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Furniture refinishing – Is it the right thing to do?

“Furniture refinishing – Is it the right thing to do?” is a question I get asked by my clients on a regular basis and in this article I’ll explain my general approach to providing practical answers to whether or not you should consider furniture refinishing.  Please know that this won’t be an article on how to identify antiques, but rather will explain the  general approach I use when recommending for or against investing money to refinish a piece of furniture.

Furniture Refinishing
Example of a china cabinet I recently refinished


Question # 1  –

The first thing I consider when determining whether to recommend furniture refinishing is are you dealing with an antique?  Any reasonably qualified furniture refinisher can quickly identify the general age of a piece being considered for refinishing. If you find yourself with a piece of furniture that has aged enough to become an antique (some use 25 years as a general rule of thumb) then you need to answer the second question.

Question # 2 –

Does the piece of furniture being considered for refinishing have any value or will it be expected to have value in the future? Understand that just because a piece of furniture has age doesn’t make it “valuable”.  A good example of this is the old pedal Singer sewing machines we all love so much.  While I routinely refinish these machines that are 100 or more years old, rarely do they have any significant monetary value. This is because they were mass produced by Singer in plants all over the world and the market is full of them.  Once again if you are working with a reputable refinisher they should be able to give you general guidance on whether an older piece has value or not.  If the piece of furniture potentially has value then further research should be done before committing to refinishing.

You can do this in a variety of ways including Google searches,  talking with local auction houses, local furniture makers or even furniture/antique appraisers.  For more information on identifying antiques see this article article.  If you do determine that the piece has value then in most cases leaving the piece undisturbed and as close to its original condition is generally the way to maximize it’s future appreciation value.  In some cases making minor repairs (if done by a qualified furniture repairer) can enhance the value.

furniture refinishing
Hoosier cabinet fully restored

If you find that you are not dealing with an antique or a piece of furniture that has or will be expected to have significant value then furniture refinishing is a good option (see next paragraph).  

Given technology enhancements and the ability for furniture manufactures to mass produce furniture, most of us have many pieces of furniture in our home that are of sound quality and were purchased at reasonable prices. However, the “value”  of that piece of furniture may not be significant if you were to try to sell it.   Again, that is simply a function of the fact that there is so much quality, mass produced furniture on the market.  However, if you were to consider furniture refinishing you can extend the life of that piece by another generation.  This makes sense in lots of situations because we all have great pieces we love and we want to continue to use them.  While high quality furniture refinishers are expensive furniture refinishing is generally less expensive than buying a new piece outright.

When painting old wooden chairs makes sense

The effect that a professional has when painting old wooden chairs (or any piece of furniture for that matter) can be dramatic.  In fact, if done properly painting chairs can totally alter your opinion of the furniture piece both in terms of the appearance and your opinion of the quality.

I’ll use a set of chairs that we refinished recently as an example of how painting old wooden chairs makes sense.   These chairs were purchased at a flee market by a client and brought in for refinishing.   Understand that there was nothing inherently valuable about these chairs but they were soundly built and sturdy.   The previous owners used green when painting chairs and made them look horrendous.  Not only did the paint look bad but it made the chairs look inferior in quality.

painting old wooden chairs

Painting old wooden chairs

This is the before pic…. I suspect you agree with my opinion.

As with all furniture we refinish, we take great care in the prep work. These chairs were stripped of all the ugly green mess.  We then sanded the wood surfaces to achieve a smooth surface to apply the new finish on.  We sprayed a couple coats of primer then sprayed the color.    We finished it off with a couple coats of clear lacquer.  Again, sanding between coats to ensure the smoothest finish.   Lastly we recovered the seats.

Here’s the result…

painting old wooden chairs

Notice how the new color and finish totally changes ones opinion of the chairs. They now look like a much higher quality chair.

The total investment by the client  for our portion of the work was $95 per chair.  This fairs well when compared to what the price of new similar quality chairs would be.

As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover….

Additional links on painting old wooden chairs:

  • Supplies at Lowe’s when painting wood furniture: Click here
  • 5 Biggest Mistakes When Painting Furniture (Country Living): Click here
  • Buying Old Chairs on eBay: Click here

Cedar Chest Restoration

Here is the cedar chest restoration job we recently completed.  We’re quite pleased with the results.

How we approached the Cedar Chest Restoration…

We started by stripping off all the old finish.  This chest had been “loved” on for many years and what little of the original finish that was remaining was in rough shape – so we had no choice but to take it down to the bear wood.  Since we’re a professional shop, we have an overflow system that allows stripper to be pumped through a fluid hose with a brush on the end.  The piece sits in a shallow tub while we gently scrub and rinse it down with stripper.  This “washing” off of the finish is very efficient and not harmful to the piece.

After we had all of the old finish stripped off we wiped it clean with lacquer thinner and left to dry for a day.  Once dried there were a few areas of veneer that were damaged so we repaired these areas prior to staining.   In this case we used one our own stain colors which is similar to the color Minwax’s English Chestnut.   After staining with our own stain, we air brushed some black stain around some of the edges and crevices. This enhances the details and assist in bringing back some of the patina that was removed when stripping.

