How to refinish furniture

Household 4 min read

Have you ever stumbled upon a piece of furniture that had great bones but needed a whole lot of work? That pretty much sums up nearly every piece of furniture in my home.

Over the years, I have found numerous diamonds in the rough for next to nothing at thrift stores, flea markets, and even on the side of the road. After a little love and a few hours of hard work I was able to breathe new life into them and transform them from outdated to stylish.

Here are a few basic tips on refinishing furniture if you’re interested in taking the plunge.

Inspect the piece

First, you want to make sure you have a piece of furniture worth saving. If it’s stable, made of solid wood, and requires minimal repairs you can easily update the piece in your own home or yard. Scratches can be smoothed, paint can be applied, and fabric can be updated, so at this point you’re really looking at the structure of the furniture.

Take note of the smell, as well. If the fabric smells bad you can likely fix that by replacing the cushion and fabric, but if the drawers of a dresser smell really smoky it may be beyond salvaging. Thankfully, there are countless tips on the internet on how to combat bad smells in furniture.

Take it apart

Once it’s time to tackle the makeover, make sure to remove drawers, doors and hardware from dressers, and remove slip seats from chairs prior to sanding and painting.


Make sure to clean the entire piece of furniture thoroughly with all-purpose cleanser. Remove spiderwebs, grease, and any other debris that’s on the piece.


When sanding, it’s important to start with coarse-grit sandpaper in order to rough up the furniture and remove the top layer of old paint. Once you’ve sanded with coarse-grit sandpaper you can move to fine-grit sandpaper to smooth everything out and prepare the furniture for paint.

If old paint has chipped, be sure to pay special attention to those spots so that everything has been smoothed out. I prefer to use an electric sander on large surfaces and then sand the details and hard-to-reach spots by hand with a sanding block.

Wipe down

As you can imagine, the piece will be very dirty after you sand. Make sure to wipe it down with water and a cloth to remove all the debris. Microfiber cloths are much better than regular towels for this step because you don’t want to leave any particles behind. A tack cloth is another great option because it’s tacky, so the little particles will stick to it.

Pay special attention to the corners where dust can collect. If need be, use a course brush to clean out small crevices. Once you start painting it can often be fairly obvious if you’ve missed a spot.


There are many different ways to apply paint, although spray paint is typically my method of choice because it’s quick, doesn’t leave brush strokes, and doesn’t require expensive equipment. You can also use paint and a paintbrush, which is great if you’re short on space.

A paint sprayer is another option which provides a smooth finish and you aren’t limited when choosing a color like you are with spray paint. Chalk paint has also gained popularity because it’s versatile and you typically don’t need to sand before applying it. I always apply two coats of paint and then apply a clear top coat to protect the furniture from scratches and standard wear and tear.

Tackle the hardware

If you want to keep the old hardware you can often just polish it up and it will look brand new. If the hardware is dated consider swapping it out to bring the piece into the current decade. Use some aerosol spray lubricator on the drawer rails or door hinges if they don’t move smoothly or if they creak.

Don’t rush the drying process

It’s easy to want to reassemble the furniture as quickly as possible, but it’s extremely important to wait until it’s fully dry. If I paint a piece in the morning I’ll often wait until the end of the day to move it back inside.

On the occasions where I didn’t wait that long, I’ve ended up with smudged paint that’s difficult to fix. I typically wait two days before putting the hardware back on and the drawers back in. I’ve rushed it before and ended up with stuck drawers that were difficult to open without removing paint.

Apply paper drawer liners

If you’re working on a piece with drawers, consider applying paper drawer liners. They provide a fresh new surface for your belongings and can also help block old smells that may be lingering.

While refinishing a piece of furniture is a bit daunting and does take some effort, it’s a fantastic and affordable alternative to buying new furniture. You also end up with a one-of-a-kind piece that you or no one else has and it’s rewarding to think back on what the piece looked like when you found it!

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