Project – Furniture Refinishing

I started refinishing furniture as a teenager – learning from the best at my friends’ dairy farm. There is something very renewing about taking something that was handmade, but has fallen by the wayside and bringing new life back into it. Refinishing can seem complex to the uninitiated, but it’s fairly straightforward if you break it down. With practice, you can explore more creative finishing choices.

I found a slab from an old bowling alley (above) and transformed it into a desk.

See more of my “rescues” and my How To below.

These rocking chairs were refinished and given new seats with Shaker tape.

This hutch was one of my first big pieces after college. It was originally a Maine store counter. You can see it in its original state in my Hoboken apartment when I was a student at Parsons. I rarely use stain but loved the color of the original pieces so I hand rubbed a Minwax water based stain on the  sanded wood before applying a polycrylic.

I found this double sided post office desk at the Bouckville Antique show. The blue paint was a bear but the wood underneath was well worth the effort.


Supplies: 5” orbit sander with dust bag, several sanding disks (depending on wood and job ranging from course to extra fine, sheets of medium, fine and extra fine for hand sanding, tack cloth, brush, finish (polycyclic, tung oil, wax, etc.), respirator, lead test kit, rubber gloves

1. Remove hardware

2. Wash any dirt or grime off and allow to dry. For painted items I usually check for lead before sanding

3. Put on respirator. Apply medium (typical) disk to sander and start sanding in a sweeping motion. Be careful to avoid and detail work that could be removed by the sander. Check your disk frequently to evaluate for “gumming” of the finish – indicating the need for a new disk. Continue until surfaces other than detail areas are covered. Depending on the project you can stop and come back as you have time. I spent 40 hours refinishing my hutch but smaller projects can be done in as little as an hour.

4. Hand sand the piece thoroughly (medium grit) to remove marks from the disk sander. Finish any detail sanding. From medium, go to a fine hand sand, and then extra fine.

5. Once the piece is completely smooth use a tack cloth to remove any surface dust. Sometimes I will even use a vacuum.  Now you are ready to finish.

6. There are numerous ways to finish. I used to use polyurethane and now mostly use polycrylic or tung oil. Depending on the finish you can apply with a rag or a brush. This is one of the most critical parts as you want to avoid drips in your finish after all that hard work so apply thin coats, allowing to dry (and then the most critical step – sanding with extra fine paper in between coats). The wood will let you know how many coats it needs by how it absorbs the finish. Typically you apply 3-4 coats of finish. Dry times will vary by finish.

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Stacy October 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Hey Kirsten,
So curious about your bowling alley desk project. What did you use as the two base pieces? Thanks in advance for your response.
Stacy @ sugarSCOUT


Kirsten October 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Hi Stacy – Great news – the trestle legs are a great deal $30/each from Ikea! I painted them green/blue


Kathleen Winfrey November 5, 2012 at 5:48 am

These are good examples. I am more inspired to refinished my furnitures seeing these good outcomes. You have such talented hands. Good work!


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