Fix-It Friday: From Dull To Dynamic, Refinishing Flea Market Finds

refinishing furniture
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“Hi Norma! I have furniture envy. My friends are great at repurposing and refinishing furniture they find at flea markets, but they live in the country so they have the space to do these kind of projects. Any tips for those of us living in metropolitan areas who don’t have an outdoor space to work in?” – Becky, WYSK reader

I bought a dresser at a local flea market, it has good bones, but needs some work. Any suggestions on how to tackle this?” – Melissa, WYSK reader

NV: Hi Becky  and Melissa! I’d like to address both of your questions concerning your flea-market finds with one flat-out fix… a furniture face-lift!

The biggest obstacle I’d come across when refinishing furniture is that fumes from paint & varnish strippers would be so fierce that headaches, nausea and even dizziness would be imminent, especially when working in a small indoor space.

Happily, there are several new “green” paint & varnish strippers that are truly a pleasure to work with. I will say, the process does take longer, but well worth it when you consider the consequences of toxic fumes on us and on the environment. So Becky, you can comfortably do a project like this in your home without risk of blasting out your apartment with toxic fumes. Line a corner of your apartment with newspaper or a drop-cloth and get to it!

Try a product like Citri-Strip Stripping Gel, it actually smells like oranges! Follow the product’s instructions, but basically you’ll need to brush on the stripper, let it react to the finish, then scrape it off with a scraper. Keep an eye on how the surface is responding to the product. If it starts to dry out, brush on some more, wait, and give it a little scrape to see how it’s reacting. The type and thickness of the old finish will determine how long it takes to respond. If it’s many layers thick, well, pour yourself a drink, relax, and have patience.

citistripSome light sanding may be required in nooks and crannies and on some stubborn spots. Remember to always sand and scrape in the direction of the grain. Wipe it all down, let it dry out completely, then refinish with a stain, paint, or varnish of your choice. Opt for a low-odor, low VOC paint like Milk Paint that’s especially designed for furniture. This company also makes a really cool non-toxic product called Antique Crackle that gives a vintage crackled look.

It’s All About The Accessories

knobsMelissa, as for the dresser you found with  “good bones”, not knowing exactly what you mean by “needs some work” I can imagine it may need new hardware (knobs, pulls, hinges). Find hardware that matches the screw spacing or cover the existing screw holes. You can also replace metal drawer slides for a smooth open and close (bring the old ones to the store for the right size). If the drawers have wood tracks that are “sticky”, apply silicone spray, beeswax, or even candle wax on the tracks for a smoother ride.

Note: Sometimes an old piece of furniture from a yard sale or flea-market simply needs a good scrubbing and polishing. You’d be surprised what a difference that can make. So before starting a refinishing project, scrub-a-dub first. Be careful, though, not to let the wood sit with water on it – this could lift the wood grain – and if it’s a fine antique, get the advice of an antique dealer before doing anything to it.

Meanwhile, all this talk about scrubbing and refinishing makes me want to book an appointment at my day spa!

Norma sig

Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.

Add your question to the comments section below or email it to Women You Should Know.

Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.