Here are 2 Tips That Have Saved My Sanity When Refinishing an Old Chair
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March 10, 2014

Here are 2 Tips That Have Saved My Sanity When Refinishing an Old Chair.

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photo of woodstain

Refinishing a chair strains even the most brave of heart. To this day, chair refinishing always causes me frustration. So, do not feel alone. If you are in the middle of breathing life back into that old dining room staple, I understand your pain, and I can give you some hope. I have completed numerous refinishing projects throughout my career and have learned valuable lessons along the way. Now, for me, refinishing projects are not intimidating or scary.

So to help you with this project, to help you ward off frustration, here’s two of my best tips when it comes to refinishing a chair.

1. Grab some Vinegar

To properly refinish a chair, you must take it apart. This is a tedious process to say the least. However, an easy way to pull a chair apart is to soak the glue seams in white vinegar. White vinegar is a natural and safe way to soften wood glue.

First, use a utility knife to score the glue. This scoring will break the glue bond. Then, take an old paint brush, dip it in vinegar, and wipe the vinegar into each glue seam on the chair. Make sure to wiggle the seam apart to push the vinegar as deep as possible into the seam. Vinegar dries quickly, so make sure to soak the seams multiple times in order to fully soften the glue

Once the vinegar has softened the glue, simply pull the seams apart. If the seams are still tight, simply repeat this process.

2. Grab some Tape

Once you have dismantled the chair, you need to sand off all of the old stain and gloss on each piece. Any old stain and gloss left behind will block the new finish from properly adhering to the wood, and this will cause your new finish to turn out blotchy and uneven. So, make sure to take extra care to sand deeply into the wood grain of your chair pieces. This is because stain soaks deeper into the grain than into other surfaces of the wood.

This process of sanding each piece is daunting, not because of the amount of sanding you have to do but because of the amount of pieces you have to deal with. From my personal experience, the best way to accomplish this step is:

1. to lay out each of the chair pieces,
2. grab some painters tape and a pencil,
3. number each and every piece to tell them apart from one another.

If there are duplicate pieces (as well as a specific number) mark each piece if it belongs on the left or right side of the chair with a simple “L” or “R.”

Once you have all of the pieces clearly identified, then you can begin sanding. As you are sanding, make sure that if one of your labels falls off or is sanded off that you replace it right away.

So, again from my personal experience with chair refinishing:

1. Use white vinegar to soften glue seams
2. Use painter’s tape and a pencil to clearly mark each and every chair piece.

These two tips will save you an immense amount of time. Also, (and possibly more importantly) these two tips will help you keep your sanity when undertaking one of the hardest woodworking projects: refinishing an old chair.

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