You may look around your home and think you need rooms full of new furniture, but you might simply need to repair and refinish a few pieces. You can save money by refinishing furniture rather than replacing it.
The amount of work needed depends on the piece, but many times a quick stripping of the old paint or varnish and a new coat or two makes a table or chair look new again.
This means for the cost of paint thinner or stripper and a can of varnish or paint, you can “buy” yourself a couple of pieces of “new” furniture. A few simple techniques show you what lies beneath the old coat of paint. Choosing what to do with it next is as simple as purchasing a can of your favorite color paint or varnish, and applying it.
Fast and furious
If you don’t mind the chemicals, stripping the furniture with a high quality chemical stripper gets you down to the surface quickly. Wear a mask and gloves. Ventilate the area or throw down a tarp and strip it outside. Follow the directions on the product.
Some strippers work best with a cloth, some with sand paper, some with a wedge chisel. Your product determines your use. This provides the quickest means to remove old coats of coverage.
The long way home
If you have time or don’t want to alter the wood’s surface, use mineral spirits to see what it will look like without the current varnish.
Note, this doesn’t work if the item was painted. Saturating varnished wood with mineral spirits will provide an idea of the wood’s condition. If it looks good, clean it thoroughly and let it dry completely. Apply a new finish. Let dry.
Imitate Mr. Clean
Whether you strip it or not, your item needs cleaning before you apply any new finish. Use the following tips to get it spotless and ready for a new look quickly.
- Wash every nook and cranny using soap and water. You can use a mild dish soap mixed as you would to clean a sink full of dishes. Dip in a sponge, wring it and scrub the surface.
- Use a firm-bristled, small paintbrush to clean crevices created by carvings or moldings. It also helps clean out cracks in the wood.
- Wring out the sponge and run it under clean water. Wring again and use it to rinse off the furniture’s surface.
- Towel dry it. Let it air dry completely before applying any finish. The time this takes depends on the size of the item and viscosity of the wood.
Once you clean it, you may find white rings, dents, dings, scraps missing or cracks. You’ll find an easy fix for all of these below.
- White rings: Spread petroleum jelly over the ring. Let the jelly work overnight. It penetrates the surface and lightens or removes rings. You probably already have some in your house, too. If it doesn’t work, try a specialty product like Liberon Ring Remover or Homax White Ring Remover. Buy a cute set of coasters and make everyone use one under future drinks served.
- Paint spatters: Scrape off paint spatters using a razor blade. If you worry you may scrape the surface, just wrap masking tape around either end of the razor blade. Bend the blade slightly, so it curves a bit in the center. Holding the razor perpendicular to the surface, scrape the paint off.
- Missing pieces: A little epoxy blended down to the surface level replaces a chip of wood or veneer. Once the epoxy dries, sand it level with the surface. It will hold a finish or paint just as the wood will. If you have experience and your piece has a grain to it, you can use a razor blade to cut in grain-like marks on the wet epoxy. Go ahead and get fancy. You can always sand it down with an orbital sander if it doesn’t work out.
- Little cracks: Choose a colored wax fill stick or fill pencil that closely matches the wood or your planned final color. Apply it to any small cracks or nail holes. Warm it in your hand to make it malleable. You can rub it over the area or break off a bit and press it on, filling it into the crack with a 3/8 inch dowel. Buff it down with a soft cotton cloth. Don’t use paper towels or shop towels as these will break off and stick to the wax.
- Little dents: Wet a small dent and let it sit. Moisture swells wood, so only wet the dented area. Do this after stripping or otherwise removing the original finish, but before putting on the new finish. A finish prevents water from penetrating the wood.
A new coat of something
Look at that gorgeous naked wood. What will you do with it? You’ve got a multitude of options. You could stain it with a clear varnish to let the natural wood show or stain it to a favorite wood shade such as a light oak or a dark cherry. Channel your inner Rolling Stones and “Paint It Black.”
If you prefer color, try a waterproof paint with primer built-in. You’ll save yourself some work and cover the item fully in only one or two coats. Any color you imagine you can buy because most chain home improvement stores offer a custom paint mixing stand.
Just take in a piece of cloth or item featuring the color you desire, even a close up of your child’s eyes, and they’ll scan it into the computer and create a color matched can of paint for about $1 more than the off the shelf varieties cost.
If a single color seems too bland, mix and match. You can paint chair or table legs one color, then the top or seat another.
Use painter’s tape to create stripes or a checkerboard pattern. Paint the untaped sections. Let it dry fully. Carefully remove the tape. You have a custom paint job for the cost of a can of paint, a roll of tape and a brush.
Brushes aren’t the only way to cover a surface. Try various sponges with the paint on an old piece of plywood or a 2″ x 4′ remnant. Test out the sponge designs and when you find one you like, use that sponge dipped in the paint to apply the paint to the furniture.
Purchase stencils of fruit or vegetables or a landscape at a crafting store. These usually cost between $1 and $5. Tape the stencil to the surface of the item using painter’s tape and paint all around. After it dries completely, remove the stencil. The design remains on the original surface. You can add a clear coat over everything to protect the wood.
Another option is contrasting colors. Test to ensure the top paint color looks good one over the other first. Paint the entire item the color you want the stencil item. Let it dry completely. Tape the stencil onto the item using painter’s tape. Paint over the item using the second color. When that dries completely, carefully remove the stencil. You can put green or red apples on a chair this way – or white apples on a green or red chair. One color over the other changes the initial color of both and underlies why practicing the color combinations on an old wood remnant remains most important.
Many pieces of old furniture need only a little time and effort from you, along with some paint stripper and new varnish, stain or paint to look new again. With a weekend of effort, you can even fix the chips and cracks with a handful of products that will last for multiple projects and cost about $50 total.