How to Restore Old Furniture in Your Home

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Before throwing out that old furniture, know that you can get your antique pieces looking like new with a little know-how and elbow grease. Our guide shows you how to restore old furniture safely and easily. From cleaning to refinishing furniture, you can unleash your inner DIYer with our collection of tips. 

Step 1: Appraise Your Furniture 

If you have ever watched an episode of Antiques Roadshow, you know that just because something is old does not mean it has lost its value. In fact, some older pieces are worth a small fortune.  

Before you start restoring your old furniture, check the piece's value before you begin sanding or treating it with chemicals. Altering the finish of expensive furniture may turn off a buyer who would pay you enough to buy a new piece altogether. 

Step 2: Purchase the Right Furniture Restoration Tools 

Depending on the type of furniture – and the materials you plan to restore – you will need the right types of tools to get started.  

Protective gear should be top of your list. If you plan to sand or use harsh chemicals to strip an old finish, make sure you purchase the proper PPE (personal protective equipment). These may include protective eyewear or facemasks to protect you from sawdust or strong vapors. 

Next, make sure you have the right equipment to complete the job. Besides paint and brushes, you may need additional equipment such as: 

  • Orbital Sanders 

  • Wood Filler 

  • Paint strippers 

  • Refinishers 

  • Wax topcoats and more 

This guide from Prodigal Pieces does a great job outlining all the furniture restoration tools you need to get started.  

Step 3: Clean Your Furniture 

With older furniture, it can be hard to see trapped dirt or dust that has collected over the years. So, make sure to give your furniture a good wash with wood soap and warm water. Use a toothbrush to get deep into those nooks and crannies for detailed wood pieces. For very deep grooves, a sharpened dowel rod can scoop out collected dirt without harming the wood. 

Step 4: Repair Broken Parts 

Over time, hinges, screws and other mechanisms will inevitably wear out. While it can be challenging to find the exact matches for larger parts like table legs or chair arms, you should be able to find similar matches for smaller parts, like knobs and hinges, at a local furniture repair or hardware store. 

You should also tighten any loose screws you find. However, if the screws are worn or rusted, try replacing them with newer wood screws from a hardware store. 

For little dings and dents, apply colored wood filler. If you plan to restore your old furniture by staining it, choose a wood filler in a similar color.  

Step 5: Restore, Refinish or Repaint 

There are ways to restore the luster of older furniture quickly and easily. Applying beeswax or carnauba wax on furniture with minimal surface damage can breathe new life into the wood. 

Completely, refinishing furniture requires a bit more effort. Unfortunately, you cannot just paint or stain over the original finish; you need to sand or strip the original coat to apply a new one properly. The best way to accomplish this is through a combination of paint or finish stripping and sandpaper. 

When stripping the finish, make sure to wear the proper protective gear and do all your work in a well-ventilated area.   

If you plan to stain your furniture, it is important to choose the right stain for your wood type. This guide from Home Depot can point you in the right direction.  

Another option is to paint the surface any color you like. You will still need to strip the original finish. However, paint only covers the wood; it does not penetrate and protect wood the same way stain does.   

Finally, if you are looking to restore any ornate marquetry or gilding (those detailed veneer or gold patterns common on older pieces of furniture), then it is best to take to a professional. Restoring these elements takes a steady hand and years of experience.  

Now that you know how to restore old furniture, you will need some design inspiration to find the perfect spot for it. Explore our gallery of homes for some home design ideas that will properly showcase your hard work for all to see.