Wooden furniture has a timeless appeal, but over time, wear and tear can diminish its beauty and luster. Refinishing wood furniture is a creative and rewarding DIY project that not only restores the piece but also allows you to infuse it with your personal style. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the step-by-step process of refinishing wood furniture, from stripping the old finish to applying a fresh coat, and provide answers to frequently asked questions to ensure your furniture restoration project is a success.

Why Refinish Wood Furniture?

A Step by Step Guide to Refinishing Wood Furniture 2

Before diving into the refinishing process, it’s essential to understand why it’s worth the effort and how it can breathe new life into your wooden furniture.

Restore Its Beauty

Refinishing allows you to erase scratches, stains, and dings, bringing your furniture back to its original splendor.

Save Money

Refinishing is often more cost-effective than purchasing new furniture, especially if you have a piece with sentimental value.


Refinishing gives you the freedom to choose the color and finish that suits your style and complements your interior d├ęcor.

Tools and Materials

To embark on a successful furniture refinishing project, you’ll need the right tools and materials. Here’s what you’ll need:

Safety Gear

  • Safety glasses:
    • Protect your eyes from dust and fumes.
  • Respirator mask:
    • Prevent inhalation of dust and fumes.
  • Gloves:
    • Shield your hands from chemicals and splinters.

Protective clothing: Wear clothing that covers your skin to minimize exposure to chemicals.

Sanding Tools

  • Sanding blocks:
    • To smooth the surface.
  • Sandpaper:
    • Various grits for different stages of sanding.
  • Electric sander:
    • Optional but can speed up the process.

Stripping and Cleaning Supplies

  • Stripping agent:
    • To remove the old finish.
  • Paint stripper brush:
    • To apply the stripping agent.
  • Rags:
    • For wiping off the stripping agent.
  • Tack cloth:
    • For removing dust and residue.
  • Wood filler:
    • To fill in any cracks or holes.
  • Scraper:
    • For stubborn or hard-to-reach spots.

Finish Application

  • Wood stain:
    • To add color if desired.
  • Polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer:
    • For protection and shine.
  • Brushes:
    • High-quality brushes for applying the finish.
  • Stir sticks:
    • For mixing the finish.
  • Lint-free cloths:
    • For wiping off excess finish.
  • Painter’s tape and drop cloths:
    • To protect surrounding areas.

Work Area

  • Well-ventilated space:
    • To avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Workspace protection:
    • Cover the floor or work surface to catch drips and splatters.
  • Workbench or sawhorses:
    • Elevate the piece for easier access.

Preparation and Safety

Before you begin the refinishing process, it’s crucial to prepare both the piece of furniture and yourself for the task.

Safety First

Ensure good ventilation. If working indoors, open windows and doors.

Wear safety gear, including goggles, a respirator mask, gloves, and protective clothing.

Keep a fire extinguisher nearby as some stripping agents are flammable.

Protect the Surroundings

Lay drop cloths or old sheets to catch any drips or splatters.

Use painter’s tape to cover areas that you want to protect from stripping agents or finish.

Furniture Preparation

Remove any hardware, such as knobs or handles.

Place the furniture piece on your workbench or sawhorses.

If the piece has an existing finish, clean it thoroughly with a mild detergent to remove surface grime and oils.

Stripping the Old Finish

The first step in refinishing wood furniture is to strip off the old finish, revealing the natural wood underneath. This process can be labor-intensive, but it’s essential for a successful refinish.

Apply the Stripping Agent

Brush the stripping agent evenly over the surface using long strokes.

Work in small sections to ensure even coverage.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific stripping agent you’re using.

Wait for the Chemical Reaction

Allow the stripping agent to sit for the recommended time.

You’ll notice the old finish bubbling or wrinkling as the stripping agent reacts with it.

Scrape and Remove the Old Finish

A Step by Step Guide to Refinishing Wood Furniture

Use a scraper to gently lift the old finish.

Wipe away the old finish and stripping agent with a rag.

Repeat if Necessary

For stubborn finishes, you may need to repeat the stripping process.

Always work in well-ventilated areas and follow safety precautions.

Sanding and Preparing the Surface

Once the old finish is removed, it’s time to prepare the wood surface for the new finish. Sanding is a critical step in ensuring a smooth and even result.

Start with Coarse Grit

Begin sanding with a coarse grit sandpaper to remove any remaining finish and smooth out any imperfections.

Sand with the grain of the wood to avoid creating scratches.

Progress to Finer Grits

Gradually switch to finer grits of sandpaper as you work your way through the sanding process.

Finish with a very fine grit to achieve a smooth and polished surface.

Remove Dust

After sanding, wipe the surface with a tack cloth to remove any dust or particles.

Ensure the surface is clean and smooth before proceeding.

Staining and Finishing

This is where you can bring your creative touch to the project by adding color and protection to the wood.


If you desire a different color for your wood furniture, apply a wood stain.

Use a brush or a lint-free cloth to apply the stain evenly.

Wipe off excess stain and allow it to dry completely before proceeding.

Apply the Finish

Once the stain is dry, it’s time to apply the finish.

Use a high-quality brush to apply a clear polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer.

Apply multiple thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

Sand Between Coats

Lightly sand the surface between coats of finish with fine-grit sandpaper to achieve a smooth finish.

Wipe away dust with a tack cloth before applying additional coats.

Final Touches

With the finish in place, it’s time for the final touches that will make your refinished wood furniture shine.

Reattach Hardware

Reattach any knobs, handles, or hardware that you removed during the stripping process.

Buff and Polish

For an added shine, lightly buff the surface with a polishing cloth or wax.

Admire Your Work

Step back and appreciate the transformation you’ve accomplished.


Can any piece of wood furniture be refinished?

Most wooden furniture can be refinished, but the ease and success of the project may vary based on the type of wood and the condition of the piece.

What should I do if I encounter deep scratches or gouges in the wood?

Deep scratches or gouges can be filled with wood filler before sanding and finishing.

How do I choose the right finish for my furniture?

The finish you choose depends on your desired look and the piece’s use. Polyurethane is durable and suitable for most furniture, while varnish or lacquer provides a glossy finish.

Can I refinish antique furniture without devaluing it?

Properly refinishing antique furniture can enhance its value if done skillfully and respectfully of the piece’s original character.

How can I maintain the refinished wood furniture?

To maintain the beauty of your refinished furniture, clean it regularly with a soft, damp cloth and avoid exposure to direct sunlight or extreme humidity.


Refinishing wood furniture is a rewarding DIY project that allows you to breathe new life into beloved pieces, creating stunning and personalized additions to your home. By following the step-by-step guide, using the right tools and materials, and paying attention to safety, you can transform tired furniture into beautiful, functional works of art. So, roll up your sleeves, and with a little patience and creativity, you’ll soon be admiring the results of your refinishing endeavors, showcasing the natural beauty of wood in your home.