How to Refinish Furniture
Learn how to refinish furniture faster and easier by avoiding stripping. A seasoned pro tells you how to clean, repair and restore old worn finishes without messy chemical strippers. Furniture refinishing will be easier from here on out!
How to Refinish Furniture Without Stripping: Benefits
Assess the Finish with Mineral Spirits
Clean it Up
Fix White Rings
Scrape Paint Without Damaging the Finish
Replace Missing Wood: Apply Epoxy
If you discover missing veneer, chipped wood or a damaged molding, you can fix it easily with epoxy putty. Kevin showed us the process he uses (watch a video of him patching a piece of chipped veneer with Quickwood), and the resulting repair is so realistic that it's hard to spot. When it's hardened, the epoxy is light colored and about the density of wood. You can shape, sand and stain it like wood too, so it blends right in. Quickwood and KwikWood are two brands of this Tootsie Roll?shaped epoxy. You'll find it at home centers and specialty woodworking stores for about $9 a tube.
To use this type of epoxy, you slice off a piece with a razor blade or utility knife and knead it in your gloved hand. When the two parts are completely blended to a consistent color and the epoxy putty starts to get sticky, it's ready to use. You'll have about five or 10 minutes to apply the epoxy to the repair before it starts to harden. That's why you should only slice off as much as you can use quickly.
See photo for how to replace missing veneer. Here are a few things you can do before the putty starts to harden to reduce the amount of sanding and shaping later. First, smooth and shape the epoxy with your finger. Wet it with water first to prevent the epoxy from sticking. Then use the edge of a straightedge razor to scrape the surface almost level with the surrounding veneer. If you're repairing wood with an open grain, like oak, add grain details by making little slices with a razor while the epoxy is soft.
Replace Missing Wood: Finish the Epoxy
After the epoxy hardens completely, which usually takes a few hours, you can sand and stain the repair. Kevin sticks self-adhesive sandpaper to tongue depressors or craft sticks to make precision sanding blocks. You can also use spray adhesive or even plain wood glue to attach the sandpaper. Sand carefully to avoid removing the surrounding finish.
Blend the repair into the surrounding veneer by painting on gel stain to match the color and pattern of the existing grain. You could use stain touch-up markers, but Kevin prefers gel stain because it's thick enough to act like paint, and can be wiped off with a rag dampened in mineral spirits if you goof up or want to start over.
Choose two colors of stain that match the light and dark areas of the wood. Put a dab of both on a scrap of wood and create a range of colors by blending a bit of the two. Now you can use an artist's brush to create the grain. If the sheen of the patch doesn't match the rest of the wood when the stain dries, you can recoat the entire surface with wipe-on finish to even it out.
Restore the Color with Gel Stain
It's amazing what a coat of gel stain can do to restore a tired-looking piece of furniture. The cool part is that you don't need to strip the old finish for this to work. Kevin demonstrated the tip on this round oak table. The finish was worn and faded. He loaded a soft cloth with dark gel stain and worked it into the surface. Then he wiped if off with a clean cloth. It was a surprising transformation. Of course, gel stain won't eliminate dark water stains or cover bad defects, but it will hide fine scratches and color in areas where the finish has worn away.
There are other products, but Kevin prefers gel stain because he finds it easier to control the color and leave a thicker coat if necessary. Also, since it doesn't soak in quite as readily as thinner stains, gel stain is somewhat reversible. Before it dries, you can remove it with mineral spirits if you don't like the results. Gel stains offer some protection, but for a more durable finish or to even out the sheen, let the stain dry overnight and then apply a coat of wipe-on finish as shown below.
Fill Small Cracks
If you find nail holes or tiny cracks after applying the final finish, fill them with colored wax fill sticks, wax repair sticks or fill pencils, found at home centers and paint stores.
The directions tell you to rub the stick over the defect. But Kevin recommends breaking off a chunk and warming it up in your hands. Then shape it to fit the flaw and press it in with a smooth tool. He uses a 3/8-in. dowel with an angle on the end. For cracks, make a thin wafer, slide it into the crack and then work the wax in both directions to fill the crack. Buff with a soft cloth.
Get Rid of Dents
You can often get rid of small dents by wetting them. The moisture swells the crushed wood fibers back to their original shape. (You can't fix cuts or gouges this way, though.)
Moisture must penetrate the wood for this to work. Finishes prevent water from penetrating, so Kevin suggests making a bunch of tiny slits with a razor blade to allow the water to penetrate. Use the corner of the blade, and keep the blade parallel to the grain direction. Next, fill the dent with water and wait until it dries. If the dent is less deep but still visible, you can repeat the process. As with most of the repairs we talk about here, the repaired surface may need a coat of wipe-on finish to look its best.