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What happens when you find that beautiful antique or vintage wooden piece BUT it is in terrible need of refinishing or it has been painted over many times in all different colours of paint?! Don’t worry… below are the 6 steps to refinish any antique wooden furniture piece to a raw or natural wood finish or to prep it for furniture restoration!  Be sure to check out these 7 tips on how to decorate using vintage home decor too!

Wood furniture has been around for approximately 30,000 years, which is when people began to carve their own furniture. As time went on, different styles of wooden furniture were developed and new techniques were used, all beautiful in their own way!

I have always loved one-of-a-kind, handmade antique furniture more than modern-day mass-produced pieces. There is just something special about knowing that one person put some much of themselves into that cabinet or hutch that just sits well with me. That is why I would rather repurpose or refinish an old piece of furniture rather than buy a new one. Let’s dive into everything you need to know about how to refinish wooden furniture to a raw or natural wood finish.

natural wood finish on an antique coffee table

What is the Best Wood for Wooden Furniture

Without question, hardwood is the best and most durable wood for wooden furniture. Hardwoods are naturally harder than softwood largely due to how dense the wood is. Hardwood trees are slower growing than softwood and include species such as Maple, Fir, Mahogany and Oak.

Each type of wood will have a slightly different tone therefore choose the hardwood furniture based on the color of the wood you want for a raw wood finish.

raw wood antique dresser in a white bedroom

Solid Wood Furniture vs. Wood Veneer

The two most common types of furniture are solid wood and wood veneer. Solid wood is made completely out of wood and wood veneer usually has a thin wooden panel layered on top of a fiberboard or a similar substance. Wood veneered pieces of furniture are usually more difficult to refinish to a raw or natural wood finish but there are pros to both types of furniture:

Solid Wood Furniture Pros

  • Durable
  • Timeless
  • Minimal maintenance

Wood Veneer Pros

  • More affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to move

Can You Leave Natural Wood Furniture Unfinished?

The short answer is YES. However, if you leave furniture unfinished or without a sealed coating then you need to understand how important it is to protect the wooden furniture from elements that can cause permanent damage. Water, oils, grease, bleach and many other substances can permanently damage your wooden furniture and an unprotected piece can also endure physical damage easier too. Your best bet is to at least protect the horizontal top or flat surfaces of your natural wooden furniture.

natural wood bathroom vanity with a stone top and sink

Paint Stripping vs. Sanding Wood Furniture

Pros and Cons of Paint Stripping Wood Furniture

Paint stripping is done by applying a liquid or gel chemical product to the old finish, varnish or paint. In many cases, paint stripping is faster and safer than sanding a piece of furniture, however, it is important to wear the proper protective gear such as masks, gloves and protective eyewear. If the paint stripper touches any part of your body be sure to flush it immediately with water to prevent a chemical burn. Sometimes it can be very difficult to remove all the product using a paint stripper alone.

Kichen island with a galvanized tin top and raw wood or natural wood finish base.

Learn how to get an antique finish on galvanized metal in a few simple steps.

Pros and Cons of Sanding Wood Furniture

Sanding old varnish or paint can be extremely time-consuming and not to mention DIRTY! When you sand a piece of furniture, it can sometimes require using multiple grits and pieces of sandpaper resulting in quite an expense. It is also VERY important to wear the proper protective gear, especially eyewear and masks. However, sanding is the best option to get off all of the paint.

Steps refinish antique furniture to a natural or raw wood finish

Raw Wood or Natural Wood Finish

Now that you understand a bit more about wooden furniture, let’s make your piece timeless by bringing it back to the classic look and matte finish of natural wood or raw wood look.

Shop Natural Wood Furniture

Materials & Power Tools Required For Refinishing Wooden Furniture to Natural Wood Finish

Preparing Wooden Furniture for Refinishing to Raw Wood Finish

1) Clean the Wooden Furniture Piece

Nothing crazy, just a quick once over with a damp cloth will do. Unless the piece is in need of more just a quick wipe will do.

2) Paint Stripper if Necessary

As much as I hate this stuff, it really does speed up the refinishing process! The good news is the stripper does all the heavy lifting for you and will cut your sanding time down a lot.  I prefer a gel product that you can let sit for 5-10 minutes before scrapping off with a putty knife or blade but I have used foaming oven cleaner in past too and it works great.

