How to Repair Furniture With Varnish

Written by mark morris
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How to Repair Furniture With Varnish
Old varnish finishes yellow with age. (coffret image by YvesBonnet from

Varnish is a traditional clear finish that overlays the stain layer on older wooden furniture. Over time, varnish finishes will start to yellow and may even crack, chip or peel because of changes in temperature and humidity. Varnished furniture that sees everyday use may need a little freshening up now and then. Many times a good cleaning and a touch-up coat are enough. Other furniture may need a makeover.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Oil soap
  • Sponge
  • Soft rag
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Stain
  • Artist's brush
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Stripper
  • Nylon scraper
  • Mineral spirits
  • Plastic abrasive scrubber
  • Solvent-based wood filler
  • Putty knife

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    Fixing Scratches and Worn Areas

  1. 1

    Clean the furniture well with oil soap or other wood cleaner to remove dust and oil from the finish. Mix a small amount of cleaner in warm water and use a sponge or soft rag to wash the surface. Allow the furniture to dry.

  2. 2

    Apply stain to areas where the colour has been removed with an artist's brush. Match the colour of the existing stain by comparing colour samples to the furniture to find as close a match as possible.

  3. 3

    Sand the damaged areas lightly with 220-grit sandpaper to help the new varnish adhere properly. Sand only the damaged area and the immediate surroundings. Any area sanded must be revarnished.

  4. 4

    Apply a coat of spar varnish with a soft-bristle brush to the affected areas. Work in straight, long strokes. Avoid runs and drips. Allow the varnish to dry overnight before lightly sanding and applying a second coat.

    Complete Varnish Refinishing

  1. 1

    Apply a coat of gel-type stripper to the surface of the furniture. Follow the label instructions for waiting times and removal procedure for best results. In general, wait 15 to 30 minutes before scraping the stripper and old varnish from the surface with a nylon scraper. Use a plastic abrasive scrub pad to remove varnish from detail areas. Rinse the surface with a rag dampened in mineral spirits and allow the furniture to dry.

  2. 2

    Fill any dings or deep scratches in the surface with a solvent-based wood filler, using a putty knife. These dry harder and take stain better than water-based fillers. Allow the filler to dry and sand the surface smooth. Sand the entire piece of furniture lightly with 220-grit paper.

  3. 3

    Apply stain to any damaged areas with an artist's brush. Match the stain from samples to get the colour as close as possible. Allow the stain to dry.

  4. 4

    Apply at least two coats of spar varnish to the entire piece of furniture. Use a soft-bristle brush, working in long, straight strokes to avoid runs and drips. Sand lightly between coats, after the recommended drying time, before adding the next coat.

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