How to repair wood furniture – Forbes Advisor



Editorial Note: Forbes Advisor may earn a commission on sales made from partner links on this page, but this does not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.

  • Work time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Total time: 2 to 4 hours
  • Competence level: Beginner
  • Project cost: $ 60 to $ 100

Finishing furniture can be a rewarding and engaging project that you can do on your own. Learning how to refinish wood furniture like chairs, cabinets, and tables is an easy way to transform old furniture to match your new style. All you need is sandpaper, cleaning rags, wood plaster, and wood paint to bring dusty furniture back to life. The good news is that you don’t have to be a woodworking expert to make antique furniture look new with furniture finishing.

Compare quotes from the best paint and stain contractors

Free and non-binding estimates

When to refurbish wood furniture

Before you strip the finish of a wooden piece of furniture, you need to decide whether it needs to be refurbished. Sometimes a clear coat of wood conditioner is all you need to condition it.

There are different signs that it is time to refurbish wood furniture that you should be looking for when considering a restoration project. Here’s how you can tell it’s time to refurbish antique wood furniture:

  • There are rings and water marks visible under the current finish that will not go away with conditioners or wood cleaning products.
  • The surface starts to be sticky, even after being cleaned.
  • There are wear spots and blemishes visible even after being cleaned.
  • The wood changed color, generally becoming darker, and the clear coat turned yellowish.
  • The existing finish has cracked the wood and it is starting to chip or flake off.

Security considerations

Safety considerations are essential when undertaking a project such as furniture finishing. Remember to read the labels of any materials you are about to use, especially since you will be working with different chemicals that pose health and fire hazards.

Use safety glasses, dust masks and protective gloves at all times to protect yourself. Choose a well-ventilated area to work to avoid fires and to avoid inhaling chemical fumes. Finally, remember to keep all objects out of the reach of children and pets to prevent them from picking up dangerous substances.


  • Protective glasses
  • Putty knife
  • Electric sander
  • Sandpaper
  • Anti dust mask
  • Work gloves
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths or towels


  • Stripper
  • Iron straw
  • Wood putty
  • Wood stain or paint
  • Furniture wax
  • Polyurethane
  • Wood oil


Follow these easy steps to learn how to refinish wood furniture at home.

1. Clean the furniture

Any DIY finishing project begins with a basic cleaning. Use mild dish soap, lukewarm water and a sponge to remove dirt or debris stuck to the cabinet. Dry it thoroughly with a clean cleaning cloth or microfiber towel.

2. Remove the finish

This is probably the longest part of finishing wood furniture. Remove any old paint, varnish, or wood stains by sanding the entire piece. Another option is to use chemical strippers or paint strippers.

This method is probably the fastest and easiest method. If you choose chemical strippers, be sure to follow the directions carefully, use rubber gloves and eye protection, and choose a room that is well ventilated.

Most chemical strippers need to be scraped off using a putty knife and steel wool to remove all of the finish. Some strippers may still require you to sand the piece of wood to remove any remaining chemicals.

3. Prepare the wood

After stripping the previous finish, let dry. Now it’s time to prepare the wood for the next steps. Start using 120 grit sandpaper to clean up any remaining finish and start smoothing the wood. Then go through with 200 grit sandpaper to smooth the surface. Insist on rough spots, swirl marks or other visible blemishes. Taking the time to do a superb sanding job will make a huge difference once the part is finished.

4. Fill the grain

Depending on the wood you are working with, you may or may not need to do this step. Woods like oak and mahogany tend to have an open grain that needs to be filled in if you want a smooth finish. You can find grain putty in the form of pigmented paste in different colors. Choose the one closest to your furniture. If you are changing the color of your wood furniture, choose one that closely matches the expected finish.

5. Stain or paint the wood

Now your wooden furniture is ready for a new coat of paint or a new stain. Apply your chosen stain or pain following the directions on the paint. Let dry completely before deciding whether or not you want to apply another coat.

Oil-based wood stains penetrate the wood without raising the grain. These offer the most control as the color can be darkened with more layers. Water-based stains enhance the grain of the wood but are easier to use. Another option is gel stains, which offer more control due to the thickness of the stain, but they require the wood to be polished between coats to achieve a smooth finish.

6. Finish the furniture

The last step in finishing wood furniture is to apply a wood finish. You can choose from wood oils, waxes, lacquer or polyurethane. Polyurethane is one of the most popular options because it lasts the longest. Apply a thick coat of sealer to your furniture, let it soak in the wood for at least 30 minutes, and wipe off any excess with a clean rag.

If any scratches or blemishes are still visible, simply sand them down and rub more wood oil into the affected area.

When to call a pro

Most wood finishing projects require beginner skills. However, sometimes you have to wonder if it is better to bring in a professional. As you look at the unique piece you want to restore, ask yourself these questions to decide whether it’s worth taking on this restoration project or not:

  • Is it an antique? Rooms from the 1950s and 1960s are typically constructed of solid wood instead of laminate or chipboard. These materials are generally not worth repainting, but they can be very valuable. If you are unsure, consider consulting an antiques specialist before embarking on a finishing project.
  • Is the part stable? Test the strength of the part. If things need to be taken apart or reattached, these steps may require professional supervision. This is especially common if you’re trying to touch up more intricate wood furniture like dressers or wardrobes.
  • Do I have the right space? Finally, you need to know if you have room in your house to complete the project. Since you will be working with chemicals and other substances, having a well ventilated room is essential to handle the fumes. When sanding, expect a lot of dust in the room which can be dangerous without protection.

Compare quotes from the best paint and stain contractors

Free and non-binding estimates

Final result

Whether you’re recycling a thrift store find or renovating old furniture, this is a project you can complete in the afternoon. In addition, learning how to refinish wood furniture will also help you preserve the furniture for years to come. If you have a piece of furniture that you want to restore in a particular or difficult way, do not hesitate to contact a general contractor.


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.