Attention Fellow Woodworkers: This site contains affiliate links. If you click one of those links and then make a purchase we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

What Are Some Tips For Restoring Old Wooden Furniture Finishes?

If you have a passion for antiquity or simply want to breathe new life into your old wooden furniture, you’re in the right place! Restoring old wooden furniture finishes can be a rewarding and fulfilling project, and with a few handy tips, you’ll be able to achieve stunning results. From gentle cleaning techniques to choosing the right products, this article will provide you with valuable insights and practical advice to bring back the beauty and charm of your beloved wooden pieces. So grab your toolbox and let’s get started!


Assessing the condition of the furniture

Before you begin the process of restoring your old wooden furniture, it’s important to assess its current condition. This will help you determine the extent of the restoration work that needs to be done. Look for any cracks, gouges, loose joints, or broken parts. Take note of any areas where the paint or varnish is chipping or peeling. By understanding the state of your furniture, you can plan your restoration process accordingly.

Cleaning the furniture

Once you have assessed the condition of the furniture, the next step is to clean it thoroughly. Use a mild soap and water solution to gently wipe away any dust or dirt from the surface. Avoid using harsh chemicals that could damage the wood. Pay extra attention to intricate details and hard-to-reach areas. After cleaning, allow the furniture to dry completely before moving on to the next steps. Cleaning the furniture will provide a clean canvas for the restoration process.

Removing old paint or varnish

If your furniture has a previous coat of paint or varnish that is chipping or peeling, it’s essential to remove it before proceeding with the restoration. There are several methods you can use to strip away the old finish, such as using chemical paint strippers, heat guns, or sanding. Research the best method for your specific furniture type and choose a technique that suits your comfort level. Removing old paint or varnish will ensure a smooth surface for the restoration process.

Repairing Damages

Filling in cracks or gouges

One of the common issues with old wooden furniture is the presence of cracks or gouges. To repair these damages, you can use wood filler or putty. Start by cleaning the damaged area, then apply the filler or putty with a putty knife, smoothing it out to match the surrounding surface. Allow it to dry completely before sanding it down for a seamless finish. Filling in cracks or gouges will restore the structural integrity of the furniture.

Repairing loose joints

Over time, the joints of wooden furniture can become loose or weak. To repair loose joints, you can use wood glue or epoxy resin. First, disassemble the affected area, clean it, and apply the adhesive. Then, reassemble the joints and clamp them together tightly until the adhesive dries. This will ensure a strong and durable bond. Repairing loose joints will ensure that your restored furniture is sturdy and long-lasting.

Replacing broken parts

In some cases, the damage to your wooden furniture may be beyond repair. If you have broken parts that cannot be effectively restored, consider replacing them. This could include replacing broken legs, handles, or other decorative elements. Find replacement parts that closely match the original design of the furniture. Measure and fit them carefully to ensure a seamless integration. Replacing broken parts will help bring your furniture back to its original form and functionality.


Choosing the right sandpaper grit

Sanding is a crucial step in the restoration process as it helps to remove any imperfections and creates a smooth surface for staining and varnishing. When choosing sandpaper, it’s important to select the right grit for your furniture. Coarse grits, such as 80 or 100, are suitable for removing old finish or paint, while finer grits, such as 220 or 320, are ideal for achieving a polished finish. Consider the condition of your furniture and its desired outcome when selecting the appropriate sandpaper grit.

Sanding the surface

Once you have selected the right sandpaper grit, start sanding the surface of the furniture in the direction of the wood grain. Use long, smooth strokes and apply even pressure. This will help to remove any rough patches, scratches, or remaining old finish. Be patient and thorough, paying extra attention to any intricate details or curves. Sanding the surface will prepare it for the next steps of staining and varnishing.

Sanding hard-to-reach areas

Some furniture pieces may have hard-to-reach areas that are difficult to sand using conventional sandpaper. In such cases, you can use small sanding tools or attachments for power tools to access these areas. Take your time and be careful not to damage any delicate details or edges. Sanding hard-to-reach areas will ensure that every part of your furniture is properly prepared for the restoration process.


