How to Restore Antique Oak

Updated April 17, 2017

Oak is a popular wood used years ago to construct different kinds of furniture, many pieces of which are now considered antiques. Oak is a hardwood and can take a lot of abuse, but after a while, even the best-cared for piece may need to be refinished. If you have antique items such as tables, chairs or cabinets made of oak that look old, worn and scratched, don't get ride of them. Instead, take some time to restore the piece to its former glory by following a few basic rules.

Move the antique oak piece outdoors or into a garage or shed. You will be applying strippers to remove the varnish or paint, and the fumes can be hazardous to your health. Paint and varnish removers also can be messy to apply. If you are restoring inside, open the windows and allow adequate ventilation.

Strip the old varnish or paint from the antique oak. This is accomplished by applying paint and varnish remover or stripper. Use the stripper according to manufacturer's directions, because misuse of these products can damage your wood. You may have to repeat this step to remove all the old paint or varnish from the piece.

Remove the old varnish or paint with a paint scraper, but if you have smaller places and need to reach into the corners, use some steel wool. Always work in the same direction as the wood grain, never against it. Wipe the excess finish away with a rag and change the rag often working with a clean side.

Sand the surface of the wood by hand or with an orbital sander equipped with 120-grit sandpaper. If you need to sand in tight places, fold the sandpaper into fourths and sand the area by hand. When you sand, always sand in the direction of the wood grain and never go against the grain. Remove the sawdust from the wood with a vacuum.

Repeat the sanding process using 180-grit sandpaper and then again at 220-grit sandpaper. Remove all the saw dust between each sanding process by vacuuming and then using a tack cloth. Sawdust can mar the surface of the oak piece when you apply the stain and varnish.

Apply the stain with a paintbrush or clean rag, always going in the same directions as the grain of the wood. Leave the stain on for 30 seconds to 15 minutes. The longer the stain stays on the wood piece, the darker the colour will be. Work in small sections to keep the piece more uniform in colour.

Wipe the stain away with clean rags. Change the rags frequently so you are not reapplying the stain. Allow the oak piece to dry for 24 hours.

Apply a thin layer of polyurethane with a paintbrush. Allow to dry according to manufacturer's directions.

Sand the surface with 360-grit sandpaper. Wipe away the dust with a tack cloth and apply another layer of polyurethane. You can apply several applications of polyurethane to achieve the look you want. Sand between each application.


Wear protective rubber gloves, goggles and respirator when applying the stripper and while sanding the antique oak.

Things You'll Need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Goggles
  • Respirator
  • Liquid stripper
  • Rags
  • Steel wool
  • Orbital sander (Optional)
  • 120, 180, 220-grit sandpaper
  • Stain
  • Paint brushes
  • Polyurethane
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About the Author

Gail Delaney is a writer in South Dakota and has articles published online at various websites. She is the garden editor for BellaOnline, with years of gardening experience. Being the caretaker of her parents led her in the direction of medical issues, especially natural remedies.