How to Refinish Furniture- Tools and Materials

Refinished Antique China Cupboard

Do you need advice on how to refinish furniture? Most of the time the process requires only basic tools and techniques.

How to Refinish Furniture – Tools and Materials

Through out the last two years I have been sharing with you the process of refinishing individual pieces of furniture. There is a big variety of pieces that I have shared with you, book cases, cupboards, side tables, chairs, sideboards and more. You have been asking me each time: what are the tools and materials that I consistently use to refinish these pieces of furniture?

A perfect example is the antique china cupboard shown above. You can read about its transformation HERE.

So, in this post I will summarize the tools and materials I consistently use to refinish furniture

How to refinish furniture

Some questions you ask that I will answer include:  Do I use a stripper? What is the brand? Do I use sand paper? What grit? How did I get the finish to be so smooth? Do I have to sand every piece of furniture before I paint it?

The benefit of this post is that, all of the tools and materials will be listed in one post and consolidated in one place.  This will prevent people from trying to find a previous post that provided some information. 

Also, it’s important to add that all of these tools and materials are really very affordable. Very rarely do I use a miter saw or table saw.  Most furniture can be fixed and refurbished using very simple tools and materials. The most expensive tools that I use are a cordless brad nailer and a random orbital sander.

I will present the information in the order in which I use the item listed.  As if I were working on a piece of furniture.  At the end of this post, I provide links to the materials and tools referenced. 

Step 1: Removing the Existing Finish

How to Refinish Furniture

The condition of a piece of furniture determines whether to strip, sand or use a heat gun to remove the original finish. To see the “after” of this sanded piece of furniture – scroll down to the end of the post or read about the process HERE.

Paint Stripper

Citristrip – this is my “go to” stripper.  I use this for large flat areas where I need to remove a lot of paint.  Caveat, this stuff is ridiculously messy and creates a bunch of gunky, goopy, gloppy slime when it reacts with the paint/finish and is scraped off.   Also, after scraping off the old finish, you will need to use 000 steel wool and Denatured Alcohol to remove the residue left behind on the furniture. I recommend wearing a mask while working with stripper and/or denatured alcohol because it’s always good to be safe. I also recommend using gloves when you are removing the old finish – to protect your hands and nails.

Sand paper

Sand paper and a random orbital sander.  It’s usually best to have a lot of sandpaper on hand.  I find that the following grits 80, 120, 180, 220 work best for the furniture I sand.   I find buying packages in bulk is most cost effective.  Of course, if you choose to remove an existing finish with sand paper, please remember that sanding by hand will be required for all the corner, nooks, crannies and curved areas.  Please remember to wear a mask when you are sanding furniture.  It’s so important to protect your lungs.

Not every piece of furniture needs to be sanded. Some can simply be cleaned with a good degreaser and painted without sanding. This is particularly true if you like the “chippy” paint finish that milk paint creates.

However, I generally, at a minimum, scuff sand all the furniture I refinish. I feel like it removes a lot of the dirt and grime that has accumulated over the years.

Heat Gun

These are fantastic when you need to remove a previous paint job that was applied too thickly or when there are multiple layers of paint on a piece of furniture.  Heat guns can also be useful for removing paint in areas where there are carved details.  Just be aware that it can get pretty warm using a heat gun.  Particularly if you are working outside on a summer day.  Also, be careful not to burn yourself on the heat gun as you are scraping away old paint. (Speaking from experience here)

Often times, I will use a combination of all three of these items to remove the existing finish. My primary goal is not to damage the wood under the original finish.  I am particularly cautious if there is a wood veneer that is intact. I try to avoid sanding any furniture with a wood veneer finish.

Summary of tools and materials used in this phase:

  • Citristrip
  • Scraper
  • Gloves
  • Mask
  • 000 Steel Wool Pads
  • Denatured Alcohol
  • Sandpaper
  • Random Orbital Sander
  • Heat Gun

Step 2: Prep the Piece of Furniture

After removing the existing finish, the next most important step is to prepare the piece of furniture for either new paint or new stain.

1. You will need a bucket of water, scrub brush and Krud Kutter.  There are many other cleaners you can use such as 409, or Dawn to clean a piece of furniture. My preference is Krud Kutter.  It cuts through grease and oil that may have accumulated on a piece.  Also, for cost savings, I buy Krud Kutter in the gallon containers but it is available in a spray bottle.

2. If there are cracks or gouges in the wood or repairs that need to be made to the wood, I use Bondo.  Bondo dries quickly and it’s just as hard as wood. I find other wood fillers are just too soft.  Bondo can be sanded and painted.  Again, with the fumes generated by the product I recommend that you wear a mask and work outside or work in a well ventilated area. 

