How to Restore a $5 Wooden Piece to a $500 Masterpiece

How can I restore a cheap wooden furniture item and sell it for profit?

Restoring wooden furniture can be a lucrative business venture. The basic restoration processes include obtaining a piece, cleaning it, refinishing and refurbishing individual components, and then marketing the final product. In this article, we’ll discuss the supplies, techniques, processes, costs, project ideas, and common sources for restorable wooden furniture pieces. Breathing life back into old wood might just be your new side hustle.  

You’ve seen it on reality TV shows and may even own some reclaimed furniture yourself. But did you know that restoring old wooden furniture could be profitable? Keep reading to find out how you can get started with just one piece. Whether you keep it humble or take it large-scale is up to you.

Benefits of Restoring Old Wood Furniture

This was an old oak table that was in rough repair. After a couple of days of work we have a beautifully restored family heirloom!

The majority of wooden pieces that undergo restoration these days have some sort of sentimental value. While it’s true that more and more people are turning a profit from these antique pieces, a sort of nostalgia permeates the handles, spindles, and arms that make up these furniture items. So whether you want to bring a family heirloom back to life or stock your consignment shop with shabby chic pieces, recycling old wood brings with it a lot of benefits.

One of the major benefits to restoring wooden furniture is an income. Big or small, you can easily market your pieces locally and/or online. Places like eBay, OfferUp, and LetGo are popular for listing your final products. You can even create your own website too. In fact, if you can distinguish yourself and your style from the rest, custom orders could start flooding your inbox.

If you’re still on the fence about this whole restoration idea, keep reading. You may find this hobby has a lot more upsides than you first thought—including how little cash it takes to get started.

Costs Associated with Wood Furniture Restoration

The simple fact that you can take a free piece of furniture, sink some cash into it, and then sell it for a major profit is one of the biggest reasons why restoring wooden furniture is so popular among DIYers. The buy-in for this line of work is relatively low. In fact, if you work smart and take advantage of the resources available, you could potentially keep your overhead costs low enough to save up for a brick-and-mortar all your own.

The major cost of restoring furniture comes with the supplies you’ll need. Taking the path of least resistance, as TheSpruceCrafts.com advises, means knowing the right balance between how much a piece needs to be marketable and what processes are just a waste of time. You’ll have to ask yourself whether that nightstand just needs a bit of cleaning and repair or should you really stain that entire seven-drawer dresser to maybe get an extra $100 out of it? Your costs could theoretically be sky-high but knowing how to work with what you’ve got is key. It’s possible to work with a shoe-string budget.

So in the end, it’s really up to you how much you spend. A reasonable $100 should get you started easily. That’s accounting for supplies and the piece you’ll be restoring. But like anything else, you’ll need to invest money in order to turn a profit. If you can take even a $50 piece you bought at a garage sale, invest $30 in supplies you can reuse on the next project, purchase new hardware for $20, and then sell the final piece for $150, you’ve made profit. Whether $50 for your time and effort satisfies you is another matter entirely.

Common Sources for Restorable Wooden Furniture

Simply put, you can find restorable wooden furniture at a variety of locations. Craigslist is chock full of furniture most college students use once and then get rid of rather than truck it back home. Garage sales are pre-Craigslist but work in a similar way. Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore can offer extremely cheap pieces that might need some TLC. In the end, it’s where you can find wooden furniture that’s the best place to look. That might sound like circular reasoning but stick with the pattern. If dumpster diving turns up diamonds in the rough, suit up!

Valuable Woods You’ll Want to Search For

You don’t have to be an expert on wood to pick out what types are best for refurbishing. Though we’ll discuss what you should avoid when picking up potential product in the next section, here are some things to keep in mind as you peruse the used market:

  • Cherry: If you love to stain, cherry is the wood for you. This wood will take well to a variety of stains. Cherry is a typically smooth wood so you won’t have to go crazy sanding, either.
  • Walnut: Light woods like walnut have more grain than their cherry counterparts. Often a rich brown in color, walnut pieces will get lighter as time goes on.
  • Mahogany: Reddish in color, mahogany doesn’t necessarily take well to certain types of stains. If you don’t like a red shade to your wood, you should look elsewhere.
  • Pine: This wood is probably something you’ll encounter pretty often. A blonde honey tone, pine was most often painted at the time of the piece’s construction. Pine is one of the more versatile wood types you can do a lot of creative things with.
  • Maple: Do your best to look for date stamps on any maple furniture you find. If it’s from before the 1960s, you should expect a yellowish tone. Anything newer will appear more orange in color.
  • Oak: Furniture made from this wood typically has much more dynamic grain to it than most. Staining will bring out the patterns already in the paint, whether you stick to lighter tones or bring out the deep, rich accents.

The best rule of thumb when working with wooden pieces is to do your research before-hand and consult experts when you’re unsure. A refinished piece could potentially be worth less than it was before you put time, effort, and money into it.

Dos and Don’ts for Sourcing New Projects

There are some aspects you’ll want to avoid when scoping out potential product for your restoration ventures.

DO:

 DON’T: 

  • Rely on paint to show you what the wood beneath looks like. Thick layers of paint can hide years’ worth of damage and abuse, so choose varnished pieces over painted whenever possible.
  • Purchase items made of “particle board/MDF/veneer over plywood.” These pieces will not make you any profit as they are too flimsy for extended use.
  • Restore sentimental antiques of value. That is, unless you’re sure the process you’ve chosen will produce stellar results. Whether it’s of actual monetary value or not, sometimes the shabby chic factor exhibits the history of the piece well enough.

