Furniture Facelift – Part One

Whether you’ve held on to an old family heirloom or just found an antique treasure at a flea market, refinishing an old piece of wood furniture can turn other people’s trash into your treasure! Your piece of furniture could be in good shape and may just need a little elbow grease and some DIY love to be its best self again. Today, we’ll go over the first set of steps you’ll need to make your old furniture new again.

You’ll need to gather a few things… aside from the furniture, of course.

–          Safety Goggles & Chemical Resistant Gloves

–          Drop Cloth

–          Paint Thinner

–          Scouring Pad

–          Paint & Varnish Remover

–          Natural Bristled Paint Brush

–          Scraping Tools

–          Disposable Pan

–          Steel Wool

–          Lacquer Thinner

–          Rags & Towels


1. The chemicals needed for this type of project are very harsh – be sure you have proper safety googles and gloves to protect yourself. You’ll also need a well-ventilated area to work in. Safety first!

2. Spread out a drop cloth in your work space. You can add newspapers on top for an extra layer of protection. Clean entire piece of furniture with paint thinner and a scouring sponge. Dry off with towels. Cleaning with paint thinner first will remove any wax or grease that may remain on the piece, allowing for easier varnish removal in the next few steps.

3. Spray or wipe down the entire piece with the varnish remover. Follow the instructions on the varnish remover. A brand with a spray bottle is recommended as it makes the process a little easier – we can recommend one to you when you come into the store. Start at the top and work your way down in small sections. For smaller, detailed areas, use a paint brush with natural bristles to get into every nook and cranny.

4. Wait. We know, you’ve started and now you want to keep going! But be patient. It should only take about 15 minutes for the varnish to soften and loosen from the wood. Set a timer based on the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Using a dull-end or plastic scraper, begin scraping off the old varnish. Place waste in a disposable pan.

6. Spray again over detailed or problem spots and gently scrub with steel wool. Repeat this process until the piece is free of varnish.

7. Clean off the entire piece with steel wool and lacquer thinner. This will remove and neutralize leftover varnish remover and protect wood from raising. Thorough cleaning at this stage will aid in sanding and refinishing later.

8. Dispose of all chemical-soaked rags, steel wool, waste pans, and brushes according to local environmental regulations.

9. Let the piece of furniture dry for at least 24 hours. Waiting could very well be the hardest part about refinishing furniture.

Come back next week for Part Two – sanding and applying the new finish. This will give you ample time to make sure your newly-stripped furniture is dry and ready to go!

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Friedman's Home Improvement proudly services all of the North Bay with convenient locations in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sonoma, and Ukiah.

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