How to refinish what you have...a VERY random blog post

Two blog posts in ONE day! That must be a record right?! **crickets***

Ok moving on.

My lovely sister in law mentioned that she has A LOT of furniture that needs redoing and wanted me to write a tutorial post on how to go about that. Were talking 80's ugly oak, metal, furniture with stickers on it, etc etc. She has 4 amazing kids so you can only imagine the beating some of the furniture has taken!

Ok here we go...

Is it real or fake?
How to tell-Turn it around and look at the back of it. Do you see a thin overlay on top of particle board? Fake!
Do you see wood grain? Real!

Ok now that we know what kind of wood we have lets get to refinishing it.

What do we want to do with it? Do we want to strip it down to its bare nekid original form? Do we want to add amazing turquoise paint and distress it to high heaven? Decide that part first!

I am a BIG fan of sanding. It smooths out the surface...fixes imperfections...and makes the piece ready to look brand new again. If you plan on painting over something then usually just a light sanding on the entire piece is good enough...except for those deep dings and scratches which will need more love.  I use a cheap Ryobi Corner Cat palm sander from Home depot that I got about 3 years ago. It has a dust catcher on the back and I have used and abused that sander. Its still going strong and I'll use it until it breaks! I think it was about 30 bucks! If the piece just needs a light scuffing up before paint use 120 grit sandpaper all over and then wipe clean. If there are some severe dings use 80 grit and then 120 grit...and.wipe.clean.

Did you find out that you have fake wood? Particle board Ikea quality cheapo furnishings? Nothing wrong with that at can still make them look pretty...just can't sand them!
In the case of particle board with a veneer overlay your BESTIE is gonna be primer. I love and use Zinser oil based primer. Apply it with a good quality brush (Purdy brushes are THE BEST and worth the small extra investment) and aim for see-through coverage. You want the whole outside of the piece to be covered...but not thickly. It'll give the paint something to grab on to and make the finish really even and durable. You can get Zinser at HD, Lowes, Ace, etc.

Are you wanting bare naked wood...maybe oiled to bring out the grain...but pretty natural? You are gonna hate me are gonna have to strip...the paint that is! Stripping paint or varnish is an ICKY job. I detest...loathe...stripping furniture but sometimes its necessary! If you must will want to use Citristrip. Its bright orange...smells like...uh...Oranges...and is sold at HD or Lowes. It works great! Follow the directions on the back and watch your old nasty 80's finish bubble up before your very eyes! Make sure to invest also in a good metal scraper while your at the store. You will be doing LOTS of scraping. You might also want to grab a wire brush to remove hard to reach finish in grooves. After your finish has been totally stripped (this may require two or 3 applications of stripper) then you'll need to wash and dry your piece thoroughly (i usually leave it overnight to fully dry) and then sand as mentioned above.

Ok now that I mentioned how to prep your wood lets get to painting or staining.

Once you've primed your piece and let it dry (in the case of painting the wood) you'll want to choose a latex paint that you like ( I adore the oops section at HD) and paint your piece. If its a large piece you can either use a sponge roller...which are great but don't leave your finish very smooth...or a nice brush (enter your newly purchased Purdy brush). Brush on two coats of your paint color...letting it dry fully in between coats. Satin, semi gloss...doesn't really matter that much on furniture what kind you pick because you are going to seal it with a poly or wax after the paint is dry.

Now that your paint is dry you can distress it lightly, heavily, leave it alone, etc. I really like distressing because it tends to make you less irritated if natural dings happen to it later. I ALWAYS distress furniture that's gonna be around my that pretty much means I distress EVERYTHING. Only distress your piece in the places that would naturally get dinged. Aim for edges...corners...legs...etc. Never the low points of the piece...always the high points. Get it? Good!

Now time to seal that bad boy! I ADORE.POLY.SO.MUCH!! My favey fave brand is Minwax wipe on Poly (metal can). Satin or gloss finish is your choice. If you want a smooth as a baby's bum finish and wipeable durability then this guy will be your best friend! You apply it with a rag or paper brush strokes...lightly sand with 220 grit in between coats...and you have a finish that'll stand up to pretty much anything your kids can throw at it! Literally! I use poly on any piece that I stain or paint a darker color...but if you are painting a piece white SKIP poly and use a basic furniture wax. Poly can slightly yellow over time and it'll piss you off if your pretty white dresser looks yellow in six months! Apply wax with a cloth...let dry for about 20 mins..buff off with a new cloth and see a nice sheen. I usually apply at least 3 coats and the finish will be almost as durable as a poly coat!

Ok so say you want to stain a piece. Good for you!! ;)
Staining is makes wood pretty and I enjoy it.
My fave stain is Minwax Dark Walnut. In my humble opinion its the perfect dark color. Here's a piece where I used it...check it apply it with a rag to bare wood....allow to sit on for a few mins...and wipe off gently. ( I really like using old soft t shirts for applying and wiping off stain. No lint and they apply only gentle pressure) After the first coat...if you like the darkness of it then you're done and need to let it cure (dry for about 24 hours)...if not then let it dry for a couple hours and apply another coat in the same way...wipe off. Once all the coats have been applied and wiped off you need to leave that baby alone for a while. Preferably in a not too cold it can cure and the color can harden. Give it about 24 hours before you touch it again!
Once its cured you can poly it like I mentioned above. it'll look gorgeous.


So lets say you got a killer deal on a SUPER ugly brass lamp from good will! The shape rocks...but the finish is blech! Spray paint is your friend! I use lots of different brands but Rustoleum is my fave. There are TONS of color options and it just goes on really pretty.
Here's your process....
1)Clean lamp thoroughly and dry
2)Put on a ginormous costco box out in  your yard away from anything that you don't want painted
3)Prime that sucker (use spray primer...rustoleum is the best)...aim for a very light coat...keep the can moving and spray from a ways back. Let fully dry.
4)Paint time! Spray it lightly. You do NOT want full coverage on your first...second...or even third coats. You want to apply short...light bursts of paint from a ways back and lightly dust the piece with'll minimize drips and make it look a lot more professional. If you are painting something super small then one can should do it. If its a piece like a bar cart or a metal shelf unit you will need at least 3 cans of spray paint. do yourself a favor and get double what you think you'll'll save you trips back to the store and you'll use it later if you have leftovers.
5)Let dry fully in between all those coats
6)You can use a spray on clear coat to protect the finish if you want...but I usually skip this step if its a piece that won't be getting a lot of abuse. If it will then by all means use a clear coat!
7)Place in home and marvel at your craftiness!!!

Ok so I think this about covers the basics of painting wood, metal, particle board...if I missed anything please let me know in the comments section and I'll edit and include it! I hope this helps someone create furniture that they LOVE with the stuff that they already have!!!


  1. Stickers can be removed with Goof Off of something similar. Sometimes even just soaking with water and scraping.. and just an FYI.. wherever they sell rollers, they will usually have smaller sized ones for painting behind toilets and stuff.. they make some of the roller heads for those out of smooth foam, which paints beautifully and smooth, with no texture. Those save a ton of time on larger pieces, or even drawer fronts or tops and sides of dressers!

    Have you ever painted a wood piece of furniture to look like metal? I dream of a shiny metallic silver side table.. but I don't know if there is a spray paint that would work to make wood look like metal. Usually they just come out looking..grey. Much less exciting.

  2. i just saw this post-which could help with the piece i just commented about. super!

  3. I have just installed iStripper, and now I enjoy having the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.