These are just some of the things you’ll want to keep in mind as you restore wooden furniture. Just remember that the more pieces you restore, the more knowledgeable you’ll become on what’s profitable—and what isn’t.

Restoration Supplies

While we can’t give you an exhaustive list of the supplies you’ll need to restore wooden furniture, there are a few items you’ll want to keep handy as you start pulling apart and putting back together. Here’s a quick list you should feel free to add to or subtract from as you please:

  • Screwdriver
  • Hammer(you likely have one but this is one I like if you need one)
  • Sander and/or sandpaper
  • Cleaning agent
  • Rags—lots and lots of rags
    • Just do what I do and use some old towels
  • Eye and hearing protection
  • Face masks
  • Gloves
  • Sponges
  • Toothbrushes(any will do)
  • Paint stripper
  • Scrapers
  • Drop cloths
  • Wood sealant and/or glue
  • Paint brushes
  • Tape
  • Palettes
  • Paint
  • Water containers
  • Primer
  • Varnish
  • Wire brush
  • Old T-shirts
  • Crock pot

You’ll inevitably find that you need more tools, gadgets, utensils, and more as you work. What items do you find most useful in your restoration workshop? Share your resto-hacks with us in the comments below!

Restoration Techniques and Processes

There are a few basic processes you’ll want to become familiar with if you plan on spending any time restoring a wooden piece of furniture. We’ll discuss the major steps below but feel free to work with a piece in any way you like. Just make sure you keep an eye on that bottom line.

If you’d like to see a completed project from start to (nearly) finish, check out Emily’s Project List. You’ll get a first-hand look at the restoration processes, including what did and didn’t work in the case of her dresser.

Cleaning

You’d be surprised how much dirt and grime collects on wooden furniture. In fact, you could have bought a dark-colored coffee table and after a few minutes scrubbing it down found out it was a light wood beneath all that muck. We don’t recommend hosing down your furniture as that will cause the wooden fibers to expand. However, you can spend a few minutes pulling off any debris that might have stuck to the surface. Keep in mind the more thorough you are with cleaning, the better your final product will look.

Remove the Old Finish

There are numerous ways to remove finish from a wooden piece. Many woodworkers swear by different methods, each with their own pros and cons. We’ll introduce you to a few ways to strip the paint/finish off your chosen piece but leave it up to you decide which methods you find most useful in your endeavors.

  • Liquid paint strippers typically work best for horizontal surfaces. The thin liquid won’t run as easily and sits atop the piece to work its magic.
  • Gel strippers have a thicker formula. Used on vertical surfaces, they cling to the piece to work and won’t necessarily splash all over like liquid strippers would.
  • Aerosol strippers can be more volatile than other methods but work well in cases where you want to get into tight corners or small areas.
  • Heat guns make great paint removers, especially if there are stickers involved. If you’re baffled by how to get something off, try a heat gun. You might be surprised what it can do. This is the one that I use and I love it.
  • Steel wool comes in a variety of abrasive ratings but you can easily use it to prepare the surface of your wood piece before painting or lacquering it. Here’s a link to a good pack.

Repair the Wood

Though ideally you’ll want to avoid wood pieces that are too dysfunctional, you’ll inevitably have to do some repairs. Once you’ve gotten the piece down to bare bones, you can take stock. Divots should be filled in with wood putty. Scratches can be sanded down for the most part, unless they’re deep enough to warrant filling in. Joints that can benefit from a bit of reinforcement should be glued or repaired as needed.

Hardware should also be repaired and/or replaced if necessary. This includes items like handles, hinges, and any other decorations. Polish up any metal pieces. Ensure drawer tracks operate smoothly and efficiently. This is the last chance you’ll have to influence the mechanics of the piece before you finish it.

Add Color

There are a variety of processes you can use to add a splash of color to your restored wooden furniture piece. For example, you could use a stencil to draw on the top of a nightstand, shade the drawers of a dresser with stain, distress that vanity to look shabby chic, decoupage an end table, cement a mosaic in the centerpiece of your garden. Each of these processes presents both a new challenge and opportunity to impress.

When you’re considering whether or not to stain or paint your piece, consider the following: will your piece subject to higher temperatures? If this is the case, you should stain the piece, as paint typically bubbles and peels or chips off when it gets too hot.

Apply Sealant

The way you seal your wooden furniture varies as much as how you color it. There are some basic guidelines you can follow to choose the right sealant for your application.

For example, those pieces of furniture that will see high traffic should be finished with varnishes, as they hold up well against excessive use. Polyurethane finishes are resistant to both water and alcohol and come in a variety of shades. You’ll have to sand between each coat but if that’s not something you’re interested in, consider a penetrating oil. Common oils include Danish, antique, and tung, each of which offers their own unique sheen. Shellac and lacquer are also popular wood finishes.

Ready to get started on your own restoration? Check out the links in our next section for some great ideas on a low, low budget.

An Endless Supply of Project Ideas

There are a multitude of websites out there that can help you source ideas for restoring wooden furniture. From refinishing ideas to what colors schemes to use when painting, the possibilities are nearly endless. JustTheWoods.com presents 50 ideas for how to restore furniture and if you’re a fan of pictures, check out RemoveAndReplace.com for even more brain-storming ideas. And if you’d like to learn more about the techniques we mentioned here and work through step-by-step tutorials, ApartmentTherapy.com is your haven.

Redefine and Redesign

We hope you’ve found this article enlightening when it comes to turning junk into a chunk—of change, that is. Wood restoration is an activity you can easily do in your garage or backyard and doesn’t take more than $100 to get started. What wood restoration projects have you completed? Can you add to our tips and tricks? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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