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The Home Depot

Wood Refinishing Guide

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Painting > Wood Refinishing Guide
Wood Refinishing Guide

In these tough financial times, it often makes more sense to make due with what you have rather than go out and purchase something new. Refinishing a piece of furniture can make it as beautiful as they day it was purchased – if not more! With the right expert, you can have something beautiful that will last for years to come. This handy guide will help you when it comes time to find an expert for refinishing wood.


To refinish a piece of wood, you must first remove the original finish, sand the piece, prime it, stain it and apply a protective sealant.

The type of stain depends on the look you want and the kind of wood, either hardwood or softwood, that you are working with. Make sure to be clear with your professional on the look you are going for.

There are three basic ways to remove paint: sanding, applying heat and using chemicals. All three have benefits and drawbacks. Sanding can be done manually, or with a sander. It is pretty effective, but it can also be pretty messy. If done by hand, it can be exhausting. Heat guns go up to very high temperatures to loosen paint off of a surface. However, there is a risk of scorching the surface or even accidentally starting a fire. Chemicals can be effective, but they can also be pretty messy. They can be hazardous to your health depending on how caustic they are. Discuss with your contractor what method is best for your specific situation.


When sanding, the professional will start with 120 grit sandpaper to remove rough patches. It’s important to make sure your expert does a good job at this step – the quality of the final finish depends heavily on a careful sanding job.


Make sure your professional uses a heavy coat of quality sanding sealer to prepare the wood. Sanding sealer is like priming the wood. It helps the wood absorb the stain.


Then, you have a variety of stains to choose from. Wood stains are dyes and pigments mixed with a carrier – like water, oil, petroleum distillate or a finishing agent like shellac or lacquer. Oil-based stains give a long lasting wood tone color. They penetrate deep into the pores to seal and protect, but they can also tend to absorb unevenly. Water based stains provide a much more even look. There are also pigment stains, dyes, pastels and gels that all change and enhance the look of wood. Talk with your professional about which is best for your particular project.


The type of stain depends on the look you want and the kind of wood, either hardwood or softwood, that you are working with. Make sure to be clear with your professional on the look you are going for.


Finally, make sure your professional applies a good protective top-coat so that your wood piece shines like new. You can choose from penetrating oil finishes, polyurethane, water-based polyurethane or lacquer. Talk to your professional about what is best given your piece, budget, and desired outcome and your wood will be sparkling for years to come.


Take care. Because you’re not a professional, you may have some ideas about what you want your wood to look like, but you probably aren’t sure. Have him or her test a small area of the wood first, before doing the whole thing so that you can be sure you know what you’re getting into. Or, they may even have samples they can show you.

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