3. Make any repairs. This includes using clamps and wood glue where appropriate.  To ensure wood glue has bonded securely, I wait 24 hours before removing the clamps.  I use Gorilla wood glue and let me tell you – not much is needed on any repair-one bottle lasts a long time!

On occasion, I may need to re-attach a drawer runner or re-attach the bottom of a drawer.  In these situations, I use a cordless brad nailer and the appropriate length brad nails.  

After all the repairs have been made, I wipe down the piece of furniture one final time.

Summary of tools and materials used in this phase:

  • Bucket
  • Scrub brush
  • Krud Kutter
  • Bondo
  • Clamps
  • Wood glue
  • Cordless Brad Nailer
  • Brads (check for the right length you need)

Step 3: Paint, Stain or Seal the Piece of Furniture

This is the fun part!  Now your piece of furniture should be ready to be painted, stained and/or sealed. At this point, you can paint or stain your piece of furniture any color you desire.  If you have been following me for any length of time, you know I typically use milk paint.  However, there are situations where latex paint or other boutique paints like Fusion Mineral Paint, Country Chic Paint or Melange Paint are a good choice.

Using a good quality paint brush, apply the paint or stain in even strokes. I like to use Zibra brushes but I also will reach for, from time to time, a good quality Purdy or Wooster brush. 

Also, I typically use Frog Tape around the drawer edges and around door frames so that paint doesn’t seep into the interior of a piece of furniture. You can use any painters tape, but I have had the best luck and most consistent results with Frog Tape.

Before I start painting, I will move the piece of furniture onto either heavy duty craft paper, some flattened cardboard boxes or a moving blanket so that I protect the floor.  

To get a smooth finish on the piece of furniture, without any drips or gloppy areas, it is important to sand between coats of paint. I usually go over the first coat of dried paint with 220 grit sand paper.

If you are using a milk paint or a chalk paint, you will need to seal your piece once you have finished painting it.  You can seal your newly painted furniture with a wax, hemp oil or with a water-based polycrylic.  Sealing the paint protects it from wear and tear from things like coffee cups or a vase of flowers. 

Types of Finishes

Polycrylic provides the most durable and longest lasting protective coat.  I typically use a separate brush to apply a polycrylic and I keep it dedicated to this purpose. (Meaning -I have brushes that I keep separate and use only for the application of polycrylic). Brushes that are dedicated to only applying a top coat to finished furniture, prevents any color fragments from previous paint colors being accidentally transferred to a newly refinished piece of furniture.

If you apply a wax to seal your paint – it’s great to have a wax brush but it is not necessary.  You can apply the wax with a cut down chip brush or even use a terry cloth rag to apply the wax and wipe it off. 

As for hemp oil, I also have a dedicated paint brush that I set aside and use only for applying hemp oil.

Finally, it’s worth noting that raw wood is often beautiful “as is” and once it is fully stripped and sanded, sometimes all it needs is a coat of wax. 

Summary of tools and materials used in this phase

  • Paint or Stain of your choice (I primarily used milk paint for the projects shown here)
  • Clear furniture wax
  • Good quality paint brushes
  • Polycrylic
  • Chip brush or wax brush
  • Painters tape
  • Heavy duty brown craft paper or a movers blanket (to protect your floor when working on furniture)

Step 4: Enjoy the Final Results

Here are some pieces that I refinished using the techniques, tools and materials listed above. I hope you find some useful tips and information in this post and are inspired to refinish furniture.

How to refinish furniture 3

The photo above shows a chippy antique chest was painted using MMS milk paint in the color Linen. I wrote a post about it HERE.

Refinished antique sideboard

The sideboard shown above was painted using MMS Milk Paint in the color Flow Blue.

Refinished stepback cupboard

The photo above shows the Lake House cupboard where the bottom half was shown under Step 1. You can read about the process used to refinish this piece HERE.

Refinished washstand in grey milkpaint

Antique wash stand painted using MMS milk paint in Aviary. You can read the post about this piece HERE.

Refinished raw wood chest of drawers

The photo above shows a sweet chest of drawers, sanded down to the raw pine wood and then sealed with a white wax. You can read about the process HERE.

Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I hope you feel confident and inspired to refinish a piece of furniture. When you do, please send me a photo. I would love to see what you are working on.

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  1. “Sand between coats of paint.” I never thought of this, brilliant. Also, the array of sandpaper grits is overwhelming- so thank you for giving some focus there! Super helpful and encouraging.

    1. Susan! Thanks for your comment. Yes, going over a recently applied coat of paint with 220 grit before applying another coat work wonders. You can also sand away any unwanted drips.

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