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How to Restore Old Oak Furniture

Updated February 21, 2017

Part of the beauty of having old oak furniture is being able to refinish damaged finishes and tighten joints to restore the furniture to a visually appealing and useful state. Turning a yard sale find or grandma's hand-me down into an attractive addition to the home is possible with a little work. Old oak furniture offers desirable wood grains and generally good furniture craftsmanship. Refurbishing old oak furniture is less expensive than buying new furniture, making restoration a wise decision.

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  1. Set the old oak furniture in the workspace. Remove all hardware including drawer pulls, knobs and decorations.

  2. Equip an orbital palm sander or sanding block with 120-grit sandpaper and sand the old finish off the furniture. Sand legs, spindles and other rounded pieces or curves by hand. Turn the furniture over to sand the underside.

  3. Wipe all of the furniture surfaces with a tack cloth to remove the dust and debris. Vacuum the dust and debris from the work area with a shop vacuum.

  4. Equip the palm sander or sanding block with 220-grit sandpaper and sand all of the surfaces of the furniture a second time, following the direction of the wood grain. Wipe the furniture with a tack cloth and vacuum the work area with a shop vacuum. Sand the furniture in the direction of the wood grain a third time with 320-grit sandpaper using a palm sander or sanding block. Wipe the furniture with a tack cloth and vacuum the work area again.

  5. Examine all of the furniture joints to determine if they are loose or wobbly. If a joint is loose, add wood glue and clamp the joint to hold it firmly in place. If the joint is dangerously loose, remove the joint, sand off the old adhesive, apply wood glue, put the joint back in place and clamp it with a hand-screw-clamp. Let the wood glue dry for four to six hours.

  6. Check the surface for scratches, deep gouges or chips. Fill in damaged areas with wood filler. Let the wood filler dry for two to three hours. Sand the wood with 320-grit sandpaper to make the repair flush with the existing surface. Wipe the surface with a tack cloth.

  7. Dip a small section of a clean, lint-free rag into a gel wood stain, if you desire a colour other than natural oak. Wipe off excess stain on the edge of the stain can. Place the rag on the edge of the furniture and wipe the stain onto the surface in one smooth motion, following the wood grain from one side to the other side of the furniture. Do not move the staining rag back and forth over the area; only move in one direction. Continue to dip the rag into the stain, remove excess stain and wipe the stain across the furniture until stain covers all surfaces. Let the stain dry for three to four hours. Turn the furniture over and stain parts of the furniture that were out of sight using the same method as you did for the rest of the piece.

  8. Continue to add layers of stain until you reach your desired depth of colour. Let the final coat of stain dry overnight.

  9. Sand the oak furniture surface lightly with 400-grit sandpaper, following the wood grain. Wipe the surface with a tack cloth.

  10. Dip a foam applicator into polyurethane and apply two to three coats, allowing each coat to dry for three to four hours.

  11. Tip

    If you desire a natural oak colour, skip the gel wood stain application and apply only the coats of polyurethane. Wear a dust mask and eye protection when sanding and staining oak furniture.


    Do not shake wood stain or polyurethane; gently stir it to avoid creating air bubbles. Work in a well-ventilated area when staining and finishing oak furniture.

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Things You'll Need

  • Orbital palm sander or sanding block
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Shop vacuum
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • 320-grit sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • Hand-screw clamps
  • Wood filler
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Gel wood stain
  • 400-grit sandpaper
  • Foam applicator
  • Polyurethane

About the Author

Sal Marco began writing professionally in 2009. He has written many online home improvement articles based on his more than 20 years of experience in the home improvement and building industries. He has worked as both part of a team and as a site supervisor. Marco has a Bachelor of Science in management science from Kean University.

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