Restoring old furniture can be an incredibly satisfying hobby. For a relatively low cost, you can save pieces from a landfill and give them new life.

When looking for a piece to restore, look for telltale signs of age. Touch wood for smoothness, feel for dull interior corners and check for dovetail joints.

1. Clean It Up

Whether it’s a piece of furniture that’s been tucked away in the garage or passed down from a beloved relative, an old wooden table probably needs some cleaning and care to bring out its best. Using the gentlest cleaning methods possible, remove dirt and grime from the surface and in crevices.

Depending on the finish, you may need to sand it to make sure the top is smooth. Ideally, you’ll be working in an area with easy-to-clean floors and put down drop sheets to catch any spills and dust.

Before sanding, test the finish by dabbing denatured alcohol on a cotton swab and wiping it across an inconspicuous spot of the furniture. If the wood stands up to the alcohol, it’s likely shellac, lacquer or varnish, but if the wood swells, it’s more likely oil-based polyurethane or a polyacrylic finish. Regardless of the type of finish, wipe off any residual cleaner with a damp cloth.

2. Repair It

Some old wood furniture pieces have become darkened or dull over time from a build-up of dirt and grime. Often, this can be corrected by a thorough cleaning. Using a sponge and liquid Ivory soap will remove much of the dirt, making your furniture look new again. A paintbrush can also work well for detailed areas.

For water stains, try a mild solution of non-gel toothpaste and a damp cloth. Test the spot first to ensure it won’t damage the finish of your piece of furniture – and always use a soft cloth.

If your wooden furniture has lost its appeal, simply adding a few modern stainless steel knobs or changing the height of the legs can give it a new and appealing look. Changing the color of your furniture is another easy way to make it match your current décor. It will also hide any old scuff marks and scratches that might be on the surface of your furniture.

3. Stain It

Once you’ve repaired your piece and sanded it, apply a wood stain to bring out the natural grain. Stain also protects the furniture from future damage and gives it a new sheen that will make your refurbished furniture look brand-new.

Choose a color that matches the light and dark areas of the furniture. If you’re unsure, test the stain on a scrap of wood before applying it to the furniture. If you do this, be sure to let the stain dry thoroughly before using it.

Use a microfiber staining pad or brush to apply the stain. Start in the most visible area and work your way around the furniture, wiping away excess stain as you go. This will prevent blotchy spots.

After the stain is fully dried, wipe it down with a cloth soaked in mineral spirits or a commercial furniture finish restorer product (like Minwax Wipe-on Poly). Once dry, reapply a clear coat of wax to seal and protect your new-look furniture.

4. Wipe It On

Refinishing a piece of furniture means more than just giving it a facelift. It can also help bring it back to its original condition so that it is safe for the use it will receive in your home.

If your wood furniture has a light layer of mold, it’s important to remove it as quickly as possible before it can cause further damage or make you and your family sick. Use a mild soap solution to clean off the mold, and then wipe with a damp cloth to remove loose spores and prevent them from sticking.

If the default hardware on your furniture has become dated and outdated, consider switching out the knobs and handles to give it a fresh look. This is an easy and inexpensive way to change the overall appearance of your piece. Just be sure to research the type of stain you will need for the new hardware. A quick Internet search should point you in the right direction.

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