My $5 Bed: How To Refinish Furniture

Wow.  Something happened and I was just totally steamrolled in the month of October.  Once I got off-track blogging it just seemed hard to get back at it…then I questioned myself.  What do I do I write about first?  It’s been so long?  Does anyone really enjoy reading this blog?  Do I enjoy writing?  And the span just kept getting longer and longer.  Then my Sarah And The Boys Facebook page started reminding me I needed to post something.  The truth is, I love posting, I just don’t have the time I want to post as much as I want!  The boys and I have been really working hard at going full steam ahead with school work, and between that, working out, and attempting to keep the house clean-ish, this blog project has been pushed to the back burner.  😦

Anyway, here I am.  My friend Katie at Redeeming Simple Living recently did a blog post on how she refinished a piece of furniture.  She encouraged me to write my “how-tos”, so here goes nothing!

First of all, I have to say I love painted furniture.  I think it’s cute, adds a nice contrast to a world full of wood, and can quickly change a room for a low price.  BUT (you knew there would be a but), it’s not as durable when you live in a world of rough-and-tumble boys.  Boys easily scuff and chip things….plus it kills me to take a pretty piece of wood and cover all the grain.  I enjoy homes where the painted wood and wood grain are mixed to create the perfect amount of personality and warmth.

We are in the middle of a “redo” of the ugliest bedroom on earth.  This remodel is going at a slow crawl.  Partially because of time, partially because of money, and partially because we are juggling a lot of different balls.  A few months ago we tackled all of the nasty wallpaper, removed the popcorn ceiling, added new lights, and painted.  It’s been a long road just to get to a blank slate.  I’ve sort of stalled out a bit, but I’m currently in the process of getting inspired, deciding what the purpose of this room will be, and waiting for some bedding to go on sale (hint hint, L.L. Bean!!!)

One thing I do know is that this room will probably host a couple or a family sometime over the holidays, so I wanted a bed to be in place.  I snagged a headboard that my parents were getting rid of, and while it was old an sad, it was a sturdy, maple headboard, and I couldn’t pass up it’s simple design and clean lines.  And it was free.  Free never hurts.

bedframe before sarahandtheboysblog.comIt’s a very 1950’s Betty Draper style {have you watched Mad Men?} headboard.  It had never been painted and the original coat of finish was fairly rough and worn off.  This made it pretty simple to refinish.  Honestly, even though this still was a lot of work, it was nothing compared to some other things I have refinished over the years.  So the first step of removing the finish was not as bad as it could have been.

Steps To Refinishing A Piece Of Furniture


Supplies needed (all items not pictured)

For the stripping of the finish:

*metal putty knife/scraper

*steel wool (medium grit and fine grit, and depending on the severity of the stripping that needs to be done you may even be able to use a course grit)

*liquid/gel stripper (I used Citrastrip)

*cheap paintbrush to apply stripper

*protective gloves


*drop cloths

*well-ventilated area

Step One: Prep

First step is to put down drop cloths, and choose a good work space that is okay getting messy.  Make sure are not working in an enclosed space, have plenty of ventilation.  Even though I use the more natural Citrastrip, it is still strong!

Step Two: Apply Chemical Stripper

Once your area is prepped, put on your gloves and dip a cheap or old paint brush in Citrastrip and apply a coat to your piece.  You can also use a typical gel stripper.  It would probably work better than Citrastrip, as it is more strong, but I prefer to reduce chemical use and I’ve been able to get by just fine with the Citrastrip.

applying stripper

Step Three: Wait

This is the hardest part!  You need to wait awhile to let the stripper penetrate the finish.  The time will vary depending on how thick you apply the stripper, how cold/warm it is, the type of finish you are trying to penetrate.  I’ve found I have to be patient, and wait for that small window of time where the stripper has ample time to penetrate, but before it dries.  Once you get going you can apply a section ahead of where you are working, so there’s no lag time, but it’s that first coat that seems to take forever to be ready! {forever, meaning 15 minutes…I have no patience once I get going}.


Step 4: Scrape off finish

I don’t have a photo of this, but the idea is that once your stripper has softened, the finish will be ready to remove.  Scrape off the top coats of finish.  If you have a thin finish, once around everything will be enough.  If you have several coats of old paint on a piece or a really old stubborn varnish, you’ll probably need to repeat this step a few times.  Usually I’ll have a bunch of gummy finish mess on my scraper, and I use newspaper to wipe off, then throw the newspaper in a trash bag.  Contains the mess.

Step 5: “scrub” with steel wool


Once you have the majority of your finish off, dip some paint remover in a small piece of steel wool (I usually rip my steel wool into pieces, as it gums up quickly).  Sand/scrub/work out the remaining finish with the steel wool.  Try to work with the grain (not against the grain).  Start with a more course steel wool, and as you go, work yourself down to a fine steel wool.  Wipe off excess “junk” between coats with a rags or paper towels.


Continue to dip and sand until you have removed all the finish and are down to raw wood.


Step 6: Cracks & Crevices


This is where my child labor kids came into the picture.  I gave them a bunch of toothpicks and had them pick out any remaining bits of finish, stripper, etc that was buried deep within the cracks.


They did a great job of removing all of the finish.  After you are done digging in the cracks, it’s good to wash down your piece with some stripper wash, or wipe down with paint thinner/mineral spirits just to make sure you have all the stripper residue removed.

Step 7: More Patience

Once you are satisfied and feel like you have the finish removed you need to let the wood dry out.  I would give it at least 48 hours or more and let it totally dry out.  Once your wood is dry, you can finish in whatever way you choose.  I stained with two coats of Minwax Special Walnut, and let dry according to manufactur’s directions.  I finished with Old Master’s satin polyurethane (vacuum before finishing if you have a good handheld vacuum, or clean with a lint-free rag.  Last step before adding poly is to wipe over with your hand, as your fingers, believe it or not, will pick up the last bit of lint).  Maybe someday I will do a separate tutorial on how to finish with polyurethane….but I’m just happy to be posting, so that will have to wait till another day!!

I’m quite happy with how it turned out.  It’s great, strong old wood with a beautiful grain, it’s durable, and it’s, most importantly, DONE!

finished product

finished product 2

finished product

It’s not perfect, and the perfectionist in me sees the mistakes, but it’s much better than I could have afforded and the quality is much better than new!!!

All in all, I spent about $5 on this project,  because most of what I had was already on hand.  But if you were to get started, I would estimate total materials used would be $25-$50 if you had to buy every single thing to get started.  Old Master’s polyurethane is not cheap, but a little goes a long way so it will last a long time.

I’m not a professional, and perhaps a professional would laugh at my methods…but they’ve worked for me on more than one piece.  Most of what I have learned came from my mom, who is pretty experienced in furniture refinishing.  So between the two of us, I would say this is reliable information that has been road-tested.

For the whole room reveal, you may need to wait until about 2020 at the rate we are going 🙂  Big projects happening around here!  Hope to have more to share with you soon!!!

Much Love,


One thought on “My $5 Bed: How To Refinish Furniture

  1. Totally agree on the painted versus natural wood. Paint is so cute, and wood is so timelessly beautiful! Glad your piece left you with a foregone conclusion. It looks great!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s