7 Tips for Repainting or Refinishing Furniture
As a homeowner, owning heirloom furniture which can be handed down to the next generation is a way to keep memories alive and establish a connection to your ancestry.

As a homeowner, owning heirloom furniture which can be handed down to the next generation is a way to keep memories alive and establish a connection to your ancestry. If you have wood furniture that’s lost its natural luster or has endured years of bumps and scratches, it may be well worth it to refinish or repaint these furnishings to add value and to eliminate the need to purchase new furniture.


How to Tell if Wood Furnishings are Worth Refinishing

Maybe you've discovered a lovely Queen Anne antique table at a flea market, or after fishing around in the attic, you've stumbled upon a vintage Chest of Drawers. Is it worth refinishing or repainting - and how can you tell. Here are some ways to determine if a piece of wood furnishing is worth the trouble of cleaning, sanding, painting, or staining.

  • Quality of Construction - if the piece was manufactured before the 1950s, chances are good that it's a keeper. This period is before mass-produced furniture became the standard.
  • Rickety or Wobbly Furniture - if the piece rocks back and forth or the drawers do not open and close smoothly, the piece may need to be taken apart and the joints re-glued.
  • How Complicated is the Project - Furniture with ornate carvings or constructed of multiple species of wood may be easier to repaint versus refinishing.


7 Tips for Repainting or Refinishing Furniture

1. Expose the True Wood Grain

If the piece is unpainted, the first task is to assess the wood finish by wiping with mineral spirits to reveal how the wood really looks. This is the best way to determine if refinishing or repainting will be your next step - or you may decide the piece only needs a good cleaning and a refresher with an oil-based finish.

If the wooden furniture has already been painted, your first step is removing all hinges, knobs, pulls, and other hardware. Next, use a metal scraper and heat gun to remove as much paint as possible. Any remaining paint can be removed with a suitable paint stripper solution. Choose a citrus-based stripper that doesn't smell offensive and is non-toxic, if you have an aversion to chemicals.


2. Thoroughly Clean the Wood

Before any further work is done, it is important to fully clean the furniture to remove the years of grime and dirt that have become ingrained with the wood. Liquid Ivory dish soap and water is gentle enough to not cause further damage. Use a sponge to clean and follow by rinsing off the soap by wiping the furniture with a plain water-soaked rag. When done, dry the entire piece with a clean, cotton towel.


3. Remove White Water Stains

Old furniture will often have white rings where a glass of water has left condensation on the piece. Coating the white stain with petroleum jelly and allowing it to sit overnight will remove the ring or make it less noticeable. If this doesn't work, purchase White Ring Remover from the hardware store, but know that these solutions may leave a dulled spot on the wood surface, so unless you plan to repaint or apply a deeper stain color, avoid using a strong stain remover.


4. Remove Old Finish

To expose a new wooden surface, sand all visible wood with coarse sandpaper or a power sander. This will remove any finish and leave a smooth, wood surface. Change to a medium grit, and finally a fine grit sandpaper to achieve the smoothest surface possible. This can also be accomplished with a chemical stripper, but sanding the furniture is still suggested as a final task to removing the old finish.


5. Fix Portions of Missing Wood

Often a small chunk of wood is missing on the surface or edge of a piece caused by impact, like being dropped while moving. Epoxy putty can be used to fill the spot so that it's hardly visible after the final finish is applied. Epoxy for wood can be molded, sanded, and stained just like real wood once it has dried and hardened. Even a piece of missing veneer can be disguised with epoxy putty that is carefully scraped level to surrounding surfaces.


6. Apply a Sealant

If you've decided to keep the natural finish of the original wood, or if you plan to stain or paint it, simply apply a coat of sealant to seal the wood in preparation. This also protects your wood surface and prevents it from absorbing future moisture and spills.


7. Paint or Stain the Wood

If you decide to paint the furniture, use a latex paint with either a satin or semi-gloss finish. But, first use a primer that closely matches the paint color to prevent any food stains from soaking through to the wood. For refinishing, choose a stain of your choice and apply several coats, while letting each dry until you've achieved the finish you desire.


If your flea market browsing has led you to a beautiful piece of wood furniture that you consider a 'diamond in the rough', or you're restoring a family heirloom passed down through the generations, make it a fun, DIY home project and refinish or repaint it to gain many years of continued use.