the comments!
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