Furniture Refinishing Basics For The Average Person

By: Braden Kirkendall


One of the most common means of furniture restoration is furniture refinishing. Refinishing furniture can breathe new life into pianos, tables, chairs, cabinets, bookcases, jewelry boxes and other items that have started to look a little bit worn.

With any furniture restoration project - and furniture refinishing is no exception - there are a few things to consider. First, you want to think about whether or not you can do it yourself. You may be thinking, "Why couldn't I tackle furniture refinishing myself? All it takes is a few hours, some sandpaper and new stain." While in many cases this is true, some furniture restoration should be left to the pros.

For example, piano refinishing isn't the same as refinishing a jewelry box. Many large pieces - pianos, armoires - are far easier for professionals to restore and refinish. Another furniture restoration project that may be better suited for a professional is refinishing chairs. You may find that, for these projects, hiring a professional will cost less and take less time than if you were to do the projects yourself.

Another professional who you may want to consult before taking on a furniture restoration project is an antiques appraiser. While refinishing furniture you bought new can help give the piece more character or even help you to sell it for a profit at a yard sale, there are rare and collectible pieces of furniture that will lose value if they are refinished. When you've bought an antique dining room table, coffee table or cabinet, furniture refinishing could lower the value of the piece and you may want to look into a thorough professional cleaning instead.

If you are only looking at refinishing furniture that is newer or that has sentimental value, you may choose not to consult with a professional. In that case, it's often best to get right into the project on your own.

To start your furniture-refinishing project, it's often best to find a spot that won't be noticed as a test site. In this spot - low on the back of the piece or on the bottom - you'll want to start the furniture refinishing by removing a small portion of the current finish. Doing so will let you see what you're up against and how hard will it be to remove the current finish from the furniture.

The answer to that question will vary some. Simple surfaces like a table will be easier to refinish than a cabinet with intricate corner work. Using a furniture stripper and a scraper will make it easier to remove a painted or varnished finish than merely using sandpaper. Once you've determined how to best remove the old finish from the furniture, the next step is to work outdoors (when possible) to remove the old varnish and paint.

Furniture refinishing, however, is not just about removing the old finish. Refinishing furniture requires stripping the old finish and then preparing the surface for a new finish by sanding the surface and wiping down the sawdust that sanding stirred up. Only after the surface has been prepared can you start the final step in this furniture restoration project: applying the new finish.

Refinishing the furniture, therefore, means knowing what the new finish will be. For some, the goal of refinishing furniture is to strip off color, get back to the natural wood and apply a clear finish that shows off the item's natural beauty. For others, furniture refinishing is a matter of taking the wood to a darker shade - staining pine so that it takes on the color of cherry or mahogany wood.

Still others look at furniture refinishing as a chance to bring color to their table, desk, bookshelf or bureau. When refinishing furniture, many are likely to choose a colored stain followed with a topcoat of varnish for sheen. Another common choice people, who are looking for color, make is to select paint that matches the room or provides the contrast they are looking to achieve in their room.

Furniture restoration, after all, is a personal choice. Refinishing furniture gives you a chance to create a new look without going out and buying something new. For those inclined to take on little projects on their own, refinishing furniture can be a great way to spend a weekend - and have something to show for their time, for years to come.

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Braden Kirkendall writes about DIY Projects. In business since 1979, Fingerlakes Restoration is located in Burdett, NY, in central New York state. They offer Free Estimates, In-Home Touch Ups, Pick Up And Delivery, and they handle all types of insurance claims. They specialize in restoring pianos, but also do furniture restoration on antique and sentimental pieces like desks, drawers and cabinets. fingerlakesrestoration.com

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