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Furniture Antiquing and Refinishing

Updated on September 9, 2012

Give an old piece of furniture a second chance

My Goodwill chair project, before and after
My Goodwill chair project, before and after | Source
  • a rag
  • paint
  • crackle paint (optional)
  • sealer/primer
  • paint brushes

Your shopping list

  • a piece to refinish or antique
  • sandpapers
  • TSP (Trisodium Phosphate)
  • a bucket
  • two gallons warm water

Step 1: Choosing the right piece of furniture

Antiquing and refinishing are fun ways to reinvent a great piece of furniture. You can use a chair or table that you already own or go on an adventure to find the perfect project to spruce up. If this is your first time and you're reluctant to "screw up," practice on a picture frame or an inexpensive item from the thrift store. I purchased this old dining room chair from Goodwill for $7.00. If I had the money, room, and time, I would have purchased the entire eight piece set and antiqued all of them.

How to repaint a chair

Mint sprig by Behr and Oat crackle by Martha Stewart
Mint sprig by Behr and Oat crackle by Martha Stewart | Source

Step 2: Picking the perfect paint

By now you probably have an idea of what color you'd like to redo your piece. If not, head over to the paint counter at your local hardware or home improvement store. The Home Depot carries a great selection of Martha Stewart paints and products that are perfect for refinishing or faux antiquing a piece. I used her crackle top coat in Oat as well as her primer/sealer. If you're having a hard time making up your mind, pick out a few paint chip samples and have the clerk mix you up some samples. The size (8 oz) is perfect for a small project like this and if you're not in love with the end result, the sample only cost you about $3.00.

Remove the seat cushion of the chair

Sanding my chair on the back patio
Sanding my chair on the back patio | Source

Step 3: Sanding your furniture

While wearing a mask and working in a well-ventilated area, begin using 100G sandpaper and give your furniture a good sanding. The coarseness of this grade sandpaper will do a great job of stripping away old paint. Don't worry about removing all of the old paint. It isn't necessary. In fact, if you like the current job on your piece, it might show through during the antiquing process. If you don't like it, and or you don't think it compliments the new paint color, be prepared to give your piece a base-coat of a color different than the topcoat you choose. For example-- if you're painting a piece blue and you don't want the brown wood to show when you distress it, paint it white first.

Trisodium Phosphate is a wonder washer!

Remove decades of grime and grossness with some TSP.
Remove decades of grime and grossness with some TSP. | Source

Step 4: Washing your furniture

Trisodium Phosphate is great for prepping furniture that you are about to paint because it's a cleaner, degreaser, and deglosser. When used properly, the TSP breaks down the gloss of oil-based paints and opens up the pores of latex-based paints. This means your new layer of paint is going to adhere to a better degree than if you hadn't used Trisodium Phosphate. If you've never used it before, simply ask for it in the paint department of your local hardware store. It's under $5.00.

If you haven't already, make sure you change into clothes that you don't necessarily care about. Make sure kids and pets are not near your work area as the TSP is (at the very least) a skin irritant (even to the paw pads of your pets). Carefully read and follow all of the directions and warnings on your package of TSP. Dissolve 1/2 cup of TSP into a bucket containing 2 gallons of warm water. Using a rag and your TSP solution, wash your piece of furniture. Washing your furniture with TSP is a great way to make it appear old and worn out. If you like the way your piece looks after washing it, simply let it dry overnight and then paint it with a coat of primer/sealer. If you'd like a different look for your piece, try repainting, sanding and distressing, a crackle paint, or all of the above.

Enjoy yourself-- it doesn't have to be PERFECT!

Paint your heart out!
Paint your heart out! | Source

Step 5: Painting

Paint your furniture with a primer and allow to dry thoroughly. It's a good idea to let your piece of furniture dry about 24 hours each time you paint it. This can certainly draw out this project, but the end result is well worth it. Painting a piece that I'm antiquing is so enjoyable because I don't have to worry about my paint job coming out 100% perfect. Little mistakes are okay and actually ad character.

Crackle in hours, not years

Use a variety of aging methods to give your piece a truly unique look and antique feel.
Use a variety of aging methods to give your piece a truly unique look and antique feel. | Source


Crackling can make your furniture look aged with very little time or effort on your part. There are three ways you can achieve this look for your piece.

  • Elmer's Glue-- Yep, regular old school glue. Paint it on, wait 1-3 hours, apply top color coat when glue is still tacky. As glue dries and contracts your top coat will crack and "age."
  • Crackle Medium-- Purchase from your local paint store. Similar to Elmer's glue but does a better job.
  • Crackle Putty-- Limited availability of colors but works great. Apply with putty knife like spackle and let dry.

How to antique a chair

Use coarse and fine sandpapers to help your wear and tear transition evenly.
Use coarse and fine sandpapers to help your wear and tear transition evenly. | Source


Once your piece has dried overnight use sandpaper to sand off some of the paint. Pay attention to areas that would normally get a lot of wear and tear-- like legs or handles. Sand all corners and edges. Using a very fine sandpaper like 220G will remove the top coats of paint, exposing a base coat. Using a coarse sandpaper like 100G will quickly get rid of any paint and expose the wood. I like to use both methods. Sanding and distressing is the step that can take the longest but again, is well worth it. I had a lot of fun sanding my piece and making it look very old and worn out.

Heather Says

Antiquing and refinishing is such a rewarding project. Relax and have fun. If you make a mistake painting just repeat steps 3 and 4. If you take off too much paint while distressing, simply paint some back on and try again tomorrow. This is a practically fool-proof project that produces lovely and functional pieces of art. Have fun!

I purchased new material from Hobby Lobby to reupholster the seat.
I purchased new material from Hobby Lobby to reupholster the seat. | Source

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