How to Refinish Your Old Wood Furniture

There are always heirloom objects sitting around the house that belong to earlier generations. We hate to throw them away both for sentimental reasons and the knowledge that, when you fix the wear and tear, these objects can still be of value and function. For example, the old chair made of rare wood that your great grandparents left would be a great furniture showpiece if you do something about the frayed finish and the scratches. Even recently acquired pieces that look old and rickety can serve you well if proper refinishing furniture is done on them. So, instead of tossing your old wood furniture away, taking on a refinishing project would be a great idea.


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Here’s how you can refinish your old wood furniture to make them look like new.

1. Remove the old finish.  You can remove old paint and varnish in a couple of ways, primarily by sanding and through the use of chemical strippers. Heat guns can also be used for stripping and are sometimes used as a supplement to the other methods in the removal of a particularly stubborn finish.

2. Prepare the wood. If you use chemical strippers, start with 120 grit paper to clean off any remaining finish and smooth out any rough places in the wood. When you’re done, sand down the whole piece with 220 grit paper. Always make sure to sand with the grain. The quality of your final work is really going to depend on how much care you take with this step. If you take enough time to really sand smoothly, it’ll make a big difference.

3. Fill the grain. This is an optional step and depends on the kind of grain in your furniture. Woods with a tight grain will not require grain filler, but if your furniture has more open grain, like oak or mahogany, you may need to apply filler. Some woods have a tight grain and don’t require grain filler. Others, like oak and mahogany, have an open grain structure that must be filled if you hope to achieve a smooth, even finish. Grain filler may be applied before or after the stain. Use a rag or stiff paint brush to apply the paste filler. Work it into the grain and let it dry as instructed on the product packaging. Then, remove the excess filler with a plastic scraper or a smooth, round-edged putty knife. Hold the putty knife at a slight angle to the wood surface. Be careful not to damage the wood. Allow the filler to dry completely and lightly sand with the grain.

4. Apply sanding sealer. The last step in preparing the wood for staining is to apply sanding sealer, which will help your wood stain more evenly. Apply a heavy coat and allow it to soak in, wiping off any excess with a clean rag. You’ll want to lightly sand after the sealer dries. Applying sanding sealer is like priming the wood. The sealer reduces the tendency of some woods to absorb stain unevenly. Sealing end-grain prevents the wood from absorbing too much stain and creating very dark areas. Sealer can also be applied after staining and filling to reduce the number of finish coats.

5. Stain. There are several options when it comes to staining wood. You can choose between water-based, oil-based, gel stains, and one-step stain/finishes. When applying stain, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the product. If you’re refinishing furniture, you’re almost certainly going to be using stain to achieve the color you desire and to reduce the contrasts between different wood varieties which may have been used in the construction of the furniture. There are several different types of stains and dyes which may be used to color wood.

6. Finish. You should consider many factors when determining the type of finish you should use. Consider what look you are going for, your skill level, how durable you need the finish to be, and how the item will be used. Your choice of top coating is a matter of personal preference. Penetrating oil finishes are easy to apply and look great with a soft, natural appearance. They afford less protection than varnish or lacquer finishes. Polyurethane creates a hard, durable finish and is available in a range of sheens. Water-based polyurethanes are very easy to use and are environmentally friendly. Lacquer gives a durable and luscious finish, but requires more skill and effort to apply. Your decision about which finish to use will depend on your confidence level and the piece you’re finishing.

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