Put on hand cream before and after working with furniture and wear gloves to protect your skin against any harsh chemicals.
Whether it’s a beloved chair from your family home that’s seen better days or a recent bargain at a flea market, restoring old furniture is a great project. Instead of visiting an upholsterer or carpenter, have a go yourself with our tips on how to restore old furniture.
Before you start
The key to restoring wood furniture is using a high-quality wood in good condition. Avoid soft woods, like mahogany, and opt for harder varieties like oak, pine, walnut, birch, and maple. Check your furniture for signs of damage that can’t be undone – poor paint finishes, peeling lacquer and rickety parts can be fixed but there’s nothing you can do about rotten wood.
Restoring wood furniture: what you’ll need
Before you begin restoring old furniture make sure you have everything you need:
- Protective eyewear and cloth gloves to protect against chemicals and splinters
- A spatula or a similar flat, blunt metal scraper to chip away paint
- A small, stiff-bristled brush for use with wet stripper
- A clean toothbrush for cleaning dry wood
- Steel wool (look for both fine and coarse varieties if you can)
- Nails and screws
- Wood glue
- Cloth and string for tying glued pieces of wood together while they set
Good to know
When you’re learning how to restore furniture, you need to use the right tools to get a good result – but that doesn’t always mean buying the most expensive ones. Unless you’re going to restore furniture regularly, such purchases may offer limited value.
How to restore wood furniture
Follow this method for restoring wood furniture. Remember to work in a well-ventilates areas and cover your floors to protect them from any potential damage. Keep children and pets away, and wear protective clothing (gloves and goggles).
- Start by washing your wood furniture with warm soapy water. You can also try using a little Jif applied with a damp sponge to remove stains – simply rub across the whole surface with a cloth before wiping clean with another cloth dipped in water
- Soapy water may be enough to strip your furniture of old paint and lacquers, but if it isn’t then use a semi-paste paint stripper. Apply a thick layer to the wood with a clean cloth and leave it to work for about 60 minutes
- You should then be able to wipe the paint off. You can use a stiff-bristled brush and steel wool to loosen stubborn paint – just make sure you work gently
- Wipe the wood clean with a dry cloth to remove any remaining paint or dust. Use an old soft toothbrush to get into any hard to reach areas
- Leave the furniture to dry fully for around 2 days
- Finish the furniture by painting or varnishing it in your chosen finish. Apply the paint or varnish following the directions on the product label. If you want to leave the wood with a natural finish, make sure you give it a good wax to treat the wood
Learning how to restore wood furniture is a process that can take a little time, so you may want to practice on a small, affordable object first to get your technique right. After that, there’s no end to what you can do – just follow our furniture restoration tips and have fun.
- Try removing old paint with warm soapy water first
- If soapy water isn’t enough, use semi-paste paint stripper – remember to wear protective clothing and work in a well-ventilated area away from kids and pets
- Let the furniture dry fully for up to two days once you’ve stripped it
- Clean the furniture and choose your finish – unless you want a natural look