Furniture Refinishing

Lessons learned

I love to refinish furniture.   A fresh coat of finish on a piece of furniture will make it shine like a freshly painted house.  Once it is all over, it is very satisfying to sit back in your easy chair and look at your work across the living room.    Furniture refinishing is also a great way to make life-long memories with your children and grandchildren.   Below are some lessons that I have learned, mostly the hard way, and advice that I have gotten from master craftsmen over the years.  I hope you find them useful and interesting and as always I welcome your feedback.

Five Wood Finishing Trips


Furniture refinishing is somewhat like fishing. They both take patience.  If you don’t have patience when fishing, you will probably spend your day fishing and not catching.  Similarly, if you don’t have patience when refinishing furniture, you will make mistakes and either produce poor results or have to spend extra time to repair your mistakes and produce good results.


Remove the old finish with a stripper. Allow the stripper to soak into the wood and bubble up, then it is ready to be gently removed with a plastic scrapper.   Do not use a belt sander to quickly remove the old finish.  This will likely result in uneven surfaces.  If you must sand, do it by hand with a low grit sandpaper, then high grit, and finish with steel wool.


Do not apply any finish until you have a clean surface. You can use an electric fan to blow the dust off but then follow up with mineral spirits to remove fine debris.  Some of you probably do wood working and know that a clean surface is essential to getting a good glue bond.  The same applies for wood finishing.


I apply most finished with a clean rag to avoid brush strokes. I go slow and steady and apply thin coats.  In between each coat, I sand the surface with steel wool and then apply mineral spirits.  I prefer to apply in a small circulation motion, but I know others apply the finish parallel to the grain direction.  The key is to apply a small amount and do not produce any runs or drips.


If you are dealing with an antique piece of furniture, I would seriously consider not making any repairs at all. I have watched too many episodes of Antique Road Show where somebody has refinished an antique piece of furniture or the wooden gun stock on a rifle and significantly decreased the value of the item.

Proper Care for Refinished Furniture

Make sure you properly care for your furniture after you refinish it.  Do not let drinks sit and form a ring on your table top.  Also, be mindful of UV degradation from the sun which can bleach and lighten the color of the wood.  I suggest using a UV resistant stain but also check your furniture and look at the surfaces that are getting direct sun as compared to those that are getting indirect sun. 

Meet the Author

Dr. Todd Shupe is the President of Wood Science Consulting, LLC. He is a well-recognized expert on wood forensics, wood preservation, wood decay and degradation, and wood species identification. He has a broad background in new product development, quality management, and marketing and sales in both the public and private sectors. For more information please visit

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