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How to Refinish Furniture

refinishing furniture

Whether you are working with antiques or garage sale finds, knowing how to refinish furniture is a helpful skill. It isn't a difficult process, although it can be time-consuming. With some tools, some instruction, and some patience anyone can refinish furniture. Be sure that you are not stripping an antique piece without talking to a qualified appraiser. You run the risk of reducing a valuable historic object to a beautifully finished, but worthless, item.


You will need a few tools to get the job done right. Most of them you probably have already, and the rest of the supplies can be found at your local home improvement store:

  • Screwdriver
  • Masking tape
  • Old sheets or drop cloths
  • Electric sander
  • Sandpaper in rough, medium, and fine grits
  • Cloth
  • Soft brushes
  • Desired finish
    • Primer and paint
    • Stain

First Steps

Always work in a well-ventilated area, such as on a porch or outside. Working in a well-ventilated room is fine, too. Place the drop cloth under the work area and check to make sure that you have all your supplies handy.Use the screwdriver to remove hardware from the piece. Stick all the small screws to a plate with the masking tape (or use a food storage bag or bowl). This will keep them together. When they are loose they are easy to lose, and that can be frustrating.

Begin sanding with the rough grit paper. Make two passes over the piece, always sanding in the direction of the grain. By the time you have been over it twice most of the old paint should be gone. Wipe the dust off with a damp cloth and let any wet areas dry for a few minutes.

Remember to stop and check the sandpaper for wear as you are sanding. Replace it when bald areas appear on the paper. By doing this you will make your job easier and faster and will be be less likely to mar the wood.

Once you are finished with the coarse grit paper, switch to the medium grit. Continue to sand with the medium grit sandpaper until the paint is completely gone. If there are intricate details and carvings on the piece, you will have to hand sand them. This can be very tedious work because you may be using folded corners and small areas of the sandpaper to get into minute crevices.

The fine grit paper is to smooth out any grain that has been raised on the wood and make a good surface for finishing. This is your final sanding before you stain or paint, so make sure that you do a thorough job.

Stain or Paint?

Once you get down to the bare wood you can make your decision on whether you want to stain or paint it. If the wood has been painted it is almost impossible to get all of the paint out of the wood so that you can stain it. If this is the case you may want to try faux finishing the wood to look like wood grain rather than trying to stain it.

Look at the grain of the wood. Is it a nice, clear grain? If so, you might want to showcase that natural beauty with a stain. If, however, it has gouges that need to be filled, knotholes, or other imperfections paint may be the way to go.

To Stain

Always read the manufacturer's direction on the stain that you buy. As a general rule stains are all applied in the same way.With a soft brush dipped in the stain, make even strokes across the wood. Allow the stain to soak into the wood for the recommended time and then wipe the excess off with a soft cloth. Allow to stand for 24 hours before sealing.

To Paint

Before painting you will apply a primer to give a good foundation to your paint. Brush on the first coat of primer and allow to dry for two hours or as directed. Sand any rough patches lightly and then brush on a second coat. Allow to dry overnight.With a clean, soft brush apply your paint in the direction of the grain. Let dry. Sand the piece lightly with very fine grit sandpaper. Add another coat of paint.


If your newly refinished piece of furniture is going to get a lot of use, then sealing it with polyurethane will protect the finish. Apply carefully with a foam brush so that bubbles aren't created on the surface. Follow the directions on the can for a durable finish to your project.

Online Videos on How to Refinish Furniture

A Helpful Skill

If you are renovating your kitchen or giving new life to a garage sale find, knowing how to refinish furniture will help you decorate your home beautifully.

The process is the same whether you are refinishing a chair or restoring the vintage pocket doors in your historic home. Take it slowly and do all the preliminary steps. In this way your projects will be the best that they can be.

How to Refinish Furniture