How to refinish furniture?
August 24, 2017 9:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the position where I need to refinish a piece of furniture quickly. How do I do this? The piece of furniture is currently stained wood, with scratches. My understanding is that I need to sand with coarser sandpaper (carefully and evenly) until I don't see scratches, and then sand with finer sandpaper until the surface feels reasonably smooth. Then I do a coat of primer, wait for it to dry, and then paint the color of my choice? Help?
posted by ClaireBear to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Also, I gather that I can use a chemical varnish stripper (i.e. paint stripper) rather than sanding. Is either preferable? I'd love to have anyone recommend good brands of anything for this project. Thanks!
posted by ClaireBear at 9:36 PM on August 24, 2017

If you want to remove the blemish, you need to sand until its gone, effectively blending it in to the surrounding wood, and then re-finish (with paint, or what have you).

However, some caveats. Depending on how fussy you are, blending the repaired area into the rest of the work can be difficult. Stained wood sometimes doesn't take paint well, so the repaired (sanded) area will look different when painted unless you sand the whole surface. This can complicate things.

IME, with wood that is just stained - you just need to sand the whole work a bit, and use a good stained wood primer and then paint. If it has a poly finish, then you'll want to strip that chemically - you can sand it off, but its harder, and more fussy. Point is, the closer you get to bare wood on the entire thing, the better and more even your final results.

You have to decide how particular you are about the looks - a quick pass with some 400 grit and primer will be a passable result for something you don't too care much about. A piece you are very serious about restoring will require much more work and finesse.

You can totally practice on pieces of scrap wood. Stain it, let it dry and sand it then do your planned repair. This can give you some idea what to expect and how various treatments might turn out. My wife and I did this when we refinished our cabinets and the practice really helped - the finished product turned out very well.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:46 PM on August 24, 2017

if you are willing to buy a tool for this, I would highly recommend getting a small palm sander . This will save you a lot of elbow grease, and they usually come with an assortment of sandpapers. You are much more likely to do a good thorough job of sanding when it doesn't feel like your arm is going to fall off. I have named mine beloved sander
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:41 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

One critical step is making sure that the surface is absolutely as smooth as you can make it, and has no dust what soever on it before you add the finish. Otherwise the dust gets into the varnish or whatever finish you put on the piece and makes it bumpy. So vacuuming the piece and then polishing it with a cloth that picks up dust is helpful. When I sand I like to keep a small vacuum right at hand to keep hoovering up the dust as I go.

If you are using a chemical stripper, it is very helpful to do the chemical stripping outside. A dry weekend is very helpful for this. Chemical stripper is expecially helpful when the piece is at all ornate. If you are stripping a cube you can sand it. But if there are tiny crevices to get into where it will be hard to get your sandpaper, then you want to get the chemical stripper because the liquid goes where the corners of the paper doesn't.

Don't skimp and buy dollar store sandpaper for a project like this. The paper is cheap and tears.

If you are just looking for a really quick and dirty way of doing the job and don't actually care, the usual way of doing it is to scrub the battered old bit of furniture really well and then repaint it with paint in a colour roughly approximating stained wood, and not even try to strip it. A brush can be used to add some faint texture faintly hinting at wood grain, or you can skip this step. You then finish the piece with varathane over the paint just as you would if you had been using wood stain instead of brown paint.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:01 AM on August 25, 2017

If you want a stain you absolutely want it from this company and would use a stain followed by a clear gel finish .

If what you want is paint I would sand the best I could, wipe with a damp towel. Then when fully and entirely dry cover with some type of Zinnser primer (there are like fifteen kinds; you're just looking for good coverage.) And then you paint it. Check for any annoying streaks you want to sand out and do so, then wait 24 hours, paint again. Drying times vary but in my experience if you can restrain yourself you get a more durable end result.

After it cures it's fair less likely to chip, but I think it takes a good month to cure so you avoid sticking a very heavy plant on it the first month. If you want to be preserve the work of perfection there are finishes you can by to put on top of it, but I typically would stop with the paint.

Invest in two good brushes, a thin one and a thick one for painting. Primer is a pain so I like to use a brush i'm going to throw out.

I would not fully remove stain unless I planned to replace with different stain.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:45 AM on August 25, 2017

I do this all the time - I pick up dressers, chairs and tables that are discarded and bring them back to life. Here's a photo of the most recent dresser I brought back to life from near death - black water stains, horrific hand-painted accent lines in purple, and the like.

Assuming the areas are flat (i.e., no hand-done details like on antique chairs), a small palm sander is your best bet. Hand sand areas that the palm sander can't get to. Not only will it let you cover ground quickly, it will also let you smooth rougher parts back to finished quality, lightly round edges (avoiding splinters/sharp corners) before applying your finish of choice. I would sand back to wood with 60-80 grit, then move up to your desired smoothness - me, I like the wood to still feel like grain, so I stop at 160.

After that, you're ready to apply finishes. Stains are certainly nice, however I prefer to use an oil which will allow the grain to come out. Danish oils will also help protect the wood by moisturizing/embedding themselves into the wood to resist stains. They come in a number of shades which can allow you to darken the wood if you like. You apply with a rag, usually two coats, wait five minutes after applying then blot excess.

I follow up with a lavender furniture wax that can be buffed to your sheen of choice. The wax also protects against stains and spills but also makes your furniture smell delightfully like lavender. I do this once or twice a year to keep it maintained.

Total time for that dresser, including repairing all the drawers, was about 8 hours over two weekends.
posted by notorious medium at 6:15 AM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

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