Wood Refinishing: You Can Do It!

January 1, 2024

If you have some spare time and energy, along with a fair amount of DIY confidence, refinishing beloved wood furniture can be rewarding. (If, on the other hand, you aren’t up for all that effort, we suggest shopping at Legacies Upscale Resale for used wood furniture in great condition!)

 There are basically three steps:

  1. stripping away the old finish,
  2. repairing any damage and
  3. applying a new finish

Before you start: Making sure the wood surface is clean

You want a clean surface to start. A mild detergent and water are all you need. Let it dry completely before you start to remove the old finish.

Taking off the old finish

You can sand, use chemical strippers or a combination of both methods.

To sand, you will need sandpaper or a power-sander to slowly remove the finish – along with some elbow grease, of course.

  1. Start with a coarse-grit sandpaper and gradually progress to finer-grit ones for a smooth and even finish.
  2. Sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid making scratches or gouges.
  3. Sand edges and corners carefully for a consistent look.

After sanding, use a tack cloth or a soft cloth dampened with mineral spirits to remove all the sanding dust. This step leaves a clean surface for the new finish and prevents dust particles from getting trapped in the final coat.

Chemical strippers soften and take off the finish without as much elbow grease. If you choose this method, follow the product manufacturer’s instructions carefully, and work in a well-ventilated area.

Repairing damage

Look the surface over carefully for scratches, dents or gouges. Fill them with wood putty or filler. After the filler to dries fully, sand the surface back to smooth (see above regarding preventing dust from getting trapped in the new finish).

The fun part: Putting on the new finish

This is where you start to see the fruits of your labor.

Choose the right finish: Consider the type of wood, the desired look and the function of the wood surface. Common options include varnish, polyurethane, lacquer and an oil-based finish. Each has its own characteristics, such as durability, sheen level and application method. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow them carefully.

Once you have your product, you need a high-quality brush, foam applicator or lint-free cloth to apply the finish evenly.

  1. Put on thin coats to prevent drips or runs.
  2. Wait the recommended drying time between coats.
  3. Lightly sand the surface after each coat with fine-grit sandpaper.
  4. Keep going until you get the depth and appearance you want.

The tricky part: Waiting

After putting on the final coat, let the surface dry and cure completely. This can take days, depending on the type of finish you use. Avoid putting anything on the surface or exposing it to excessive moisture or heat until it is dry.


After all that work, you want to keep the wood looking good with regular maintenance:

  1. Use gentle cleaning methods, such as dusting with a soft cloth or vacuuming with a soft brush attachment.
  2. Avoid using harsh cleaners or abrasive materials that can damage the finish.
  3. Use coasters, placemats or felt pads to protect from the wood from heat, moisture and scratches.

Not up for it? The pros can help

If you’re not sure about refinishing wood, or are dealing with valuable or intricate pieces, call a professional woodworker or refinisher. They have the expertise, tools and experience to do the job right.

Or, if you aren’t attached to the piece, remember to shop furniture consignment at Legacies Upscale Resale in Cincinnati!