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As good as new 

Don’t throw out that old chest of drawers, student’s desk or coffee table. With time and effort you can restore the item to its former glory


Gina Hartoog


Do you have a piece of furniture that has seen better days or perhaps it just doesn’t suit your current décor style? With some TLC and a little effort, your old item can look new again. With any piece of furniture, first determine if it is worth repairing. What is the item worth, not just in terms of cash, but also the sentimental value to you? Also look at what work needs to be done and the likely costs for the repair. 

A few simple repairs and a new coat of varnish or paint won’t break the bank, but can be time-consuming. The end result may be well worth the effort you put in and far cheaper than purchasing a new item. If any repairs need to be made, do these first. The real restoration work starts long before you mix that tin of varnish or paint.


Stripping off an old finish

If the item has an old layer of varnish or paint (or several layers), you must remove this first before you proceed. Stripping is hard work and time-consuming, but a far superior finish can be achieved if you commit to the time needed in this step.


Inspect the finish on your item. If it flakes off quite easily, you may be able to remove it with a sharp paint scraper. Work with the wood grain, taking care not to gouge the wood. Take your time. A paste or gel chemical paint stripper can also be used to remove the old finish. Strippers will likely be necessary if there are numerous layers of varnish or paint on the item. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when working with stripper. Use a face mask and gloves. If you are working indoors, make sure the room is very well ventilated.


Apply the stripper and let it sit. Once the finish starts to soften and blister, use a paint scraper to gently remove it from the surface. Tough chips of varnish or paint can be removed with a piece of steel wool. An old toothbrush is useful for getting into those hard-to-reach places on furniture. Check the item thoroughly for missed spots and apply more stripper as needed.


After stripping, the wood must be neutralised. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines. Some strippers need to be neutralised with mineral spirits, others with water. Always allow the item to dry thoroughly before proceeding with the next part of the project.


It is also worth noting that a heat gun can be used to remove an old finish, but if you opt to use this tool, you must take extra care not to burn or scorch the wood.


Sanding tips

Choose the correct sandpaper grit and use it at the correct step of your project. Coarse and very coarse sandpaper is rarely used for furniture. Sandpaper for furniture is usually within the medium fine to very fine grit categories – start with a medium fine grit and work down until you are satisfied with the result (see the ‘Sandpaper grit guide’ below). An orbital sander is a useful tool when working on furniture, but you will still be able to achieve a successful result by hand sanding. If you are going to sand by hand, use a sanding block for better efficiency. Stop periodically and remove the sanding dust from the item so you don’t clog up the sandpaper. When sanding around corners, take care not to round them off; use a sanding block and keep edges square.


Working with wood filler 

Wood filler is used to fill in small notches, scratches, cracks, nail heads and defects in the surface of wood. Ensure that the surface is clean, dry and sound before you apply the wood filler. If the wood is very oily, rub it down with a solvent to remove surface oil. Very dry surfaces can be moistened with a little water. Keep in mind that wood filler is not flexible, so any movement in the wood will cause the product to crack and fall out. 


Apply the filler with a putty knife. Filler usually shrinks a little when it dries, so overfill the hole slightly to compensate. Smooth over gently and allow to dry. Drying time depends on the thickness of application and the ambient conditions – anything from 10 minutes to four hours. Once cured, wood filler must be sanded flush with the surface. A finishing coat of paint or varnish can then be applied. Alcolin has an extensive wood filler colour range, but you can also ‘tint’ filler to match your project – just add a little paint or mix two colours together. If a water-based wood filler becomes a little hard, add a few drops of warm water to restore it to a workable paste.

Source: Alcolin


Resealing furniture


Preparation and application

Step 1: Spread old newspapers or a drop sheet beneath the item that you will be working on. This will save time on the post work clean-up.

Step 2: Wipe the wood with a cloth moistened with mineral turpentine to remove surface wax and oil.

