An easy DIY project is guaranteed to give new life to old pieces.

By Nancy Mattia
October 17, 2019

Maybe you just inherited a wooden coffee table from your grandparents, or you scored a great deal on a maple dresser at your local flea market. In either case, the furniture probably needs some TLC in order for it to fit with the rest of your home's décor. Before you slather on chalk paint, consider using a stain instead. The process brings out the natural beauty of the wood's grain and instantly revives old furniture. And the great thing about staining wood is that it's DIY-friendly and a perfect weekend project. Here's how to do it in six easy steps.

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Choose a color and type of stain.

Pick a color you like then test it out on an inconspicuous spot on the furniture, like the underside or back, so you can see how the color looks on that particular type of wood. Next, pick your stain style. There are three different formulas: oil-based, water-based, and gel-based. "All three will work just fine," says Hunter Macfarlane, project expert for Lowe's, "but oil-based tends to give the wood a richer look because it penetrates deeper, which enhances the grain."

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Designate your work area.

Find a well-ventilated area and stock it with a sanding block, a variety of sandpaper like 120-grit, 180-grit, and 225-grit, a drop cloth, newspapers, lint-free cloths, disposable gloves, a wood stain, and a wood sealer. When you're ready to start the project, put down a drop cloth topped with newspapers to protect the floors from any accidental drips.

Prep the wood.

Clean the furniture to remove dust and grime. Next, remove old paint and finishes—you can opt to use a paint stripper, which makes the process go faster, says Macfarlane, or just sand it. (If you've got ornamental molding covered in paint, a stripper will get into crevices that a sander won't.) If you do use a paint stripper, strictly follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

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Sand it down.

Sand the furniture to get rid of the old finish and make the surface smooth. Use a sanding block with the appropriate sandpaper. "The grit"—the size of the abrasive particles—"depends on the thickness of the material being removed," says Macfarlane. "Start with 120-grit, but it may be necessary to move to a more or less aggressive grit based on your results." It's a good idea to test the sandpaper on a less-noticeable part of the furniture first. Wipe off the dust with a cloth, then sand again to level the surface (try using 180-grit sandpaper). Wipe the wood down with a damp cloth to raise the grain. Get the sanding block again and sand with 180-220 grit sandpaper. Use a dry cloth to remove dust.

Use the right technique to apply the stain.

Put on the gloves and stir the stain well. Apply it to the wood using a lint-free cloth that's wet but not dripping. Apply thin coats and add more as needed—but don't skimp. If you don't apply enough, it could result in a lighter or splotchy color, says Macfarlane. Once again, following the manufacturer's directions is essential.

Apply a sealant.

Let the stain dry before applying the sealer. A polyurethane sealer will protect the wood from scratches and the DIY color from fading. After letting it dry for 24 hours, your "new" furniture is ready to display and use.

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