Aug 1, 2012

A Tutorial On Refinishing Furniture

After I wrote the post on my refinished dresser, I had enough requests for a tutorial to warrant the writing of one. 
Since I have started redoing furniture in the past few years, I have probably put more paint on than I've taken off, but still, there is something satisfying in bringing a beautiful old piece back to its original state.

Here are two pieces I have recently redone.  You can view the post on the first one here, and the second is a sneak peak, because I haven't written about it yet.   

There are two different techniques that I use to refinish.  The first one is stripping and the second one is sanding.

First, we will talk about STRIPPING FURNITURE:

You will need:
-Stripper. (For this vanity I used Citristrip.  It was nice because I didn't have to worry about the chemicals.  I have also used the Home Hardware brand (available only in Canada), and it worked well.)
-Steel Wool
-Plastic Gloves
-an old brush, and a container to pour the stripper into
-occasionally you may also find a small wire brush handy to help get paint out of the grain.  I also will use a large needle to help me clean out corners, grooves, etc.   (Not sure if that's 'code', or not, but it works for me, so long as I'm careful)
-you will probably also want some paper towels to wipe up the goopy mess you will be creating. 

Liberally spread your stripper over your surface.  Make sure it's spread thick enough so that it won't dry up on you.  If you are using chemical stripper, be aware that it does evaporate, so make it goopy. It's best not to do this in the hot sun. 

After you've given it some time to work, and it's started to bubble, start scraping away.  Careful you don't gouge your wood!

If you have lots of layers to go through, you will have to repeat this numerous times.  There was only one layer of paint on my piece, so it was fairly easy to remove. 
I do find it easier to work on small sections, rather than try to tackle an entire piece at once.  It's more satisfying progress wise, plus there's less chance of the paint rehardening on you.  
Basically, once I got it to the point as in the above picture, I wiped the whole thing off with paper towel and then spread a thin layer of stripper over it and worked that off with steel wool.  I find if I use fine steel wool, it just goops up, so use one that is a little course. 

And that is what the top looked like once the finish was removed. Clean, beautiful wood!  I gave it a nice sanding with some fine sandpaper and then it was ready to stain. 

The second technique I use is SANDING:

I sanded down the top of this vanity.
Now, sanding is pretty much straightforward. You are removing the existing finish by sanding it off.  I have a DeWalt orbital sander that assists me in this way.
I start out by sanding down the finish with 80 grit sandpaper.  However, when using an orbital sander, you have to resist the urge to press down on it. When you press down on it, it can leave pesky circles in the wood.  I only use the orbital at the beginning to get the bulk of the finish off.  I always give it a good going over afterwards with a 60 grit to remove any circles that may have shown up.  Then I work my way back up, using 100 grit, and then a 220 to smooth it out. 

 I always sand the sides of the top by hand, especially if it is curved, like this piece was.  To get in the creases, or corners of items, I usually fold a piece of sandpaper in half.  It's difficult, but doable.  It will probably wreck your nails, too.  Now, because I was planning on staining this a dark colour, this is how I left it. 

If you are working with a piece that is veneered, you have to be careful not sand right through the veneer.  This top was veneered, however, it is fairly thick and I didn't have to do a ton of sanding to get it ready to stain. 

Next Step: STAINING!
You will want to make sure that your surface is clean and free of any debris.  At this point, you may want to use a wood conditioner.  For these two pieces I didn't.  It helps the stain to absorb into the wood evenly.  You may want to use it, though, if your piece is pine. 
I use a rag and wipe the stain across the surface, wiping up any excess as I go.  I think this may be where some people have problems with staining, they put way too much on, let it sit, and then wonder why it came out looking uneven. 

For both of these pieces I used varathane brand "Dark Walnut".  For the vanity top that I sanded down, it took 2 coats, and for the one that I stripped, it took numerous coats to get it as dark as I wanted.  I find that different woods show the colour in different ways.  In between coats, I let it dry for a few hours, or overnight.  Basically, you want it to feel dry when you touch it before you put another coat on.

I then let it fully dry... 24 hours is best. 

Final Step: FINISHING!
There are numerous ways to finish your piece.  For the vanity that I stripped, I used a WAX FINISH.  Basically, you take a rag, rub the wax into the wood, let it dry (15-30 min., depending how thick you put it on) and then buff. For this vanity, I waxed the top, then the drawers, then the body and by the time I was done, the top was nearly dry.  I usually put two coats of wax onto wood.  This is a quick and easy way, and leaves a nice natural sheen. 

I used Minwax Paste Wax for this.

For the vanity that I sanded the top down on, I used polyurethane.  I thought it deserved more of a shine.  I apply semi-gloss polyurethane very carefully with a foam brush.  When you get your can out, DON'T shake it!  Carefully stir it from top to bottom, though.  Shaking creates bubbles in the product, which will then be transferred onto the piece that you've worked so hard on!

