Furniture restoration, whether it’s a piece you own, or one you find, is a great way to re-use in the green sense of the term. It’s also a great way to break out of the standard purchases from chain stores, and to play a part in transforming a piece of furniture to your own unique needs and design sensibilities. It’s a great strategy!
But, how do you do it successfully in terms of look, durability, safety, and in any number of areas?
Well, luckily DIY writer Ryan Tupper is here to guide us through it.
Have you ever thought about giving your home a “do-over’ and don’t know where to start? Restored furniture can give your home a whole new look. Here are some tips that will help from start to finish.
What to restore
Look around your house. Is there a piece of older furniture anywhere that has seen better days? Take a look at it, and decide whether it needs to be restored back to its original condition or just touched up here and there. If it’s an absolute mess, you may have some work ahead of you, but if you can envision it looking like new again, then it will be well worth it.
You might also want to do some research as to how valuable the piece might be. That old table that you picked up a yard sale for ten bucks with a broken leg that gave you splinters may actually be a very valuable piece of furniture. Make sure, before you start sanding or painting that you aren’t lowering its value by doing so.
Furniture restoration: be safe
There is one thing that you absolutely must have when you begin restoring furniture: ventilation! Make sure you begin your project in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside. Wear rubber gloves to avoid splinters and goggles to protect your eyes from splattering chemicals.
What kind of finish is it?
When you’re ready to begin, first identify what kind of finish is on the piece. A painted finish is pretty easy to identify. If it’s not painted, it could be shellac. Take a little alcohol and dab it on an inconspicuous area. If the finish comes off, it’s shellac. If it doesn’t, use a lacquer thinner to see if it’s lacquer. If that doesn’t work, then it’s probably varnish. You can tell if it’s oil, wax or a sealer by the lack of shine on its surface.
Cleaning your proposed restored furniture
A lot of older furniture may just need a good cleaning. Remove dirt and wax buildup with an oil-based commercial wood cleaner or conditioner that you can find in paint or furniture shops. Usually it’s a fairly easy process; apply the cleaner (don’t skimp; use plenty) with a soft cloth and then let it sit for a couple of hours. Wipe the cleaner off. If it looks gorgeous, great! If not, repeat the process until it does.
If the cleaner doesn’t do the trick, then use a little liquid soap and warm water. Work quickly and don’t pour water directly on the surface; just lightly soak a soft cloth and wash off the dirt. When it’s clean, thoroughly dry it with a soft cloth or towel. If the two cleaning methods above don’t work, then you may have to use a solvent as a last resort. Do some research to find out what kind of solvent you’ll need for the particular material you’re trying to clean.
Furniture restoration: “reamalgamation”
If you are new to furniture restoration, here’s a vocabulary word for you: reamalgamation. It’s the process of using a solvent to buff out any flaws. If your piece of furniture has cracks and scratches, this is the easiest way to get rid of them. Clean your piece using one of the above methods, and then apply a solvent to the finish using a natural bristle brush.
You can use alcohol for a shellac solvent and lacquer thinner for a lacquer solvent; varnish will not benefit from this process. Work quickly, and don’t let the brush get dry. As the solvent dries, it will look glossy at first and then dull, but all the scratches, etc. will be gone. Buff the area (lightly!) with steel wool along the grain of the wood in one direction. To add extra shine, finish the process with an application of hard paste wax.
If you’d like change the finish of the piece completely rather than just restore it, then you have to strip away the old finish before you can refinish it with paint or stain. The more layers of paint that are currently on the piece, the stronger the stripping formula has to be.
Use a semi-paste that can sit on the surface and make it easier to scrape. Apply the formula (lots of it) in one direction, and then wait ten or fifteen minutes. Begin scraping with a putty knife. You may have to do this a few times depending on how thick the finish is. When you’re almost done, switch to a liquid stripper to get the last little pieces. Finally, it’s a good idea to give the furniture one more cleaning before you refinish it.
If you haven’t done so already, repair anything on the piece that needs fixing, such as a broken leg, etc. Then, sand it down and wipe it off (vacuum it, if necessary). Decide whether you want to stain it or paint it. If you opt for staining, take a natural bristle brush and apply the stain. Leave it on for five minutes or so before you wipe off the extra stain with a cloth. Lastly, apply a coat of lacquer or varnish if you want extra shine.
Using wipe-on stain is another good way to stain furniture. It’s easy to apply, it dries quickly, and it doesn’t show any brushstrokes. Wipe-on furniture stains are thinner than regular brush-on stains, so you’ll probably have to put on more than one coat.
That’s it! Now you have a beautiful piece of furniture that you can be proud to display anywhere in your home.
Now that you know how easy it is to bring new life to old furniture, keep your eyes open for pieces you can restore that nobody wants anymore. Flea markets, yard sales, alleys or curbs… You can often pick up potentially beautiful pieces of furniture at any of those places for next to nothing. As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!”