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Remember that rather battered and tatty table in the basement? Think it could look good in the living room if only it was half decent? Well, consider this. A simple refinishing can make that table or any other wooden furniture piece look as good as it did when it first entered the home. Refinishing it will also be a lot cheaper than buying a completely new table, especially if the one you have in storage was originally of a high quality. It is after all, a shame to waste it.

However, before you embark on the refinishing process, you will need to bear in mind an important question. Will the value of the item decrease if a new finish is added? Some antique tables, chairs or cabinets often gain value due to their old and rustic nature and refinishing such a piece could mean the price, if you’re intending to sell it one day, plummeting. Research the history of the particular piece of furniture and make sure it’s one that will benefit from the finishing process, in all ways.

“Wait a moment! By refinishing, do you mean the same as refurbishing?”

No. Although, in a small way, yes, for refinishing is certainly a part of the refurbishment procedure of old furniture. Refurbishing is generally when an old item of furniture is repaired with new parts due to it either partly rotting away or because of breakages in the wood from movement damage or old age. Refinishing is purely the process of adding another finish to the table, bed, bookcase or chair so as to recreate its former glory and so no extra parts are required.

Refinishing wooden furniture comes in three stages. These include, in chronological order, stripping, preparing and applying. Each stage is simple to do with the right materials and a bit of practice. Nowadays, with the development of chemicals and tools, the process is much easier than it was for people of previous generations. For them it was a tedious and laborious operation which no doubt resulted in many a strained back or slipped disc.


A chemical finish remover will make the process of stripping the old finish as easy as taking your clothes off in the hot summer sunshine. Most chemical removers come with detailed instructions on how best to use them and this usually involves applying a liberal amount onto the surfaces of the wooden furniture and then waiting for anything up to half an hour before the next step. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can use sandpaper although it’s essential to remove only the upper layer of the old finish so as to avoid damaging the wood grain.

After the allotted time is up, take a scraping tool and begin to remove the old finish. When scraping, it is sensible practice to wear safety glasses, gloves and to assume a balanced and stable position where you, or the furniture piece, will not topple over. A buffing cloth can be used to remove any remaining bits.


The process of preparing recently stripped wooden furniture basically involves adding tender loving care to the surface of the wood and repairing any small damages. The most common preparation job will include filling in dents with putty and sanding our scratches and stains with sandpaper. In some instances, more thorough repairs will be needed which you might not have foreseen before beginning the stripping. Refurbishment will then be a requirement and should be completed before the third and final stage of adding a new finish.

The preparation stage will also call for an evaluation of the type of finish you will want to add to the wooden furniture piece. Some wood grains call for darker finishes whilst other types of wood look better with a simple clear varnish. A scout around local hardware stores will introduce you to the various possibilities as will a good surf around internet-based stores where more varieties of finishes will likely be found.


For relative beginners to the art of finishing wood, the most advisable finish to use is oil-based polyurethane. This differs from the water-based varieties in that it’s easier to use as it is slower to dry and doesn’t raise the grain of the wood. For oft used table tops and chairs, the oil-based polyurethane is particularly apt as it is durable and frequently used on floor surfaces with a lot of wear.

The polyurethane can be applied to the wood with a regular bristle or foam brush. They come in a variety of sizes and the one you use will depend on the size and type of wooden furniture piece you’re refinishing. A 2 inch wide brush will normally suffice for chairs, tables, cupboards and related items.

Apply a first coat and leave it to dry. This first layer can be either weakened with paint thinner or put on as it comes, full strength. The benefit of ‘watering down’ the polyurethane for the first coat is that it dries sooner and is thus appropriate for sanding sooner than would otherwise be the case. The second coat, and those thereafter, should always be full strength. Make sure when brushing that all bubbles, sags and creases are removed by returning the brush over the affected areas and thinning out the polyurethane.

After each coat has dried, sand the surface smooth and get rid of any hair, dust or splinters that have fallen onto the surface. You’ll usually require between three and four coats before the wooden furniture piece has been successfully refinished. Of course, the last coat doesn’t need to be sanded at all. Good job, the work is complete!

With care and attention, not to mention working in good light, the refinishing of an old wooden furniture piece will be a reasonably simple task. Remember to bear safety in mind and refrain from rushing through the job so as to avoid accidents and bad quality finishes. Once one item has been successfully completed, you’ll have more confidence of your new found skill, plus better awareness of other furniture pieces that can be reborn and brought back to their former glory.