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Old to New: The Ultimate Guide to Refurbishing Furniture

Breathing new life into old, worn-out furniture pieces can be an exciting and fulfilling endeavor. With the proper tools and techniques, transforming outdated or damaged furniture into fresh, stylish additions to your living space is possible.

Keep reading to learn how to refurbish furniture. We have practical, hands-on information to give you the confidence to transform your pre-loved furniture into beautiful, functional, and unique household items that you can cherish for years to come.

A man sanding the seat of an old wooden piece of furniture, one step in how to refurbish furniture

Recognizing Potential

When it comes to refurbishing furniture, the first step is identifying pieces with potential. Antique and old furniture can be found at various sources such as thrift stores, yard sales, and even discarded by the side of the road.

Wooden furniture such as dressers, drawers, tables, and chairs are great candidates for refurbishment. When evaluating a piece, consider the structure and design.

Well-built furniture with quality construction will withstand the test of time and hold its value better than newer, mass-produced items. Additionally, unique and collectible pieces or family heirlooms with sentimental value are worth the time and effort to restore.


One key factor to evaluate is the condition of a piece. Inspect for any major damage, such as deep scratches, watermarks, or extensive wear. Minor cosmetic blemishes can be sanded out, but structural issues might require more significant repairs.

Identifying Marks

When assessing furniture, look for any identifying marks or labels to determine its age and origin. Research the history and value of a piece, as this can provide insight into any potential collectible value. Be cautious when refinishing pieces with historical significance, as removing original surfaces can decrease their worth.


When refurbishing furniture, it’s essential to have the proper tools and supplies on hand. This ensures a smooth, efficient process and a successful end result. Before diving into the refurbishment, gather the necessary equipment, and take precautions to ensure safety.

First, acquire quality tools for the job. Some essential tools include a sander, sandpaper, sanding block, scraper, heat gun, drill, and screwdriver.

Using a heat gun to remove paint on an old door

Next, gather the appropriate supplies for the project. This can include wood filler, paint, stain, varnish, brushes, rollers, and drop cloths to protect your work area.

Safety should always be a top priority when working on any project. Make sure to wear gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask to prevent inhaling particles. Additionally, it’s essential to work in a well-ventilated area to minimize the potential for fume inhalation.

Having the right tools, supplies, and safety precautions in place will make the furniture refurbishing process smoother and more enjoyable while achieving optimal results.

Cleaning and Stripping

Before embarking on any furniture refurbishment project, it is essential to start with cleaning and stripping to prepare the piece for new finishes. This initial step sets the foundation for a successful transformation and ensures the best results.

Thoroughly clean your piece with a soft cloth and a solution of warm water and dish soap.


Chemical strippers are effective in breaking down and removing old finishes. To use a chemical stripper, apply it evenly on the furniture’s surface and let it sit according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The old finish should then loosen and can be easily scraped off with a plastic scraper.

After removing old paint and finishes with a chemical stripper, wipe the furniture down with mineral spirits to remove any remaining residue. This ensures that the surface is completely clean and free of any lingering chemicals.

Minor Repairs: Handling Dents, Scratches, and Gouges

When refurbishing furniture, it’s essential to address minor imperfections, such as dents, scratches, and gouges in the wood. Properly repairing these imperfections will ensure a polished and rejuvenated appearance.


Begin by placing a damp cloth over the dented area, then apply heat using an iron. The steam from the damp cloth will penetrate the wood and cause the fibers to swell and reoccupy their original positions. Repeat this process until the dent is barely noticeable.


After cleaning the area, apply a layer of wood glue to fill the scratch. Allow the adhesive to dry, and then gently sand the surface to blend the repair into the surrounding wood.


Gouges can be repaired using an epoxy putty. Clean the gouged area, mold the putty, and then press it into the gouge, making sure it adheres well to the wood. Once the putty is dry and hard, it can be sanded and shaped to match the surrounding area.

Major Repairs

When refurbishing furniture, it’s common to encounter structural issues such as warped wood, which need to be addressed before moving on to aesthetic improvements like sanding and staining.

Warped Wood

Warped wood can often be straightened by applying moisture and heat.

To do this, first, moisten the affected area with a wet cloth, then cover it with a damp towel. Next, apply heat using an iron or a heat gun to the damp towel, ensuring you don’t directly heat the wood.

Gradually, the wood should become more pliable and can be clamped into its proper shape until it dries and sets.

In cases where the warped wood is too severe or doesn’t respond to the above method, it may be necessary to replace that part of the furniture.

To do this, carefully remove the damaged section and use it as a template to create a new piece from a similar type of wood. Then, attach the new piece using wood glue, screws, or other appropriate fasteners, making sure to properly align it with the rest of the furniture.

Several pieces of antique furniture including chairs and wagon wheels

Structural Issues

As for other structural repairs, when refurbishing furniture, loose joints should be re-glued or reinforced with screws or dowels to ensure stability. If a joint has broken apart completely, clean away old glue residue from both surfaces and then apply fresh glue before clamping the joint together. Once the glue is fully cured, the joint should be strong and secure.

