Why revamp an antique, rather than buy something new? “A big reason to refinish or refurbish something old is because older furniture is almost always better quality than what is made today. Wood furniture used to all be hand-crafted, hand finished, and made of solid wood, often old growth wood,” says Bill Kennedy. Bill and his son, Joshua, own Jax Furniture Refinishing & Upholstering and are passionate about craftsmanship. We asked them to share their refinishing expertise with us. “It’s always possible to transform an old antique and give it a new life. Wood can be stripped, sanded, and given a new stain, and cushions and fabric features can be reupholstered. You can end up with a piece of furniture that looks totally different, if that’s what you want, while still holding onto the high quality craftsmanship of the piece,” says Bill.

Directions from the Pros:

Step 1. Strip the furniture of its existing finish using the right chemical solvents for your particular piece. There are liquid solvents, spray solvents, and even gel and paste solvents. The most common are liquid solvents, which you’ll want to first apply to an old rag, and then rub the rag along the wood. Leave the solvent on for the manufacturer’s recommended amount of time. In many cases, the finish will rub right off the wood after the solvent has loosened it, but occasionally you may need to lightly scrape the finish using a plastic putty knife, or in extreme cases, perhaps steel wool. Be sure you cut right through to the wood, removing all of the old or original varnish, paint, lacquer, or other coating with no residue left. Don’t take any shortcuts on this step, and definitely don’t dip strip your piece, or dunk it into the solvents. That process is incredibly hard on furniture, especially antique or very fine furniture.

Step 2. Hand sand your piece. You can use a random orbit sander on large, flat surfaces, but on smaller surfaces or detail work sanding blocks work best and use sanding pads on any curvature. If your piece has tight crevices, fold sandpaper to get into the cracks. Be sure to sand every inch. Evenly sand in the direction of the grain, so your piece will absorb the stain evenly. When you’re finished, wipe down the entire piece with tack cloth or a damp rag.refinish2

Step 3. Apply the stain. There are water-based stains and oil-based stains. You’ll want to choose the stain that’s right for your specific piece. Dip your brush or rag into the stain and apply it to the furniture in long, even strokes, wiping lightly, and with the grain. Use a clean cloth to remove excess stain. You may need to apply several coats to achieve the look you want, but remember to let each coat dry completely before applying a new one.

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Step 4. Apply the sealant. The sealant will seal the pores of the wood, and will provide an even look to the piece. Apply liquid sealant with a brush, moving quickly, and along the lines of the grain. If you’re using a spray sealant, spray in even strokes, following the lines of the piece. Depending on the look you want, you may want to apply several coats of sealant, sanding with 220-280 grit between each coat.

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Tips from the Experts

  • Different types of wood, different kinds of furniture, and different finishes and stains all have their own requirements. There’s not one single finish that is perfect for all furniture, so think about your piece, how you want it to look, and what you want it to be used for.

  • Make sure you have the adequate workspace. Refinishing is a messy job, so you want a workspace where it’s all right if you get paint chips and sanded wood dust on the floor.

  • If your project requires the use of powerful chemical solvents, as most do, you’ll also want your work area to be well-ventilated. You’ll also need eye protection, proper gloves, and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty or even ruined.  

  • Give yourself time. A pitfall for many DIYers is that they don’t realize how long a refinishing project will take, and then they get frustrated when it doesn’t get completed in the brief time for which they allow.