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How to Refinish Wood Furniture

Today I am sharing my steps on how to refinish wood furniture so you can bring a worn out piece back to looking brand new!

My daughter recently bought a vintage desk from Facebook Marketplace. It’s very art deco, with the handles being built into the desk.

It’s really a very cool piece. However, it’s in really rough shape. It has marks all over it and a water stain on the top.

My daughter didn’t want to paint it so we refinished it and brought it back from the dead.

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How to Refinish Wood Furniture

Here is the desk in all it’s glory.

A vintage desk that is in pretty bad shape in a garage.
A vintage desk that is all beat up in a garage.

This baby cost her only $60 which is a steal because she is solid wood.

Step 1 – Prep work

You might be surprised but this is one of the most important steps. I like to use tsp watered down and clean the heck out of any piece, inside and out.

This desk in particular had more spiders and spider nests on the underside than I have ever see in my life! Also cleaning the inside seemed like I could wipe for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t be clean.

A long drawer of the vintage desk that is in bad shape and has a large black mark on it.

Step 2 – Sand the wood

We used a palm sander for this desk and it was all we needed. Sometimes I need a mouse sander if the piece of furniture you are sanding has any tight spaces.

Occasionally you might just have to do a lot of hand sanding, like my dining chairs.

Start with 80 grit and get most of the shiny finish and stain off. This is the longest part of the sanding process.

A young woman sanding the top of a vintage desk on a paver patio with a dog next to her.

Once you are done with the 80 grit move on to 120 grit and sand everything again.

Repeat with 220 grit sandpaper. You will notice after this step your wood will feel very smooth.

A young woman sanding the front of a drawer on a paver patio.

Now wipe everything down with a damp rag and let it dry fully for at least 24 hours.

Step 3 – Wood Conditioner

Why do we use wood conditioner before staining? Because it opens the pores of the wood and allows the wood to accept stains more evenly.

Using wood conditioner helps prevent splotchyness.

Step 4 – Stain the Wood

Choose the color of stain you like best. I like Minwax over Varathane. I feel like the colors are more saturated but you do whichever you like.

Using a rag, sponge brush, or chip brush apply the stain to the furniture. Using a lint-free rag lightly remove any access stain.

The longer you leave it on the deeper the color you will have. But don’t leave it on too long or else it will get sticky and won’t dry properly.

Let the stain dry for at least 24 hours.

One of the drawers of the vintage desk after stain on a floral rug.

Step 5 – Poly the furniture

Now it’s time to poly the furniture. Normally I use polyurethane (which is oil-based). If you are working on a piece ith a very light stain then you will want to use polychrylic (which is water-based).

Sometimes polyurethane can cause a light color to have a yellow tinge, so only use when staining a piece a darker color.

Apply your poly with a foam brush or chip brush and allow to dry for 24 hours.

Give the wood a light sand with a 220 grit piece of sandpaper, wipe off and reapply the poly.

Twenty-four hours later repeat the light sanding and reapplying of poly.

The vintage desk after stain and one coat of polyurethane on my patio pavers next to a sliding glass door.

I usually do at least 3 coats of poly. If you are doing a desk or dining table you might want to add more to the top which will take a lot more wear than the sides.

I like to let anything I poly sit for about a week, sometimes longer if it’s very humid, to fully cure and harden. It’s worth it to take this step so your piece of furniture lasts longer.

The Finished Project: How to Refinish Wood Furniture

Here is the desk in my daughter’s apartment. We took it from old, tired, and beat up to brand new and gorgeous. Not to mention functional!

The finished wood desk against windows in view of the downtown buildings of Columbus.
The refinished wood desk next to the windows in view of downtown columbus.
The refinished wood desk with a black desk chair against windows in view of downtown Columbus.
The refinished desk with a computer, candle, glass of water, against windows.

Other wood furniture posts:

The refinished wood desk against windows and text overlay.

As a licensed Real Estate Agent and an avid home decorator, I strive to give my clients the very best I can when it comes to staging, selling, and decorating their homes. I have lots of experience with paint color choices and love to DIY my home so I can have everything just the way I want it. I share my ideas and projects with the world in the hopes that I can help others have their homes just the way they want as well.

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