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An Online Guide to Refinishing Wood Furniture

Guide to Refinishing Furniture Header

Wood furniture adds a classic element to any décor. Wood is considered classic because you can restore old furniture to its original brilliance with a little bit of work. Many people save money by buying used furniture and putting in the time to refinish it to match their home décor and style. It will take a bit of time, but you can create pieces that match your decorating style and that will last for years to come. If your furniture is already finished you will need to strip and sand the wood surface so that it is smooth before you begin any of these steps. For all of these projects it is important to work in a well-ventilated area for the duration of the project. The refinishing may take several days to finish because of the waiting time between layers. However you will be able to work on other projects while you are waiting for this one to dry.

Preparing the Wood

Ash Grain Sample

Before you complete any of the processes to refinish the wood, you will need to prepare it. The first thing you need to do is strip off the stain or paint that is already on the wood. You will need to take it down to the original wood if you want the stain. In a well-ventilated area you can use a paint thinner or stripping agent to remove the paint and varnish. Be sure that you remove as much as this as you can before you begin sanding.

You can apply bleach to any stains that are on the wood, or to even out dark and light areas in the pattern. You may used household bleach or purchase a bleaching agent that is designed for the wood. You should test the bleach on a piece of wood that will not be seen to see how fast the bleach will work on the wood. You need to apply the bleach evenly to the area you want to lighten. Once it reaches the desired color wipe the bleach off with a wet cloth.

After that you will need to sand the wood so that it is smooth. This will take out the gouges. You can use an electric sander for most of the piece, but you will need to sand by hand around the corners and places the electric sander will not reach. You need to be extra careful with your sanding around the detail work. On your final sanding you will need to get the wood wet, while you sand, because part of the wood will swell when you apply the varnish and you will have an uneven finish. Gently moisten the wood with water. Allow the water to dry, and then sand down the uneven edges. Make sure you remove all the dust from the furniture before going onto the next step.

Staining Wood Furniture

Woman staining Old Furniture

Once you have prepared the wood you can apply the stain to the furniture. Each stain has a different method of applying it correctly and there are different types of stains available. Some stains only need one or two coats, while other stains will need several. You also need to consider what you will be using the furniture for when you are choosing the stain. If it is for your kitchen table, you will want a stain that will withstand water stains. Apply the stain with a paintbrush with even strokes following the grain of the wood. Be sure to carefully time the set time of each stain application to ensure even coating, and wipe away all stain that is not absorbed by the wood between applications. Once you have stained your wood, you will need to apply a sealant with a clean brush in the same way you applied the stain.

Painting Wood Furniture

Close Up of Cinnamon Paint in Can

Painting the wood allows you to create furniture that will perfectly match your home’s décor. You can change a child’s dresser into an adult’s dresser with a coat of paint. It is a great way to add color to your room without spending a lot of money. You need to prepare your furniture the same way you would for staining the wood by going through the stripping and sanding process. You will not need to worry about the stains as much. Once you have completed the process and cleaned the furniture you need to apply several very thin layers of primer. The thinner layers will allow the wood grain to show through. Allow the primer to dry between layers. You can use a spray paint primer to make this step easier. After the primer is dry you can apply the paint to the furniture. You will want to apply the paint in thin, even strokes and use at least two layers of paint. Make sure the paint dries evenly between coats.

Distressing Wood Furniture

Distressed wood furniture can make a piece look well-loved and antique. It is not a difficult process to distress the wood, but it does have a few additional steps to the painting or staining options. First you need to follow the steps to prepare the wood. You will need to decide if you want the bare wood to show through on the distressed areas, or if you want a second color to show through. You will apply the base coat (the color that will show through the top coat) to the furniture. Allow this coat to dry completely. Then apply wax to the areas you want to distress. Generally this would be around the handles and corners of the piece. Paint the topcoat onto the wood. This will be the color that you want the piece to be. Once the paint is dry use steel wool to remove the top layer of paint from the areas you applied the wax. It is okay to slightly scratch the paint around these areas, since you want the wood to look distressed. Dust the area off and then apply a clear coat of polyurethane to seal it.

Related Links:

  • Sealing and Staining Furniture (PDF)
  • Wood Finishing: Stains, Sealers and Fillers (PDF)
  • Salvaging Flood Damaged Wood Furniture (PDF)
  • Painted Furniture Finishes for Special Effects
  • Wood Finishing Tips
  • Wood Preservation and Wood Product Treatment (PDF)
  • How to Distress Furniture
  • 10 Tips for Painting Wood Furniture
  • How to Paint Unfinished World Furniture
  • How to Refinish Wood Furniture

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