The Art of Refinishing Furniture

The process of refinishing furniture involves three primary steps – sanding, staining, and sealing – to achieve a polished, durable finish.


Sanding removes the old finish, any imperfections, and evens the wood grain to create a smooth surface. Starting with a coarser grit sandpaper to remove the old finish and work your way toward a finer grit to create a smooth surface. Sand the entire piece in the direction of the wood grain to avoid cross-grain scratches.


Once the furniture has been sanded and cleaned thoroughly, it is time to apply the stain.

Choose a stain that complements the wood type, as certain woods, like oak and birch, take stains differently. After testing the stain on a hidden area, you can apply it evenly to the entire piece using a brush or cloth, wiping off any excess to avoid unevenness or dark spots.


The final step in the refurbishing furniture is sealing the wood with a finish that will protect it from daily wear and tear.

Wood sealers come in a variety of types, including varnish, lacquer, and polyurethane. Varnish is a classic finish with a warm, amber tone, while lacquer creates a high-gloss shine and dries rapidly.

Polyurethane is another popular choice due to its resistance to heat, moisture, and scratches, making it an excellent choice for high-traffic areas and frequently used furniture pieces.

When selecting a finish, consider factors such as durability, ease of application, and the desired aesthetic. Be sure to apply several thin, even coats, allowing plenty of dry time in between.

Final Touches

Refurbishing furniture often requires attention to both hardware and upholstery to achieve a stunning result. Giving a piece of furniture a fresh look can be as simple as changing the handles or reupholstering the fabric.


When updating hardware, the first step is to inspect the condition of the existing handles, knobs, and other hardware elements. If these elements are tarnished, rusty, or out of style, it’s essential to replace them. Selecting new hardware that complements the furniture’s design is crucial for achieving a cohesive look.

Remember when refurbishing furniture, size, material, and style must blend well with the newly refurbished piece. Existing holes can be used to attach new hardware, but in some cases, filling old holes and drilling new ones may be necessary. A trusty screwdriver will come in handy for this task.

A person adding new upholstery to an old chair


Upholstery plays a significant role in a piece of furniture’s overall appearance and comfort. When selecting fabric for reupholstering, consider the piece’s intended use and the room it will be placed in.

Durability, texture, and color are essential aspects to evaluate when selecting upholstery fabric. Additional padding or foam may be necessary for added comfort, depending on the furniture piece.

Once the fabric choice has been made, carefully remove the old upholstery, taking note of how it was attached. This step will serve as a valuable reference when attaching the new material.

Lay the new fabric onto the furniture, or use the old fabric as a template. Align patterns or designs as necessary, and cut to size, leaving a margin for attaching.

Secure the fabric either by stapling or using upholstery tacks, making sure it’s evenly stretched and positioned correctly. Trim any excess fabric and neaten up the edges for a polished look.

Preserving Antique Furniture: Special Considerations

Antique furniture is often valuable due to its historical significance, craftsmanship, and sentimental attachment, like family heirlooms. It’s essential to take special care when refurbishing these precious items to maintain their integrity and value. This section will provide useful tips and considerations that are necessary when working with antique pieces.

First, it’s important to identify the age and material of your antique furniture. This will help you determine whether professional restoration is required. Older pieces may have delicate woodwork or intricate designs, and inexperienced handling could result in irreparable damage. If you’re uncertain about the furniture’s age or composition, consult with an expert to help prevent potential problems before beginning your furniture refurbishment process.

Next, when handling antique furniture, always exercise caution in order to protect its delicate surfaces. To avoid possible disfigurement, use clean, soft cloths for dusting, and avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaning agents.

Certain wood finishes can react negatively to modern cleaning products, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. Instead, use gentle and non-abrasive solutions specifically designed for the type of material you’re working with.

Keep in mind that some antique furniture may have unique structural issues that need attention. For example, older chairs might have weakened joints and require reinforcement. This will not only protect your collectible furniture but also enhance its usability.

When refurbishing furniture, always ensure that any repairs use high-quality materials and are performed by skilled professionals who are well-versed in techniques appropriate for the specific piece.

Protect the furniture from extreme temperature changes and humidity to prevent the depletion of natural oils in the wood. Excessive exposure to sunlight can cause fading and discoloration, so position your precious antiques away from direct sunlight or use UV-blocking window treatments.

Additionally, maintain a stable humidity level between 40% and 60% to prevent wood warping and other possible damages.

Lastly, consider refinishing your antique furniture only when necessary, as original finishes typically contribute to the piece’s authenticity and value.

When refinishing is unavoidable, consult with a professional restorer to ensure that the new finish remains true to the original design, and select techniques and materials that maintain the integrity of the antique piece.

An antique dresser refurbished blue and an antique chair kept natural

Wrapping up How to Refurbish Furniture

Refurbishing furniture is a rewarding process that breathes new life into old or outdated pieces. With a confident and knowledgeable approach, anybody can partake in the restoration journey and create stunning results. By following proper furniture refinishing techniques, individuals can transform their worn-out items into beautiful and functional pieces for their homes.

If you’re looking for a way to give your piece of furniture a unique look, check out our creative furniture painting techniques.