Introduction: Refinishing Old Furniture

Picture of Refinishing Old Furniture

This example shows how to refinish a cedar chest, but the technique is the same for any wooden furniture. I've also included a lot of information about other techniques, and their pros and cons, as well as some tips I've found for making the job easier.

My grandpa found this old cedar chest (I think at a garage sale) a few years ago. He planned on refinishing it and giving it to my wife as a wedding present. Then he was hit head-on by a drunk driver. Countless surgeries and several years later, his back and leg still aren't up to the manual work of refinishing. So he gave the cedar chest to me and instructed me on how to refinish it. With his help, and with some research of my own, I've managed to finish the job (get it? aha-ha-ha?).

What you will need:

  1. Sandpaper (~ 10 sheets of 150 grit, ~3 sheets of 220 grit, 1-2 sheets of 320 grit).
  2. Clear Varnish (a small can of General Finishes water-based polyacrylic).
  3. A Paint Brush (a 3-inch wide synthetic brush from Home Depot).

FOR REFERENCE: Notes on Alternative Refinishing Methods, Brush Types, Finish Types, etc.
There are lots of ways to refinish. People use stains, shellacs, varnishes, lacquers, waxes, oils... it's a little overwhelming. Searching online gives you a lot of people that swear their way is the only right way. But after a lot of searching, and some conversations with my grandpa, I think I have a decent handle on what's what.

In this instructable, I'll be using clear finish only. I'm not coloring the wood at all (with stains or oils). For cedar, this looks pretty nice, because the wood has a lot of color of its own, and the clear finish really brings it out. On the other hand, when I've done the same thing on pine, the results are pretty boring. It depends on your wood, and your desired look. TIP: If you want to know how your wood will look with just a clear finish, use water. Just smear some water on the wood with a paper towel. The way the wood looks wet is approximately how it will look with a clear finish.

Clear finishes generally provide a protective coat on top of the wood.They might bring out the color of the wood (think increasing saturation, if you're a photographer), but they don't really change the color.

But what type should you use? Here are the options:

Types of Clear Finish

  • Shellac: Shellac comes in anything from a spray-can at a craft store to fancy flakes that you can mix into a liquid and apply with a brush or sprayer. It has a stigma of being kind of a cheap-and-easy solution. It can be brittle, is not very water resistant, and can yellow with age.
  • Lacquers: Lacquers can give a very high gloss. They are hard to apply with a paint brush, and less durable than some other types of finish. Some have yellowing problems.
  • Epoxies: Epoxy is normally used as glue, but there are types you can use for finishing. You mix two parts together, pour them onto a flat surface, spread with a disposable brush, and let set. You get an extremely durable, thick finish (I think this is what a lot of restaurant tables have), but the epoxy is more expensive and complicated to apply, especially to non-flat, non-horizontal surfaces.
  • Varnishes: These are probably the most popular. Polyurethane and Polyacrylic (or Polycrylic) are examples. These are very durable and can be applied with a brush, sponge, or even a cloth. However, since they are so common, there are a lot of options out there that deserve some de-mystification.

Varnishes: De-mystification

  • Polyurethane or polyacrylic? This is the question of the ages. I've searched for info on which is better. There are some who swear by one, some who swear by the other. Polyurethane seems to be the more common, by a hair. Other than that, I can't say I've found a difference. I used polyacrylic because the guy at the Woodcraft store handed me a can and said it was good.
  • Matte, Satin, Semi-Gloss, Gloss? The obvious answer is that the matte is less shiny than the gloss, and the others are in between. What was news to me was some advice from the guy at the Woodcraft store. He said always use gloss for most of your coats. If you want the final finish to be matte, then still use gloss for all but the final coat. Why? Because multiple coats of matte will start to cover up the wood and make it hazy. Better to build up clear, then finish with your desire shiny-ness.
  • Water-Based or Oil-Based? Both polyurethane and polyacrylic come in water-based and oil-based varieties. The water / oil is what carries the solids in the finish. The solids are what is left when the finish is dried. Why use one or the other? Well, there are pros and cons to each.
    • Water-Based Pros:
      • Dries more quickly (2 hours vs 4-6 hours between coats).
      • Doesn't stink as much when you're applying it.
      • Easy clean-up (you can just rinse your brush out in 30 seconds under the faucet).
    • Water-Based Cons:
      • Coats go on thinner, so more coats are required (3-5 instead of 2-3).
      • Some people find it harder to apply with a brush.
      • Can be a little more expensive.
      • You can't use a natural-fiber brush.
      • It "raises the grain" (makes the wood swell a little, so the surface becomes a little rougher. I didn't notice this at all, but if you do, you can brush plain water on the wood and sand it while the grain is raised before you apply the finish).
    • Water-Based Facts: This can be either a pro or a con, but water-based finishes don't change the color of the wood at all. They bring it out, but they don't give it an amber tint (think no white-balance change, if you're a photographer). Some people like the amber tint, and think the wood looks cold without it. Some people think it looks more natural without the amber tint.
    • Oil-Based Pros:
      • Goes on thicker, so fewer coats are required (2-3 vs 3-5).
      • Some people find it easier to brush.
      • You can use a natural-fiber brush, if you like.
    • Oil-Based Cons:
      • Lots of fumes when you're applying it.
      • Difficult to clean up (you need solvents, like paint thinner, to clean your brush).
      • Takes longer to dry (4-6 hours vs 2 hours between coats).
    • Oil-Based Facts: Again, this can be either a pro or a con, but oil-based finishes give the wood an amber tint. Think changing the white balance from day-light to shade, if you're a photographer. Some people like this, some don't.

