Refinishing furniture for yourself is very different from refinishing furniture for clients; but even more rewarding when you can see someone else’s vision come to life through your work. After years of refinishing furniture for my own home and to sell, I’ve decided to refinish furniture for others.
I absolutely love what I do. It’s relaxing, rewarding, and I get a chance to meet so many amazing people. Suzanne was a new client of mine. She’s from my town and knows alot of the people I know but we never knew eachother until now. The day we met, I learned that both my cousin and a close friend had helped with her kitchen update, bringing it from stained oak to bright whites and light grays.
Suzanne was now ready to refinish her furniture to coordinate with her new lighter and brighter white cabinets and gray countertops.
That’s where I came in.
I’ve always thought of furniture as a blank canvas. Sand. Evaluate. Paint or stain. Evaluate. Paint or stain a little more. Evaluate. Basically, reading the furniture and how it accepts the paint or stain as I go. Whatever comes off the tip of my brush is the end result.
Refinishing for clients is very different. Sometimes you’re working with someone else’s beginning vision and trying to make the furniture adapt to that vision. Sometimes there’s no clear vision they just want something different.
Either way, it’s a process.
I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist, but when working with someone else’s furniture versus a free piece I picked up off the curb, I always take extra care to deliver furniture that’s as close to the client’s ideal vision as possible.
Suzanne’s kitchen table chairs started as a basic maple table. At least I’m assuming it’s maple. It could be a harder wood from Asia. The set was very yellow from the thick layers of polyurethane.
Four hours of sanding later, 85-90% of the color was able to removed with the sander; but even with a lot of hand-sanding it’s still very difficult to get the wood to a completely natural state.
So what do we do? We work with the wood. It’s actually the best part of the refinishing process – knowing that the end result will be 100% original.
Suzanne’s vision was always to go with a China White base to match her newly painted kitchen cabinets. Painting with white even on this light wood can be a challenge. It has to be primed with a shellac primer like BIN to prevent the remaining yellow tones from bleeding through the white paint. BIN is the best primer I’ve found for this.
Once two coats of the primer cured overnight, three coats of a high quality enamel were brushed on, allowing a few hours between each coat.
It was time to stain the top. To give Suzanne some visual ideas, I created this Pinterest board for dining room furniture.
The original plan – based on this particular pin of an oak table – was to wash the top and seats in Minwax weathered oak. The goal was to get to a weathered gray.
I experimented on the small bench figuring it could be quickly sanded down again if needed. Unfortunately, Weathered Oak stain didn’t work on the maple wood the same way it worked on oak.
Weathered oak is like a clear stain that brings out whatever color is already naturally in the wood. With oak, that natural color is a gray tone. With maple wood, it’s yellow. That’s definitley not what we wanted to go back to.
To counteract the yellow and get closer to gray, I tried adding a whitewash stain then a dark walnut. Needless to say it didn’t work.
Here’s the thing with maple wood; maple is such a hard wood that stain rarely absorbs evenly. Case in point…
Pretty aweful isn’t it? Splotchy. It had to go. A quick sanding removed the stain and got me back to the natural wood once again.
At this point, I called Suzanne over to re-visit the original plan. We had to find a stain that would either completely cover the shadings in the wood (like a dark walnut or expresso gel stain) or work with them. We opted to work with the shadings and to white wash the tops and it turned out beautiful!
Here’s a chair with one coat of the whitewash stain.
And here it is with two coats…
The Minwax semi-solid whitewash stain offered enough coverage to cover the yellow tones, but still let the wood grain and shadings show through, resulting in a very original finish.
From there, three coats of Minwax matte polycrylic were brushed on to protect the stain. The matte finish was perfect, but I panicked a little in the end and added a coat of Benjamin Moore’s Stay Clear to the table top. The little bit of extra gloss will allow Suzanne to more easily wipe the table down and wash it with less worry.
Ok. Enough from me. Enjoy the finished photos…
And the final before & after…
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