Refinishing an Old Piece of Furniture at a Bargain




Introduction: Refinishing an Old Piece of Furniture at a Bargain

About: I love making things out of discarded materials. When someone tells me something is "broken" I see it as, "it just doesn't know what it will be next!" My training is in Biology, but my interests span every...

I saw this old night stand at a local joint where such gems can be had.  It's from a place in Pittsburgh called Construction Junction whose mission is to reuse and recycle building materials and furniture, and they are awesome.  When I saw this little guy there for 5 bucks, I decided it was time to try my hand at refinishing a piece of furniture, and hey, if I screwed it up, it was $5...

Besides, this was an old piece of furniture, made the way they used to make them... well.  It is solid wood and sturdy, it just had some cosmetic unpleasantness.  Most notably, it seemed that someone's cat decided to use it as a scratching post.  It actually had a thick cardboard backing when I got it, but it was so messed up I had pulled it off prior to taking the "before" pics.  Cosmetic issues aside though, the structure was fine and it was an intact, usable piece of furniture, it just needed a little lovin'.

As this is my first real attempt at restoring old furniture, I welcome any feedback, constructive criticism, or wild adulation.  My woodworking skills were mostly learned in high school, where I worked in a cabinet shop and also did finish woodworking on custom homes. However, my use of these skills has taken about a ten year hiatus, so I am rusty and may get some things wrong... Which is the beauty of instructables, I get to learn from you even while I share my work!  So if anyone has experience with this kind of thing and has some useful hints, please comment.

Step 1: Tools

-Belt sander with 80 and 120 grit belts
-Random orbital sander with 120 and 220 grit pads
-Lots of regular sandpaper 80,120,220,320 grit
-Wood glue
-Wood putty
-clean cloth to apply stain (I used some scraps from a t-shirt)
-Sticky-backed felt

Step 2: Getting It Naked

The first part of refinishing is to remove whatever old finish the piece still has on it.  I started with a belt sander and an 80 grit belt.  I soon switched to 120 grit because the 80 grit was leaving grooves, which I knew were going to be difficult to get out.  Anytime you are doing "finish-work"  belt sanding becomes a serious trade off between time saved in stripping and time spent in getting out any grooves it puts in to the wood.

Follow the belt sander with a few passes from the ol' orbital sander at 120 grit (to smooth things out) and then 220.

Step 3: Get Meticulous

This was the only tough part, and truthfully the longest part.  It pays to be thorough and diligent here.  Any parts you miss will not be able to soak up the new stain.  Which isn't really a big deal if the color is similar, but mine was going to be noticeably different, so I put the time in.
There are a couple of tricks you can use to get around the molding without destroying the edges.  Wrapping the sandpaper around a piece of scrap that has been sanded to the complimentary shape of the area  you are trying to sand, it will fit neatly into the spaces without rounding them all down.

I didn't take any pictures of the drawers, but the process is the same.  Remove the hardware from them and repeat the stripping from step 2 on the flat surfaces.  After that, its all detail work.

Step 4: Make Repairs

As I had said before, this was a pretty stout piece of furniture, but it still had been beat up pretty bad. There were a couple of splits that needed to be glued.  I also filled in the cat scratches that I couldn't get out with sanding.  If you've never used wood putty before, "less is more" definitely applies, despite what my picture shows.  90% of what you see there was wiped away before I let it dry and harden.  Excess wood putty just gums up your sand paper later on but adds nothing to the finish product that a minimal application wouldn't have done.

Step 5: Stain

The staining is pretty straight forward.  I used a wipe on stain which just requires a clean cloth to apply.  I highly suggest gloves!  Simply dab a blob of stain onto the wood and wipe in the direction of the grain.  I haven't used this kind of stain before, but I was really happy with the results.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

This is after a single coat.  It had decent coverage, but I wanted a darker stain to match the other furniture in the room where we would eventually keep this.  I ended up using about 2.5 coats.  I liked it after 2 coats, but then when I brought it outside and into the house, the changing light showed me some spots that could be touched up.  I recommend, if possible, to put a new piece that is being finished in the natural lightning environment, before judging whether or not you are done with it.  Your shop lighting will always look different on the finished product than the lighting in its final home.

Step 7: Finishing Bits

This little guy only had two of the four "feet" on the bottom and they were a little mangled, so I pulled them out.  The wood floors in the room where this will be are pretty soft and prone to scratching, so I opted for a thick felt rather than feet.  You can find this kind of felt at any hardware store in the same section you would find furniture "feet" or casters.  Just cut to size, peel and stick. 

Step 8: Replace the Hardware

This bit is pretty self explanatory.  I liked the hardware it came with and it was still in good shape, so I just put it back in. 

One note: do your best not to lose screws or small bits of hardware from any old hardware like this.  It is unlikely you will find a suitable replacement.  Plus it is just a dumb problem to have if you needed to replace all the handles and knobs because you lost a screw, as I almost did...

Step 9: Finished!

And there you go!  A new nightstand on the cheap.  I actually think the stain cost more than the furniture at 7-8$.  Because I already had the sand paper, felt and tools, the total cost for me was about $12.  It probably took me about 5 hours altogether which was spread out over several evenings and a weekend.

Thanks for reading!  I welcome and comments and feedback.

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    4 Discussions


    6 years ago

    Nice. Personally, I would have gone with a coat of poly after the stain. My preference.

    Mar HK
    Mar HK

    6 years ago on Introduction

    The end result looks nice. This is pretty much the same strategy I used refinishing my first piece of furniture (a writing desk) earlier this year.


    6 years ago on Step 9

    This is fantastic! I want to furnish my future house with old refurbished furniture. Favoriting this one for later use! :)


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I love the idea of re-using and re-purposing old furniture. Plus if you can have a good place to find old stuff, you can usually get high quality furniture very inexpensively, it just requires a little extra work. Stay tuned, there will be more...