Other Questions:

  • Bristle brush, Foam brush, or Cloth? You can use any of them. I haven't been able to find any pros and cons of one over the other. The guy at Woodshop said to use a cloth. A few articles online say to use a foam brush. I used a bristle brush, because that seemed the easiest way to have good control.
  • Natural bristle or synthetic bristle? If you're using an oil-based finish, you can use either. Natural fiber brushes are apparently preferred. If you're using a water-based finish, you have to stick with synthetic bristles. The natural ones will soak up the water and get sticky / soggy / hard to use.
  • What about stains? Stains add a color to the wood. Unlike paint, they are not opaque. They're more like applying a color filter to a photo, or looking at the wood through tinted glasses. Sometimes they can look really nice. Other times they look artificial. If you put an oak-color finish on pine, for example, the combination of a very open grain (pine) and a dark oak color (when oak usually has very fine grain) will look pretty unnatural (see this toy sword I made, where I did exactly that). If you do apply a stain, you do it after sanding and before the clear finish.
  • What about oils and waxes? Oils (like linseed oil, tung oil, teak oil, or butcher block oils), soak into the wood rather than coating it. They increase the wood's natural color (the same way a clear finish would) and often give it an amber hue (like an oil-based clear finish would). Usually you have to keep reapplying them every couple years, but they're easy to apply (you just rub them in and then wipe off the excess). Gun stocks are finished this way a lot of the time. Collectors pay a lot for the patina of a gun stock that has been oiled for the last hundred years. However, oiled wood is pretty vulnerable. You can wax it to add some shine and protection, but it's not a tough protection, and it has to be reapplied periodically too. This is more of a purist approach, and some people like the look better, but it's also more work and less durable.

That's about it. Now, on with the instructable.

Step 1: Start Sanding the Big Flat Areas

Picture of Start Sanding the Big Flat Areas
You can get fancy chemical finish removers, but one of the only ways that's guaranteed to work is sanding... a lot of it. I started with 150 grit on an orbital sander to remove the finish on the big, flat areas.

(General Tips on Sanding, if you're not familiar with the basics)
  1. Sand paper grits tell you how rough the sandpaper is. 60 grit is really rough. 80 is less rough, but still really rough. 100 is less rough, 150 even less rough, and so on. 220 is pretty smooth... just about as smooth as you need to go before applying your clear finish. 320 is really smooth; this is what you'll use between coats. For 400 plus, it's almost hard to tell that it's sandpaper at all.
  2. Start with rough grits. To remove a really thick finish, you could start with an 80 or 100 grit. Just remember that the really rough grits will remove material faster, but they'll also leave deeper scratches that you'll have to sand out later.
  3. Work your way up to finer grits. Don't do this until you've finished with the current grit. 90% of the work is usually done with the first grit you use. After that, you're just getting rid of the sanding marks you left with the last grit.
  4. Go with the grain, when you can. If you sand against the grain (not parallel to the lines in the wood), it'll look weird and scratched. Sometimes you have to, like in a corner, but try to avoid it.
  5. Be patient. Sanding is a lot of work, but it's also magical. You really get to see a lot of improvement during this step.