Notice in the picture  below we saved the advertisement that was attached to the inside of the chest and reapplied once done with the restoration.  Lane must have had a collaboration with an insurance company that offered insurance. How cool is that??  But given inflation you’d probably need a bit more than $100.00.

Finally we applied several coats of lacquer, rubbing out in between coats.  The final result is a nice soft luster on a piece that will last another couple generations.

Lane cedar chest restoration

Refinished French Country Table Top

The Refinished French Country Table Top project

This table top had been in use for a couple generations and was completely worn out. Furthermore, because of the heavy use and accumulation of oils, grease, furniture polish and who knows what else, the finish had become soft and gooey.

Sooooo… As a starting point we had to sand the top all the way back to bare wood. In this case we didn’t chemically strip it because we were saving the original hand painted skirt.  Yes it was all heavy sanding and elbow grease. After we sanded it back we wiped it down many times with lacquer thinner to ensure we’d gotten any remaining chemical residue off the wood.  This remaining residue can wreck havoc on a new finish.


Refinished French Country Table Top

Building the brown base color was fairly straightforward and we sealed this in with a couple coats of lacquer.  However the slightly blueish/gray haze that was originally on the table proved the most challenging aspect to reproduce.  After experimenting with various methods we finally were able to tint our lacquer such that we achieved the desired affect. After getting the haze just right, we we then covered the entire surface with a few more coats of lacquer.

Simple Steps for Painting Doors

Achieving a high quality, painted finish when painting doors does not have to be complicated. Here are the simple steps for painting a front door. In fact depending on the condition of your door, it may not even be that much work.  However, there is a process…… and if followed correctly you’ll have less trouble and will get great looking results.

This article will not be a chemistry class on the various types of  paints, finishes and their compatibility which each other.  There is tremendous amounts of information readily available on this subject and I will not repeat it here.  Rather, I will describe a Process you can follow to get the desired result. Read more

Beautiful, late 1800’s wardrobe restoration

1800's wardrobe restored

Why we restored it…

Generally speaking you don’t want to modify or refinish a piece this age as it can have a very negative effect on the value.  However, the client had already begun to strip the piece before contacting me so that made us all in!  We had to refinish it for this wardrobe restoration.

What we did in this restoration..

The client had attempted to sand on one side and had sanded through the paint to what was a  yellow/golden color.  Initially, we thought they had sanded through to a layer of milk paint.    However, after working on the piece a bit, we discovered this wasn’t a light coat of milk paint.  Rather it was the color that the underneath poplar had aged to. I have never seen poplar turn this beautiful golden hue…  I guess it was the mixture of painted top coats, age of the wood and the environment that made this happen.    As such the color was chosen…we were going to leave it natural. Read more

Give antique look to furniture in 5 easy steps

I like to give an antique look to furniture when it makes sense. I recently was asked to make a small bench for a client. Here’s how we did it. Because we wanted the resulting end look to be very rustic, distressed and aged, I followed specific procedures.   So, when I picked out the lumber I chose pieces that had lots of dents, scratches, nicks and saw marks.    

The Bench Project – Giving antique look to furniture

(Also, I picked Oak because the finishing steps described below work best on open grain woods like oak, pine, etc..)   The rest of the antique look to furniture appearance I achieved during the finishing process.
Making wood look old

Here is how I did it 5 easy steps for giving an antique look to furniture….

Read more

Repurposed Armoire

Armoir Repurposed
Armoire Repurposed

This Repurposed Armoire was challenging, but the end result made it well worth the time and effort. Moreover, the client was thrilled so all is well!  Remember how the old armories were built very large and deep to house large TVs? Now that TV’s have gotten so slim, Armoires are generally not used for TV’s as they are hung directly on the wall.  As such you can find these old pieces for sale all over the place for next to nothing.  Read more

Old Dining Table Refinish Project

For this old dining table refinish project I noticed how the leaves in the middle don’t match. There was a few steps for this old dining table, chairs and buffet refinish.

Old Dining Table Refinish Project

In this situation I had to strip off all the old finish and gett down to the bare wood.  Then I had to sand through the color (as much as possible without going through the veneer) to get back to the original unstained wood.    Then I restained all of it together to get a much better matching base coat of stain color. Read more

Staining different woods to match

When finishing furniture, one often finds that the piece may be made from several different types of wood, so staining different woods to match becomes a challenge.  Because woods take stain differently, it is helpful to know a few techniques that allow you to color the wood (across different species) and achieve a uniform and pleasing color.   Additionally, not all projects can be made from mahogany and walnut.  However, just because you have a piece made from pine you are not prevented from creating a dark wood, fine finish similar to what you might find on a more formal piece.    See the steps below which were adapted using techniques and materials readily available to the DIY person. Read more