Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Refurbishing Furniture

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Step Back Cupboard Painted White


Clearly, I am not a perfect human being.  The whole point of living life is for us to learn and grow as individuals.  It is with that notion, that today, I want to share some of the top 10 mistakes I have made over the years when working on refurbishing furniture.  I figure if I can pass my experience on to others and have them benefit from my knowledge – that’s a win-win. So, here are a list of mistakes I have made that you can avoid.

1. Mistake: Using wood fillers other than Bondo.

At this point, when working on a piece of wood furniture that needs anything other than a pin size hole filled, I go straight to the Bondo.  At first I tried to avoid using Bondo because it’s full of chemicals and it leaves a very distinct smell in the room. However, I have learned the hard way, it’s just best to use Bondo.  It works, it can be sanded, it dries hard like wood and can be painted.

2. Mistake: Not having enough paint.

Milk paint can be expensive at $25 per 1 quart bag.  Too often I would try to cautiously meter out how much paint to apply to furniture with terrible results.  With milk paint, you have to completely cover a piece of furniture – even with the second and third coats.  You can not touch up spots  or specific areas on a piece of furniture because milk paint leaves a splotchy uneven mark when the paint dries. Further, light colors such as whites, pale grey, and pale blues require 3 or more complete coats of paint.  Now I know, mix more paint than expected.


Victorian Wash Stand Painted MMSMP Farmhouse White

3. Mistake: Underestimating the amount of paint required for the inside of a cupboard.

If I could share a relevant and important piece of knowledge with you – it is this – the inside of cupboards require way more paint than the outside. There is so much more surface area on the insides of cupboards, especially when you need to paint shelves.  Just mix up a lot of paint.  See my comments above regarding multiple coats when applying a light color paint over a dark wood.


China Cupboard Painted MMSMP in Berger Milk Paint on the inside


4. Mistake: Not buying enough sandpaper.

Sandpaper is my secret weapon of choice.  Sanding is necessary for prep work and it is necessary to sand after painting to get a smooth even finish. Now, I bulk order sandpaper because I use so much of it.  I use sandpaper for my palm orbit sander and I also use sheets for hand sanding. There is nothing more frustrating than starting a project and running out of sandpaper in the middle of completing the project.  So, I buy hundreds of sheets of 80, 120, 180, and 220 grit sandpapers.


Buffet sanded down to raw wood and sealed with wax


5. Mistake: Not using a good quality paint brush to apply PAINT.

If you don’t want brush marks on your furniture, then I encourage you to use a good quality brush with fine bristles.  My go-to brushes are made by Zibra.  I also like the higher end paint brushes made by Wooster.  If you take care of your brushes and clean them after every use – they will last for years.  As a result, I don’t mind paying more than $20 for a good brush since I know I will still be using it in 5 years time.

6. Mistake: Using a good paint brush to apply PRIMER.

You know that nice paint brush you just purchased?  Never, ever, use it to apply primer.  It will end up a gummy mess and will be all but impossible to clean.  When applying primer, I use cheap brushes and then -gulp- I throw them away.  It takes so long to clean the brushes and even at that point the bristles are usually damaged.  Hence, I just toss the entire brush.



Victorian pedestal table refurbished

7. Mistake: Underestimating the amount of repairs a piece of furniture requires.

This is some times difficult to know until you get into a project.  In general, anything with a chipped veneer or broken legs will require a significant amount of time and work.  When furniture requires extensive repairs, I very seldom get a good financial return on my time invested.  I have learned, that when evaluating whether or not to buy a piece of furniture, that I should check its overall structural condition.  Check for hidden cracks or broken off pieces.

8. Not sealing top surfaces with Minwax’s Polycrylic.

My preferred way to seal furniture is with Miss Mustard Seed’s furniture wax.  It is easy to apply, is nontoxic, and is fun to buff off.  However, life is messy and furniture is meant to be used.  Tables, desks, coffee tables, dressers and side tables all need to have durable surfaces.  Again, learning the the hard way, I now always seal the tops of these pieces of furniture with Minwax’s Polycrylic in a matte finish.   This is a water-based sealer that is easy to apply and easy to clean up. I never use polyurethane because the clear protective finish turns yellow with the passage of time and with exposure to sunlight.

9. Mistake: Not using good quality hardware.

This was also a tough lesson to learn.  When I first started working on furniture, I would go to big box stores or hobby stores to get knobs and pulls.  Then I noticed that over time, these pieces of hardware did not hold up.  They became loose or the nuts and bolts never seemed to connect securely. So now, I order all my hardware from reputable companies like Rejuvenation or D Lawless Hardware.  I am also always on the prowl for vintage/antique sets of knobs and pulls (that come with mounting hardware) when I am out antiquing. They don’t make knobs and pulls like they used to!


Washstand with Victorian Glass Pull

10. Not setting aside enough time to refurbish a piece of furniture.

This is another important lesson.  So many times, I figured that I could refurbish a piece of furniture in 2-4 hours.  So many times, I was wrong.  This is especially true if there were complicated repairs that required cutting new pieces of wood, gluing, clamping or even stripping old paint.  I have learned to set aside between 2-3 hours to work on furniture.  Then I stop.  A couple days later, I spend another 2-3 hours working on furniture.  Then I stop.  I repeat this pattern until my projects are completely done. This prevents me from doing sloppy work because I am too tired and impatient. It also ensures that I enjoy the 2-3 hours I spend in the workshop.

Thank you for stopping by the blog today!  I hope my mistakes become lessons for you and in turn, save you time, money and frustration.

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