Step 2: Sand the Curved Areas by Hand

Picture of Sand the Curved Areas by Hand

This is where you can employ your sanding-with the grain technique. Pay special attention to these areas; it can be easy to get lazy and skip them, but they make all the difference.

Tip: If you have a really crazy edge, say the edge of a table with curves and cutouts, you can make a custom sanding block to make your life easier.

  • Use plastic wrap (or your sandpaper) to cover the edge you want.
  • Make sure the plastic wrap conforms to the edge well.
  • Cover the plastic wrap with some kind of putty or foam (the triple expanding insulation from Home Depot might work well)
  • When the putty/foam dries, you have a sanding block that is the exact shape of the edge you're trying to sand.

(Disclaimer: I haven't actually tried this, because my edge was pretty simple, but I read the tip in a book from the library, and it sounds awesome.)

Step 3: Finish Sanding With 150 Grit, Then Re-Sand With 220 Grit

Picture of Finish Sanding With 150 Grit, Then Re-Sand With 220 Grit

Once you've removed all the finish with 150 grit sandpaper, re-sand the whole thing with 220 grit. Don't worry, this second sanding will only take about 10% as long as the first. I used 7 or 8 sheets for the first sanding, and only 1/2 sheet for the second sanding.

Step 4: Fix Any Broken Spots

Picture of Fix Any Broken Spots

If your furniture has broken areas, now is the time to fix them.

For cosmetic fixes (like the big splinter that had broken off of the leg on this chest), wood glue is great. It's very strong, especially if you can keep the gap between pieces of wood as thin as possible. Apply the glue, use a clamp, and wipe away the excess glue before allowing to dry. After 24 hours, you'll have a very strong bond. You can lightly sand the area to remove excess glue and bring everything flush.

Step 5: Remove All Saw-Dust From the Chest

Picture of Remove All Saw-Dust From the Chest

If you have a blower or vacuum, clean the sanded wood thoroughly. Then wipe the whole thing down with damp paper towels. You'll be surprised at how much wood dust clings to the furniture.

When I initially started, I didn't wipe down the chest good enough. As I was applying finish, I noticed tiny little flecks of sawdust on the wood, and saw that my brush was turning brown with sawdust it was picking up. I had to periodically clean my brush. On the remaining coats, I was careful to wipe everything down first, and had no problems.

Step 6: Prepare Your Finish

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Stir the Polyacrylic with a paint stirring stick. Don't shake or stir too vigorously (this can create bubbles). If you do create bubbles, wait a while and they'll go away.

Step 7: Start Your First Coat on a Non-Descript Area

Picture of Start Your First Coat on a Non-Descript Area

I decided to flip the chest upside down and apply finish to the bottom first. The bottom wasn't very well sanded, and didn't really need finishing, but I figured if I messed up here, it wouldn't be as important.

The Technique:

The instructions for polyacrylic aren't very helpful. They say not to "over-brush" and to apply several coats. What exactly is over-brushing? It seems to be something that come with experience. My policy was to brush as little as possible. Following some unnecessarily long video tutorials I found online, I followed this procedure:

  • Dip the brush about 1/2" into the finish.
  • Spread the finish on the wood, not worrying about brush strokes or going with the grain. Just get good coverage and use the brush to work the finish into all the pores and crevices.
  • Finish by "tipping off": making long, soft brush-strokes over the area you just covered. Go in the direction of the wood grain. This will smooth out any puddles, drip marks, etc.

Step 8: Finish Applying First Coat

Picture of Finish Applying First Coat

Finish applying your first coat to the entire project. Check back over everything you've done to find and fix any possible drips, runs, puddles, or thin spots. Move your head around to see things in reflected light.

When you're satisfied, let the coat dry for the recommended time (2 hours for my water-based polyacrylic).

Step 9: Sand the First Coat With 320 Grit Sandpaper

Picture of Sand the First Coat With 320 Grit Sandpaper

Once the first coat has dried, sand it very lightly with 320 grit sandpaper. This will help smooth out any runs you missed and help the second coat stick.

Once you've sanded, don't forget to wipe everything down with damp paper towels or a damp cloth to remove all sandpaper.

NOTE: The first coat may have "soaked in" and disappeared almost completely, so that the wood looks like it did before applying any finish. That's ok. The second and third coats will soak in much less.

Step 10: Apply a Second Coat

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Apply a second coat in exactly the same way as you applied the first.

