A lot of our furniture that we own, in and around the home, is made from wood, although this maybe less so the case in modern times. Often, when old wooden furniture starts looking worn, people will tend to dispose of it, but with just a little bit of time, effort, and some simple tools, you can make your furniture look new again. Alternatively, you might be working on a little project at home that could benefit aesthetically, and functionally, from a coat of stain and varnish. By conditioning, and varnishing, your timber, you helping to it keep its shape and extend its lifetime.
You will need some tools along the way, including sandpaper or sanding blocks (usually from 240GSM up to 150 GSM), a suitable bristle brush, rags, mineral turpentine, empty jars, and tack cloths. Tack cloth is a slightly adhesive cloth that will help pick up any little imperfections like dust that may settle on the wood between coats.
If you want to recondition existing furniture, or whatever it may be, the first thing you will have to do is remove the existing coats of varnish and stain. If you want to keep the existing colour, then you will simply need to sand off the layer of varnish. I recommend using 180-grit sandpaper to begin with, then make your way down to 240. If you are removing a layer of varnish, using a suitable wet/dry sandpaper and soaking it with water will stop the varnish from sticking to it. If you would like to give it some new colour, keep sanding until you remove the stained layer and get down to the natural colour of the timber. Remember, with everything you do, always work in the direction of the grain: be it sanding, staining, or varnishing. Once you have finished sanding, clean off the dust with a rag, and then clean off again, with the tack cloth.
1. First make sure all the parts are sanded down to ensure a smooth surface before conditioning. Depending on condition of the timber start with a 160-grit sandpaper and finish on a 240 grit
2. Wipe off the surface with a rag and tack cloth to remove any dust
3. Mix wood conditioner using a clean paddle-pop
4. (Optional) Apply wood primer on all surfaces of the wood with a flood coating, wait 2 hours before flipping over and applying on other side
a. Wait at least 6 hours before staining
Next, it is time to stain the timber if you have chosen to do so. If you would like a natural finish, or to keep the previous colour, you can skip this and go straight to varnishing. There are water based and oil based stains and varnishes, but stick to using one type for the stain and the varnish. There are also stain and finish (varnish) cans you can buy, which will also varnish your timber at the same time, but you may also need to do extra coats of varnish if you feel that you have reached the desired colour in the wood. Before you begin, make sure you are working in a well-ventilated environment that won’t be affected by the stain. Stain is near impossible to remove from clothes, and difficult to remove from skins, so wear gloves, and work somewhere that won’t be affected by any splashing.
1. Mix wood stain using a paddle-pop, or if the stain has not been used in a while shake vigorously an hour before use
2. Apply wood stain on top side and end grains on the sides
3. Wipe off any stain that has dripped onto the underside
4. Wait 5-10 minutes
5. Wipe off wood stain using a rag. Ensure this is done in a circular fashion (wax on, wax off)
6. Wait 2 hours until stain is touch dry
7. Flip wood onto the other side
8. Apply wood stain on the new topside
9. Wipe off any stain that has dripped down onto the sides, but take care not to take off any on the top’s edges
10. Wait at least 6 hours before doing another coat
11. Repeat this process so there are 2-3 layers of staining done (3 recommended)
Now for the varnishing, make sure you have wiped the surface off with the tack cloth. If you’re working with mostly flat surfaces, start off with using a brush, and try and keep the coats even on the surface, but don’t go back and try to touch up the varnish if you spot something at the end. If there’s an imperfection, wait for it to cure and sand it off, and try again on the next coat. You will want around 2-3 coats with the brush and finish off with spray lacquer (of the same type); this will help you get a nice smooth finish. If you’re working with furniture with contoured surfaces you may find it easier to exclusively use spray lacquer. Leave the brush to soak in mineral turps between layers, and make sure the surface is touch dry before flipping it over and doing the other side.
1. Mix polyurethane clear coat while taking extreme care not to introduce and air bubbles
2. Apply coat to the top and sides, but do not go back over areas that may not be exactly even; doing this afterwards may compromise the finish
3. Wipe off any lacquer that has dripped onto the bottom side
4. Wait 2-3 hours
5. Flip wood back over
6. Apply coat on new topside
7. Wait at least 6 hours
8. Use 180+ GSM sandpaper and sand the surface moderately and even out any blotches
9. Use 240+GSM and be gentle after the first coat, careful not to remove any of the stain!
10. Repeat until 2-3 coats have been applied
11. Sand down once more
12. Wipe off dust with tack cloth
13. Apply an even coat of spray lacquer on top
14. Wait 2-3 hours
15. Flip over
16. Spray even coat on other side
17. Repeat until at least 3 layers of spray lacquer have been applied; until surface is uniform and sand lightly between each layer
18. OPTIONAL coat the table surface with a layer of beeswax timber finish
19. Rub off beeswax with a rag in a circular fashion once it is dry
That concludes this condensed guide on how to complete wood staining and finishing on timber for new timber products, or give new life to your furniture at home. As always, remember to work in a well-ventilated space, and if you don’t want something to get dirty from splashes or spills, cover it up or work in a different area.
Charlie Ho Si