Techniques for Refinishing Furniture

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Home Improvement

Fixing Furniture Cracks and Gouges

If you encounter deep cracks or gouges on a wooden furniture, you can fill them with wood filler or water putty. Bear in mind that the filler will shrink as it dries, so ensure it is slightly above the surface. Once the patch is dry, sand it down to a smooth finish.
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Cracks and gouges are a common problem on wooden furniture, especially if it is old or has been used excessively. You can remove these problems through some basic restoration techniques, provided that the damage has not gone beyond the surface.

Ensure that cracks and gouges are filled until they are level with the surface of the wood. For small holes like staple holes, you can use wood-tone putty sticks. If you cannot find a perfect match for the wood, you can mix several colors together. Using a putty stick is easy: wipe it across the hole and smooth the surface with your finger. If you plan to finish or refinish the wood, let the putty dry for a week before proceeding further.

For larger holes, wood filler and water putty are the easiest fillers to use. These fillers can be used on finished or bare wood. Wood filler comes in several colors, and water putty can be tinted with oil or water stain.

However, wood filler and water putty patches are usually noticeable and may appear darker than the wood. To achieve the best results, test the patch on an inconspicuous surface to ensure that the color is right.

Wood Filler

To use wood filler, start by cleaning the crack or gouge with the tip of a craft knife. Then press the plastic firmly with the tip of a craft knife or the edge of a putty knife. Wood filler shrinks slightly as it dries, so press it in tightly and leave it slightly mounded above the surface of the wood.

Wood filler dries up fairly quickly, but let it set for at least two days. Then, lightly sand the patch with fine-grit sandpaper and buff the area with No. 0000 steel wool. If the surrounding finish is involved, feather the edges so that the new patch blends in with it. If necessary, stain the patch and buff it lightly with No. 0000 steel wool. Use an artist’s brush to apply finish and feather the edges to match the rest of the surface. Let the finish dry and then lightly buff with No. 0000 steel wool. Clean the area of any residue, and wax and polish the surface.

Water Putty

Water putty dries up flint-hard, often harder than the wood being patched. It is best used on bare wood. Water putty can be toned with oil and water stains, but you will need to experiment to come up with a perfect match. To use water putty, mix the powder with water to the consistency of putty. Then trowel it into the break with a putty knife, leaving the patch slightly high. Let the patch dry completely, and sand and steel-wool the area smooth and level with the surrounding surface. Finish the surface as above, or finish the entire piece of furniture.

Shellac Sticks

For the most professional patching job, use shellac sticks to fill cracks and gouges. Shellac sticks leave the least conspicuous patch and are very effective on finished wood that’s in good condition. Shellac sticks are available in several wood-tone colors. Use a stick that matches the finish as closely as possible. Practice on scrap wood before working on a piece of furniture.

To fill a crack or gouge in wood using a shellac stick, the stick must first be heated and melted. This can be achieved using an alcohol lamp or a propane torch turned to a low setting. Care must be taken not to use a match as the smoke may discolor the shellac, and a range burner should also be avoided as liquid shellac can damage gas or electric ranges. Hold the shellac stick over a palette or putty knife to prevent it from dripping, and then press it into the crack or gouge. Once the shellac has hardened, plane or sand the surface smooth and level. For deeper holes, fill the hole with wood plastic or water putty before filling the indentation with a shellac stick. Alternatively, a piece of wood cut to fit the hole can be bonded to the surrounding wood using carpenters’ glue.


1. What is furniture refinishing?

Furniture refinishing is the process of repairing and restoring old or worn furniture to improve its appearance and functionality. It involves removing the old finish, repairing any damages, sanding and staining the wood, and applying a new finish. Refinishing not only enhances the beauty of the furniture but also increases its lifespan.

2. What tools and materials are needed for furniture refinishing?

The tools required for furniture refinishing include sandpaper, paint stripper, scraper, putty knife, stain, finish, brushes, and rags. Safety gear like gloves, goggles, and a respirator is also necessary. The type of materials required depends on the condition of the furniture and the desired result.

3. Can any furniture be refinished?

Most furniture can be refinished, but the extent of the restoration depends on the condition of the piece. Furniture that has severe damage like cracks, missing parts, or water damage may require professional restoration services. However, minor scratches, dents, and worn finishes can be easily repaired and refinished at home.

4. How do I prepare the furniture for refinishing?

To prepare the furniture, start by removing any hardware like knobs, pulls or hinges. Next, clean the surface with a mild detergent and let it dry completely. Then, use paint stripper to remove the old finish and sand the wood to remove any scratches or dents. Finally, apply a wood conditioner and stain the wood to the desired color.

5. What are some common mistakes to avoid when refinishing furniture?

One common mistake is not properly preparing the furniture before refinishing. This can lead to uneven staining or peeling of the new finish. Another mistake is using too much or too little stain, resulting in an uneven color. It’s also important to use the correct type of finish for the wood to avoid damage or discoloration. Lastly, rushing through the process can lead to mistakes, so take your time and follow the instructions carefully.

6. How can I maintain the refinished furniture?

Regular cleaning and maintenance can help keep the refinished furniture looking new for longer. Use a soft cloth to dust the surface regularly and avoid placing hot or wet objects directly on the furniture. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that can damage the finish. If the finish starts to look dull or worn, apply a new coat of finish to protect the wood and restore its shine.

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