Refinish Furniture

Unfinished Furniture Bargain

Unfinished furniture is one of the best bargains you can get. Besides saving the amount of the cost of finishing your unfinished furniture, you quite often can get better, unblemished furniture when it sits in all of its raw glory for you to see its surface.

Many very expensive pieces of finished furniture have repairs to their surfaces, big gouges that have been repaired and bad fitting joints that have been filled to name just a couple. The reason for the swirled brush strokes and fly specks in a modern day finish are to allow for and hide boo boos.

I would suggest that you not look for any repaired blemishes. If you haven't noticed them before, you won't notice them now, but if you go looking and find them, then every time you look at the piece of furniture they will stand out like a sore thumb.

Prepare Unfinished Furniture

A very handy tool for surface preparation of unfinished furniture is a pair of cotton gloves, the kind you can get for 79 cents or so that you use for gardening. They'll save you some slivers and show you where you need more preparation.

There are a couple of electric sanders that are good for unfinished furniture, but whatever you do, don't use a belt sander. The good ones are, Finishing sanders, palm sander and orbital sanders random orbit sander. The finishing sander is almost as safe as hand sanding, but if you get off of flat surfaces with the random orbit, the sandpaper can go into random orbit. See my experience with sanding edges with a random orbit on the Sanding page.

Some unfinished furniture is finish sanded with very little final sanding, but those pieces are not too common. Most will have quite a bit of finish sanding. Here is where the gloves come in. Put the gloves on and run your hand very gently over all surfaces. Where ever the surface will need sanding, the gloves will drag. Remember though that all areas of a surface will need equal sanding, not just the rough areas. Sand the rough areas first then resand the whole surface.

If there are a lot of areas that need sanding, put a little corn starch on your glove and it will stay heavier on the areas to sand so you can keep track of them. The corn starch will come off when you give the surface a final cleaning with a tack cloth

Porter Cable Speed-Bloc Quarter-Sheet Finishing Sander, Model #330
Finishing Sander
Tack Cloth
Tack Cloth
Rockler's Tung Oil
Rockler's Tung Oil
Pumice Stone and Rotten Stone
Pumice Stone and
Rotten Stone

Sand With the Grain

Be sure to always sand with the grain. If you sand across the grain it will show when you stain, no matter how fine the sandpaper is.

Tack Cloth

Clean the sanding dust from the unfinished surface very carefully. Any sanding dust left on the surface seems to grow in size after a clear finish is applied. The best thing to clean dust off is a tack cloth. The tack cloth is treated with a very sticky substance that cleans the dust out of nooks, crannies and wood grain.

Sanding for Staining

The success of your staining job is directly related to your sanding job. If the sanding is uneven, then the stain will be uneven too. Stain is absorbed more in less smooth areas.

If you plan a clear finish, only, you can get away with a little less stringent sanding. More about clear finish only in a minute.

Stain Density of Color

Stain density of color can be determined by the amount of sanding and the grit of sandpaper.

If you cut a board into three pieces and sand one with 240 grit sandpaper, one with 320 grit sandpaper and one with 400 grit sandpaper, then stain them with stain out of the same can they will be different density of color, the one sanded with 400 grit sandpaper will be much lighter than the one sanded with 240 grit sandpaper. As you use progressively finer grit sandpaper there are fewer wood fibers available for stain to be absorbed into. The stain also soaks into the wood, depending on the hardness or softness of the wood.

It's best to practice on a piece of scrap wood of the same type as what your unfinished furniture is made of so you can tell what the exact end color will be.

Sanding Sealer

Somewhere along the way someone has come up with the notion that you should seal the wood before you stain. If you want to save yourself some disappointment, don't seal before you stain. If you seal the wood before you stain, then there is nothing for the stain to soak into and you end up with a smeary unstained appearance.

Sealing after staining is a very good idea, some stains will bleed through a finish giving an undesirable appearance and it is a good idea to seal them in. Besides, using a sanding sealer, you can sand it with a very fine sandpaper to give a very good, very smooth surface to apply the final finish to.

Be sure that you use a sanding sealer compatible with your stain and with the final finish product.

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See Staining Wood for information on staining. Return to this page by using your browsers back button or use the Unfinished Furniture link in the Navigation Bar.


See Final Finish for information on the final finish. Return to this page by using your browsers back button or use the Unfinished Furniture link in the Navigation Bar.

Clear Finish Only

Skip the staining step, but do use the sanding sealer step in order to get the smoothest final finish possible. See Final Finish for more information.

Painting Unfinished Furniture

If you plan to paint unfinished furniture it's a good idea to go through all the steps as though you were going to put a clear finish on it, up to and including the sanding sealer. You can get a lot smoother paint job if you seal and sand the sealer before you paint.

For the final paint finish either use spray cans of paint or brush on.

Paint will soak into wood and can take several coats more of primer and a lot more work to get a satisfactory painted finish without sealing the wood before painting.

Some day you may decide to sell your painted piece of furniture, or pass it on to someone else who might want a stained finish and they will definitely bless you when they start stripping and discover that you sealed the wood before you painted. Who knows, you may decide to strip the paint yourself, then you'll get a double blessing.

Enjoy your newly stained and finished, or painted unfinished furniture.

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