Step 11: Repeat for Up to Five Coats

Picture of Repeat for Up to Five Coats
  • Allow second coat to dry.
  • Sand with 320 grit sandpaper.
  • Wipe off sawdust.
  • Apply third coat.

Repeat for a fourth and fifth coat if you like (I did 5 coats).


  • In the later coats, it becomes more difficult to see where you have applied finish and where you haven't. Use reflected light.
  • Check for runs or drips that have collected. Fix them by tipping off before you allow the finish to dry.

Step 12: Re-Assemble and Admire

Picture of Re-Assemble and Admire

Some people like to sand the final coat with 400 grit (or finer) sandpaper. I thought it looked really nice without a final sanding, so I left it.

Let the final coat dry for longer to completely harden (24 hours to a week), then re-assemble your furniture and enjoy it!

Keep reading for a few helpful tips I discovered.

Step 13: Tip 1: Use Water to "Preview" a Clear Finish

Picture of Tip 1: Use Water to "Preview" a Clear Finish

If you're not sure whether to use stain or not, you can use water to see how your wood will look with clear finish on it. Just get a paper towel or sponge wet and put some water on the wood. The wet portion will look really similar to what the wood will look like with a clear finish on it.

Step 14: Tip 2: on Prolonging Sand Paper Life

Picture of Tip 2: on Prolonging Sand Paper Life

This tip is from my grandpa: You may notice melted finish building up on your sand paper. If you want to prolong the life of the sandpaper, you can use a knife or razor blade to pop off the finish so you can keep sanding.

Step 15: Tip 3: How an Orbital Sander Vibrates

Picture of Tip 3: How an Orbital Sander Vibrates

This really doesn't have any bearing on how to refinish old furniture, but I think it's fascinating. When you turn an orbital sander on, it vibrates. The whole time I sanded, I thought it was vibrating back and forth from front to back, so I tried to go with the grain when I could. Then I took some slow motion video, and realized that the sander actually vibrates in a circle. That's why they call it an orbital sander, I guess.


burn144aa (author)2014-02-25

"Over-brushing" is working the product too much and/or too long. Basically, the more you brush a finish the more the finish is being exposed to air. This in-turn causes the coating to begin setting up too quickly, negating the "flow" agents in the product. This is especially problematic with waterborne finishes (polycrylic, waterborne-alkyds, and other "hybrid" products) as they already dry 2-3 times faster than oil (alkyd) products. Generally speaking, the longer the "open-time" (dry time) a product has, the better it will flow, or "self-level". I typically recommend a varnish for beginners due to their extended open times, which typically create a smoother finish for inexperienced applicators. Waterborne coatings are definitely the more durable coating. People have a tendency to overwork these products though, because they see brush strokes and try to "smooth" them out by brushing over the area again and again... However, this process causes the coating to dry even quicker and they end up with terrible brush strokes. It seems counter-intuitive, but these products are designed to (more of less) do the hard work for you. I tell people to "let the product do its job" by applying the product quickly (saturating the area) then in one-two brush strokes, leveling the coating out in the direction of the grain. I haven't heard your term of "tipping", but I believe the wording you used to be very correct and useful.

I have 13 years of experience in the coatings industry and was very impressed by your instructable! Great work! Here's a couple quick notes you can use at your discretion:

If staining, please don't over sand the wood. If you just plan to use a clear finish, go ahead and sand as fine as 220-320, but don't sand finer than 180 if you plan to stain the wood. If you sand any finer (especially with any mechanical sander), you run the risk of closing the open grain of the wood and causing poor penetration of the stain.

Also, with regards to stain, all soft-woods (alder, pine, fir, hemlock, cedar, or any wood that comes from a tree with needles) should be tested for blochiness and a pre-stain conditioner should be considered to achieve a more uniform color.

Use of a sanding sealer can reduce the number of finish coats by 1-2 coats. It's like primer for clear finishes. Sanding sealer also sands MUCH easier than the actual finish (in the coatings industry we call this a products ability to "powder up").

Instead of using a damp paper towel to remove sanding dust, use a "tack cloth". They are a slightly sticky cheesecloth-like material that remove dust/debris w/out causing grain-raise, swelling or water marks.

Lacquers are not brushable and are only recommended for spray application. Do not attempt to brush lacquer. It dries much too fast (i.e. 5-10 minutes) and will leave tons of brush strokes.

