Renovating the 100 year old farm house my mom grew up in – making it a place for us to grow old in.

Most of these refinishing tips you can get by reading the directions on the side of whatever the heck tool/finish/chemical you might be using. However, there are a few here I just simply learned the hard way. Furniture refinishing is hard work but not hard to do. The hardest thing to get right is the perfect coat of paint – a coat comparable to a factory furniture finish.

Don't wear your good shoes! Furniture refinishing and remodeling tips from

  • Don’t wear your good shoes. Do I really need to put this tip in here? Don’t even consider it. Wear something (from head to toe) that you don’t care about killing. Many nights I left my pants and my shoes at the garage door.
  • Take safety precautions. Paint stripper is amazing stuff – it can eat right through your skin all the way to the bone!! I’m not kidding!
  • Keep a jug of mineral spirits on hand. Don’t ask – you’ll thank me later.
  • Buy cheap brushes. That’s the opposite of what you’ve been reading isn’t it? I can’t see any point in applying paint stripper (or stain or sealant) with an expensive brush. Remember though even cheap brushes can be cleaned out for another stain application. The cheap brushes shed more, so “wring” them out a bit before using them to get any extra bristles out of the brush. When I paint – I spray it.
  • Get three kinds of sand paper unless you are certain you don’t need the really rough stuff. You want a course (40 grit), a medium (80 grit) and a fine (100 grit) and you’re gonna want to get quite a bit of it – you WILL use a lot of sand paper. The rough stuff will take a lot off and will be a very good friend on your first pass. Then do a full pass with the medium and always finish with the fine, don’t skip that step!
  • Old furniture is thirsty. SO thirsty. That eighty year old rocking chair that’s been in your grandpa’s attic hasn’t seen a drop a moisture in a long time. When you’re done sanding hose that sucker down in your yard then let it drip dry. Once its mostly dry (give it a day) then apply your stain and/or finish.
  • Don’t be shy with the paint stripper. Dump it on there. Don’t be scared – you’re not gonna hurt the piece of furniture. Paint stripper is expensive but don’t act like it! Use a lot! Get it on there and let that stuff sit for as long as the instructions tell you. Under no circumstances should you let that stuff dry! You will regret it! Glob it on. Wait. Scrape it off. Repeat as needed.
  • Get it off with mineral spirits. Nobody ever told me this – I figured it out on my own. Paint stripper is gunky and creates a puke-like mess that will eat through your skin (lead paint included) it can be hard to get off of anything (did you see the picture of my shoes?). Once you know that you’ve applied your last layer of paint stripper scrape as much of it as you can off and then get out your jug of mineral spirits and a bag of very course steal wool. MAKE SURE AND WEAR GOOD GLOVES Dunk your steal wool in your mineral spirits and start scrubbing – you’ll be amazed.
  • Mineral spirits will just dry out your skin. Okay, I’m not suggesting you bathe in the stuff but mineral spirits (or acetone or paint thinner) is basically nail polish remover with a different name. Whereas paint stripper will eat through your skin mineral spirits feels more like really strong rubbing alcohol – try not to get it on you but using it to get the stain off your hands won’t kill you.
  • Buy an electric sander. Once you’ve done a little bit of hand sanding you’ll understand that power tools are Heaven-sent. I’ve found that an orbital (round) electric sander is the best sander for furniture refinishing. The rectangular (or square) ones are not as versatile and leave harsher marks.
  • Be Flexible. This might sound a bit over the top but, quite frankly, there is a finish or a paint or hardware that will absolutely make a certain piece of furniture its very best, and the piece will tell you. You will not truly know its potential until it is down to bare wood and ready to become the very best that it can be. If you want a turquoise dresser but stripped the piece you were going to paint and it is screaming to be stained instead then, I believe, you should consider it. Old furniture talks and wants to be beautiful again.


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