Raw wood furniture refresh … my perspective

There is a definite trend to furniture refreshing in my community and in my Instagram community. Lots of old furniture painted in various colours. Some plain, some with stencilling some with faux finishes.

A lot of it done really well, and far too many done really poorly.

I’ve done a lot of painted pieces over the last few years. And I enjoyed most of it. OK one in particular was a special order and was not my favourite style. I went with it but it was a hard finish because I just wasn’t feeling it. For me the furniture has to speak to me and I don’t do two pieces the same. Every piece I’ve done has its own unique style.

But then one day I happened across a beautiful table. A farmhouse trestle table that had gorgeous lines and a really lovely finish. It came with three chairs also farmhouse. They were a mere $100 Canadian. I took a chance and messaged that I wanted to purchase the pieces. I won the bid brought them home and not thing needed to be done to them other than a light dusting. I quickly listed each chair for sale for $125. The table listed for $775. Everything sold right away.

$100 table sold for $775

A nice profit for not having to do a lot of work. A few days later I found a table that was similar in lines but had a bad stain finish. That table was $50 and I could see under all of that bad steam a beautiful piece of furniture.

Similar table needing an update

Inspired by the first table that needed no work I was ready to try my hand at a new to me way of furniture refresh. I’ve never done a strip down to the bare wood piece of furniture before. But I thought how hard can it be? Certainly no harder than trying to get the perfect No brush mark finish on a piece of furniture using

Of course where did I turn to find out how to accomplish what I wanted but Pinterest. I don’t need to re-create the wheel I just need to copy it.

I found many great individuals sharing their technique for getting the finish for their raw wood products. I chose a couple different ones and combined them into the method that I used. I won’t bore you with all their details because really anybody can look up raw wood furniture.

The overly stained table above purchased for $50 refreshed and sold for $575

What the blogs on furniture refreshing don’t do is they don’t give you an outline of the logistics of the teardown. So this being my first table I definitely made a few mistakes.

The order of stripping and sanding etc. Has to be in a methodical way. I started with the table top. Then I went to the apron. Then I came back to the table top to do the round edge that was separate from the inlay of the top. After I finished all of the top I did the whole bottom which was already detached from the table. That one was pretty easy. What happened when I did the table in that order? I had left the table edge or border if you like to the last. This created a mess all over the table top that was already completed. Which meant that I had to re-sand the table top. But this time the wood didn’t have the protection of the stain. It was all sanded and raw wood already. Big mistake. After fixing the table top and varnishing it and then waxing the legs I put the piece back together again. I listed it for sale. Remember I only paid $50 for this. I sold the table for $500. Not a bad little bit of profit. Despite the setback of the table top.

First of all, when you are sourcing your piece of furniture that you want to transform make sure that it’s all wood. If there is veneer anywhere in sight ensure that it is wood veneer and not a laminate. In my case the table had a wood veneer. But there’s another thing to research. Because wood veneer is so very thin and delicate you need to treat it with kid gloves. I used a stain stripper to take the stain off of the wood veneer and did not touch it with a sander at all. It would’ve gone right through and the veneer would’ve being ruined. Instead I had to use a sanding block and fine sandpaper to smooth the finish out. But the detail work in that turned out beautifully and I was really happy that I took the time to do it properly.

The apron on this piece is a wood veneer.

As that piece of furniture was leaving my driveway my phone was ringing. Another customer wanting that same table. She even joked run after the truck and get it back for me! That Saturday night I found another matching table and chair set. I sold the chairs as is. Now I am one week into refreshing the table.

The process is going a lot faster this time and with a lot less work. I started with the border on the table taking off all of the stain but left the stain on the table top. Then I moved onto the apron which is made of wood veneer. Lastly I finished stripping everything off of the table top. A much faster process like I said because the stuff that fell off of the border off the table top certainly did hit the table top itself. But it didn’t matter because I was going to sand it and remove everything anyway. Score one for my logistics program.

Before I send this table on its merry way I am actually considering doing a little bit of stain to make them a little more expensive looking and not so yellow. Or as my husband likes to say, like piles of lumber.

