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Want to refinish your first piece of furniture? Start here!

You've been scrolling through social media and realized there is a whole community out there of people (especially women) who are refinishing furniture, big and small, and you want to try it out for yourself. Whether it be because you need a side hustle, a new creative outlet, have a dresser that was handed down to you that you want to keep buy hate the old, outdated finish, refinishing furniture can be done by just about anyone!

But here's the thing- you have to start by being smart. Follow my steps below to make sure you are getting started on the right foot so that you can finish your piece feeling good about the work you've done!

1) Start with a piece that is manageable. What does this mean? Well, we are all so different with unique qualities, personalities, and situations. Are you someone who gets bored easily? Intimidated easily? Do you have someone that can help with heavy lifting? Do you have access to power tools? Keep all this and more in mind when selecting your first project. Whether it be a small jewelry box, side table, dresser, or hutch, be realistic about what you take on. One of the major issues I hear of when I talk to people who have tried refinishing a piece of furniture is that they never finished. Whether it was because they couldn’t find the motivation, the time, the space, etc. Keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish. The goal here is to finish a project so you know if this is the hobby/side hustle for you.

2) First, do not spend a lot on this piece. I would also try to avoid “free” pieces unless you are certain it is in good condition. Try to find something that is smaller so you are not overwhelmed 5 minutes in.

Now that you have your item, make sure you are prepared with ONLY the items you will need. Getting halfway into your project only to realize you need sandpaper, wood filler, an appropriate paint brush will only hold you back from completing the project timely. This can lead to the project being put on the back burner, or never being finished at all.

Depending on the type of piece you pick, and the amount of work it needs before you even get to the painting par, will really make a difference in the supplies you will need.

Here is a basic list of items you will need for a piece that is in great condition with no repairs needed:

  • Dish soap, water, rags

  • Sandpaper in 2 different grits- 100-150 and 22-400. I love the ease of foam sanding blocks!

  • Paint brush- These were my favorite starting out!

  • *Primer only if you are painting a very slick surface, OR if you are painting a light color over a dark surface. Here are some items from Amazon.

  • Paint- can be latex, chalk paint, etc.

  • Some type of sealant to protect the painted surfaces, especially if your item will be used/touched, such as a side table, jewelry box, dresser. (If you are making something such as a hanging sign that will be used indoors only, this step can be skipped.) This can be polyurethane (water-based), furniture wax, or even something more durable such as polyurethane oil-based. Here are some items on Amazon. For local, easy to find brands, I would stick with Varathane or Rust-oleum.

3) ALWAYS prep your piece! This means that you begin with cleaning it. This is a great time to get familiar with it inside and our- learning it’s shape, needs, possibilities. Next, you will prepare it for paint. “Scuff sand” all surfaces that will be painted. This means you will use sandpaper to remove most of the sheen/shiny areas. This will help your paint to adhere. You do not have to completely sand back to the wood or MDF- you are just removing as much of the glossiness. Clean your piece again after sanding.

If needed, you will also prime your piece. There are different kinds of primers so make sure you are using the correct one. Are you using primer for adhesion or to help block out stains? Certain primers can also block bleed through? These primers can be hand painted, rolled, or even sprayed on.

4) Relax. This is something that is supposed to be enjoyable. Play some of your favorite music, grab a cup of coffee, tea, or anything else you enjoy, and get comfortable. Ask any accomplished furniture refinisher out there and you will get the same answer:

Do you find yourself at peace when painting? YES.

Of course, it can also be stressful at times, but this is the reason you are trying this out, right? To see if you enjoy it, if it creates a space of therapeutic calmness for you, and if you like the feeling of pride and happiness you have when it’s all finished.

Take your time and do it right. Allow your paint to dry between coats. Every item you buy from a store or online will have directions. Follow the drying times between coats. If you mess up, take a step back and figure out the best way to fix the issue or cover it up. And most of all, just go with the flow. Don’t force things. If you start painting a color and now you hate it because it dried darker than you wanted- STOP, regroup, and do what feels right.

5) Reflect. Now that you are done, how do you feel? Did your vision come to life? Are you excited and wanting more, or are you drained and glad to be done? This is why it was so important in #2 above to not spend too much on your first project- the piece itself, the supplies, all the extras. It is great to add all the fun extras- stains, stencils, transfers, appliques, etc. but these all require practice and time to feel confident using them.

So, is this the right hobby for you?

Do you now finding yourself roaming around your house looking for items to paint? Are you feeling so good that you’re willing to take the leap into selling refinished items?

If your answer is NO, good for you! This is NOT for everyone. I respect those who have tried and admitted this is not for them. My best advice is to finish the piece you first started. It is easy to get distracted halfway through. Most people hate the prep part, love the painting/decorating part, and then begin to lose interest again when it’s time to seal it all in. Complete your project so you can move on knowing you did your best. At least now you have the knowledge of what it takes and can appreciate the work others are doing. And maybe now you will want to buy refinished pieces!

If your answer is YES, welcome to the club! Get ready to be up late at night looking through images for inspiration, watching videos for advice, and daydreaming about your next design. Oh, and having at least 50% of your wardrobe covered with paint…

Take some pictures along the way. You won’t regret it. Have some fun, maybe even stage your piece to show off to your friends and family. Saving old, outdated furniture is a noble pastime. Not only are you upcycling, thus helping the environment, but you’re also giving new life to some of the more well-made furniture pieces out there, creating the opportunity for others to own unique, solid pieces in their homes. What a cool thing!

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