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Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Refinish Wood Furniture

Hello, friends!  Since everyone loved the top of the antique desk that got refinished and painted, I thought it would be helpful to do a tutorial on how to refinish furniture.  It's definitely not one of the most fun DIY projects, but it's good to know how to do this for any piece of wood furniture that has a beat up finish over a nice wood grain. The first piece of furniture I refinished was more than 20 years ago and I've done quite a few pieces since then.

Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.


If the piece has a clear finish on it, this is the tutorial for you.  If it has a painted finish, the process is basically the same, but the products are slightly different.  I'll do a post on removing paint at some point in the near future, so be sure to follow me (see the various options at the bottom of the page) and you'll be able to read that post as well.

I realize that everyone's time is precious and that painting over a beat up finish is the quickest and easiest fix, but there are times that it's worth the extra time and effort of refinishing a nice piece of furniture. It's not difficult to do, but does take a few hours.

Here's an example of why you really should take the time to refinish a nice piece of furniture, or at least part of it, whenever possible:

Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

Now that you've seen the "why", I'll teach you the "how":


MATERIALS/SUPPLIES NEEDED:

Postcards from the Ridge: How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions and products needed.

These are the products I used in the desk makeover that has the refinished top, which is what you see in the photos throughout this post.  #1 through 4 were used on the top, and the other products were used on the drawers, hardware, and body of the desk.  All of these products are sold where I work part-time, at Kittrell Paint and Wallpaper or you can click on any of the links provided if you're not local and order them through Amazon if you don't have a local source.

For removing a finish on a better piece of solid wood furniture (not veneer or laminate), these are the supplies you will need:

80 grit and 220 grit sandpaper
Finish Remover* (#1 above)
Fine Steel wool  (#2 above)
Refinishing Gloves - these must be chemical-resistant
Cheap brush for applying the remover

*Depending on the piece, you might only need either a sander or a remover but not both.  I prefer to sand flat areas whenever possible, but sometimes there are carved and detailed areas where a sander can't get to and a stripper or finish remover needs to be used.


And for finishing the piece once you've removed the old finish, here's what you'll need:

220 grit (or finer) Sandpaper
Stain (optional) and clean rags or a brush to apply it with  (#3 above)
Final finish - polyurethane, wax, lacquer, tung oil, hemp oil, etc.  (#4 above)
Good quality brush to apply the finish

*Disclosure:  I am an Amazon associate and might make a few cents if you order an item from them after clicking from here*



Now for the how-to:

1.  Using your electric sander and the 80 grit sandpaper, go over all flat areas, in the direction of the grain if possible, until the finish is gone.  You will likely have to change out the sandpaper on the sander a few times because it will fill up with the old finish.  Depending on the type of finish and the size of the piece of furniture, the sanding process could take an hour or so.  You might want to wear work gloves to reduce the effects of the sander on your hands.  And be sure to wear a mask while you're sanding.  The dust can get in your lungs and make you sick.  Trust me on this one.



My mom using my vintage Ryobi Sander on the desk top.  She was the one who found this desk and helped with the finish removal.  She's the best mom ever.  :)


Postcards from the Ridge.  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

Before we started, this is what it looked like.  Not very pretty at all.



After quite a bit of sanding there's still a little of the finish left on the top in this photo.  The edges still have all of the old finish on them.


Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

On any detailed areas, a finish remover will probably be needed.  If it's a clear finish that needs to be removed, I recommend Formby's Conditioning Wood Refinisher.  It's not as harsh as some of the paint removers on the market and is ideal for older pieces and antiques.  

For removing paint, you will need something stronger.  I recommend Dad's Easy Spray Paint and Varnish Remover for that job. 


Since the remover usually comes in a metal can like the one in the photo above, you'll need to pour a small amount of it into a metal can that you can work from.  You can use a cleaned out food can or old coffee can, or you can usually purchase unused empty paint cans from a paint store.  We sell them in various sizes with lids at the paint store I work at.


Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

2.  Apply the stripper to the furniture, using a cheap brush that you can throw away when you're finished with it.  

3.  After waiting the amount of time recommended on the manufacturer's label, usually just a few minutes at the most, use a wire brass brush (pictured above) to remove the old finish. It gets down into the grooves but the bristles are softer than most wire brushes and therefore it doesn't damage the wood. It looks kinda like a toothbrush.  And although I'm sure it would remove lots of plaque, I really wouldn't recommend using it on your teeth.  :)


Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

The edges after the finish was removed.


Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.


4.  After the finish is removed, go over the piece with a clean with a rag and mineral spirits (paint thinner) to reove any finish residue.  

5.  After the mineral spirits dry/evaporate, sand the wood with 220 grit (or finer) sandpaper so the wood is nice and smooth.  Then use a tack cloth to remove all of the dust so you'll have a nice smooth final finish.


