Are you a garage sale addict?
Have you seen many pieces of furniture that could be treasured, but the daunting task of refinishing has scared you away? Or perhaps you’re afraid of ruining a piece that has been in your family for years and has been painted goodness knows how many times.
Refinishing is really not that difficult, as long as you have the patience and the proper equipment. Refinishing is not a place to cut corners. A spot where old paint or varnish is left will be plainly obvious when the piece is done and all your hard work will be for naught. There is no denying that refinishing is hard work, but it’s not rocket science. If you take your time, stop when you’re tired and don’t skip steps, you should end up with a nice piece to display in your home.
The first place to start is to have access to all the equipment necessary for the task. You’ll need some wood stripper. I find that the gel works the best because it adheres to any surface whether it be flat or on an angle. There are a few ways to apply the furniture stripper but I find that the best ways are with an inexpensive paintbrush (you’ll need more than one of these since the stripper will quickly erode the plastic bristles) or an old rag.
You’ll also need some metal scrapers in various sizes, some smaller than others for fine details and nooks and crannies. A generous supply of rags to wipe the scrapers and the wood will be required. You’ll need a newspaper to cover your work surface. The stripper is extremely corrosive and should not be applied without gloves. Try not to use cloth gloves because the stripper can seep through and cause skin burns. Finally, you’ll need some safety glasses. Again the stripper is caustic and it is easy for it to splatter and land in your eyes.
Once you have all of your supplies ready, you can prepare your area for work. First, and foremost, be sure that the place you have chosen is well-ventilated, and roomy. The stripper has strong fumes and can cause problems in a closed area. It’s important to have some room to move around the piece that you are working on. I usually put my furniture on top of a large piece of cardboard so that I can slide it around to make sure the light is shining on the spot that I’m working on. The cardboard greatly facilitates manoeuverability of the article you’re working on.
So, you’ve got your piece on plenty of newspaper and cardboard, all your tools are within easy access, you’re ready to begin. If your article has drawers, remove them first. Poor a small amount of your stripper into an aluminum pie plate and then dip your brush, and brush it onto the area you wish to strip.
The stripper will bubble almost immediately, but wait at least five minutes before you try to scrape it off with the metal scraper. After five minutes, scrape with your metal scraper. Don’t try to remove too much old paint or varnish at once. After each sweep with the scraper, wipe the scraper with a rag to remove the old varnish. That’s it! That’s the basic stripping process. Apply the stripper, wait, scrape, and wipe. Once you have completed a large area, wipe it clean with a rag.
Once the stripping process has been completed (this could take hours or days depending upon the age of the stain and the layers of paint), you need to prepare your wood for a new finish. With an electric sander, sand the entire piece with a paper that has a medium grit.
You could also do this by hand, but it will take a lot longer! Once the piece has been sanded with a medium grit paper, and you’re satisfied that any last bits of varnish have been removed, you can switch to a fine grit paper and go over the piece once again. The more thorough you sand your piece the smoother the final finish will be, so take your time and make sure to reach into small crevasses and corners.
When you are satisfied with your sanding job, you may begin the final step: the refinishing. After all of your hard work, don’t just slap on some new paint or varnish and hope for the best. Be precise and accurate and your efforts will be rewarded. Always wipe your piece with a damp cloth before applying paint or stain to remove all leftover sawdust particles. If you’re painting, use high quality paint and brushes, apply thin coats one at a time until the wood is completely covered. Let the paint dry completely between coats.
If you’re staining, you’ll need to choose a stain and a synthetic coating to apply over the stain. There are three kinds of finishes that are available in these synthetic coatings: matte, semi-gloss and glossy. Remember that varathane does fade, and therefore, semi-gloss will ultimately be more of a matte finish. Once you have chosen your varathane and stain, you can begin. Again, it’s important to stain in a well-ventilated area.
The best way to apply stain is with a clean, cotton rag. You’ll actually need two clean rags one to apply the stain, and one to remove the excess stain. The staining process should be done by area. Don’t try to do the whole thing at once. Wear gloves. Dip the rag in the stain, ring it out and apply the stain in the same direction as the grain of the wood. When you’ve finished a section (about 12 inches by 12 inches), stop and wipe off the excess with the clean dry rag. Continue staining in this manner until the entire piece has been stained. Let it dry.
If you’d like the colour to be darker, stain it again. If you’re happy with the colour then you’re ready to seal your piece of furniture so that it will survive for many more generations. The varathane should not be applied until the stain is completely dry. The best way to apply the varathane is with a foam brush. Be sure that the varathane is well stirred. It will appear milky in the can, will be milky when first applied, but will dry clear.
When applying the finishing seal, be sure to do so in an even manner, catch any drips with your brush. As with staining, follow the direction of the wood grain wherever possible. You will need to apply at least three coats of sealer. I usually put on five coats to ensure an even, shiny finish. Let the varathane dry completely between coats. Sand lightly after the first, third and fourth coats. Do not sand the final coat. You piece should be smooth enough by then.
Refinishing will take a great deal of time, the patience to do it right and a large work area to do so, but in the end, you’ll have a fantastic piece of furniture that you can be proud of.