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Bringing old wood back to life again isn't as difficult as it once was. Today, a bevy of products can aid in refinishing, refurbishing or adding a new look to tired, worn or unfinished woods.

Refinish or Restore
The first question to ask yourself is what do you want to do with your wood. Is it necessary to refinish? Before you do anything else, determine whether your wood needs to be refinished or just restored. If the piece is an antique, it's always recommended that you do the least amount of work to it. If the old finish is at least partially intact, leave it. Antique pieces lose their value easily. There are excellent wood soaps available that can help give new life and added value to your antiques.

Stripping Furniture
There are literally hundreds of stripping products on the market today. Some work better on certain types of wood. When purchasing a stripping agent, read the label carefully. If you're stripping a chair or other type of furniture that has nooks, crannies and spindles, consider picking up a spray stripper for those areas. Follow these steps for successful stripping:

1. Let the stripper do its job. Impatience usually leads to a bad stripping job. If the finish isn't coming off easily after applying a stripper, you didn't wait long enough. Apply a second coat and wait.

2. Always use a scraper with rounded edges. Great damage can and will be done to woods with cornered edge scrapers.

3. Always wear gloves. Stripping agents contain harmful chemicals that can cause severe burns.

4. Use a coarse cloth, sponge or stripping pads to remove old finishes from hard to reach areas like spindles and corners.

5. Dispose of the stripping agent and all the brushes, rags and pads you use immediately. A pile of wet rags containing stripping materials is extremely flammable.

Almost every type of wood (including unfinished woods) will require at least a small amount of sanding. Sanding helps to remove evidence of water stains, bad grains and basic wear and tear. When sanding, remember to always:

1. Sand with the grain. If you sand across the grain, it will show, no matter how fine the sandpaper is.

2. Use the finest sandpaper possible. There is rarely ever a need to use a coarse sandpaper on any type of wood.

3. Sand so that your piece is level. Always sand through gouges, breaks in the wood or imperfections so that your wood is level and unmarked.

Sanding Clean up
Using a tack cloth to remove sanding dust is a necessity. Without it, you'll be left with a poorly finished piece of work. Be sure to run the tack cloth through any spindled areas, corners and the undersides of wood. After using a tack cloth, you can go over your entire piece of wood with very fine steel wool pad to remove any remaining remnants. Surface preparation is the most important part of applying a good finish, so don't skimp on the time you spend preparing your wood.

To Seal or not to seal
It's become common to seal the wood before staining. If you seal the wood before you stain, there won't be anything for the stain to soak into. Unless you want to leave your wood in its natural state, skip applying a sealer at this time.

Even if you have an expensive cut of wood, staining is almost always a necessity. By not staining, wood often appears blotchy and discolored.

Wood stains come in a wide variety of colors and formulas. Pigmented oil finishes will give you good color. Faster drying stains that combine stain with a finishing coat make the job go quicker, but often appear muddled and unfinished. Basic oil stains make for a nice touch on lightwoods and offer more control that other staining agents.

When picking out which color you'll use to stain, try to pick something just one shade lighter than you want the finished product to appear.

Once you've picked out what type of stain you'll be using, application is easy. Use a rag, staining pad, brush, cloth or even your bare hands and apply a thin coat to the wood. After one thin coat has been evenly applied, go back with a soft (lint free) cloth and remove any excess stain from the wood. Allow to dry overnight. The stain must be completely dry before proceeding! If in the morning you decide you want a darker finish, apply a second coat and wait another twenty-four hours before moving on to the finishing step.

Again, you'll have a large assortment of finishes to choose from. Some finishes are hard and others are soft. Some will give more protection and coating than others. Your first step is to determine how often your piece of wood will be used and what type of finish you'll then need to apply.

Polyurethane finishes tend to crack, so they're best not applied to everyday chairs. Polyurethane is a very hard coat that doesn't offer much leeway. While it's perfect for tables and frames, it won't provide the protection you need for more commonly used items.

Shellac is a durable finish, but it's susceptible to water and alcohol damage. Therefore, applying only shellac to your diningroom table or end table is never a good idea.

Lacquer also provides a durable finish, but is more flexible than other products. It's a good product to use on every day items that will see some usage.

You can apply your finish with a spray, brush or paint pad. Apply the finish evenly and allow to dry overnight. If the coating is not sufficient, do a light sanding and reapply.

Your project is done. You can now keep your wood in shape by cleaning it with an oil wood cleaner once a month and reapplying a sealer every three to five years.