Now that you've removed the finish, cleaned off any residue, sanded and removed any dust, it's time to stain the piece.  Note:  staining is optional.  At this point, you could just put on a clear finish and skip the staining step.  It's totally up to you.  Even a clear finish will bring out the natural color of the wood and darken it slighly from what the unfinished wood looks like.  The way the piece looks when you wipe it with mineral spirits is the color it would be if you only added a clear finish and no stain.  See the photo above for this.

Another note: if you're staining softer woods like pine, I would strongly suggest using a pre-stain wood condtioner first.  This will prevent splotchiness and help your stain go on evenly.


Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

On this piece, I wanted a rich stain color to really bring out the wood grain, so I chose to stain it. You can see how the stain adds a richness to the already beautiful wood grain. I used ZAR oil-based wood stain in Mocha.  If you've never tried ZAR stain, I highly recommend it. The colors are gorgeous and it goes on smoothly and evenly.  

6.  Apply the stain with a clean cotton rag, working in a circular motion so it will really go down into the wood grain.  I applied a fairly generous amount, let it set for 5 or 10 minutes, and then wiped off any excess that wasn't soaking in.  FYI:  different woods absorb stain at a different rate.  Softer woods will soak it right up, while harder woods take longer to absorb it.


Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

The whole desk after staining, but before applying the clear finish.


Postcards from the Ridge: How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

7.  After the stain dries completely (see label for manufacturer's recommended drying time), it's time to coat it with a finish coat. I finished  this piece with polyurethane, applying it with a good quality natural bristle brush, putting it on in the direction of the wood grain.

Depending on the piece and how much wear and abuse it will get, you can use a variety of finishes. For this piece I used ZAR oil based polyurethane in Antique Flat. I chose polyurethane because it is extremely durable and doesn't show water spots if a glass is set down on it.  And it lasts for many years without having to redo it.  I chose the antique flat finish because I just don't like glossy finishes, but that's my personal taste.  Antique flat isn't completely flat, but is very low gloss.

8.  After the finish dries completely, sand it lightly then use a tack cloth to remove the sanding dust. Apply a 2nd coat of poylurethane.  Let it dry completely.

You're done!


Postcards from the Ridge:  How to refinish furniture tutorial with complete instructions.

Here'e the view of the whole desk.  Yes, I could have refinished the entire piece.  But I thought that the details would actually show up better if painted, and they do.  I'll have another post soon and go through the painting process that I did here and the colors that I used.

Also, this is a piece that's for sale, and the time it would have taken to completely refinish it would have caused the selling price of it the be more than anyone in my market is willing to pay.  It only has one coat of paint, so if someone decided to strip the paint at some point in the future, it wouldn't be that difficult.

I hope this tutorial has given you the information you need to refinish your furniture.  Let me know if you decide to try it and how your project turns out!

Thanks for stopping by!

XOXOX,

Angie


If you found this tip helpful, check out my other cleaning tips:


Other tutorials that I've written:

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Disclosure:
The opinions in this post are mine, based on my own personal experience using the specific products mentioned here.  I have not been paid by any of the brands mentioned to recommend their products.  I am, however, an Amazon associate which means that if you purchase something from them after clicking a product link listed here, I might make a few cents from the sale.  Please follow the manufacturers instructions for any product you use and wear the necessary safety equipment (mask, gloves, glasses) when doing a project.

9 comments :

  1. These were some great tips. I agree with you that the details show up better on the painted section. I don't they would be as nice if just stained.

    Cynthia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cynthia! I think the details show up better painted too! Thanks for dropping by. Have a great day! ~ Angie

      Delete
  2. WOW...it turned out so beautiful. I love the top. :) You've always styled it perfectly it looks like something out of Ballard Designs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey thanks! I'll take that as the ultimate compliment becasue I LOVE Ballard Designs. My favorite catalog, for sure! Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment. ~ Angie

      Delete
  3. Angie, this desk looks like a million bucks now! Thanks for your tips and recommendations on refinishing wood. Our dining room table needs refinishing. It's pine and it's showing the years of wear which is not a bad thing but I don't like the scratches! I'm pinning your excellent tutorial.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great job Angie. Nice Tutorial. Pinning.
    Sarah

    ReplyDelete
  5. Angie, thank you so much for sharing this excellent tutorial! As a novice I found this so helpful and will be using these tips and products for some furniture projects I have been wanting to do. I love how the desk turned out, it's beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  6. If I wanted to paint it, could I skip the finish and just apply paint instead?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Miranda. Yes, you could skip the finish, but depending on what paint technique you choose and what type of wood you're working with, you might need to prime first. ~ Angie

      Delete

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