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Refinishing furniture

Refinishing old or secondhand furniture has become one of the hottest trends over the past few years. Not only does it allow you to revamp bargain furniture, it's also a way to put old pieces relegated to the garden shed or garage back into use in a home.


Once you understand the processes and methods involved in refinishing furniture you soon become addicted. I have bought many secondhand and auction pieces that I have refinished and revamped over the years, and every piece (bar one or two here and there) have become practical pieces of furniture in my own home.

Hand-me-downs, inherited furniture, secondhand finds and furniture destined for the dump are sometimes pieces that you - or someone else - can repurpose and use, whether as originally intended or in new ways. Before you toss out that old cabinet, think about placing an online classified to see if someone else can do something with it.





Sanding or stripping furniture is the first step when refinishing. You can use sandpaper, either by hand or with a sander, to remove layers of paint or varnish, or you can use eco-friendly paint strippers such as Plascon RemovALL. Paint stripper is wonderful for getting into small carved or detailed areas.

Products to shop for:

For the majority of stripping projects you will need various products depending on the size and scope of the furniture you will be refinishing.

  • Sandpaper rough to fine grit (either sheets or for sander).
  • Orbital sander for sanding large areas such as tops, sides, doors and drawer fronts. Random orbit sander for smooth finishing of sanded areas prior to painting.
  • Plascon RemovALL paint stripper. An eco-friendly way to strip layers of paint or varnish from furniture.
  • Plastic paint scraper when using paint stripper.

Wood filler is a quick and easy way to fill cracks and knots in timber, and fix up any minor defects. Another product that comes in very handy is Alcolin QuikWood. You can use this product to rebuild missing dents and broken off pieces.

Products to shop for:

When repairing damaged wood surfaces there are a couple of products you should always keep in your workshop or toolbox.

  • Wood filler is ideal for filling in small cracks and defects, as well as filling in countersunk screw holes.
  • Alcolin QuikWood is an epoxy putty that sets rock hard and can be used to fill in where pieces have broken off or are damaged.
  • Where you want to cover up minor defects but keep the furniture as is and not repair the damage that adds to the charm of a piece, you can use a sanding sealer as a base coat prior to painting or whitewashing.

After stripping and fixing up your piece of furniture you have various options for the refinishing. In this case an ebony wood stain was applied and finished with a coat of antique wax buffed to satin sheen. Other options include using a tinted varnish, regular application of oils and preservatives, or painting by applying a wood primer and acrylic paint.

Products to shop for:

When refinishing a piece of furniture the final finish will determine the product you want to use.

  • Woodoc gel stain is an easy way to stain sanded pieces to change the colour of the wood or enhance the existing wood species.
  • Clear varnish provides a tough finish that allows the original wood grain to show through. Note that any clear varnish deepens the colour, so not recommended if you are wanting a truly natural finish. Plascon have a waterbased clear varnish that dries quickly and offers the same benefits as the oil-based product.
  • Antique wax nourishes and protects without altering or deepening the natural colour of the wood. Regular application is required to ensure continuous protection. A small amount of paint can be added to antique wax to create an effect that is similar to liming wax.
  • There are several varieties of oils that can be used to refinish furniture and each has its unique characteristics and need to be applied regularly to protect and enhance wood furniture. Tung oil is easy to apply and cures when exposed to air. Danish oil takes longer to be absorbed into wood projects but offers a matt finish. Of all the oils, beeswax and boiled linseed oil offer the least protection on finished furniture, so bear this in mind if you are refinishing a piece that will be put into use, eg. a coffee table, sideboard, dresser or dining table.
  • There are various techniques for painting furniture as a refinishing option and you will find more information on these in our Painting Techniques section.

The final touches for your refinished furniture will be the hardware. From handles, hinges and knobs you have the option to keep the original look or opt for more modern hardware to update a piece of furniture.

Your local Builders Warehouse stocks a selection of hardware styles, or visit specialist stores such as Wholesale Cabinet Fittings, or Gelmar, for a much more varied selection.