DIY Home Decor: How to Restore and Refinish Your Antique Furniture

Even the most enthusiastic DIYers sometimes pause when approaching a project involving furniture that is considered vintage (at least 40 years old) or antique (made more than 100 years ago). But these tips should elevate your confidence and help you bring the best out of all your well-loved pieces.

First, you should determine whether you want to restore (bring the item back to its original state or style) or refinish (change the design or style to match your current needs) the piece. “A lot of antique and vintage pieces hold more value if they are restored versus refinished,” advised Chanel Kimura, founder of the Handmade Home Co. “You can check online to see what your piece generally sells for and the style it sells in.” He recommends searching online for similar products and comparing these things. “If you look up your piece of furniture and find that it sells for a higher value if it is stained rather than painted, you may want to consider using stain,” he suggested.

Next, Rambabu Thapa, head of marketing at the Rustic Red Door, said is to consider the type of materials you’ll use to make the changes. “You should try to use materials that are as close to the originals as possible,” he said. That means if you need to replace a part, make sure that you get a replica close to the original. Try not to use new materials, if possible. “To honor the history of the piece, aim for the ‘less is more’ mantra,” said blogger Jennifer Osterhout of Everyday Old House. “First, fix the functionality (ie. stop legs from wobbling, recane or replace leather chair seats). Clean the wood, followed by protecting and feeding the wood with oil or wax, which will bring out the shine and patina.”

antique table

How to fix marks and scratches on wood

There are several methods to repair scratches on furniture. One is to use a wood filler or a touch-up pen, both available at most home improvement stores. “If the scratch is very small, you may be able to just sand it down and then touch it up with a paint pen or touch-up marker,” said Thapa.

Another easy solution to fix uneven patches or scuffs is to sand down the marks and then apply paint or stain, matching the color of the item you are refinishing with the closest hue. “It is great to use products with a built-in topcoat for this to save yourself hassle and time,” said Kimura. “If you are using a paint that doesn’t have a built in topcoat, you can always purchase a topcoat and mix a spoonful of it into the paint you are using.”

For instance, let’s say you want to cover up some minor blemishes on a stained dining table, simply look for the closest stain to the table color and apply it to the entire surface after you’ve sanded the furniture.

When refinishing an old piece of furniture, it is important to experiment with the color on a small area before doing the entire piece, offered Thapa. “You should also test out your techniques and finishes on similar pieces before finishing the actual antique. This will help you to avoid mistakes and ensure that the finished product looks good.”

antique dresser

How to sand your antique and vintage furniture

Sanding can clean up furniture quickly, but it will require some effort and time. For heavier, glossier pieces, Kimura suggests starting with 80 grit sandpaper to take off the finish before moving onto onto 120 grit and then 180-220 grit to smooth out your surface.

With a thinner finish you can begin with 100-120 grit, then upgrade to 150 grit and finally180-220 grit to clean up the surface. You can also use a chemical stripper to do this, too, to remove chipped paint and other blemishes.

Make sure you clean off any dust before applying the paint and topcoat. Kimura also suggests using a microfiber nap roller rather than a foam one for a smoother process. Even if you are looking for a natural look, be sure to always cover the sanded surface with either a topcoat, polyurethane, oil or wax. You want to protect that lovely wood … and all your hard work. 

chest opened

When do you need a professional?

When a piece holds a lot of value or sentiment to you, or it needs a lot of repairs, you should consider hiring a professional to rework your piece. You should ask them about what products they use, how they seal/protect their surfaces when using paint or stain and how they prepare their piece for refinishing or restoring.

Once you decide who you want to hire, get a written quote. You should only pay 50% upfront and then the rest once you receive the finished project. And always get a receipt for your purchase, just in case the item required more work.  

antique chest refinished

All photos provided by Handmade Home Co.

If you liked this DIY piece, watch our video on how to restore furniture.


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