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Old Furniture and Thrift Store Refinishing

Updated on October 22, 2015

If you are a treasure hunter, someone with a knack for finding old items and reinventing them, this article is for you! There are tons of bargains out there and with not much experience but a little know how you can turn old junk into something worthy and valuable.

Furniture is one of those things which are expensive when new and serious budgeting is required if you want something nice. The good news is you can transform old finds into new pieces.

Refurbishing furniture is a fun hobby and a great way to add to the d├ęcor of your home on a small budget. Take a look at most interior design reality shows and you will see many of these designers will go hunting for items they can restore. They don't have to be antiques from the 18th century to gain merit and establish a beautiful place in your home. The trick is to look for something which has a solid foundation to begin your refurbishing. In other words, pick things that are still structurally sound and have a removable finish. Preferably items which are made from solid wood with only a veneer, paint or stain finish. Anything made from fiberboard or plywood are not ideal and not worth your time.

Old Relics Can be Turned into New Treasures

My husband and I recently came across an old junk place in Florida. Out of intrigue and our love for hidden thrift treasures, we stopped and perused the row upon row of crazy junk left outdoors mostly for the happenstancer. What luck when we came across an old buffet/dresser style piece of furniture. It was not in bad shape. The price? $10!! We were sold!

*Tip: Check the overall structure of the piece. If there are not too many repairs needed (which will take away from the integrity of the original design), it's worthwhile.

Look for old furniture to refinish at local thrift stores, antique stores, junk yards, flea markets and yard sales. You can also peruse the local newspapers, Craigslist and eBay for used items. What's great about some of these places is you can haggle and get a really good bargain for something you know can be transformed. Remember, one man's junk is another man's treasure!

Proper Tools and Supplies

While the project of refinishing old furniture is relatively easy, you will need a few materials to get started. The materials needed are fairly inexpensive but a hand held sander would be a good investment as it saves tons of time.

Here is a list of possible items you may need to redo an old piece of furniture:

  • Chisel or scraper
  • Stain or varnish remover
  • Palm sander or sanding paper
  • Bleach solution (optional)
  • Stain or Oil/Sealer
  • Screwdriver
  • New hardware such as handles, knobs (optional)
  • Outdoor workspace or somewhere to make a mess


Step 1: Using a screwdriver, remove all the old hardware such as knobs and/or handles.

Step 2: You will need to remove the old stain, paint, varnish or veneer. In this case the piece was coated in veneer which was already peeling off. Take a chisel or scraping tool and remove the old finish. If it is not vaneer you will need to use a remover first. Follow the directions according to which remover you purchase. It is a fairly easy process but will take several hours to a couple days.

Step 3: Begin sanding. Depending on the state of your piece of furniture, you may need a palm or belt sander. You can however do this by hand but it will take much longer. Be sure to sand the entire piece and transform it to a smooth finish upon touch. The original wood should show its integrity. If you enjoy the antiqued look of aged wood you can leave the old knots and stains in place to retain the character.

How To Stain and Finish Wood Projects

Step 4: Be sure to have a clean work area free from dust and debris. Add oil such as Linseed or Tung oil to enhance the natural tone of the wood. If you prefer a stain, you may add a stain such as walnut or cherry. When oiling, apply several coats for at least a week or even up to a month. Generally one coat a day should be used and lightly buffed with a terry cloth towel. The old wood will soak it up and it will act as a sealant to protect it from use.

*Tip: Use bleach to remove old stains and tone down the color of wood as seen below. The overall effect is a washed out color but it is helpful to hide flaws you prefer not to have. Keep in mind bleach is strong and can harm the wood so use moderately and be sure to wipe it off immediately. Don't let it sit for more than 2 minutes. Use in between sanding but be sure it is completely dry each time.

Finally: Replace the hardware with either the old or new knobs and handles. If you are using the old ones you can clean them with turpentine or metal cleaners to bring back luster. We used the old hardware as is to give it the antiqued look and maintain the integrity of the original.

Sanded down and bleached to remove impurities and stains.
Sanded down and bleached to remove impurities and stains.

Once you refinish one piece of old furniture and find out how worthwhile it was you will be hooked! Keep your eyes peeled for the next new bargain and resell your items for more money if you want! The $10 item below could certainly be sold for quite a profit. Either way, happy refurbing!

Several coats of linseed oil will give furniture a beautiful natural finish!  This photo shows 4 coats of oil over a 4 day period.
Several coats of linseed oil will give furniture a beautiful natural finish! This photo shows 4 coats of oil over a 4 day period.


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    • dagny roth profile imageAUTHOR

      dagny roth 

      6 years ago from Neverland

      Thank you OM! It was surprisingly easy and fun to do!

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      6 years ago

      Wow, you did an excellent job on that dresser. Thanks for the easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. Rated up and useful!


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