Selecting the appropriate stain color

Choosing the right stain color is an important decision when restoring wooden furniture. Consider the overall aesthetic you want to achieve and the existing color of the wood. Test different stain colors on a small, inconspicuous area to see how they interact with the wood’s natural tone. You can opt for a lighter stain to enhance the natural beauty of the wood or a darker stain to create a richer look. Selecting the appropriate stain color will help transform your furniture into a stunning piece.

Preparing the wood for staining

Before applying the stain, it’s essential to prepare the wood surface properly. Start by thoroughly sanding the furniture to remove any sanding residue or imperfections. Wipe away the dust with a clean, lint-free cloth. Then, apply a pre-stain wood conditioner to ensure an even absorption of the stain and prevent blotching. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific conditioner you choose. Preparing the wood for staining will result in a more consistent and professional-looking finish.

Applying the stain evenly

When applying the stain, use a clean brush or cloth and work in the direction of the wood grain. Apply an even coat of stain, making sure to cover the entire surface of the furniture. Be mindful of any drips or excess stain and wipe them away promptly. Allow the stain to penetrate the wood for the recommended amount of time, typically around 5-15 minutes, before wiping off any excess with a clean cloth. Applying the stain evenly will enhance the natural beauty of the wood and create a unified finish.


Choosing the right type of varnish

Varnishing your restored wooden furniture is crucial for protecting the surface and adding a beautiful sheen. There are various types of varnishes available, including oil-based, water-based, and polyurethane varnishes. Consider the specific needs of your furniture, such as its location and usage, when choosing the right type of varnish. Oil-based varnishes provide a durable and traditional finish, while water-based varnishes are more environmentally friendly. Polyurethane varnishes offer high durability and resistance to wear and tear. Choose a varnish that best suits your requirements.

Applying the first coat of varnish

Before applying the varnish, ensure that the stained wood is completely dry. Start by stirring the varnish thoroughly to mix any settled solids. Using a clean brush or cloth, apply an even coat of varnish to the furniture, following the direction of the wood grain. Take care to avoid drips or bubbles. Allow the varnish to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Applying the first coat of varnish will provide a protective layer and enhance the overall appearance of the furniture.

Sanding between coats

To achieve a smooth and professional finish, sanding between coats of varnish is essential. After the first coat of varnish has dried, lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper, such as 220 or 320. This will help remove any imperfections, such as dust particles or raised grain. Wipe away the sanding residue and apply subsequent coats of varnish following the same process. Repeat the sanding between coats for optimal results. Sanding between coats will ensure a flawless and durable varnish finish.

Finishing Touches

Applying a final coat of varnish

After multiple coats of varnish, it’s time to apply the final coat. Ensure that the previous coats have dried completely before proceeding. Follow the same process as before, applying an even coat of varnish in the direction of the wood grain. Be meticulous in applying the final coat, as it will determine the overall appearance and durability of the finish. Allow the final coat to dry thoroughly before proceeding to the next step.

Buffing and polishing the furniture

To achieve a smooth and lustrous finish, buff and polish the furniture after the final coat of varnish has fully dried. Use a clean, soft cloth and gently rub the surface in circular motions. This will help to bring out the shine and remove any minor imperfections. Apply moderate pressure and be consistent in your buffing and polishing technique. Buffing and polishing the furniture will add a professional touch to the overall restoration process.

Replacing hardware if necessary

As a finishing touch, evaluate the condition of the hardware on your wooden furniture. If the hardware is damaged, worn-out, or doesn’t match your desired aesthetic, consider replacing it with new pieces. Look for hardware that complements the style and era of the furniture. Measure and install the new hardware carefully to ensure a proper fit and functionality. Replacing hardware, such as knobs, handles, or hinges, will give your restored furniture a fresh and polished appearance.

Maintaining the Restored Finish

Regular cleaning and dusting

To preserve the beauty of your restored wooden furniture, regular cleaning and dusting are crucial. Use a soft, dry cloth or feather duster to remove any dust or debris from the surface. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or harsh chemicals that could damage the varnish. Make it a habit to dust your furniture at least once a week to prevent the buildup of dirt or scratches. Regular cleaning and dusting will help maintain the restored finish for years to come.

