If you’ve left your wood furniture outdoors over the winter, it can get pretty weathered and beat down. If you want to restore your outdoor wood furniture to its former glory, then you’ll need to refinish it by cleaning, sanding, and treating it with some sort of weather-resistant coating.
Wood, when left outdoors in the harsh winter conditions, as well as during the blasting UV rays of summer, can quickly take on a greyish, weathered look that takes away from the furniture’s aesthetic appeal.
Luckily, the process of refinishing old wood furniture is pretty simple, and once done, will last for decades so long as it’s regularly maintained.
I’ll break down everything you need to know when it comes to refinishing old wood furniture, so you can transform that old greying table into an outdoor showpiece.
Tools & Materials
- Palm sander or orbital sander
- 60, 80, and 120 grit sandpaper pads
- Exterior wood filler
- Exterior wood glue
- Rags and scrubber
- Dish soap
- Wood stain or varnish
- N95 mask and eye protection
How to Refinish Outdoor Wood Furniture – Guide
Step 1: Clean the Surface
First up, you’ll want to thoroughly scrub and clean the entire surface of your piece of furniture.
Cleaning the surface is important as typically when furniture is left outdoors for months it builds up a caked-on layer of dirt and grime. You don’t want to clean the surface with your sandpaper as it will quickly gunk it up and render it useless.
Use a few squirts of dish soap in a bucket of water to clean and scrub the wood surface. When it’s clean, rinse down the entire thing with a hose and let it dry completely before proceeding to the next step.
Step 2: Rough Sand the Surface
Next up, using your rough grit sandpaper and a powered sander, strip down the entire surface of your workpiece until no more grey remains. Use the 60 or 80 grit sandpaper for this, as it’s designed for stripping off coatings and will make quick work of weathered wood.
Make sure to wear a protective n95 mask when sanding, as you don’t want to breathe in the fine particles, especially if there is any old stain or varnish left over on the wood surface.
In addition to using a powered sander, you may need to use a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a chisel or screwdriver to get at those hard-to-reach spots. This was the case for my table, as it was impossible to get all the way into the crevices with the powered sander.
If you don’t have a powered sander, then you’re going to have a hell of a time stripping away all the grey wood by hand. It is certainly doable but will take hours, and leave your forearms sore and screaming for a break.
You can pick up a cheap palm sander for $30 – $40 bucks, so even if you only have one piece of furniture to restore, the cost justifies itself.
Step 3: Sand the Surface with Fine Grit Sandpaper
After you’ve finished sanding the surface with rough grit sandpaper, it’s time to switch over to fine grit (120 grit) paper and give the surface a nice clean finish. The finer grit sandpaper will give the surface a nice smooth finish and is useful for prepping it to take a wood stain or varnish.
Repeat the process in the previous step with the finer grit sandpaper until you’ve got yourself a nice clean finish that’s ready to finish.
Before you move on to the next step, give the piece of furniture another thorough cleaning and scrubbing to remove any dust leftover from the sanding process.
Step 4: Repair any Damage
At this point, you may have uncovered some small imperfections or damage to your piece of furniture. If the damage is small, then if can be repaired using some wood filler or putty.
If a piece of wood comes chipped off, then you can repair it using a little wood glue to glue the chip back where it came from.
If the damage is extensive, then consider using some bondo or wood repair epoxy to fill in the gap and replace the missing piece of wood. If you go this route, then you’ll need to paint the wood or at least give it a heavy stain to hide the repair.
Step 5: Apply Wood Stain or Varnish
This step is important as not only will it enhance the appearance of your final product, but it will also help protect it from the elements going forward. Wood with a properly applied finish will last outdoors for decades so long as you reapply the finish every so often to keep it fresh.
There are dozens and dozens of different finishes you can apply to outdoor wood furniture, so you have a lot of choices in this department. Varnish, stain, or even Tung oil are all excellent options, so consider what you want your final product to look like as well as how durable the coating is to the elements.
Tung oil also has the advantage of being food safe – which makes it an excellent choice for dining tables and other surfaces that will come in contact with food.
Whatever option you choose, apply the finish to the entire surface of the piece of furniture and let it dry before applying subsequent coat(s). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for applying the finish, and make sure to let it cure thoroughly before using it.
Step 6: Periodic Maintenance
If you don’t want to go through the whole process of scrubbing, sanding, and staining the furniture again, be sure to regularly re-apply your finish to the furniture as the manufacturer recommends. Doing this little bit of preventative maintenance doesn’t take long and will ensure your outdoor furniture will last for decades.
And that’s about it! Now you’ve got a good idea of how to refinish outdoor wood furniture!