DIY – How to Renovate Wooden Furniture

Renovate Wooden Furniture by Yourself

If you are as lucky as I am, you will probably have wooden antiques that belonged to a member of your family. These antiques are usually shabby, just laying there, decaying with time and need a beautiful soul like yourself to gain a new life. However, renovating these antiques may not be as simple as it may seem. But fear not! In this post I compiled the steps you need to take in order to bring that shabby fellow back to beautiful.


STEP 1 – Structure and Functionality


Some wooden antiques only require a washed face. However, if we’re talking about antiques that have a function, such as a wardrobe, a cabinet, a cupboard, a vanity, a table, a chair, and so on and so forth, you need to revise if it’s still working properly, and my guess is, it most probably is not. If you feel comfortable with carpentry work, grab your tools and go for it! Depending on your case, you will need at least to have:

  • Levels – to guarantee that the angles are 90º between each surface and parallel to the ground;
  • Measuring tape & Rulers – to help with the above and to make new pieces;
  • Hammers – sometimes is only takes a little thump to connect parts that are a bit apart!
  • Chisels – every wooden antique has swollen parts, caused by humidity mostly. With these tools it’s easy to chop them off!
  • Sandpapers – from harder to softer, these are essential to scrub the previous layers and in between paint coats;
  • Drill – to make the holes for the door knobs, for example;
  • Saw Blades – to create new pieces.

Now it’s also time to decide the design. Here we decided that we will paint this wardrobe. This painting will use a french shabby chic style, meaning we will use a solid light color for most of the cabinet, only highlighting some details with golden colors.


STEP 2 – Before the Primer



After you revised your antique’s structure and made sure it’s working, you’re ready to start revamping it. With this wardrobe, we did the following steps before applying the first primer coat:

  • Sealed all the cracks in the wood;
  • Sanded the previous coat – this wardrobe only had varnish applied to it. First we used a harder sand and, for the final sanding, a softer one.
  • Drilled new holes for the new door knobs.
  • Replaced the hanging system (the existing one was damaged).


STEP 3 – Starting to Paint

In order to start painting, you will need the following:

  • Paintbrushes, in different sizes, according to the size of the surfaces to paint and the details. For this wardrobe I used two different brushes, for example;
  • Primer paint. Measure the quantity before buying. I got 2,5 liters for this work (only used about half);
  • Enamel, acrylic or aqueous. Since this is interior wood, I prefer aqueous enamel because it’s easier to work with and leaves less smell. It’s very important that the primer and the enamel are from the same brand, for better adherence between coats! Also, always buy a little extra amount in case you need to retouch it throughout the years;
  • Masking tape, in case there are difficult transitions to paint between colors;
  • A recipient with turpentine or water, according to the enamel of your choice;
  • Old cloths, to immediately clean any drops that might fall while you’re painting;
  • Toilet paper, in case your cloths became full of ink and you need to quickly clean your hands or any other surface.

Since it would have been hard to apply the primer to some parts of the wardrobe when it was all assembled, we applied a first coat to some parts, previously. Now it’s time to apply it to the rest:


When applying primer, take into account that:

  • This is the main coat that will hide the original color. You don’t want the brushstrokes to be too thin but you also don’t want any drippings. As such, find that sweet spot and remember, it’s normal for this first coat not to be even, like shown on the picture on the right;
  • Always start from top to bottom, otherwise you will be touching the parts you just painted, and I’m sure you don’t want that! Also, I painted the interior before the exterior, for the same reason.
  • Start with the corners of big surfaces and then fill the insides (this is most important if you need a smaller brush for the corners and another for the plain surfaces, this way you only need to switch between brushes once).


STEP 4 – Applying the finishing coats

As soon as the primer coat was finished, we moved the wardrobe to its final place. You don’t want to be doing this only when you have your antique finished because, in case you drop it and it hits a wall or a door, you still have two layers to retouch it.


For this wardrobe, two coats of enamel were applied. The image of the left shows the first coat and the image on the right the finishing coat.

In between coats, always sand the previous coat with a soft sand. This way you will improve the adherence between coats. I also added the top element before the last coat, as well as the fixtures that were missing, so everything was already put together by the time the last coat was applied. The only fixture missing before the last coat were the door knobs: it’s always easier to add them last.


STEP 5 – Cleaning the utensils

If, for some reason, you have to stop painting, or if you are finished for today and will be painting the following day, always remember to leave the paintbrushes in water (or turpentine, if it’s acrylic enamel). This is extremely important in order to preserve the paintbrushes for as long as possible.

To clean the paintbrushes (in case you won’t be using them again for this work), remove all the paint with running water and let them dry, with the plastic part facing bottom, otherwise you will ruin the hair. After the paintbrushes are dried, move their hair a bit to guarantee it’s flexibility.

If you haven’t finished some enamel cans, make sure you seal them as best as you can, in order to be able to reuse them again.


STEP 6 – Painting the golden details

So now that the base color is evenly applied to the whole wardrobe, it’s time to start painting the details! I used three different techniques for these details and explain them below:


Type 1 – Even layer

For an “even layer” type of detail I choose the darker gold I have, in order to introduce contrast. Since the golden enamel is a bit tricky, it might not have an even look when you first apply it, so you might have to do a second coat (in this case, I had to do a second coat in some parts). Also, you might want to use masking tape for the straight lines, it’s much faster. However, when using a masking tape, be prepared to have some drippings, just like shown on the picture on the right. But don’t worry about those, you can easily cover these drippings and have a much straighter line than if you just do it without the tape.


Type 2 – Scrubbed paint 5 minutes after applied

With this technique, I applied a generous coat of yellow gold, waited 5 minutes for it to dry a bit and then scrubbed it off partially, so it gets uneven. The purpose of this is to convey your antique an older look, like an even coat that has been subjected to the effects of time and part of it got ruined. This look also helps for the gold not to apear so austere, since it has a really strong presence.

I corrected the gold drippings in the top detail after the gold enamel dried, just reapplying the white rose enamel over it.


Type 3 – Paint mixed with water

 The technique number three was applied to the lower strip in this picture: you basically add water to the enamel to make the color less saturated, uneven and kind of blended with the surface below. The difference between the technique number 2 and 3 can be spotted if you look closely to the above strip and to the strip in the bottom: the gold in the above strip is richer than the one in the below strip, much blender. I decided to use the number 3 technique in the longer strips so they wouldn’t look so strong and heavy, adding a lighter feeling to the whole wardrobe.



The last step of this renovation was adding the door knobs: we choose simple and round ones, with a color that combines with the darker gold of the linear details.

And it’s finished! Now wait a couple of days before using it, so the enamel dries properly and all the smell goes away.

Would you have chosen  a different design? How would it be? Describe it in the comments below!

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