How to refinish furniture

A good sturdy piece of furniture is worth saving if it just needs a little TLC and has begun to show its age through scratching or chipping of its finish.  Can’t we all relate to that one time or another?  Or maybe you find a neat little piece at a thrift store and its painted but you’d really love to restore it to a natural wood look.  You can do it!!

Materials needed: Scraper/putty knife, 1 can Gel or Liquid Stripper, A nylon brush suitable for stains, Hand sander or sandpaper sheets, wood sealer, depending on the size of the furniture a quart or pint in the stain color of your choice (There are many different types of wood so final stain colors will vary slightly depending on what type of wood you have), quart of satin polyurethane

Here are the basic steps you can follow in order to restore a piece of furniture easily:

1) Stripping

Get a good gel or liquid finish stripper.  I like the kind that is cleans up with water.  Ensure your area is well ventilated because this stuff usually has a very strong odor and unless you want to kill a few brain cells, well, you get the idea. A fan, open windows etc. is usually sufficient.  It’s also a good idea to cover the floor area around you.  Using your brush, brush on the stripper with the grain and let set for several minutes until you see the finish underneath begin to “bubble”

*Time saving tip:  You can try to skip the stripping altogether if your finish is just scratched, chipped or dulled in a few spots.  Try using a hand sander with a light grit paper in a small corner to roughen the surface slightly; if this works okay for you, you can lightly sand the remainder of the piece.  By doing this, you can lightly touch up the  stain in the affected areas and then refinish with a new coat of polyurethane.

I just did this with our stair balusters and rails.  I didn’t strip the wood.  I only sanded it, re-stained and then used a final coat of polyurethane and cut out so much time!

2)  Sanding

Use your scraper to begin removing the stripper and old finish.  It should “peel” right up.  If the old stain and finish doesn’t look like it’s coming up, you might need to let the stripper sit for a few more minutes.  Once the stripper is removed from the piece, use 120 grit sandpaper to sand any remaining stain, always going “with the grain”.  Finish off with a 220 grit paper to sand the wood smooth again.

Hand sanders are a time saver on projects like this.  A little “mouse” sander will run $20-30 and they are worth every penny in the time they save on a variety of projects.  Go over the piece with a damp towel to remove any remaining dust.

3)   Sealing

Apply one coat of wood sealer and let it soak for a few minutes removing any excess with a towel.  Sand again with 120 grit paper and remove any dust.

4)  Staining

Using the stain of your choice, apply the stain in long even strokes on the piece with your brush.  Once again, I recommend the water-based stain for easier clean up.  Use a towel to dab any excess puddles.  The more coats you make, the deeper the color will be.  You might want to test this in a corner to see how many layers you will need to achieve the color you want.  Let the stain dry completely.

5) Finishing

Apply one coat of polyurethane on long even strokes with your brush.  I like satin on furniture but it depends on what look you are going for.  Once it is dry to the touch, use the 220 grit sandpaper to lightly sand once more.  Clean up any remaining dust.  Coat once more with polyurethane and let dry.

2 thoughts on “How to refinish furniture

  1. Your sister did my hair today and recommended your blog. My hair looks great but I’ve got a painting dilemma. I’m trying to paint a director’s chair in this heat and humidity. I sanded the previous white coat and attempted to spray paint black. I had lots of bubbles. I waited 24 hrs and sanded again and wiped down with a tack cloth and repainted. It was about 7:30 this morning, not too hot but humid and a little windy. Should I forget about spraying and bring it inside to do with a brush. Thanks for any help you can offer.

    1. I’m glad she referred you to the site and I hope you find it helpful. As you may have guessed, the heat and humidity will cause you drying issues, especially with the thicker, enamel glossy paints. You may also be spraying too close to the chair which causes puddles of paint and these will bubble easily so make sure that you are making broad, light strokes at least 12″ from the surface as you are spraying. It may take several swipes but the lighter, thinner coats dry better than heavy, thick coats.

      Can you place the chair in a garage with a fan that circulates the air while its drying? Or even better, can you spray it outside then set it on newspapers inside your home while its drying to allow the air conditioned space to help? Of course, you need to leave an underside to be able to move it without marring the paint.

      If this doesn’t seem to help, then yes, absolutely, bring it in and paint it with a brush. All your work is not lost if you can sand the bubbles and finish it with a brush coat. Make sure your brush is rated for enamel or latex paints so that brush strokes are minimized.

      Good luck!

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