After each coat, carefully and lightly sand out any bubbles with a high grit sandpaper.  In between coats, I wrap my brush in saran and pop into the freezer.  You will find with each successive coat that the finish feels smoother.  I did four coats on this one.  After your final coat, you can very, very lightly and carefully use the sandpaper to smooth any remaining bubbles.  I use 400 grit sandpaper for this.   

If you've gotten to the end of this post, I sincerely hope I've given you a few tips that you'll be able to use in your future endeavours!

Happy Refinishing!



  1. Although I have refinished furniture many times I always seem to be able to pick up pointers. You did an amazing job on both pieces, and I did learn from you post. I have had bubbles in my stain before and now I know why, shake shake shake lol silly me. Thanks for the tutorial, no more bubbles for me. great job on the dressers, that second one really is gorgeous, great find.

  2. They are both beautiful pieces and you have a lot of great tips. I have an old dresser/sideboard that I'm hoping to redo in the next couple of months and the top is painted. I'm hoping to find a hidden treasure of lovely wood underneath it.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. Great staining tips! Thank you for sharing. Visiting from My Repurposed Life. Would love it if you would share this at my Make it Pretty Monday party at The Dedicated House. Hope to see you at the bash! Toodles, Kathryn @TheDedicatedHouse

  4. Great tut for refinishing! I have stripped many pieces and it definitely requires a lot of patience and tons of paper towels LOL Your finished pieces look beautiful!

  5. Thanks so much, these are great tips. I did a desk this week and spread the stripper all over the whole piece and it started drying up. I need to work in small sections and apply it a bit thicker like you suggested! If you get a sec I would be jazzed if you stopped by and linked up at my party {Get Schooled Saturday} going on right now!
    Kim @ Too Much Time

  6. What a great tutorial! I have a piano that my hubby got from the elementary school he works at for $50. It's pretty dinged up, but I would love to paint it. I'm just not brave enough yet. =) I have a brand new link party and I would love it if you linked this up!

  7. This is a wonderful tutorial! Do you use that wax over ASCP? Just curious of your thoughts on that wax. I want to paint my kitchen and the wax seems to be the thing that I know I will go through fast. Thank you for linking this up to Rustic Restorations Weekend!

  8. Great tutorial! We love to use Citristrip it's a great product. Your pieces are amazing. Megan

  9. This is a great tutorial. I love how it all turned out. Great job!

    Hopping by and following your lovely blog (GFC).

    The Quiet Mom blogging @ How to Cook Fresh Artichoke Recipe

    Also, don't miss this: 12 Major Reasons to Use Self-Hosted WordPress for Blogging and Selling Your Products Online + Custom Blog or Social Network Button Giveaway

  10. great tips! I've only used citristrip once and I wasn't a fan. But I'm too impatient I think!


  11. These are great tips.Thank you so much for sharing them! x

  12. Great information! I love beautiful wood but have always been afraid to try stripping and refinishing. I think I need a cheap small piece to practice on in case I goof it up. I really just need a couple key ingredients....time and patience!

  13. Really you have done a superior job You have brought up fantastic details of metal great furniture Thanks!

  14. Thank you for this great tutorial! I've painted TONS of furniture, however I haven't ventured into the staining end of it yet. Thankyou for the tips, I feel much braver now!!

  15. Nice post with great details. I really appreciate your tips. Thanks for sharing. Hospitality furniture

  16. Wood refinishes enhance furniture beauty and also extends furniture life. Wood polish and wax are the main elements of wood refinish. Polish and wax are available at affordable prices.
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  17. My family has a lot of old furniture that needs some major restoration. I've been wondering if it is actually worth making a project out of it this summer. Thank you for the steps to do this successfully, I want to try this out.

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  18. This just makes me want to go out and get old furniture to redo. I have always loved doing things like this. I have done a few little projects in my home but I can never get enough of it.

    Alena |

  19. Its good to see such lovely wood veneer furniture.I am confused why you used 80 grid sandpaper instead of 220 to smooth it out.
    Wood veneer furniture

  20. I have an appreciation for all the work that goes into refinishing and restoring things. My mother has great attachment to all her wooden furniture. Over the years I lived with her, I was taught and exercised what I learned about restoring wooden furniture.

  21. Great tutorial for refinishing! Useful staining tips! Thank you for sharing.

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  25. Your tables both look amazing! I love the second one, with the dark top. What color is that? My grandma recently passed away, and left me a desk similar to this. It's pretty beat up, so I would love to refinish it, and getting looking brand new again! I hadn't thought of using steel wool to remove paint, that is a great idea!

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