A Step-by-Step Guide to Refinishing Wooden Furniture

refinishing wooden furniture

The allure of vintage wooden furniture, with its rich history and craftsmanship, is something many homeowners cherish. Over time, however, these pieces can become worn, damaged, or outdated. Instead of replacing or discarding them, refinishing can give them new life and allow them to serve for many more years. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you in refinishing wooden furniture and restore its former glory.

1. Understand Your Furniture’s History

Before diving into the refinishing process, it’s crucial to know the following:

  • Wood Type: Different woods have unique characteristics that affect how they should be treated.
  • Previous Finishes: Some older pieces might have been painted with lead-based paints. Handle these with care.

2. Gather Your Materials

For a successful refinishing project, you’ll need:

  • Drop cloths or old newspapers
  • Rubber gloves and safety glasses
  • Sandpaper (both 100-grit and 220-grit)
  • Paint stripper (if the furniture is painted or varnished)
  • Brushes (for applying stripper and stain)
  • Wood stain or paint
  • Polyurethane or another protective top coat
  • Mineral spirits (for cleaning)

3. Set Up a Work Area

Choose a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors or in a spacious garage. Lay down drop cloths or newspapers to protect the floor and surrounding surfaces from spills and debris.

4. Remove Hardware and Clean the Surface

When refinishing wooden furniture, start by removing any hardware like handles, knobs, or hinges. Next, clean the furniture with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or residue. For sticky patches or old polish, consider using mineral spirits.

5. Strip Off the Old Finish

If the furniture has a previous paint or varnish:

  1. Put on your gloves and safety glasses.
  2. Apply a liberal amount of paint stripper using a brush. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the waiting period.
  3. Once the old finish bubbles, gently scrape it off with a plastic scraper.
  4. Clean the surface with mineral spirits to remove any leftover stripper.

6. Sanding: The Key to a Smooth Finish

  • Initial Sanding: Start with the 100-grit sandpaper. Sand the surface evenly, moving in the direction of the wood grain. This step will open up the wood pores and help in the absorption of the new finish.
  • Fine Sanding: After the initial sanding, switch to 220-grit sandpaper. This will give the wood a smooth touch.
  • Cleaning: Wipe away the sanding dust using a tack cloth or a lightly dampened cloth.

7. Staining or Painting

Decide whether you want a natural wood look or a painted finish.

  • Staining: Use a brush or cloth to apply the stain, moving in the direction of the grain. Let it penetrate the wood for a few minutes, then wipe away the excess with a clean cloth. The longer the stain is left before wiping, the darker the finish. For a deeper hue, apply a second coat after the first one dries.
  • Painting: Ensure the wood surface is free of dust. Apply a primer (if needed), then paint using your chosen color. Let each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next.

8. Seal the Deal with a Protective Coat

Once your stain or paint has dried completely:

  1. Apply a thin layer of polyurethane or your chosen protective finish using a brush. Ensure even coverage.
  2. Allow the first coat to dry as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  3. For a smoother finish, lightly sand the dried surface using 220-grit sandpaper.
  4. Wipe away any dust and apply a second coat.
  5. Repeat the process for a third coat if desired for added durability.

9. Reattach Hardware

Once the protective coat has dried fully, reattach any hardware you had previously removed. Ensure that you’re using the right screws or fasteners, as forcing the wrong one can damage the wood. If you’re looking for a fresh look, consider replacing the old hardware with new pieces that match your room’s decor.

10. Admire Your Work

Position your refinished furniture in its desired spot and enjoy the beauty of your handiwork! The hours of labor and patience have transformed an old piece into something fresh and vibrant. Take a moment to appreciate the intricate details and the smooth finish, bearing witness to your dedication and craftsmanship.


Refinishing wooden furniture can be a deeply satisfying project. It not only gives a new lease of life to worn-out pieces but also allows you to impart a personal touch to your home décor. With patience, the right tools, and a step-by-step approach, even beginners can achieve professional-looking results. So, the next time you spot an old wooden gem, don’t be in a rush to replace it; consider refinishing it instead!