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Six Steps to Refinishing Used Furniture

Buying new furniture is becoming more costly each year. If you’re in business, refinishing old furniture for your customers is a skill you can add to your handyman services. You can also bring in some side income by refinishing used furniture you bought cheap.

If you’re learning how to refinish used furniture as a new hobby, you now have a quality “handmade” item you can use in your own home or present to someone as a gift. If you continue refinishing furniture and love it, it may offer you another source of income.

Refinishing wood furniture may seem like a difficult task, and it can be. With practice, the process will become easier for you, and you’ll develop your own routine. We’ve broken the process down to six simple steps to help get you started.

Step 1: Choosing the Right Furniture to Refinish

When you look for furniture that deserves a second chance at life, there are many places to go. 

  • Flea Markets often have dealers who collect used items to resell. While the antique dealers may be more expensive at these events, there are many reselling old worn down furniture at reasonable prices.
  • While driving around on the weekends, keep an eye out for yard sales with furniture. Grandpa’s old rocker or Grandma’s old dish cupboard may be worth preparing for a new family.
  • Community sales groups on Facebook often showcase used furniture for sale. Usually, you can find ones that are free as long as you come and pick them up.
  • Thrift stores can often have a good selection of used furniture in need of love. Prices can vary from very cheap to incredibly ridiculous.
  • Recycle Centers in bigger communities have a lot of bargain pieces.
  • Word of mouth is a good source of furniture leads. Let your family and friends know you refinish used furniture. 

Not every piece of wood furniture is worth refinishing. Fight the urge to fork over your money for every interesting piece of furniture that needs some love. Here are some things you need to consider before buying.

  • Furniture is often painted to cover up things like burns, missing veneer, and water stains. Be careful of buying a piece of furniture that’s been painted so that you can’t see the condition of the wood underneath.
  • Is the piece of furniture high-quality? Make sure the wood is real wood. Make sure the construction isn’t cheap, using particleboard or laminate surfaces.
  • How old is the piece of furniture? This goes along with the construction quality and takes a step further. Your goal of refinishing a piece is to retain or improve its value. Refinishing a really old piece of furniture yourself can actually hurt the value. With these, it’s best to get the help of an expert. 
  • If the piece has been neglected for a long time, examine the wood grain thoroughly to get an idea of what it will look like refinished. 
  • How complicated will the piece be to refinish? Carved and filigree sections will be time-consuming to strip, and they make the refinishing tricky. If the piece is made from multiple wood sources, refinishing to achieve a uniform look will be more time-consuming.

Step 2: Preparing For Your Project

Knowing exactly how you’re going to refinish a piece of furniture and preparing your workspace will save you a lot of time. If you don’t know immediately what you’re going to do, explore your options.

Are you going to refinish this as a gift for another person, to use in your own house, or are you refinishing this piece of furniture to sell? (More on this later, if you don’t know at this phase.)

Decide if you’re going to paint it light or dark? Does it need to match a room you know it will go into, or do you need to choose something that appeals to a broader audience while deciding what to do with it?

Will you need to stain it? What color of stain? 

If you’re low on ideas or can’t decide, do a web search for the make of furniture with the words “makeover” or “refinishing” to see what other people have done. 

From this, gather your supplies and make sure you have everything you need to do this job from start to finish. Set up your work area in a well-ventilated area like a garage or outside, as the fumes can be toxic. 

Prepare your piece of furniture by positioning it on a drop cloth and cleaning it with mineral spirits. Once you have every inch of it clean, you can start sanding.

Step 3: Choosing To Sand or Strip the Furniture.

Sanding your furniture:

You can choose to use coarse sandpaper, a sanding block, or a power sander for sanding the wood.

A power sander is a useful tool for every handyman’s tool kit, and it definitely comes in handy here. If you don’t keep one available, consider renting one out, as sanding by hand can be very labor intensive.

Initially, you’ll want to sand until most of the shiny surface is gone and the wood is smooth. When you have most of the old finish off, use medium grit sandpaper to remove any bits of old finish still sticking to the surface.

Use fine grit sandpaper for any remaining finish and rough patches.

When it comes to sanding wood, just make sure you don’t sand through the surface, especially in the veneer. While sanding helps you achieve a great refinishing, it’s easy to do too much.

