.... If the article has the three essentials of good furniture, which are good lines, good wood and good construction, refinishing is likely to be profitable. But if it lacks these essentials it is usually not worth refinishing. Satisfactory results always demand time, patience and much "elbow grease" or rubbing.

The following directions may be used in obtaining a new finish on any piece of furniture.


1. Have any necessary repair work done.

2. Remove all unnecessary ornaments

Meaningless, machine-made carving is often found glued onto furniture, especially golden oak. This can be easily removed by the use of a chisel and the result is usually a decided improvement.

3. Remove varnish or paint

(1) Scrape off, using knife blade, piece of glass, steel, or sandpaper. This method can be used on smooth surfaces, and if the varnish is old and dry, the work of removal will progress rapidly. On rough surfaces, in cracks and crevices, great care must be taken not to mar the wood. This is too harsh a treatment for veneered or any delicate surfaces.

(2) Soften varnish or paint. There are several materials, such as ammonia, turpentine and alcohol, which will dissolve varnish, but the most satisfactory method is by the use of a commercial varnish remover. There are many varnish removers on the market, all about equally good. They soften the varnish, which can be easily scraped off when in a sticky, gummy condition. A putty knife is good for this work on flat surfaces. A paste made of strong washing powder and hot water, allowed to stand on the varnish, then scrubbed with a stiff brush, will remove the varnish.....For a satisfactory final result every particle of the original finish must be removed. Frequently a combination of dry scraping and the softening gives best results. A thorough wiping with gasoline, turpentine or benzine is necessary to remove all the grease of the varnish remover.

1 Adapted from Refinishing and Care of Furniture. Iowa State College of Agriculture, 1925.

4. Remove stains

Use oxalic acid - one teaspoonful to one pint of water. If persistently applied, it will remove ink stains. It sometimes bleaches the wood too much. The color may be brought back by the use of weak ammonia. If stains refuse to respond to this treatment, they may be removed during the next process.

5. Smooth surface

(Wood must be thoroughly dry before smoothing is done.)

Sandpaper: Use over block of wood on all flat surfaces, for this gives even pressure. There are several grades of sandpaper. Use medium or fine, according to needs of piece. Use great care when sandpapering veneered surfaces.

Steel wool: No. 1, fine; No. 2, coarse. Handle with gloves so filings will not get in hands.

Steel scraper: A small piece of steel, the edge of which must be frequently sharpened by filing in order to make it do satisfactory work. Never use on veneered surfaces.

Any one or all three of these may be used. Always work with the grain of the wood and aim for an absolutely smooth, satiny surface. If medium sandpaper or steel wool is used, follow up with finer grade.