Your Guide to Restoring Furniture

Thinking about restoring furniture? If you have antique, vintage, or worn furniture pieces, restoring them can be a budget-friendly home improvement idea. Learn more in our guide to furniture restoration!

How to Prepare for a Furniture Restoration Project

Before you start restoring old furniture or newly acquired pieces, there are several considerations you’ll want to keep in mind—like establishing a budget, keeping a timeline for the project, and pre-project inspections. Use these furniture restoration tips to help keep you on track and prepared.

Research & Make a Budget

Once you’ve decided what type of furniture piece you want to restore, you’ll need to understand what all is involved with the restoration—including transportation, workspace outfitting, and the average cost of the project. Putting a budget in place helps ensure you’ll have the means to purchase the necessary tools, supplies, and fabrics as you work on your DIY project. Some antiques, especially those holding sentimental value, might be best left to professionals, which can get expensive.

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Establish a Timeline

No matter if the project is a small fix or full furniture restoration, you’ll want to create a timeline. Keep a calendar to ensure your furniture restoration is completed in a timely manner—you can easily set a tracker on your phone as a reminder of key steps. It’s important to complete the restoration steps in the proper order to protect your investment, as well as to not cause damage to your piece. If your DIY furniture project involves staining wood, establishing a timeline is an especially good idea—as you’ll need to keep track of how much time has passed, whether the humidity is appropriate, and more.

Pay Attention to Safety

As you prepare the project, avoid potential hazards by making sure DIY furniture restoration safety is your top priority. Try wearing long-sleeved clothing to help protect your skin from chemicals, and always put on safety glasses to keep your eyes protected. Wear a mask when stripping or varnishing a piece, and be sure to keep the area well-ventilated so fumes can dissipate.

Inspect the Piece Before You Start

There are two things you’ll keep in mind when buying used furniture or using vintage pieces for a DIY project—pests and damage. In addition to signs of insect infestations, mold and mildew infestations are important to identify as well, as these can cause structural damage to the furniture. Additionally, noting damage on the furniture allows you to budget more accurately. If you’re planning to sell the finished furniture restoration, be sure you provide product information—like its origin, make, or model—which can also help you better price the item.

Think of the Final Finish

Prior to starting furniture refurbishment, get an idea of what you want the finished piece to look like. Do you want to restore it to its original glory, or will you be upcycling furniture into a combination of old and new? Consider its color, texture, and fabric before you begin. This will help you match the rest of your home decor style or the other finishes on your furniture. When refurbishing antiques or older furniture, consider matching the original stain or colors as close as possible to keep it authentic.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Restoring Furniture

Before the furniture restoration phase begins, there are some common mistakes that may occur during the project. From ignoring potential safety hazards to not following directions for painting or staining, here are several mistakes you want to avoid.

Brushing Aside Potential Safety Hazards

Ignoring safety hazards can be dangerous when restoring furniture because it involves chemicals and tools that could easily injure you or your surroundings. You’ll always want to use items like gloves, masks, and protective footwear to keep your body safe. It’s also important to wear safety glasses or splash goggles to prevent dust or dirt from flying into your eyes.

Ignoring Directions

Not paying attention to application instructions can impact how the finished furniture piece looks. Follow the specific directions set for applying stripping chemicals, paint, and stains. To achieve good results for furniture restoration, you’ll also want to follow step-by-step instructions for sanding, staining, and more.

Not Protecting the Area Well

Depending on whether you’re working inside your shouse, outdoors, or in a garage, it’s important to protect the walls, ground, and other nearby areas of the home. Use tarps to protect the ground or place plastic drop cloths or cardboard underneath the piece of furniture to catch any paint or stain spills as you strip, sand, paint, and stain. If you’re limited on space, covering other nearby items is also a good idea—especially if you’re using wind as your ventilation, things like paint can easily drip on the floor or get caught in the wind.

Rushing Through the Project

Because furniture restoration can take a while to complete, don’t rush through the project. Properly complete each step before moving on to the next one. Rushing through the project can cause uneven painting or staining, items can turn out blotchy, or they won’t dry properly. Applying stain or sealing coats evenly with a tool can help with the overall look of the piece.

Types of Furniture Restoration Projects

Wondering what kind of furniture restoration project you want to take on? There are several types of projects for restoring furniture, like refinishing wood, reupholstering fabric, or antique restoration. Here are some of the main ones you can dig into!

Refinishing Wood

Looking to refinish a wood table, chair, or dresser? When refinishing wood furniture, sand the surface of the item to remove layers of stain and sealant. This process can get rid of scratches, dents, and white or dark stains on the original surface of the piece. When restaining, you can choose a color close to the original stain, or paint and seal it for a more modern look.