Step by Step Directions for Achieving a Raw or Natural Wood Finish

antique original finish dresser
Antique Dresser Before

3) Sand the Body of the Piece

It is best to use 60-grit sandpaper with an orbital sander for the larger areas on the wooden furniture. The key is to make sure you are not letting the sandpaper gets overused or cruddy. It might cost a bit more in sandpaper to replace it more often but it’s totally worth it in your time and elbow grease.

4) Sand the Tricky Areas of the Furniture

Again, use 60-grit sandpaper with a mouse sander. This is my favourite sander as it isn’t as easy to damage the piece with it and it gets into those corners so much better than an orbital sander can. 

Do your best to get the corners clean but I am not super picky if I miss a bit. I feel like you can get away with a bit of colour variation if you have an old piece. If you can’t remove it all, then try using a gel stripper and a pointed tool to remove the remainder if necessary.

5) Dust and Clean the Wood

 The next step is to use a stiff-bristled brush to dust all the leftover sand or dust off the fine dust and use a damp cloth or rag to wipe the piece down. This is VERY important if you are going to seal the wooden piece with a product.

Steps refinish antique furniture to a natural or raw wood finish
Raw Wood Finish After

How to Seal and Protect Wooden Furniture

6) Wax or Spray Finish your Furniture

It is a good choice to use spray polyurethane, brush polyurethane or clear wax on the top of the piece to seal and give a high level of protection to the furniture. This may change the colouring of the piece to a slightly darker finish but it will still leave a natural appearance and if you are worried about water damage or any other products damaging the finish then this step is necessary. It will give your piece a beautiful finish.

Using Wax on Raw Wood Furniture

If you decide to use clear wax, it sometimes works best when it is left in the sun to warm prior or try heating it slightly with a hair dryer. Then simply wipe it on the wooden furniture using a lint-free rag or paper towel.

Wood Conditioners and Oils

Danish oil or mineral oil is another option that works well on the surface of the wood but it is used more to condition rather than seal the wood as a final coat. For better results, use wax finish or polyurethane instead.

natural wood finish on a kitchen table in a cabin

Tips for Success 

  • Keep your work area clean at all times! Especially when you are ready to seal your raw wood furniture with wax or polyurethane! The loose dust particles can easily end up on the surface of your piece, leaving it looking grainy.
  • Use lower-grit sandpaper, like 60 grit for the first round of sanding. Then go back and use a higher 120 to 220-grit sandpaper for a final smooth finish.
  • Warm the wax prior to applying it to the natural wood surface. It will become more workable and apply easier with a thinner layer allowing for a nicer finish.
  • Be patient! Don’t rush the process of allowing the paint stripper to work! It will only end up costing you money and time if you have to keep re-applying the product because you haven’t given it enough time to remove the old product. 
  • Always have a professional look over a piece of furniture that may have historical value prior to refinishing. You don’t want to disturb the piece if it is more valuable or has historical significance as is. 
  • Be sure to use lint-free rags or towels when wiping down or prepping the piece of furniture. You don‘t want to have particles throughout the piece as you begin the sealing or protecting portion of your project.  
Antique desk raw wood bathroom vanity

The Durability of Raw Wood or Natural Wooden Furniture

Although the raw wood or natural wood finish looks beautiful on wooden furniture, it may not be a practical option to have in high-traffic areas (a kitchen table, dining room table or bathroom vanity) or surfaces that are exposed to moisture. A better option may be to have a stone, tin or laminate horizontal surface on top of a raw wood piece of furniture like this kitchen island or bathroom vanity. 

Refinishing a dresser or side table should be fine as long as you use coasters on the surface of the furniture piece. It may also be a good idea to touch up the protective wax coat or polyurethane after a period of time too.

Steps to refinish antique furniture to a natural or raw wood finish

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to strip or sand furniture?

The best choice is to do both! Stripping wooden furniture will always be much faster and eliminate all the yucky, bad-to-breathe dust. However, it can sometimes be very hard to get into grooves and cracks. Sanding a piece of wooden furniture can help with tough-to-get areas and allow for a smoother finish to the final piece of furniture.

What is the easiest way to refinish wood furniture?

Refinishing any wooden furniture is always going to be a process! However, the best way is by starting the process with a paint stripper and then sanding any leftover product afterwards seems to work the best. Follow the steps in this tutorial and it should work every time. 

Can you remove old stain by sanding it?

Yes! You can remove the stain by sanding but it will produce dust and debris in doing so. Some old stains can be very bad if inhaled so be sure to use the proper protective gear and clothing! It is always a good idea to remove as much as you can with a paint stripper first. 

