Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How-To: Refinish Furniture

Well hello there, long time no talk! Sorry for the radio silence lately, but this little thing called life keeps happening. There are just never enough hours in the day. I feel like I get caught up on one end, and then its unraveling on the other. 
So, now I'm back.

In my absence, (and lets not mistake that with free time) I've been thinking about what my friends and family, keep asking me, over and over how to do? 
Refinishing furniture

Now, this doesn't always have to be an antique, but anything made of real wood that you are trying to bring back to life.
So here is a VERY DETAILED, how-to. Pictures seem to be the easiest way to show you, so get ready, there's alot of them. I guess I'm so visual, that I assume you are too :)

This piece, is a beautiful chest that I recently worked on for a client. I can show you something more simple another day, but I wanted you to see how easy this process really is.  Don't be intimidated, by an intricate piece, you just need some time and patience, and you can bring any piece of furniture back to life. 

So here is where it started...Stains, water damage, discoloration, chips, scratches, you get the idea. 

Stripping Supplies:
 Tuff-Strip stripper (heavy duty); Chip brush (the cheapy $1 kind with real bristles, not plastic); Roll of oil proof paper (this is the green kind, paint products don't seep through); Rags; Sandpaper; Metal scraper (I use a multi-functional tool, it has a durable solid edge); and Nitrile gloves (you need heavy duty here this stuff is yucky, no latex gloves); Electric sander.

I start by pouring a good amount of stripper onto the top, you want to work your way from top, to bottom. More is better here, if you put it on to thin, you'll end up doing more work, and more layers.
If your piece was painted at one time, it is the same process, you just may have a harder time getting it off in the detailed areas. 
Brush out the stripper, try to stay in the direction of the grain. The cans directions, gives you a huge window of open time, but I disagree. The temperature, wind, thickness of the paint, etc...all play a part. I say just keep an eye on it, you will see the top coat start to discolor, or bubble or crinkle up. 
Only strip a small area at a time. Don't do the whole piece at once.  

Once it's ready (you can check a small area to start), take your heavy duty scraper, and in big long motions, push off the stripper going in the direction of the grain. It should be discolored, and the paint/stain should come with it. On pieces painted with several coats, over long periods of time, it may require another pass of stripper. 
On this piece, I just pushed the gunk to the edge, to let it sit on the detailing a bit. 

When your ready for the edging, push the excess off onto the paper. This is why the green oil proof paper is a must. The stripper will not soak through and damage your floor.
DO NOT use plastic underneath, the stripper will eat away at the plastic 

This is what happens when stripper hit epoxy floors...eeekkk, don't tell my husband, he'd have a heart attack. 

You will go piece by piece, stripping each area. 
If you can get the flat scrapper in the smaller areas, use it to get off as much as possible. If the areas are to small, use a rag to wipe off any excess gunk. working with it while the stripper is still damp is key here, once you have let it dry and sit, its much harder to get off, and makes the next step twice as hard. 

Then you'll need to break out the sander. I used two different kinds. Since the top was so damaged, I used a larger square version to really work the top. For the smaller areas I used a Mouse, but only putting the paper at the tip, on the diamond shaped piece. I would stick to a 100, or 120 grit here. An 80 grit will chew away at your wood, and a 180 grit is to fine to take out the scratches. 

Use pressure on flat surfaces, keeping the sander moving back and forth at all times. Don't let it sit in one spot, or it will make squiggly little circles on your surface. Keep the motion, in the direction of the grain, anything that goes another direction will be noticed once you stain. 
Doesn't the top look beautiful now?!?!

For the more intricate areas, I just use a small section of sandpaper, and do it by hand. Folding it in half and pushing it down a grove, or in a tight spot, will clean out the area. 
Press lightly on decorative surfaces like these, you don't want to chew away at the design.

Anywhere you can get one or the other sanders in there, try it. I like the mouse because it has a pointed tip that you can really get into the corners.  Do as much as you can with these piece, again trying to stay with the grain as much as possible.

For the tighter areas, use a small piece of sandpaper, and do that by hand. Be sure to get into the detailed areas well, where the stain will be alot heavier. 

Staining supplies:
1-3 colors of stain, depending on the final color you are trying to achieve; Chip brush; Rag; Staining pad (if your doing large flat areas); Mixing cup

You will want to start top to bottom when staining as well, in case anything drips. 
You don't need alot of the stain on your brush. 

I started on the outside edge here since it was more intricate, I knew it may splatter, and I wanted to be able to touch that up. Fill in all the little areas. The longer you let the stain sit, the more will soak in and the darker it will be. 
I work in small areas at a time, it is much easier to control the color. 
I wiped off the stain here immediately. 

The top surface stain, is applied the same way, in the direction of the wood grain. If you are working on a large flat surface a staining pad works well here, and you may not even have to wipe anything off that way.

 Working quickly, so the stain didn't set to long, I wiped it with a rag, going in the direction of the grain.

For the smaller areas, I worked one area at a time, making sure to saturate all the grooves, and crevasses. 

Then quickly wiping it all down, also wiping out any deeper areas carefully.

When staining a larger area like this, start with the deepest areas first, so they can absorb the stain more, but work quickly so you don't get any dried edges. Then add the stain to the rest of the surface.

Here is the piece, freshly stained. It is so beautiful, I love the direction of the grain on the front. 

Here is the top freshly stained, The detailing took the stain perfectly. 

Now, you could stop there, the piece looks beautiful, but I like to give all the detailing a little more pop. 
If your surface is flat, you can skip this next step. 

I took the darker of my two stains, and using a small brush, went back over the detailing. Wipe this off immediately. You don't want to change the color of the surface. I do this while the piece is still wet, and unlikely to accept much more color on the surface. If you wait until it dries, you will change the color of anything you touch.

Do the same thing to all the detailed edges. Just run the brush around an detailing, inside deep areas, and in any grooves. Again, wiping it off immediately.

It may not jump out at you, that last step, but with all the beautiful detailing, I think it's worth the extra 10 minutes to enhance it. 

The last step of refinishing the furniture piece, is to seal it. 
With a piece like this, you want a furniture look, so stay away from anything you brush on, and wax wont have quite the glow you need. 
I use a Minwax, Wipe-On Poly. This is the oil-based version, in satin. When using an oil-based stain, you have to use an oil-based sealer as well. I apply it with a staining pad, but any kind of lint free cloth will work also. When you brush this product on, it tends to have a higher sheen than satin. 
Note, you should wear gloves, I'm so used to doing it that I did not, but it is messy, sticky stuff. 
Start at the top, and work in the direction of the grain, you don't need alot just saturate the rag, and reapply as it gets dry. You will be able to see where you missed, as it will still appear dull (like in the first photo). 
Make sure to get into any deep areas, but be careful of drips. Double check once you are done with your first coat. Once the sealer starts to set up, don't touch it. You will see the marks later if you do. If you missed a spot, and part that is already drying, just get it on the second pass. 
I recommend at least two coats here, but if your working on a table or a surface that gets alot of wear and tear, use at least three coats. 

 And there you have it! 
A beautiful piece again. 
A couple simple steps, just doing them over, and over, on the different areas. 


  1. This is awesome! Thanks for the step by step!!

  2. Working on the details seems like the trickiest part in refinishing wooden furniture. Good read.