Chair Refinishing

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New User
I have 4 to "refinish" for a friend of mine, but I'm pretty much clueless about how to go about it! :help:

These are fairly old I think, but they are sturdy and I don't know what kind of wood they are. I've kinda washed them off by hand with some mild soap & water as a starting point. Cane bottoms are worrisome to me-don't want to mess them up.

Sanding? All of the profiles and inlays are a problem, but maybe 0/00 steel wool will work. I'm fond of Waterlox "Original" so maybe just 1 or 2 wipe on coats? :dontknow:

Spraying on a finish? I don't have a sprayer or compressor. Any suggestions there? :icon_scra




New User
Go ahead and use about any stripper available. It won't hurt the cane. After stripping, rinse with either water or lacquer thinner. Sand everything but the cane. Stain if desired, then finish. Waterlox will work, but a regular varnish, brushing lacquer, or oil finish will work just as well.
Jim in Mayberry


Corporate Member
I would both strip and recoat the sculptured head rail with the chair laying on its back.

If the cane sections detach with screws, I would remove them and work them separately.

If the old coating doesn't want to come out of all the turned details, a light touch with a concave cabinet scraper will work, but it will be a tedious job. A flat one can get the bulk of the finish off the flat surfaces quickly and efficiently before using stripper.

Don't use steel wool if water is anyway involved in the process. During the stripping process, I would use abrasive mat instead. Also use it or sand paper to cut down the wood nibs that swell up from rinsing the stripper and make sure the wood is thoroughly dry before doing any steel wool. The steel particles can stain the wood black if any moisture is present.

Before using any chemical stripper, read the info here :

Methylene chloride is some nasty stuff, so please be very careful for yourself and anyone else ( family members) that may be near it if you end up using a methylene-chloride based stripper. (It may be necessary if it is an alkyd or phenolic varnish, but hopefully it is not.) Always have a ready source of flowing water immediately available anytime using it (i.e a turned on water hose with a squeeze trigger nozzle). Good ventilation is a must, (and it does not work well in cold weather).

Don't envy you this job.


Tom Rioux

New User
Hi Jeff,

These chairs look pretty nice as the are. I can think of three options for them.
  1. Clean up dry with 320 grit and polish with a natural resin like Bio Poly NT.
  2. #1 plus a top coat or two of NanoTech Sealer.
  3. Completely strip wet, sand dry and then refinish them (ouch).
I'm not sure which one your friend is looking for or what the budget is.

My preference would be to keep them antique looking with a new, stonger finish. I'm sure there are alot of good products to use for these chairs. I only use non toxic ones, without petrochemical solvents. I'm actually about to refinish a chair that was left outside to black mold in the backyard. First I'm going to kill the mold and clean it with Lime Clean. I'll list what I'm going to do next below.

The Bio Poly NT brings the life back to the wood, no poison. Just pure resins. It's a rubbing oil with No petrochemical solvents. This is a beautiful finish on its own. For more sheen or extra protection it can be topcoated. For what you describe I'd suggest NanoTech for the topcoat. I'll use Nano on my chair becuase its easy, fast and strong.
With NanoTech you can get a super fine finish without a sprayer. NanoTech looks like it was sprayed when applied correctly. It dries in 30 minutes and gets exceptionally durable. No odor. No isocyanates. No Nmp. No poison. To apply you either use a very, very good brush or a water based poly floor applicator pad (not a foam brush).

If I have to use MEK to strip I don't do it. I usually try Lime Clean or Pure Citrus Solvent. If they don't work I sand.

Best of luck,


dino drosas

Corporate Member
I agree with you on the Original Waterlox as to ease of application. Minwax Wiping Poly (semi-gloss) will give you a much tougher finish and professional results. Just for information; if you would ever like to use per-catalyzed lacquer as a finish, it is available in spray cans by Mohawk Finishes and sold through Klingspor. I have used this on smaller projects with great success when I did not want to set up and clean a spray gun.


Senior User
Denatured Alcohol and 0000 steelwool or woven pad works good for me. Just give the DA time to work before scrubbing.



New User
Many thanks for your suggestions and comments. Upon closer inspection the chairs appeared to be oak and I think that they only had stain on them.

So after a light soap and water cleaning/drying and no sanding or steel wool we applied some Minwax "English Chestnut" stain using a toothbrush for the inlaid/turned fine areas. Wiped off and dried 24h then 2 coats of Waterlox "Original" with 24h between each. Maybe 1 more coat for durability. :icon_scra

Not the most professional way to do it for the purist, but they'll work for their intended use (newlyweds on a budget) and considering that all 4 chairs were a gift with a $0 price tag. :slap:




Corporate Member
Great work there, Jeff!!!:icon_thum:icon_thum

You have definitely breathed new life into those chairs!:wsmile:

They'll be enjoyed for another 25 years or so I am sure.:icon_thum

Thanks for sharing the finishing schedule with us.

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