How To Restore Wooden Furniture

As you know, we love grabbing a bargain and there’s nothing better than finding a great piece of furniture or fabulous piece of art at a knock down price.

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

The only problem with picking up pieces at these kinds of places, is that they’re usually not in the best of condition. They’re always dirty, they’re usually scratched or dented and in general are in need of a bit of TLC.

You’ve probably already seen the little cupboard in our guest bedroom that we found at our local antique/ reclamation shop.

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

It’s been in the bedroom for about a year now, but we have a bit of a confession to make. Except for a quick clean, we haven’t really bothered to repair and restore it.

Whilst it looks fine from a distance (and it isn’t really in an awful condition), it is a bit scratched and could just do with a general tidy up.

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

Having purchased more than our fair share of used furniture, we’ve developed a go to method of refreshing the pieces before they make it into our home and, unless we buy something with the purpose of taking it to pieces, we usually pick things that are in a fairly good condition, which obviously makes our “restoration” work much easier.

The 3-Step process

#1 Clean, clean & clean

For us, the most important step before starting to work on anything, is to give it a really good clean. When we know that we’ll be painting the furniture, we always use sugar soap. In this case, as we’re keeping the natural wooden finish, we used natural soap for wood (like this one) which is much more gentile to the wood.

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

Just wipe down your furniture with your cleaner and some water. It should be patted dry straight away to reduce the risk of any water marks. You also shouldn’t use microfiber cloths – because of their structure they can leave little scratches in the surface.

It’s probably also worth mentioning that sugar soap is really gritty, so can damage delicate surfaces. If you’re concerned, try it out on a test area first.

#2 Repair

If there are any scratches or dents, these need to be repaired before polishing and treating the surface. Any small dents can be removed by using the same method we used to remove the dents in our floor.

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

Small scratches can be polished away with a polish that’s specific to that type of wood. You shouldn’t polish it too often (less than once a year) as the polish will create a film on the surface of the furniture that will become greasy and attract dust.

Alternatively you can use shoe cream in a matching colour or, when treating light furniture, even use Vaseline.

 #3 Rejuvenate, feed & polish

After carrying out any repairs, it’s time to refresh the furniture. Old wooden furniture that hasn’t been taken care of can be quite dry and really thirsty. How to treat the furniture will depend on the type of wood and how it’s been treated in the past (varnished, oiled, waxed, etc.).

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

Because of the quick and refreshed look that polishes can achieve, they are a popular choice, but are something you should be wary of using. You should also avoid polishes with silicon oils or other mineral oils, as these penetrate the wood and can’t be removed, therefore making any future surface restorations impossible. You should also only use products that are specifically designed for your type of wood. Otherwise, if you’re working on a proper antique, you could do more harm than good!

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

We decided to use a wood oil to treat the cupboard. Oil is great, as it penetrates the wood and permanently protects the surface from dirt and moisture. Oil is also great, as it doesn’t close the pores of the wood which means that it can still breathe.

Considering the little cupboard (it’s actually a record cupboard) didn’t look too bad to start with, we were really surprised at what a massive difference a bit of cleaning and polishing made.

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

It’s hard to capture how big difference it actually is. The colour of the wood has changed slightly and is much more vibrant than before. The natural texture and grain of the wood is also much more visible now.

How To Restore Wooden Furniture

Do you love to shop at flea markets and antique fairs, too? Have you recently restored a piece of furniture?


  1. says

    Good timing! I bought a bed at an auction for £4 a couple of months ago and this fool of Took managed to drop the headboard on Sunday and made a big chip in the wood (I think it’s polished oak). I had a look at those hard wax fillers on the internet but I’m a bit dubious. Don’t suppose you’ve tried it before? Any tips?

    Love that record cabinet btw!

    • says

      A bed for £4?! Lucky you! Depending on where and how big the chip is, I’d try to remove it using the method we used to remove the dents in our wooden floor ( It worked really well for us and I’d just repeat the process until the grain of the wood has risen again. If it’s too deep, the wax filler sticks aren’t actually a bad choice (I’d use the ones where there are multiple colours in the pack so that you can mix them to match your wood exactly – Fiddes does something called Furniture Care Pack).
      Good luck with whatever method you go for!

    • says

      Thanks Jessica! We’re really happy with how it turned out. Your kitchen looks great, too! It’s amazing what a bit of cleaning and polishing can do!

  2. Jo says

    I’ve recently finished upgrading a grubby old writing bureau and before that a teak sideboard for my dining room. The photographs of both are on my instagram page @moogiesgirl if you fancy a neb.

    I used spray paint on both for a flawless finish but would only recommend using spray if you have a garage or shed you can spray in.

    Next up a blanket box (which I’ve had for years and never got round to sorting) for our bedroom then maybe a wardrobe and drawers for the spare bedroom if I can find any I like the shape of for a reasonable price.

  3. Fin Langman says

    Great tutorial and lovely little blog. We have a 2 bed Edwardian maisonette in SW London that we’re about to start doing up. I have a bunch of old furniture ready to be polished and/or repainted. My husband teases me every time I by something else about how I haven’t touched the other stuff yet! Also enjoyed your posts on wallpaper and paint stripping… we have A LOT of woodchip and thick gloss paint to remove 😉

    • says

      Sounds like you have your work cut out, Fin! We always jump at the chance to buy something we like at our local antique place. We may not need it now, but you never know when something fab is going to come along again!

    • says

      Thanks! We’re not experts, but it turned out pretty well. Not sure I’d recommend it for propper antiques, but it definitely worked well for a second hand bargain.

  4. Sylwia says

    Love your corner house. your local antique shop looks amazing. Please could I have their name / address?

  5. Mary Scholes says

    We have a kitchen /diner and my oak dining table has gone very sticky. It doesn’t matter what I use I can’t get rid of the stickiness. I was thinking of using sugar soap to try to remove this sticky coat. Can you please offer any advice.
    Many thanks and love the furniture you’ve restored.

    • says

      We always use sugar soap to clean any furniture that we’re planning on painting. It really removes all dirt, but you have to be careful as it’s really strong and can damage the surface. You will probably have to refinish the surface of the table though. For us, sugar soaps works best on varnished or oiled surfaces. I’d suggest trying a small test area somewhere where you can’t see it like the underside of the table or a leg first – just to be on the safe side!

      • Mary Scholes says

        Thanks for the advice Christine. Will certainly give it a try and let you know the results

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