Cedar is used in the construction of furniture, as wall and ceiling paneling and for a wide variety of trim. It is also much sought after for its grain and color in decorative projects of all types. Maintaining the natural appearance of the grain is typically important when refinishing cedar. Cedar is a fairly easy wood to work with, and most standard refinishing processes will apply.
Examine the piece closely to determine what level of refinishing is required. A new coat of polyurethane -- or wax, depending on the original finish -- may be all that is required if only light wear is visible. Check to ensure that all joints are secure, if they are not you will need to glue and clamp them after removing the finish to restore the stability of the piece. Look for signs of stains by looking at the underside for a clear line of darker color where the finish ends. Stains will require additional work in the stripping process. Make note of any repairs that need to be made.
Apply a mild stripper. Cedar is soft, dry and porous, so it readily absorbs chemicals and can be dried out by harsh strippers. Water-based products are typically milder than solvent-based products and are just as effective. Allow the stripper to have plenty of working time before attempting to remove the finish. Scrape as much as you can from the surface. Scrub stubborn spots and rinse the project piece with a rag dampened in mineral spirits.
Severely dried or weathered wood will need to be reconditioned before applying finish. Apply a coat of tung oil or boiled linseed oil with a paint brush. Cut the linseed oil with turpentine to improve drying and prevent the surface from becoming gummy. Allow the oil to soak in and dry to the touch, then wipe the surface with a rag wet with mineral spirits to remove any oily residue. Allow the piece to sit over night before applying finish. Sand lightly and wipe the dust from the surface with a tack cloth. For smaller projects, use an oscillating tool with sanding pads.
Most wood finishes can be used on cedar. The most common are the "natural" look finishes. Apply furniture wax if you are happy with the way your cedar looks after stripping. Rub the wax in with a damp rag. Let it dry to a slight haze. Buff the surface to a shine. Add extra coats for a deeper shine,and repair dings and scratches with a coat of wax on the damaged area. Use polyurethane for a deeper shine. Apply it with a brush as you would paint. Allow it to dry between coats and use two to three coats in your choice of sheen. Use stain and poly all-in-one to deepen the color. Apply it in the same way as you would polyurethane.