How to: Restore Old Furniture

Back when you all helped us decide which of our two paintings to hang above the couch, I sort of mentioned that I was transforming the frames from looking like this:

Prague painting

to this:


So now I’m back with an extra-easy tutorial on how you can reshape a piece of banged up wood furniture into a work of art.  Or in our case, something worth holding a work of art.

After I got Martin out of the house and the sawdust settled from our kitchen remodel, I got to work.

How to Restore Old Furniture

Step 1.  Get handy. Remove any pieces that you don’t want to paint (like hinges, knobs, and paintings), and mask off things that won’t come off.

Step 2. Sand ‘er down. Sand the wood with 80-grit sandpaper by hand.  Your material will be gone if you use an electric sander.  We’re not trying to remove old paint and varnish anyway; we just want the next coat to stick to the stuff that’s already there.  So rough that puppy up.  The glossier the old paint, the more you want to make sure you rough up every edge.

Step 3.  Hose it down. Then take a wet cloth and wipe it down really well.  If you skip this step or don’t do a thorough job, I’m afraid to report that you’ll get nasty little lumps in your fresh coat of paint.  You’ll be starting all over.

Step 4.  Apply paint. No, no, I didn’t forget about the wood putty.  I have found that it’s easier to see where the putty needs to go after you have your first coat of paint down.  It’s an accurate representation of how your finished piece is going to look, so you can decide which gashes and seams should be filled.  Also, if you’ve done your sanding homework, you don’t need a coat of primer.  The glossier the paint, the easier it is to clean down the road, too.  We tend to pick latex paint for things like door frames and oil-based paint for furniture.  These frames have three coats of high gloss, white oil-based paint.

Step 5.  Fill ‘er up. When the paint dries, take your wood putty and begin filling holes.  Experiment with the tools that work best for you.  My favorites are 1 inch scrapers, my fingertips, and screwdrivers because they’re so small.  Try to get the putty level with the wood, which may take multiple coats, especially when you’re filling things like nail holes.  It takes a bit of practice, though there’s one thing I know for sure:  never use any old putty, joint compound, plaster, or whatever you’ve got in the house.  You have to use wood putty because it is specifically made to match the movability of wood.  Use anything else and you’ll be repeating this project again in a couple of years, I am very sad to say.

Step 6.  Sand ‘er down again.  Sand your putty holes so that they’re smooth.  You probably shouldn’t use 80-grit sandpaper.  Reach for something finer like 120 or even 240-grit.  Easy peasy so far, right?

Step 7.  Get beautiful. Apply second coat of paint to get the desired look.  White paints may even need a third.  (You may want to do a second little putty/sand job between coats for a smoother surface.)

Step 8.  Strut your stuff. Display that lovely restored piece and invite people over to see it at a little party.

So go ahead and make something ehh into something amazing.  Don’t forget to let me know about any of your artsy creations, either.  I love restorations, and there are only so many gashes that I can fill in my own little place.

For a sanding and varnishing tutorial, check out this post:  How To Refurbish Wood Furniture.  It’s the tips and tricks we used to restore our old table and finish our entire kitchen.

(Image by Katie for Making This Home)