Refinishing Wooden Furniture

Just because the finish on a piece of furniture is worn and weathered does not mean that you should strip it. Don’t do it if you think the furniture is custom-made or a potential antique.

When the varnish on a piece of furniture is worn you can revive it by simply sanding the old varnish down with fine steel wool in the direction of the grain, applying a thin coat of diluted stain and then re-varnishing.

If the paint or varnish on a piece of furniture is cracking, bubbling or peeling you may need to strip away the old paint or finish and apply a new finish. Though stripping is a common do-it-yourself project, it can be very time-consuming especially if your piece has an intricate design or lots of pieces.

Wood Strippers

There are two types of wood strippers; solvent-based strippers and water-based strippers.

Solvent-based strippers require a well-ventilated area, gloves, long-sleeved pants and shirts and goggles for protection. They strip more quickly than water-based ones but water-based strippers are less hazardous to work with.

In either case use paste strippers as they adhere well to vertical surfaces. All strippers need time to work and the more layers of pain or finish you are removing then the more time it takes. Remove all drawers, doors and hardware from the piece of furniture before starting and work the surfaces one at a time. Brush on a thick coat of stripper and leave it in place for at least three minutes per layer of finish.

Tough jobs take as long as 20 minutes and you may need to purchase special plastic wrap to keep the stripper wet while it works. Remove the dissolved paint or finish with a flexible putty knife, avoid stiff tools that might gouge the wood.

On intricate carvings, use an old toothbrush to get into tight spots. Use steel wool to remove any remaining stripper. Finish stripping by cleaning off the residue. For chemical strippers use turpentine or denatured alcohol, for waterbased strippers, water.

Let the wood dry then lightly sand the surface before applying a new finish according to the manufacturer’s instructions.