One other interesting tidbit... Shellac is basically beetle poop. No joke! Google it. The worldwide population of the shellac beetle is dwindling and creating a raw-material shortage. As a result shellac is becoming more expensive almost monthly. Shellac, however, is an incredible product and is still the preferred finish of many fine woodworkers.

solobo (author)burn144aa2014-02-26

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Great information here.

DorisM13 (author)solobo2016-04-18

You are welcome. Hope you enjoy the product as much as I have. I did this desk with The Finish Rejuvenator years ago. It has a decal on the front and it made it look great without removing anything. DJ

LyndsayM8 (author)2017-06-06

This is awesome! Very helpful. Any thoughts on sanding veneer?

solobo (author)LyndsayM82017-06-07


My only thought on sanding veneer would be to be careful: you don't want to sand so much that you go all the way through the veneer of course.

LyndsayM8 (author)solobo2017-06-12

So the messages app on this website doesn't work very well so I'm not sure if I have sent you any pictures.

Knowing that I have never sanded anything before I am prepared for plan B which would be sanding off ALL the veneer and just painting or staining what is there. Could you refresh me on which grit to use to sand off the veneer? I worry about what will happen when the veneer meets the decorative ridge on the lid....

solobo (author)LyndsayM82017-06-13

Yep, I saw the pictures and replied (see comments); I think sanding the veneer with 150 grit should be safe, but if you want to sand off the veneer entirely, I'd go with the lowest grit available (60 or even 40 grit), or better yet, a planer.

LyndsayM8 (author)solobo2017-06-13

Ah ok. Thank you again. Odd I can't see that comment.

LyndsayM8 (author)solobo2017-06-07

What size grit do you think? I have never sanded anything.

solobo (author)LyndsayM82017-06-07

Do you have a picture? You'll probably be pretty safe with 150 or 220 grit, but depending on how much finish you have to take off, it might take a while. 60 or 80 grit would be more aggressive, but more risky.

LyndsayM8 (author)solobo2017-06-07

Here are all the pictures. Let me know if you think 150 or 22 is good. The sander I'll be using is a cheap black and decker with the triangle shaped sheets. Should I invest in a random orbit sander?

solobo (author)LyndsayM82017-06-08

No, the sander you have should be fine I think. I think you should be fine starting with 150 grit. Looks like a fun project; let me know how it turns out!

BeckyK31 (author)2016-08-31

So much helpful information! I'm stripping my veneer white oak front door and need some guidance... The door has been sanded as much as possible, but any recommendations on how to get the remaining pieces of stain? I fear something too caustic would damage the veneer. ANY suggestions would be so appreciated!

solobo (author)BeckyK312016-08-31

Hard to say... Veneer is just thin wood, so anything made for stripping wood should be safe... I'm not very experienced in using chemical stripping agents though.

BeckyK31 (author)2016-08-31

So much helpful information! I'm stripping my veneer white oak front door and need some guidance... The door has been sanded as much as possible, but any recommendations on how to get the remaining pieces of stain? I fear something too caustic would damage the veneer. ANY suggestions would be so appreciated!

ClareS15 (author)2016-05-04


I have a set of old garden chairs. They've been varnished, but I'd like to restore them with oil. If I sand them down to remove all obvious traces of varnish, back to what looks like the natural grain, can I restore them with oil so that it works to protect them?


solobo (author)ClareS152016-05-04

I don't have experience doing exactly that, but from my understanding of varnish and oil, I think it should work no problem. Varnish is more of a top-coat, so as long as you get it all off, your wood should be pretty much fresh for using the oil. The only difficulty might be making sure you get all the varnish (if it's clear, it would be easy to miss a spot, which would prevent that spot from soaking up the oil and probably make a pretty obvious discoloration).

Good luck!

DorisM13 (author)2016-04-17

FYI You don't have to remove every finish.. I use a product for keeping the original finish. It won't change the color but if its just dirty and scratched and dinged its always worth a try. The nice thing about it is it repairs the finish but doesn't leave any oily residue like stuff like Old English. It in the finish and lasts for years. I have used it for years because I sell antiques and it was only sold in the Tulsa area until they got the website. I have a few pics of a cedar chest I will post. Go check out the product it may keep you from having to strip every item. DJ

solobo (author)DorisM132016-04-17

Very cool, thanks for sharing!

mdcgrl (author)2015-07-20

i have a cedar chest my grandfather made over 130 years old and looks pretty good I was wondering if I can do ting oil and then shellac over that for protection of the wood more?