Does vinegar remove paint from wood?

No. Vinegar is not able to remove paint or old varnish from a piece of wooden furniture.

How do you tell if the furniture can be refinished?

Any sturdy wooden furniture that is in relatively good shape can be refinished however you need to determine if the piece is solid wood or just a veneer. Veneer furniture can be much trickier to refinish as the wood is only on the surface layer. 

It is also always a good idea to have a professional look at a piece of furniture if you think it has any significant historical value. You don’t want to cover up or remove any beautiful historical elements that should be salvaged.

If you want to create an aged affect check out Pine and Prospects Post on how to age wood!

If you are wanting the look but not into the dirty work that comes with it, here are a few options for dressers that have already been finished to look like natural wood or raw wood.

Alternatively, if you think you would rather paint that piece of furniture check out Janet from Shabbyfufu’s tutorial!

Steps to refinish antique furniture to a natural or raw wood finish

I hope you enjoyed my steps to refinish antique furniture to a natural or raw wood finish.  Like painting an antique piece with chalk paint, it can seem like a lot of work but it is so worth it when you have a beautiful timeless piece in the end. What types of finishes are you into at the moment? Painted, dark stains or natural raw wood?  Would you ever refinish an antique back to a raw wood finish? Good luck on whatever project you decide to take on.

Steps torefinish antique furniture to a natural or raw wood finish
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6 Steps How to Refinish Wooden Furniture to a Raw Wood or Natural Wood Finish

Bring old or wooden furniture back to life using these 6 simple steps to refinish wooden furniture to a raw, natural wood finish.
Prep Time15 mins
Active Time4 hrs
Total Time4 hrs 15 mins
Course: diy projects
Keyword: how to refinish wood funiture, natural wood finish, raw wood, wooden furniture
Yield: 1 piece
Cost: 50

Equipment

  • 1 Piece of Furniture
  • 1 Orbital Sander
  • 1 Mouse Sander
  • 1 Protective eyewear
  • 1 Rubber gloves

Instructions

  • Clean the Wooden Furniture Piece
  • Paint Stripper if Necessary
  • Sand the Body of the Piece
  • Sand the Tricky Areas of the Furniture
  • Dust and Clean the Wood
  • Wax or Spray Finish your Furniture
  • Using Wax on Raw Wood Furniture
  • Wood Conditioners and Oils

Notes

Tips for Success 

  • Keep your work area clean at all times! Especially when you are ready to seal your raw wood furniture with wax or polyurethane! The loose dust particles can easily end up on the surface of your piece, leaving it looking grainy.
  • Use lower-grit sandpaper, like 60 grit for the first round of sanding. Then go back and use a higher 120 to 220-grit sandpaper for a final smooth finish.
  • Warm the wax prior to applying it to the natural wood surface. It will become more workable and apply easier with a thinner layer allowing for a nicer finish.
  • Be patient! Don’t rush the process of allowing the paint stripper to work! It will only end up costing you money and time if you have to keep re-applying the product because you haven’t given it enough time to remove the old product. 
  • Always have a professional look over a piece of furniture that may have historical value prior to refinishing. You don’t want to disturb the piece if it is more valuable or has historical significance as is. 
  • Be sure to use lint-free rags or towels when wiping down or prepping the piece of furniture. You don‘t want to have particles throughout the piece as you begin the sealing or protecting portion of your project.

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5 Comments

  1. did you only seal or wax the top and not the sides or fronts? I love the natural look, but I find that as soon as I apply the polyurethane, it looks glossy, more orange, and not natural.

    1. Hi Alyssa, for me it totally depends on what the piece is going to be used for. If it is something that will have a lot of water or risk of damage on the top, I always use a sealant like a spray poly or wax. If it’s just a dresser in a room that is not going to get high traffic, then I leave it totally raw. Same with the sides and front. The one in my bedroom is completely raw and it still looks amazing 6 years later. Hope this helps.

  2. Hello! I love the raw wood look! If the piece has dents, scratches or chunks gone, how do you do the repairs with filler if it will remain raw look as the finished result? Do you use wood filler before sanding down? If yes, will this leave different colors ?

    Thanks so much, and keep inspiring us! Teresa

    1. Hi there Teresa, Thanks for the message. It totally depends on the look you are after! I love a great patina so, for the most part, I don’t fill with anything on any of my pieces however that said, I have used wood filler before and unless you can get an exact match, it will be a different colour. Even if you try a stain afterwards, it is very hard to match the colour perfectly.

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