Refinishing Furniture: 5 Steps To Follow

STEP 1: Properly Clean the Furniture

This may seem like a very obvious starting point but lots of beginners easily miss it. Although you are working on an old piece, this is no reason to begin work on furniture full of dirt buildup. Depending on where the piece was stored, it may require a simple dusting off with dry cloth or a more thorough soap and water solution. For this, regular detergent should be sufficient. 

If you are working with a piece that has stains, a gentle scrub with a sponge should be enough to get it ready to be worked on. Work with an old toothbrush brush if you need to reach areas with carvings. After properly cleaning, pat the furniture dry with a towel. Cleaning a piece thoroughly before beginning work prepares you for the next steps.

STEP 2: Sand or Strip the Wood Finish

Stripping the old finish from the wood is probably going to require more time than it took you to clean, but it is a crucial step nevertheless. You would simply need to remove any existing varnish, wood stains or paint you want out of the way. This can be done using the sanding method or by simply applying a chemical stripper. For the sanding method, a sandpaper or power sander should be used to strip off the finish from the entire piece. The higher the number of grit on the sandpaper the less rough it is, so make sure you grab the right grit depending on the design, before you get started!

Using a chemical stripper would require little effort as you simply spread the stripper and allow it to sit before peeling off with a scraper. When using stripping chemicals, ensure to protect yourself by using protective eye wear, mask and gloves to limit contact with your skin. Sometimes, you still need to sand the surface after using a Stripper. Ensure that the stripper has all been properly removed from the surface and allow the surface to FULLY dry. Once dry, you can start sanding with a 120 grit and move up to 150 or 220 to remove any excess stain or paint and create a smooth surface to work with. 

STEP 3: Fill Imperfections

After sanding the furniture to completely remove any chemical residue, wipe it down and make sure it is clean, like we talked about in STEP 1. You do not want to be staining or painting over a bunch of sanding dust!

After the wood is wiped down, it is time to apply a wood filler, sparkle or Bondo into any cracks or imperfections (depending on the project & design you chose). 

Wood species like mahogany or oak tend to have open grains that require a grain filler. 

If you are looking to stain your piece, ensure that you choose a grain/wood filler closest to the colour of stain you would use. You can take a generic wood filler and mix a TINY drop of your stain into it to create a custom wood filler colour. 

If you are painting your piece, the colour of your filler does not matter. 

Once the wood filler is dry, you can sand lightly with a 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it out. Touch the sanded surface with your hands to ensure it is sanded down properly (flush) before painting. Wipe away any excess dust again. 

Depending on whether you are painting or staining — you would now add approx 2 coats of primer. If you chose a dark paint colour for this project, you can always tint your white primer with a little bit of the dark paint colour to make it easier to paint over in Step 4!

STEP 4: Apply a Stain or Paint

Deciding whether to stain or paint is totally up to you!

If you are dealing with a cheaper material, or something with extensive damage, it is generally easier to paint. 

If you have a solid, real wood piece that just has some basic water rings & scrapes - staining would be a great option.

From oil-based stains to water-based stains, gel stains, all-in-one stains, there are endless options available! 

Water-based stains are great to work with as they have a super easy clean up, less odour & the materials used (brush/rags) are not flammable after use. 

Using a gel stain would provide more flexibility when it comes to application time.

Oil-based stains penetrate woods very quickly, but have a super strong odour & are very sticky. 

When applying any of the stains, simply wipe it on with a rag or brush and let it sit for a minute. Wipe it off in the direction of the wood grain. Do not “over wipe”. Add additional coats of stain if you are looking for a darker look. 

Paints are no different! There are latex paints, enamel paints, chalk paints, mineral paints, milk paints, all-in-one paints…the list goes on and on!

If you decide to use a paint, pay attention to the instructions from the company. Do not add too much paint to your brush or roller & allow paint to dully dry before adding additional coats or doing touch ups.  

We use a generic paint brush to “cut in” all of the edges/details/corners, and then we do the larger areas with a Nap Roller. 

Optional: Lightly sand all of the painted surfaces with a 320-600 grit sandpaper to remove any brush strokes, drips, imperfections or fluffs in the surface before moving onto Step 5. 

STEP 5: Seal the Paint or Stain

The process of refinishing furniture would be incomplete without applying a finish on the (almost) finished furniture!  From waxes, polyurethane, oils, varnishes, and many more; you have a variety of finishes to work with. 

When making a choice, bear in mind that certain finishes tend to be more durable than others and may require practice & skill to use. The look you hope to achieve is also a determining factor when selecting a finish. 

Are you interested in having a super glossy surface or are you more into the matte look for your refinished furniture? What about something in between like a semi-gloss or satin? 

Is this surface used a lot? Could it get scraped over time? Is this piece living indoors or outdoors? 

Once you have answered those questions, we will be ready to finish off this project!

(If you are doing an outdoor project, ensure to purchase Outdoor Grade Sealants. 

Furniture Wax    
Oils (Tung Oil, Linseed Oil, etc) 
Oil Based/Water Based Polyurethane 
Varnish or Top Coat
For safety, wear gloves to keep the residue off of your hands.

When working with Oil based products, make sure to keep the rags away from anything warm or flammable. (As oil based products dry they release heat. To avoid fires - allow rags/brushes to fully dry before tossing away).