Stripping your furniture:

You can choose to use a stripper to get the old finish off instead of relying on sanding. Varnish strippers can be very messy, and some projects require multiple applications of stripper to remove all of the varnish. 

  • Choose the best varnish stripper for your project.
  • Apply the stripper in small, manageable areas you can complete before it dries.
  • Allow the stripper to set.
  • When ready, use a putty knife to scrape the old finish away. 
  • Follow the product’s directions for cleaning the wood.
  • Let it dry completely.

It is a good idea to at least do a light sanding to rough up the surface. The roughness will help the paint adhere to it better.

Be sure to clean up the dust and debris before moving on to the next phase.

Step 4: Sealant, Paint, and Stain The Wood

Why a sealant?

At this stage, you may choose to apply a sealant to your project. A sealant will protect the wood and create a smooth base so the stain or paint will glide on easily. 

Apply sealant all over the furniture according to the directions and wipe away any excess with a clean cloth. Once the sealant is dry, smooth the surface with fine grit sandpaper, and wipe away excess wood dust.

Paint or stain?

For furniture paint, you want to buy interior paint with a satin finish. Check with your local hardware store for any returned paint you can get at a discount. 

Stain is messy to work with, but it’s excellent for bringing out the wooden design in your furniture. You can get a gel or interior wood stain in the color of your choice. 

No matter if you paint or stain your furniture, you may need to apply two layers to get the look you need.

Step 5: Protecting Your Refinished Furniture

The last phase is to apply a coat of wood finish. The wood finish will protect your furniture from damage and moisture, as well as accentuate the wood’s beauty.

You have several options to choose from: oil finishes, lacquer, polyurethane, and wax, just to name a few.

Wax wood finishes create an excellent matte finish to chalk paints. Some professional refinishers use it to polish furniture over another wood finish, rather than as a wood finish in itself.

Linseed oil and tung oil are easy to find and inexpensive. These are often referred to as the true oils. Other oils are either products hyped up as oil finishes or oils that are naturally nondrying or semi-drying. True oils are drying oils that strengthen the cured finish.

Linseed oil and tung oil penetrate the fibers of the wood and harden. You wipe them on, allow them to penetrate the wood, and wipe off the excess, making them the easiest to use. 

Many professionals still love lacquers as the best all-around finish for wood. It dries fast, gives richness to the wood, can be very durable, and rubs out well. Different types of lacquers present different characteristics, so do your research and choose the right one for your project if you use these finishes.

If your budget allows you to have spraying equipment, spray finishes are also an option. There’s also a learning curve with spraying, so you may need some practice to get the look you want. Spraying does tend to waste a lot of the material and is less practical, but it can help you save drying time.

Step 6: Deciding What To Do With Your Refinished Project

Now that you’ve finished your project, you have to decide what to do with it.

You may have already decided to keep, sell, or give it away in step 2. If you didn’t, you have three options to explore.

  1. Keep it. You now have a nice and affordable piece of furniture that fits into your home. There’s nothing wrong with that!
  2. Give it away. Maybe you know someone with a birthday coming up who would appreciate this piece of furniture. Or perhaps there’s a charity that needs it for their common room or fundraising sale.
  3. Sell it. Selling refinished furniture on a regular basis could be a lucrative addition to a handyman’s services or a side job. 


No matter your reason for learning how to refinish furniture, it’s a very needed and useful skill to have. It saves money, helps fight waste, and provides people of all income levels an opportunity to own nice looking furniture.

These six steps are all you need to get started:

  1. Choose The Right Furniture
  2. Prepare
  3. Sand or Strip
  4. Sealant, Paint, and Stain
  5. Protect Your Project
  6. Decide What To Do After

Follow these simple steps and go deeper into learning from professional refinishers by joining in on conversations at internet message boards, reading books on refinishing, watching youtube videos, and more. 

Whether it’s a hobby or another source of income for you, you’ve chosen a new skill that shows the world your intelligence and strength. Your mental and physical health will benefit from stretching your mind and maintaining your activity level.

How you dress is important for your style. While working on your project, dress for safety, but don’t sacrifice your style. With all the options available at Indestructible Shoes, you can find a shoe that not only protects your feet from harm but will also help keep your feet comfortable. You’ll look and feel great while you refinish that furniture.