Andrea Ford, RE: Style Studio
Published Tuesday, May 3, 2016 6:00AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 3, 2016 7:22AM EDT

If you have furniture that needs new life, refinishing is a great option to give it a new look. From painting to changing hardware like knobs and handles, there are a wide range of techniques to change up the look. The most labour intensive – and intimidating – can be stripping wooden furniture and staining the bare wood. Here are the tips you need to know for professional results.

1. Current finishes and content: Inspect your furniture. Is it solid wood? Is the finish paint, stain or is the piece made from veneer (thin, delicate wood adhered to a faux wood structure). Very old painted furniture may have lead content so wear a respirator mask and dispose of waste according to municipal by-laws.

2. Work area: Work in a well-ventilated area such as outside or in a garage, but a space that is shielded from wind or dust. Protect your work surface with drop cloths and wear gloves and a mask.

3. Strip finish: There are many ways to remove paint and stain-varnish finishes such as laborious sanding or heat gun peeling, but the most efficient and versatile method is to use a chemical stripper. Choose a non-toxic stripper product in gel form such as GreenSolv or another low-odour, low-VOC gel product and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Brush surface on with a natural bristle brush and let sit for 10-60 minutes. Times will vary depending on humidity levels and temperature – faster in heat and slower in cold. When blistering appears on the surface, scrape away with a wire brush, rag or refinishing scraper.

4. Repeat: For antique or stubborn finishes, several treatments may be needed with the chemical stripper. Repeat until you reach the bare wood. Wipe your surface clean with a damp cloth and remove all traces of gel with a light wipe with mineral spirits or an alkaline soap.

5. Repair: Repair any loose joints or cracks with wood glue and filler as needed. Joints can become loose from wear and tear, as well as exposure to continual stripper coats.

6. Sand: Completely sand surfaces, nooks and crannies with progressively finer sand paper, starting with a coarse grit (60-80), then medium (120-140), fine (220) and very fine (400-600). Foam sanding blocks or a detail palm sander are both great choices depending on the amount of elbow grease you want to expend. Between grades of sanding, wipe wooden surfaces with a damp cloth. This will swell the grain of the wood, raising it for the next sanding and result in a softer surface. Wipe your furniture with a tack cloth or damp rag until the rag wipes clean and it is free of dust.

7. Bare surface prep: Many refinishers prepare bare, stripped wood for staining with wood conditioning products. Conditioners moisturize the wood and allow for stain to take evenly in the next step. Anecdotally water achieves the same results.

8. Remnant colouration: Previously stained surfaces may retain some pigment of previous treatments, forever tinting the colour of the wood. Without a tedious wood bleaching technique, some red and auburn stains may always show through new stain colours.

9. Choosing stain: Stain products are available in several forms: oil-based brush-on for the most natural transparent application, water-based brush-on for a more opaque result, gel or paste form and even packaged pre-loaded stain wipes. Oil stains are my go-to for the best pigment results.

10. Staining wood: Oil stains are best applied with a rag in a wiping motion from end to end along the grain line of the wood. Oil stains are my favourite for conditioning the wood and the ability to quickly adjust to thirsty wood grain. Pigment is suspended in an oil substrate which penetrates the wood and allows the natural variances of colour to shine. Allow the wood to dry completely before adding more coats and remove any drops or dribbles before the surface dries. The colour of your wood will lighten by 25 per cent once the stain has penetrated and dried. Lightly sand surface (long strokes) with a high grit (400-600) sand paper or sponge and repeat coats of stain until you’ve achieved the desired colour. Stain is additive so colour will build and deepen with each application.

11. Protect: Follow the stain manufacturer’s directions for cure time before adding protective coatings such as clear coat, protective wax or penetrating oil sealant. For a clear coat brush-on product such as Verathane or Polycrylic,avoid stirring which creates bubbles and foam that transfer to your furniture surface and leave pock marks. Brush thin, even coats on your stained surface with a dense foam brush. Use long, consistent strokes from end of the surface to the other end. Try not to make short or disconnected strokes that will leave bubbles and marks. Let sit and let cure fully (usually up to 48 hours) before using.

For more info check out RE:Style Studio’s website

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