DorisM13 (author)mdcgrl2016-04-17 Look at the Finish Rejuvenator. You may not have to refinish it at all. I agree never put a finish over a finish. This product was invented for keeping the old finish and bringing it back to like by putting the Oil IN the finish where its needed. I love it for my antiques and it was invented in Oklahoma and sold in Tulsa before they got the website a few years back. I added some pics of a cedar chest I did a while back. up top

solobo (author)mdcgrl2015-07-21

depends on what the cedar chest already has. It may be varnished already: if so, putting tung oil (or any other oil) on top will probably not do much of anything. If not, then there shouldn't be any problem with oiling and then varnishing (although you should make sure the oil is dry before varnishing). Shellac isn't the best varnish though (it can crack / yellow with time and isn't very water resistant). You might go with polyurethane or polyacrylic instead.

mdcgrl (author)solobo2015-07-22

Thank you for your response. I am not sure what's on now. I plan on sanding as per your tutorial and was thinking of the tung oil mostly because it sounded easier. Good to know about shellac, slot of tutorials said to use that!

atmchemgirl (author)2016-03-29

This article is by far the most comprehensive, straightforward with "here's why" explanations article about refinishing an old cedar chest. I'm refinishing the exterior of a chest that looks exactly like yours and have a situation I hope you can address.

My dad built this chest in high school shop class in 1955. As such there are little construction quirks that I want to preserve. The problem is how to preserve exposed bark on the boards making up the chest's floor exterior? The only way to see this is by flipping the chest over plus this area was left unfinished. The bark areas are shallow so they do not compromise it's interior which is pristine. If I choose to finish the bottom what is the best way to address the bark?

solobo (author)atmchemgirl2016-03-29

I think you could just coat the bottom with polyacryilic / polyurethane like you do with everything else. You won't get the super-shiny finish without sanding, but sanding might remove the bark or make it look ugly, so that's probably your best bet.

Sometimes you'll see tables / furniture with rough wood and a thick, almost glass-like finish. Sometimes there are even coins or something beneath the layer of finish. That's usually a pour-on epoxy (more expensive and a bit of a different process). I wouldn't recommend it for the bottom of a cedar chest, which you probably won't see anyway. If your just looking for some extra protection, I'd say skip the sanding on the bottom and thereafter treat the bottom like you do the rest of the chest.

I'd love to see a before / after picture! Good luck.

beloved-jewel (author)2016-01-04

Very nicely put together, congrats!

I've got a question for you... I'm about to refinish a table. I'm very concerned about dust, hair, pollen or any fine particles sticking into the finish as it dries. If that occurs, what should I do? Will sanding after each coat be enough to fix this? Should I take any extra specific precautions to try and avoid that?

Thank you :)

solobo (author)beloved-jewel2016-01-05


I would guess sanding would help. I didn't notice this being a problem with mine; the problem I ran into was more with dust left over from sanding (wiping everything down with a wet paper towel helped).

I have heard of people cleaning out the garage and putting plastic over everything when they paint their car... I guess you could do the same thing if you're really worried about dust. I think that just making sure your workshop is clean and you haven't swept or done something else to stir up dust in the past couple hours should be good enough though.

beloved-jewel (author)solobo2016-01-06

Alright! Thank you so much for your reply! I appreciate it a lot :)

Djmgemstones (author)2015-12-21

Great job with your instructions

paks2much (author)2015-08-31

All this being said, and VERY well, could you tell me how to restore the interior of a cedar chest? I've chosen to leave the exterior alone for antique value purposes, but I would like to improve the purpose of the cedar. Mine currently just has a musty, funky smell, no longer cedar-like. I want to store woolens, sweaters, etc. in it. Thoughts?

MichellineJ (author)paks2much2015-10-12

i was instructed to leave the chest open for a couple days and use a wet cloth to wipe the bare cedar inside and as it dries it pulls the natural cedar oils to the surface. The chest I have now smells amazing!

paks2much (author)MichellineJ2015-10-13

I think I'll try this one first, and if I don't get the same results as you did, I'll try the sanding technique. Thank you!!

solobo (author)paks2much2015-08-31

A lot of articles recommend sanding the interior to remove the thin layer of old wood (which brings back some of the smell), then rubbing in a bit of cedar oil extract if you want the smell to be stronger.

paks2much (author)solobo2015-10-13

Thank you so much!

mdcgrl (author)2015-07-20

i have a cedar chest my grandfather made over 130 years old and looks pretty good I was wondering if I can do ting oil and then shellac over that for protection of the wood more?

mdcgrl (author)2015-07-20


CaseyG1 (author)2015-07-13

Really nice article. We use many of the same techniques with our residential furniture repair services. I particularly like your "de-mystification" of varnishes section.

