1. Safety

Chemicals and equipment that can be physically harmful are used when restoring furniture and if you don’t take proper precautions it can be disastrous. To avoid this, ensure you have the right tools. Besides, wear protective gear like long-sleeved shirts, rubber gloves, and eyewear when restoring old pieces to prevent small chemical splatters from reaching your skin.

Also, make sure that the area you work in is well-ventilated to allow the proper flow of fresh air. This reduces the risk of inhaling harmful vapours. It is highly recommended that you work in an open space. Store the oily rags as specified in the instructions to avoid possible fumes or combustion in your home.

Finally, keep in mind that older paint is usually susceptible to lead so be careful when handling it. If you are suspicious that your old furniture has lead, contact a professional to do the stripping. If you want to do it yourself, the room must be well-ventilated.

2. Identify the Surface

The next step is identifying the type of wood finish you’re dealing with before restoring it. This might be challenging to some individuals as varnish, shellac, and Lacquer are hard to determine. Therefore, you need to conduct some experimentation to identify the type of finish you are handling.

First, apply denatured alcohol to identify the finish. If the surface peels off, then it has a shellac coating. If you apply lacquer thinner and the layer peels off with it, then you are dealing with lacquer coating. If neither of them works for the surface to come off, then it has a varnish coating.

Enamel, paint, and other pigmented surfaces are less challenging to recognise. Other finishes like oil, a penetrating sealer, or wax are identified through a lack of sheen.

3. Cleaning

For a successful restoration of old furniture, proper deep cleaning is highly recommended. There are a few proved methods you can use to scrub surfaces like wooden, wicker, or rattan. The most preferred method is using the oil-based commercial cleaner as it cuts through all layers of dirt.  If it doesn’t restore the furniture’s original lustre, use warm water and a liquid detergent.

You can clean the wood using a piece of cloth but you have to ensure the surface doesn’t get too wet. Rinse the surface and then dry it by wiping it with a clean and soft cloth to prevent it from getting water damage. Finally, wax the surface.

If the mentioned methods fail to work, use a solvent cleaner to restore the old surface. The solvent can range from turpentine, mineral spirits, to denature alcohol. This process should be carried out in a well-ventilated area or preferably outdoors.

Use an old towel or burlap bag to apply the solvent of your choice and have a clean, soft cloth to wipe it immediately. Clean the wood finish thoroughly, apply the commercial cleaner, and then wipe the surface immediately with a clean cloth.

4. Reamalgamation       

At times, the wood finishes are left with scratches or cracks that give it a dull look with a crackling effect.  The workaround to these scratches and cracks is doing some repair work through a process known as amalgamation. It involves using a solvent on the finishes to help get rid of imperfections.

Before you start the process, clean the surface with a clean cloth. Then apply a solvent, which can be either denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner. The former works best on shellac finish while the latter is best suited for a lacquer finish. If the finish is varnish, then reamalgamation cannot be used.

Use a natural bristle brush to apply the solvent of your choice and make sure you take a short time to keep the bristle brushes from drying. When the solvent dries, it develops a sleek appearance but then changes a few minutes after to a slightly dull finish without the cracks and scratches.

You can then scrub the finish using steel wood. Scrub gently as you move the steel wool along with the timber’s grain in the same direction. Ensure you use wax if you want the restored piece to showcase that extra shine.

5. Stripping

After removing the scratches and cracks on the finish, you need to get rid of the old layer on the top. Stripping the old finish gives room for a new one, and it’s the only way of making room for a new finish. When the surface has many layers of paint, it becomes harder to strip the surface as required. You’ll have to apply a semi-paste and then allow it to cover the surface for a while to loosen the old paints to make sanding or scrapping easier.

Stripping should work systematically. That is, you should work from the top going to the bottom as you apply a stripper in a single direction. It is also important to focus more on the carved areas as they need more paste because that’s where the paint or finish is tougher to get rid of.

After applying a stripper, allow it to sit on the surface for approximately 20 minutes. It can be more as it depends on the thickness of the finish. Then start scraping the surface with a putty knife or a stripping tool. A few other applications are required to remove all the finish.

After getting rid of 95 per cent of the old finish, use a liquid stripper to remove the remaining bit. Apply the liquid with a bristle paintbrush and allow it to sit for a while before going to the next step. Then use a brash-bristled brush or a piece of steel wool to remove the finish from the carvings and corners.

Finally, rinse the surface with a stripper. You should use a squeegee on flat surfaces and a putty knife that is wrapped in a paper towel to reach the tight areas.

6. Refinishing

Refinishing is the final step and it involves doing final touches that will give your old furniture a new look. To do this, you will need to apply a coat of stain which is then covered by the finish.

Check if they are any issues, such as broken seats or cracks that should be fixed.

Sand the furniture with 120-grit or 100-grit sandpapers before wiping the surface with a clean cloth or vacuum it.

The next step is applying the stain using a bristle paintbrush and let it sit for approximately 5 minutes before wiping the excesses with a clean soft towel. Then apply a sanding sealer and leave it for a whole night so that you can do sanding the next day with 220-grit sandpaper.

After sanding, apply the finish. The finish helps in preserving the stain and protecting the wood. Use lacquer, polyurethane, or varnish to give it a nice sheen.

You can add something special to your finish like the glass cabinet knobs.


Restoring old pieces of furniture is a gratifying process that changes how your house looks. The process can be time-consuming for the first time, but it gets simple when you are used to it. Use these six steps to restore old furniture in your home.