Reupholstering Fabric

Reupholstering furniture—like a chair or couch—is a type of furniture repair you usually do if you see structural damage with the existing padding or coverings. Common types of furniture coverings are made from fabric, velvet, or leather. For older furniture items, you may have to create new cushions or restructure the existing padding to look fully restored. For this furniture restoration project, you may want to consult with a professional who has a good understanding of the reupholstering process and experience dealing with existing woodwork.

Repairing Furniture

General furniture repairs involve fixing damage to the furniture’s original structure—like restructuring an existing sofa cushion or a chair’s legs. If your furniture has any empty gaps or holes, general furniture repair is a quick fix. For Mid-Century Modern and earlier pieces, you may want to redo the existing nails or screws and replace them with sturdier ones to keep your furniture sturdy for years to come!

Restoring Antiques

Decorating with antiques is a fun choice, but the restoration process involves a lot of skill. For delicate items, you’ll want the right antique restoration tools and supplies like saws, screwdrivers, drills, paintbrushes, paint, or stain. Antiques can often be restored on-site at a local business, or they can be a DIY project like restoring an old bookcase or table.

Buying & Flipping Furniture

Buying and reselling furniture online is a popular furniture restoration project that also gives you a profit! Buy antiques or old furniture at estate sales, antique shops, or auction houses. After purchasing, repair and restore the item, and then sell it on an online marketplace.

How to Restore Furniture

There are several steps to take when restoring furniture in order to achieve good results. Fortunately, many restoration steps can be used for metal and upholstered furniture as well—as wooden furniture restoration often involves more steps, materials, time, and care. From cleaning the item to applying final touches, here’s a step-by-step guide for furniture restoration!

Gather Your Supplies

The first step to restoring furniture is gathering all of the supplies necessary to complete the project. This often includes paintbrushes, dish soap, paint stripper, sealant, towels, eye and hand protection, and an electric or hand-held sander. For wood furniture, make sure to have sandpaper, stain rags, wood putty, a putty knife, and primer on hand.

Clean the Furniture Properly

Start by cleaning the surface of the piece with dish soap, warm water, and a cloth rag to remove dirt, grime, and other buildup. After scrubbing the exterior, rinse it with a damp washcloth, and finish with a towel dry. It’s important to not only let the furniture dry completely, but also best to use cloth towels to prevent residue. Dissemble each piece of furniture—for example, you’ll want to remove each drawer from a dresser, and remove the handles, as well. Finally, clean the interior of the furniture, including the undersides of tabletops, walls of each drawer, and legs of the piece.

Strip Down the Wood

Depending on whether your furniture has an existing paint color, finish, or stain, you’ll need to remove it before sanding. During this step, you’ll need to apply a chemical stripper to the furniture’s surface. Let the chemical stripper sit on the surface for around 20 minutes and scrape the paint or stain off before you rinse it and begin sanding. This step should be completed in a well-ventilated area while using rubber gloves and eyeglasses for additional protection.

Sand Down the Piece of Furniture

To ensure the new paint or stain applies evenly, you should first sand down the entire furniture piece. Fill any holes on wooden surfaces with wood putty before sanding. For smaller items or areas with fine detail, you’ll need fine-grit sandpaper sheets and sanding blocks—use a power sander for larger surfaces. To reach uniform smoothness, sand it in the direction of the grain. After the sanding is complete, wipe down or blow on the piece to remove remaining dust and wood chips.

Seal the Wood Carefully

After sanding down the furniture, you can use supplies like a paintbrush to help apply a sanding sealant to the entire item. This type of clear liquid base finish will help your stain appear more even and consistent—which is especially beneficial for inconsistently porous materials like wood. A sanding sealant will prevent the wood from absorbing excess stain and can prevent shifts in the final color.

Apply the Paint or Stain

Once you’ve finished sealing your piece and it’s dry, you can paint or stain it! In order to get the final look you want, you may need to apply multiple coats of paint to your item. There are several types of paint finishes to choose from like semigloss, matte, or satin. It’s important to follow the directions when applying paint or stain to the item and the post-application directions to achieve the look you want. The common types of stains you can select for your furniture include gel stains, mineral sealants, oil-based stains, and water-based stains. If you’re unsure what color or type of stain you need, talk with a professional at a local hardware store. The best tip to keep in mind when staining is to make sure your pressure and timing is consistent.

Varnish Your Piece

After you let the paint or stain dry completely, start to apply varnish, shellac, or wax to finalize the furniture restoration. These types of finishing products will add a shine to your item and also help to seal, waterproof, and scratch-proof your furniture. If you’re unsure which type of finishing product to go with, conduct research or consult with a pro at your hardware store for recommendations on your specific type of furniture restoration project.


Looking to store furniture while working on your furniture restoration projects? Extra Space Storage has several storage facilities located around the U.S. that can help. Find self storage near you!


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