Soft Touch

solobo (author)CaseyG12015-07-13


Hestia Athena (author)2015-02-15

thank you for this valuable information. It was written very clearly.

solobo (author)Hestia Athena2015-02-15

no problem

tzny (author)2014-07-15

Excellent tutorial on finishes and varnishes! Thanks for the tip about using gloss finish - this makes a lot of sense. I also found this article useful when researching about oils/varnishes, although the variety of products still makes it very confusing to pick the right one. There're seem to be lots of legends/lore/advice about using various "oils". In the end, I just picked water-based polyurethane varnish for most of my finishing needs.

solobo (author)tzny2014-07-15

Yeah, definitely, it does seem like there are people who swear by just about every possible method. I think you've made a good choice with water-based polyurethane; it's probably great for just about everything.

pguncheon (author)2014-03-05

As one who restored and refinished antique furniture professionally for many years, I have to say that this is not the way to deal with any piece with antique value. I never sanded a finish off a piece. First, it's way way too much work. Secondly, and more importantly, by sanding you remove all the patina that gives an antique agreat amount of its charm and value. Also, the process described may work for something with a lot of flat surface such as this chest, but for anything with carved detail, it would be nearly impossible to "sand" off all the finish in the nooks and crannies. As stripping is basically "cleaning", think of the difference between cleaning a breadboard and cleaning an egg beater.

I used a two step method involving two different types of stripping solutions, both of which were petroleum based solvents. I used the coarsest steel wool available to loosen and remove the finish. I could strip a chest similar to the one in this project in under thirty minutes, using about a pint of each stripper. I only used sandpaper to smooth the new finish between coats.

If one wanted to use this abrasive technique, I would recommend employing properly sharpened scrapers for the flat areas. Much faster and easier.

The idea of casting spray foam insulation to make profile sanders won't work. The stuff is too soft to hold a shape besides being a true mess to work with. One would be better off using sanding sponges.

As long as I'm, talking about furniture stripping, never use the hot or cold "dipping" stripping services on any thing that is wood that you want to get back.

solobo (author)pguncheon2014-03-06

Thanks for the advice; I definitely agree that sanding antiques or furniture with carved detail would be less than ideal. Can you give us more detail on the stripping solutions you used? I don't have any experience with those.

pguncheon (author)solobo2014-03-06

If you consider "stripping" to be "cleaning", as I mentioned, the task becomes a bit clearer... at least to me. I used 2 stippers available from a company in Chicago, where I have not lived for over 25 years. I cannot recall the name of the company and I have not found the stripper any where else. However, the first stripper was the gel like material we all know. Extremely caustic. This was brushed on liberally and put the finish in suspension. The hard part of stripping is getting rid of the resultant gooey mass.

I scraped as much of the stuff off with a putty knife and then used a second "Antique Refinishers Remover", applied and scrubbed with a paint brush, to remove the rest of the gunk. It would dissolve the goo and make it like alcohol... easy to clean up. This remover had flakes of wax in it. Why? I don't know. In any event, now when I strip a piece, which is a rare event, I usually use lacquer thinner or M.E.K.

solobo (author)pguncheon2014-03-06

Cool. Sounds like it's a tradeoff between extra work (with sanding) and extra mess and expense (with stripping). I may have to give it a try sometime with the lacquer thinner or M.E.K. Thanks!

Dr.Bill (author)2014-02-28

Is that chest made by Lane? Looks like ah Lane.

solobo (author)Dr.Bill2014-03-06

I'm not sure... haven't seen any identifying marks on it. I believe my grandpa got it at a garage sale.

lostatsea3698 (author)2014-02-28

hey brother! great instructable: extremely well researched and summed up (in an INFINITE HOLE of very experienced, knowledgeable professionals!) Great explanation and very nice work! Thanks so much for your time and help!

solobo (author)lostatsea36982014-02-28

Thanks! Glad to share.

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