Monday, 12 May 2014

Refinish Wood Without Stripping

A few weeks ago my parents came down for a visit. It was just a casual Saturday lunch, but in typical McCutchen fashion, my mom and dad had packed the entire car with all kinds of 'antiques'. They brought floor lamps, drawers, 78 records, and a gramophone.  (I guess I should mention that I had asked for these items). And although the car was literally FULL on the drive up to Toronto, that didn't stop them from braking for a yard sale, and it definitely didn't stop them from purchasing the cutest little children's table and chairs set; a steal at $10 (down from $15)! McCutchen's are well versed in the art of bargaining. Thanks, Mom!

I took this photo of the set, although for some reason I only set up two of the three chairs.

This was a project that I was very excited to get to work on; I had so many ideas! Should I paint little childish pictures on the chairs? Should I make it a girly tea table or a boys game table? I spent days brainstorming and bouncing ideas off Chris. 

Finally I came to my decision: I would restore the set using the trendy 'dip painting' style and I would make it appropriate for both sexes. In the end, I wanted to challenge myself to style the table and chairs the way I would if they were going to go in my own child's bedroom or playroom. I wanted to create a set that would look fun and playful (good for kids), but also modern, clean and classic (good for me). The dip painting idea seemed a great fit, and I hoped the end product would be something that I wouldn't hesitate to put in my own home.

Not sure what this dip painting is all about? Below are a few examples. And let me tell you, this trend is everywhere! So now that you've been turned on to it, you'll likely be spotting 'dipped' items all over the place. 

You could dip paint spoons, baskets, vases and even mason jars! Or you could add a splash of colour to a kitchen stool or a bedside table! Sometimes it's nice to let the paint contrast with the exposed natural material (wood, glass, wicker) and other times playing with two shades of paint will yield a lovely result (ie. the gold dipped table, above).  How easy would it be to make those spoons at home? 

Since I would only be painting parts of the chairs and table, I needed to refinish the rough, beat-up wood. However, I didn't want to spend hours stripping, sanding, re-staining and re-sealing. I felt that since this was just a child's set, I would not get a return on the investment of time that it would take to do all that. So I needed to restore or refinish the table and chairs without stripping. 

If you have a piece of furniture that has seen better days, but you don't want to go through the long work of stripping and refinishing, this how-to is for you! Here is how I did it:

To Refinish Wood Without Stripping

How do you restore wood without stripping? It's my secret weapon! Restor-a-Finish! 
Ok, maybe it's not my secret weapon, but the process really is almost as simple as a single product. Restore-a-Finish is a penetrating formula that blends out scratches and blemishes with a simple wipe-on, wipe-off process. It comes in many colours, giving you the opportunity to match your old furniture or update it with a slightly darker finish. 
 Before I began, the wood was dry and 'thirsty' looking.
 Not only were the chairs scratched and weathered, they were splattered with old paint.
 To begin, I gathered my supplies: 
Varsol (paint thinner) and Fine or Medium Steel Wool / Restore-a-Finish and Superfine Steel Wool / Cloth. 
 To clean the old painted splattered wood, I wet the fine steel wool (medium coarse steel wool will also work well) with varsol.
 Then I rubbed the surface of the wood with the steel wool. (I re-wet the wool with varsol as I needed). For very stubborn paint splatters I really had to give it my all. I definitely broke a sweat! This step takes a bit of muscle, but overall it is not hard. The old paint does come off eventually. 
Once all the paint was removed, I wiped the surface with a slightly damp cloth and let it dry.
 Next, I wet the superfine steel wool (for this step use ONLY superfine) with a bit of the Restore-a-Finish. 
Then I applied the finish by rubbing the steel wool on the wood. 
It is important to move the wool along (or with) the grain of the wood and not against it.
I immediately wiped the surface of the wood with a clean dry cloth. 
(Had I been working on a larger project, I would have applied and then wiped in sections, as the Restore-a-Finish needs to be wiped off right away). Since the Restore-a-Finish is wiped off, there is no dry time.
Finally, I sealed the surface of the wood using a Finishing Paste or Wax. If you would like instructions on how to use finishing paste, read about it here, in my post on staining and sealing wood. 

It's that easy! A few products from your local hardware store + one afternoon and you've got everything you need to restore that dearly loved, but terribly distressed piece of furniture.
Below are my the Restor-a-Finish Before + After photos (taken before I began painting the chairs). Check it out:



I can't wait to show you the table and chair set when they are all done! I finished all the painting this weekend (and the wood has been restored) so now I just need to remove the painter's tape and seal all the surfaces with a good finishing wax. I should have the 'Before + After' up on the blog in the next week!


  1. I really like how it looks so freshened up but you can still see the character of the wood...there's still little scratches and marks that give it great personality.

  2. I agree! There's nothing like stripping the old layers of paint off a table top to find a piece of wood that's full of character (nicks and scratches).

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