How to Refinish Furniture: A Step-by-Step Guide

Refinishing furniture is a great way to give new life to an old piece or to change the look of a piece to match your decor better. The process can be a little intimidating for those who have never done it before, but with a little patience and attention to detail, it’s a relatively simple process.

In this article, we’ll go over the basics of refinishing furniture, including what type of stain to use, how to mix the stain to get the right color, and how to apply the stain to achieve a beautiful, even finish.

Choosing and Mixing the Right Stain

Know Your Stains

When refinishing furniture, the type of stain you use matters. You’ve got three main options: oil-based, water-based, and NGR (non-grain raising) stains. So, which one should you choose? It all comes down to the wood you’re working with and your taste.

Find Your Perfect Color

Struggling to find a stain in just the right shade? Bring a sample of your desired color to a paint store and let them mix it. Alternatively, experiment by combining small amounts of stain until you achieve the right hue.

Get creative with the four basic colors: light oak (tan), walnut (brown), maple (yellow-orange), and mahogany (red). Tone them down by adding a drop or two of black, and you’re good to go!

Keep a Record

Once you’ve found your dream color, keep track of the proportions. That way, you’ll be able to recreate the magic if needed. Trust us, you don’t want to go through the mixing process again if you don’t have to!

Test, Test, Test

Before you dive in, make sure to test your mixed stain on a scrap piece of wood. This way, you can get a feel for the final result and make any necessary adjustments.

Have Fun with it

Mixing stains can be a blast! So, why not have a little fun with it? Who knows, you might even discover a new favorite color.

Applying the stain to furniture

The next step is to apply the stain to your furniture. Before you begin, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and always test the stain on a hidden part of the piece first.

Once you’re happy with the color, mix enough stain to cover the entire piece of furniture. To ensure consistent results, avoid switching between different brands or types of stain in the middle of the project.

You can use a clean brush, cloth, or sponge to apply the stain for oil-based stains. Let the stain set for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the surface turns dull, and then wipe off the excess with a clean cloth dampened with the stain.

If you’re using a penetrating oil stain, you’ll need to wipe off the excess immediately for a lighter color or let it set for up to 15 to 20 minutes for a darker color.

If the color isn’t right, you can adjust it by wiping it with turpentine or mineral spirits or adding more stain to the lighter areas with an artist’s brush.

For water-based stains, use a new brush to apply the stain quickly and evenly along the grain of the wood. Avoid overlapping your strokes, as this will result in uneven color.

To fine-tune the color, apply the stain to the surface and then wipe off the excess. To darken the color, leave the stain on for a longer period. Allow the completed stain to dry for about 24 hours, and repeat the process if needed.

NGR stains should be applied like water-based stains, using a medium-sized brush to make long, smooth strokes.

To minimize brush overlap marks, it’s best to use several thinned coats of stain rather than one dark coat. NGR stains can’t be adjusted, so getting the color right the first time is important.

NGR stains cannot be altered and should not be layered. If a deeper color is desired, apply a second coat only after the first has completely dried. NGR stains are ideal for smaller surfaces or furniture pieces that are manageable. They are also great for projects that demand an exact color match and a consistent finish.

To apply NGR stain, start with a clean, dry surface. Use a clean brush and long, smooth strokes to apply the stain along the wood grain. Cover the entire surface evenly, avoiding any brush marks or drips. NGR stains dry very quickly, so work quickly and efficiently.

Lighten stain on wood

Lightening your dark wood with a little stain can create a stunning light-dark effect! However, remember that this technique isn’t for delicate or fine wood as it tends to cover up the natural color and grain, so use it only as a last resort.

The magic of lightening works best on open-grained woods. The light or white pigment in the grain produces a lighter color, making it pop. A popular lightening agent is a pigmented oil stain or thinned white oil-base paint.

To get the desired effect, apply the oil stain and let it set. Wipe off any excess stain, and let the wood dry completely.

But hold on, your work isn’t done yet! Even the best oil-based stains can raise the grain of the wood slightly. If that happens, you’ll want to smooth out the roughness once the stain has dried completely.

To smooth out oil-based stains, gently rub it with No. 000 or 0000 steel wool. For water-based or NGR stains, sand it lightly with fine-grit sandpaper, but be careful not to sand off too much of the stain. If sanding causes the surface to become uneven in color, don’t fret! Simply apply another coat of stain.

And finally, to seal the deal, you’ll need to apply a coat of sealer.

Final Thought

In conclusion, refinishing furniture requires time, patience, and attention to detail. Whether using pigmented or penetrating oil stains, water-based stains, or NGR stains, the key to success is to experiment and test the color until you get the desired result.

When ready to start, clean the surface thoroughly, choose the right type of stain, and apply it evenly and smoothly along the wood grain. Good luck and happy refinishing!