How to refinish wooden furniture and give your decor a makeover
When you know how to refinish wooden furniture, you have the opportunity to transform old, tired pieces of wood into wonderful additions for your home.
With the current mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle, there is a new appreciation for recycling, restoring or reusing older items.
Whether you picked something up from a salvage yard, charity shop, or online marketplace, you can breathe new life into it with a new finish, helping to bring you one step closer to a sustainable lifestyle.
“Old wooden furniture can make great sinks in bathrooms for example,” says Nick Hughes of Retrouvius Reclamation & Design (opens in a new tab). “It’s a great way to add character to a space that’s often filled with new white sanitary products.
“Tropical hardwoods harvested in the mid-20th century are a valuable resource and a hard wax oil can be used to complement the natural lubricity of the wood. Customers often find that rooms that already have a few “bruises” relax a space and take away the worry or idea of perfection.
So if you want to extend the life of your wooden furniture or restore an original mid-century piece to its original glory, what do you do?
How to refinish wooden furniture – step by step
You will need:
- Wax, oil or hard wax oil – this hard wax oil from Amazon (opens in a new tab) is particularly recommended
- methylated spirit
- Paint tray
There are many ways to refinish wooden furniture, from stains, stains, varnishes and whitewashes to waxes, oils and wax/oil hybrids. The type of wood you apply them to will also affect the finish.
If you’ve ever watched in horror as a beautiful pale wood turn yellow with a “clear” coating, or want to make sure your wood has the right tone, here’s what to do.
“Wax, oils, or hard wax oils (a hybrid of the two) offer the closest thing to a natural finish,” says Ryan Godden, wood expert at Wood Finishes Direct. (opens in a new tab). “Hard wax oils are extremely durable and ideal for high wear parts such as doors or dining tables.
“The oil is ideal if you have young children as it is easy to repair any scratches that may occur. Softwoods absorb oil better. Hardwoods have a tighter grain, so we recommend an extra fine oil to penetrate the grain.
The wax will retain the character of the wood while restoring the look and feel of dry, worn, scuffed or scratched areas. It can be polished for a shine or left unpolished for a more natural look.
‘If you want light wood to keep its raw look, look for an oil or wax with a hint of white pigment, like Osmo Raw or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural.
“Stains and stains obviously alter the color of the wood; varnish gives the best level of protection and liming brings a white effect to the grain, and is generally applied on darker woods for best results.
“Whatever you do, we always recommend a patch test first,” adds Ryan. “Find an area on the underside or inside of the piece, sand it down, and apply whatever finish you want to use, including topcoats to be sure of the end result.”
1. Remove the old surface by sanding
As with any DIY or weekend project, preparation is key, so be prepared to set aside an afternoon to sand your wood furniture. It’s messy work, so lay down a newspaper or dust sheet and wear a mask and goggles. If you are removing paint, use paint stripper first.
“All previous coats will need to be removed from your furniture, so the new finish will stick to the surface,” says Ryan at Wood Finishes Direct. (opens in a new tab). “If you bought an old piece, you might not know what it’s covered with. Sanding it down is the safest bet.
‘Whether you’re sanding by hand or with a sander, we recommend starting with an 80-grit sandpaper and moving to finer sandpaper as needed. This will give a nice even finish. Prepare the test area in the same manner.
“If you don’t prepare the surface properly, you risk getting an uneven finish. It’s not worth doing half the job.
2. Make sure your furniture is degreased
Once your piece has been sanded, you need to make sure it’s clean, so the new finish will stick.
“We recommend wiping the surface with a little rubbing alcohol on a rag,” Ryan says. “This ensures that any dirt, grease and saw dust is removed before applying the new finish. Ideally, leave it overnight so the surface is dry.
3. Apply the first coat
The process is similar regardless of the finish chosen. However, drying times vary greatly from product to product. “Stains, stains and waxes dry extremely quickly,” says Ryan. “However, oils can vary between 4 and 12 hours of drying time.”
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying your chosen finish. Most finishes are applied sparingly with a brush. Pour a small amount of your oil, varnish or wood stain into a tray and work in the direction of the grain.
The wax can be applied with a cloth, sponge or brush, and reapplied as often as needed to keep your wooden furniture in good condition.
4. Denib or lightly sand
If you are using oil, hard wax oil or varnish, once the first coat is dry you can strip the surface. This is to remove “spikes” or imperfections, such as brush strokes from the surface and create a key that the second coat will adhere to.
This can be done with super fine sandpaper (24-320 grit) or a sanding pad. Work in the direction of the grain and then wipe with a microfiber cloth to remove the dust created. This process is not necessary if you are using wax.
5. Apply the second coat
Do this the same way you applied the first coat, being careful not to overload your brush (or cloth if applying wax).
“Two coats are usually enough with oil, wax or hard wax oil,” says Ryan of Wood Finishes Direct. “And two-three for the varnish.
Can you stain varnished wood without sanding?
“Any top coat will need to be removed, so that the new product can penetrate or adhere to the surface,” says Ryan Godden, wood expert at Wood Finishes Direct. “If you don’t prepare properly, the end result may not be right.”
Is it difficult to refinish a piece of furniture?
No, as long as you have the right tools and finishing products, it’s a job that can be done in a weekend. Unless you are using a wood oil with a long dry time, you may need an extra day for the second coat to dry.