Avoiding direct sunlight and excessive humidity

Exposure to direct sunlight and excessive humidity can have detrimental effects on your restored wooden furniture. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the wood to fade, while high humidity levels can lead to warping, cracking, or mold growth. Place your furniture away from windows or use curtains and blinds to block out the sun’s rays. Additionally, maintain a consistent humidity level in the room by using a humidifier or dehumidifier if necessary. By protecting your furniture from these elements, you can prolong its lifespan and beauty.

Repairing any damages promptly

Despite your best efforts to maintain your restored wooden furniture, accidents or damages may occur. It’s important to address any issues promptly to prevent further deterioration. If you notice scratches, dents, or chips, touch them up with matching stain or varnish as soon as possible. For more severe damages, such as major cracks or loose joints, consider seeking professional advice or assistance. Repairing any damages promptly will help prolong the life of your restored furniture.

Special Tips and Tricks

Using wood putty for a seamless finish

Wood putty is a handy tool for achieving a seamless finish in your furniture restoration project. If you have small imperfections, such as nail holes or minor scratches, apply wood putty using a putty knife. Smooth it out and let it dry before sanding. Wood putty comes in various colors to match different wood tones, allowing you to achieve an invisible repair. Using wood putty will ensure that your restored furniture looks impeccable.

Using steel wool for a distressed look

If you prefer a distressed or vintage look for your restored wooden furniture, you can use steel wool to distress the finish. After applying the last coat of varnish and allowing it to dry, gently rub the surface with steel wool in the areas where you desire a worn look. Be subtle in your distressing and experiment on a small, inconspicuous area first. This technique adds character and charm to your furniture, giving it a unique and aged appearance.

Applying a wax finish for added protection

To provide additional protection to your restored wooden furniture, consider applying a wax finish. Wax acts as a barrier, protecting the wood from moisture and wear. Use a soft cloth or wax brush to apply a thin layer of wax, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the wax to dry, then gently buff the furniture to achieve a smooth and shiny finish. Applying a wax finish will enhance the durability and longevity of the restored furniture.

Seeking Professional Help

When to consider professional restoration

While restoring wooden furniture can be a rewarding and fulfilling DIY project, there are instances where professional help may be necessary. Consider seeking professional restoration services if your furniture has significant structural damage, valuable antique pieces, or intricate designs that require specialized techniques. Professional restorers have the expertise, tools, and resources to handle complex restoration projects. Assess the level of restoration needed and consult with reputable professionals if needed.

Choosing a reputable furniture restorer

When selecting a professional furniture restorer, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable and experienced individual or company. Seek recommendations from friends, family, or reputable online sources. Look for restorers who specialize in the specific type or era of furniture you own. Request references and examine their previous work to ensure it aligns with your expectations. Interview potential restorers and ask questions about their process, pricing, and warranties. Choosing a reputable furniture restorer will give you peace of mind and ensure quality restoration work.

Understanding the costs involved

Restoring old wooden furniture can have varying costs depending on the extent of the restoration, the size of the furniture, and the expertise of the restorer. Before committing to a restoration project, it’s important to understand the costs involved. Request quotes or estimates from multiple restorers and compare them. Consider the level of expertise required, materials needed, and the time it will take to complete the restoration. Factor in any additional costs such as transportation, insurance, or specialized treatments. Understanding the costs involved will help you plan your restoration project effectively.


Restoring old wooden furniture is a rewarding endeavor that allows you to revive the beauty and history of cherished pieces. By following the preparation steps, repairing damages, sanding, staining, varnishing, and adding finishing touches, you can transform worn-out furniture into stunning and functional pieces. Regular maintenance and care will ensure the longevity of your restored finish. Remember the special tips and tricks to achieve flawless results, and seek professional help when needed. Enjoy the beauty of your restored wooden furniture and take pride in preserving a piece of history.

If you enjoyed this article, please share with your audience!


The Art of Woodworking

Get your FREE 440-page Woodworking Guide. Includes 40 Step-by-Step Plans in Full Color.

The Art of Woodworking Book

We value your privacy and we’ll never spam you.

The Art of Woodworking

Get your FREE 440-page Woodworking Guide. Includes 40 Step-by-Step Plans in Full Color. The “Art of Woodworking” guide is a jam-packed, no fluff guide to all things woodworking! And to top it off you’ll also get fully detailed step-by-step plans to many different projects!
The Art of Woodworking Book

Download your copy of this FREE guide

We value your privacy and we’ll never spam you.