Thrift Store Finds: How To Restore A Bookcase

This article discusses how to restore and refinish a wood bookcase.

Restoring a bookcase is like restoring any other piece of dilapidated furniture. It takes time and patience, but the end result is a nice piece of furniture.

First, choose a bookcase that isn't too rickety to be fixed. Take care of any repairs, like loose shelves, before stripping the piece. Also look for something that will meet your needs after it has been restored.

This article assumes that the bookcase is not a potentially priceless antique, but rather, something that has seen better days, but has the possibility of becoming something that you will want in your home.

After any repairs have been made, take the bookcase outside on a concrete surface, or on the lawn. Lay down a layer of old newspapers under the piece.

Instructions for removing finish from a painted piece: Get some heavy rubber gloves (home stores sell those especially for use when refinishing furniture), the applicator brush, a heavy stripper, coarse steel wool, lacquer thinner, a scraper, paper towels and wax paper.

With an applicator brush, lay a heavy, even coat of the stripper on the wood surface. Do not allow it to dry. Cover it with wax paper. This can be done on one area at a time. When the finish begins to bubble, remove the wax paper and scrape the resulting sludge away with the metal scraper. Pull the scraper toward the body to prevent gouging the wood. If all the finish does not come off the wood, immediately reapply another coat of stripper and proceed as before. A wire brush can be used for stubborn bits of finish. Dispose of the sludge safely.

When the entire bookcase has been stripped of finish and paint, it's time to clean the wood. Pour the lacquer thinner into a metal pan (as for paint) and dip the steel wool, or a synthetic stripper pad, into the thinner and apply it to the surface. Scrub gently, with the grain, to remove the leftover finish. Wipe dry with paper towels.

Instructions for removing varnish and stain: Use rubber gloves, furniture refinisher, steel wool, paper towels, and tung oil. Pour the refinisher into a metal pan and dip the steel wool (or synthetic stripper pad) into the liquid and apply gently to the wood. The finish should come off easily. Dry with a dry rag or paper towels. When dry, lightly sand the surface and apply a coat of the tung oil.

To re-paint the bookcase, just get the desired paint color, either as a latex liquid and brush it on, or use spray enamel paint suitable for wood surfaces. Allow the surface to dry completely. The surface can then be painted with designs, such as from stencils, or one-stroke painting. Allow this paint to dry completely and apply a spray shellac or brush varnish to finish and prevent the paint from chipping.

To stain that bookcase, pick a stain color and get some mineral spirits, fine steel wool and gloves. Clean the wood with a soft cloth and mineral spirits. Allow the mineral spirits to dry and then brush the stain into the wood with the steel wool, in a zigzag pattern. Make sure to get in the creases where the shelves meet the sides. After a minute or two, buff the excess stain off with a soft cloth. Someone can come behind and do this as the stain is being applied. Allow the stain to dry and reapply as many times as necessary to achieve the desired depth of color. Allow the final coat to dry 24 hours before finishing.

Many finishes are available, such as polyurethane and tung oil. Remember to rub the finish with the wood grain and to let it dry sufficiently between coats.

One safety tip is to do all stripping work outdoors. If done indoors, use a respirator mask, and ventilate the room thoroughly.

Refinishing furniture is not an expensive proposition-most materials can be purchased for about $20. When the result is a nice bookcase that is useful as well as decorative, the investment is worthwhile.

© High Speed Ventures 2011