Step 3: Sand the wood very well. The better you prepare the surface, the better the results will be. Sand the wood until any old varnish or finish is removed and you are down to bare wood. Make sure that all sanding marks and scratches are sanded out, as they will become more visible as soon as you apply a sealer to the wood. Make sure that the wood is completely dry.

Step 4: Apply the first coat of Woodoc Sealer (5, 10 or 20) liberally with a good quality brush, making sure you keep on applying until the wood is completely saturated and the product starts to build on the surface.

Step 5: Leave to dry. Sand very lightly with fine steel wool, wipe with a soft,
dry cloth and you are ready for the second coat.

Step 6: Apply the second and third coats in the same way. Always apply at least three coats. Again, leave each coat to dry completely before applying a subsequent coat, and let the final coat dry completely before using the item.


Important to note: Woodoc sealers penetrate into wood to feed and stabilise the wood below. These sealers tend to darken wood slightly, with much the same visible effect as rubbing moisture (water) on wood or hand lotion on dry skin. If it is important to retain the very light appearance of wood, the use of Woodoc Water-Borne Floor Sealer (available in Clear Matt and Clear Gloss) to seal the wood is recommended. 



Once the wood is sealed, it is protected against bumps and scratches, water, alcohol, moderate heat and cold, and the item can be used with confidence. For maintenance, wipe down the wood very lightly with Woodoc Penetrating Furniture Wax whenever it looks a bit dry. Leave to dry overnight and wipe off any excess wax with a soft, dry cloth.


Painting furniture


Preparation and application

It may once have been frowned upon, but painted wooden furniture is once again in vogue. An old and forgotten piece can be revamped with a coat of paint, perhaps in one colour or several. Possibilities are endless – choose different colours for dining chairs and dresser drawers or elegant, traditional paint finishes like sponging, dragging, stencilling and distressing.


First things first

The key to achieving a professional finish for your item is to properly prepare the surface prior to painting. The goal is to remove any protective varnish or lacquer that is on the surface of the wood, making it easier for the primer coat to adhere. Sand the item thoroughly (see above). Pay close attention to any scrollwork or other indentations in the wood, making sure to sand those by hand as thoroughly as possible.


Wood filler (see the box ‘Working with wood filler’) can be used to touch up surface imperfections, but remember to pay attention to these areas and sand them flush with the rest of the furniture item. If you want to replace hardware items on the furniture piece (hinges, handles, etc.), remove these now and fill in the old holes. Sand the filler. Remove sanding dust with a damp cloth and allow to dry. If necessary, use a mild detergent and wipe down the wood surface. Dry thoroughly.


Step 1: Ensure that you choose a well-lit and properly ventilated area in which to work. Protect the floor with a plastic
drop sheet and secure it in place with masking tape.

Step 2: Primer coat. If you want your coat of paint to adhere evenly and for better longevity of the furniture item, consider a primer coat. Skip this step if you want a more distressed look on the piece. Use a roller on wide, even areas that aren’t contoured and use a paintbrush along corners, edges and hard-to-reach areas. Apply one coat. Allow to dry as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Sand lightly with fine sandpaper and remove sanding dust with a damp cloth.

Step 3: First coat of paint. Use a foam roller to go over even surfaces first, then, using even strokes, redo areas with a paintbrush, paying special attention to the places where the roller could not reach. Inspect the piece for any areas that are not completely covered. Allow to dry; overnight is best, but at least six hours is advised if this is not possible.

Step 4: You can sand the item lightly (use a fine grit sandpaper) after the first coat to ensure a smoother finish is achieved.

Step 5: A second coat of paint. Essential for a professional finish. Apply a second coat, but make sure you use fluid strokes for an even application. Do not overload the brush as this often leaves a streaky finish.

Step 6: Sealing the paint job. An optional step. Once your second coat is completely dry, you can apply a clear lacquer or sealant to protect the surface from nicks and scratches. This will also give the piece a slight, attractive shine. Allow the sealant to dry thoroughly before moving the furniture item into position and using it.

Sources: Alcolin (; Prominent Paints (; Woodoc (

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