The process & a few tips

For those of you that came here looking for information on how to do this, here’s an outline. It’s not that hard. It takes time. But everything that looks good takes time to do. There is a definite art to removing the stain and then doing the sanding. But if you pay attention to detail like I do and you take your time and use the right equipment then you should have no problem doing this. Because if I can do it anybody can do it. I’m a 55-year-old stay at home mom. I never took woodworking, I never learned to paint from my mother. I’m still learning something new every day.

Of course start with finding a piece of furniture and make sure that you are certain it is real wood. Look for signs of veneer as I mentioned before. If it is a veneer – is it a wood veneer or a plastic one? Plastic can’t be changed to wood. And it can’t be made to look like wood no matter what.

It takes a lot more supplies than you think.

Next. Gather your supplies. In my case I used a chemical stripper called Easy strip. I also used denatured alcohol. a sander. Four types of sandpaper starting with 80 then 120 then 240 and finish with 400.

You will also need your finishing coat for the top of the table. I used a polycrylic. Make sure that you buy a polycrylic that doesn’t go yellow if you want to keep the colour as natural as possible. I also used a clear natural wax on the base of the table and buffed it out. I think I put four coats on each leg. I also use wax on the wood veneer apron.

You’ll need drop cloths, rubber gloves, steel wool, a scraper, plastic bags for the garbage.

My best tip of all for helping you keep everything corralled and clean and not damaging anything in your home or yard is to buy yourself a couple of cheap but sturdy cookie sheets. Just go to the thrift store. I have several of these that I use to hold the paint and the brushes etc. They clean up nice and easy and I can carry everything around on the tray. I also had some used old cake tins that I hadn’t baked with for a very long time. These came in really handy for the chemical solutions. I would pour the denatured alcohol into one and the chemical stripper into another and instead of using a brush or a cloth I used a sponge. The sponge wouldn’t drip so much and it would allow me to get into all the cracks and crevices. It did a good job of spreading the goop all over the stain.

I did a combination of electric sander and hand sanding so get yourself also some sanding sheets and a sanding block. I buy mine at the dollar store. What’s the point of spending a ton of money on it at the hardware store when you can get the same thing at the dollar store for next to nothing. Also check with the staff in the paint department of your local hardware store to see what kind of deals they have on things like brushes and foam brushes etc. You can get the same package of foam brushes in a variety of sizes for $12.99 at one store and $2.99 at another. Go figure how that works.

Also at the dollar store they sell many of these kinds of products for very cheap. Or at least they do at my dollar store. While you’re at the dollar store grab some candy. This is such a tedious job candy will help you get through it. OK there’s also a liquor store next to the dollar store maybe a bottle of wine.

You should also have a mask to cover your nose and mouth and protect yourself when you’re sanding and using the chemicals. And do everything in a really ventilated area.

The type of gloves you buy matter. At the hardware store go to the protective clothing and mask section and grab yourself a good quality pair of latex gloves. These are invaluable.

What you wear is also important. Become comfortable but don’t wear anything special or that you care whether it gets something on it. Here’s my pair of pants that I’ve been wearing for painting and doing projects for almost 20 years now. They are pretty goofy looking but they are really comfortable they have pockets on the side where I can hold my phone and my eyeglasses. And some candy in the other pocket. I also use the same jacket over and over and over again.

Once you have all of your supplies gathered and you’re ready to tackle your project figure out the order first. Are you going to separate the legs off of the top of the table? Do that first set up your drop cloths get your supplies all gathered and get yourself in a place where you don’t have to move anything.

Another tip I have that I didn’t get anywhere from any of the blogs was to use your electric sander and give everything a very light sanding to break the seal of the topcoat if there is one or just the stain. These minor scratches in the finish that you’re going to take off will help accelerate the stain coming off with the stain remover. I didn’t do it with the first one. I’ve done it with the second table and it worked great. It only took two coats of the furniture stripper and the second coat everything came off super easy.

Then simply start putting the chemical stripper on the places that you were starting with. For me that was the edge of the table top first, followed by the apron, and then the table top itself. No sanding yet. Just take the finish off. Grab yourself a sheet of plastic or some large plastic garbage bags. The kind that you would use to gather leaves for instance. And after you put the chemical stripper on put the plastic over top of that to keep it wet. If your chemical stripper dries out it won’t work. And you’ll have to start again. The plastic bags will help it stay wet and get the process moving faster .

