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How to Refinish Dining Room Chairs

by Jess Buskirk

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Wood dining room set

Things You Need:

  • Plastic drop cloths or newspaper
  • Respirator or similar mask
  • 120- and 220-grit sandpaper
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Rubber gloves
  • Pre-stain wood conditioner
  • High-quality bristle brush
  • Clean rags
  • Stain
  • Polyurethane

Nicks, scratches and dings all have the potential to turn a beautiful wooden dining room set into an eyesore, but often the damage can be easily reversed. When your dining room chairs are still functional but leave something to be desired cosmetically, consider refinishing furniture pieces rather than replacing them. Refinishing dining room chairs is a simple do-it-yourself project that, with the proper preparation and technique, can produce professional-quality results at a fraction of the cost of professional restoration.

Refinishing Chairs:

  1. Set up your work area. The area should be well ventilated, but avoid staining your dining room chairs outside where dust and dirt might get into the stain. Protect the floor with plastic drop cloths or newspapers. Ideally, your workspace will be warm and dry to help the stain set quickly.

  2. Sand the chairs with 120-grit sandpaper, sanding with the wood's grain. As you sand, wipe the chairs clean with a lint-free cloth. The cloth will also catch on any snags, letting you know which areas need more attention. Finish sanding with the finer 220-grit sandpaper.

  3. Treat the chairs with a pre-stain wood conditioner, which will help the stain absorb more evenly. This step is especially important with soft woods, such as pine. Application may vary by brand, so carefully follow the manufacturer's directions on the packaging.

  4. Test the stain on an inconspicuous area of one of the chairs to make sure it produces the desired result. You can also stain small areas of the underside of the chairs to help you determine how long to leave the stain on. The longer the stain sits before you wipe off the excess, the darker the color will appear.

  5. Apply the stain using either a high-quality bristle brush or a clean rag. For chairs with mostly flat surfaces, a rag will apply the stain quickly and evenly. If your chairs feature ornate carvings, a bristle brush will be more effective.

  6. Allow the stain to set. Allot a specific time, typically between a few seconds and several minutes, depending on how dark you want the stain to appear, and then use a clean lint-free cloth to wipe off any excess stain.

  7. Leave your newly stained dining room chairs until the stain is completely dry. Once the stain is dry, apply a coat of polyurethane to give your chairs a protective finish. If, after the protective coat is dry, your chairs need another coat of stain, lightly sand the polyurethane so the next coat of stain has something to grip. Then add another layer of stain, allow it to dry and apply another coat of polyurethane.

Tips and warnings:

  1. Allow yourself enough time and materials so that you can complete the project without interruption. Changes in temperature and humidity can produce different effects with the same stain, causing your chairs to have mismatched tones.

  2. Wear rubber gloves when applying the stain to keep your hands from becoming discolored.

  3. Avoid inhaling the dust produced from sanding the chairs. The paint, varnish and glue you are sanding off may contain harmful chemicals. Wearing a respirator is recommended.

  4. Oil finishes are highly flammable. Immediately dispose of any waste, including used rags, in a sealed metal container filled with water.

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