Table base slathered in chemical stripper and covered in plastic garbage bags to keep it wet

I would come back every 20 to 30 minutes and check it using my scraper or a piece of steel wool. If it starts to come off really easy you’re ready to start scraping. If you have to scrub a little bit come back in another 20 minutes. But keep that plastic sheet on.

Something to note, getting the stain off is actually quite physical. You’re going to burn some calories so remember that candy. Keep your energy up

Once you’re ready to start removing the strip or just start scraping or using your steel wool to scrub at it and of course wear your rubber gloves. Keep a plastic bag close by and some paper towels and use those to takeoff the wet mess as you go. Do not leave it on to dry. That’s a whole other mess and job to clean up if you do. Clean as you go. After all of the stain has been removed to your satisfaction it’s time to start sanding. But first… Grab some mineral spirits or denatured alcohol and start scrubbing down your furniture to get any last little bits of the stain out of the crevices and the grooves etc. Either of these things will work. And it’s a step you don’t want to skip because the sander is going to do other work.

Let your piece dry really well preferably overnight. Then come back with your lowest grade sandpaper and sand everything of course following the direction of the wood . After you’ve sanded with the 60 grit or 80 or 90 which ever one you are using, give it a wipe down with a tack cloth or as I like to use those microfibre cloths. They pick up a lot of the dust. Also if you’re working outside and you happen to have a leaf blower, use the blower to blow off most of the dust and then follow up with your tack cloth. Whatever works for you. Then change your sandpaper out and go to a higher grit in my case I used I think 180. Sand everything again, blow off wipe off the Wood dust, and replace your sandpaper again to a 240 or a 220 and do it all over again. And then wipe it all down and blow off the wood dust. And by this time you should have a very very finely smooth finish. If you still find there are a few imperfections here and there grab some 400 grit that you can hand sand your piece. This will give it an amazing finish. Clean up your peace one more time with the blower or the tack cloths. Then grab some paper towel and some denatured alcohol and give it a wash down this will get in and remove the last bit of dust.

Let it dry marvel at your work and then decide do I want some colour or am I going oh naturale! My first table I was not willing to experiment with the stain after all the work that I had put into it. So I did au naturale using only the polycrylic and wax. The piece looked beautiful. This next time around depending on how it sands down I may use a stain as well.

Now it’s time to apply the beautiful finish. Following your package instructions and go for it. Put your piece back together, pour yourself a glass of that wine, pop in a piece of candy. Marvel at the beauty of the work that you just did. And if you were like me you will quickly photograph it and sell it and start all over again.

I now have three more tables that require transforming. Did I mention that in between all of this I’ve also started Two large kitchen stools? Yeah I’m crazy.

Long farmhouse table that I would like to do in a Restoration Hardware finish. Researching.
A beautiful maple pedestal table that will look great stripped down I love the lines of the pedestal. These styles of pedestal are all over Pinterest as people try to mimic them.
Another thrifty find slightly different from the other two as it has more curve and is a bit smaller. Looking forward to changing this one up.
Current project, two kitchen counter height stools. Solid wood. These are going to look amazing in my kitchen with a colour wash.Please ignore the drawers that you see behind this chair. It’s another project. What can I say I’m a sucker for over working

OK so that wasn’t a simple an outline as I promised but if you read all of that I hope that you will feel confident enough to tackle something like this. I hope I get to see a picture. I’d love to hear from you and how you did with your oh naturale piece. And by all means I’m an open book, as I said I didn’t invent anything at all I’m just copying what was already there and then adding my own experience to the process. So feel free to call on me if you need some advice or just to brag a little.

Happy stripping happy sanding happy days ahead.


2 thoughts on “Raw wood furniture refresh … my perspective

Add yours

  1. We could really use some help out of it. Of course start with finding a piece of furniture and make sure that you are certain it is real wood. Look for signs of veneer as I mentioned before.


    1. I’d be happy to give you some pointers and see what you’re working on. Have you found the piece of furniture yet? And are you trying to figure out the veneer? I’m working on a second table and the legs are completely different from the first one that I did. Layers and layers and layers of veneer all mushed together. I’m having a bit of a panic attack about what I’m gonna do with the finish. Send me any questions you like. msmorton@telus.net


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