Thrift Store Finds: How To Restore Chairs

Basic guidelines, instructions and tools needed for stripping, refinishing, and restoring an old, antique, or thrift store chair.

Finding "˜the' perfect chair at a thrift store for next to nothing can be quite a thrill. Restoring it to near perfection can be even more exhilarating. Let us examine some different outlets to bring that chair back to life.

Start by assembling the tools needed to tackle an assortment of refinishing projects. Not all of the supplies listed will be needed for each project, but if you restore more than an item or two, you will most likely use all of the items listed at some time.

Safety glasses or goggles

Heavy-duty rubber gloves

Scrubbing bucket and old cloths

Commercial wood cleaner or mineral spirits

Drop cloths plus area to work, such as a garage or an outside area away from children and pets



Denatured alcohol

Putty knife

Paint scraper

Assortment of steel wool and wire bristle brushes

Assortment of old toothbrushes, cotton swabs, cotton balls

Clamps to hold any parts of chair that may need to be glued

Screwdriver

Drill

Electric sander if desired with an assortment of attachments

Rubber mallet (This comes in handy for resetting cross bars, dowel ends etc., without marring the wood)

Wood glue

Wood filler (You can make your own with a bit of sawdust and wood glue if you are in a pinch and the spot to fill is relatively small)

Paint

Paintbrushes

Stain

Assorted wood sealers

Masking tape

Heat stripper

If the chair in question is all-wood, deciding whether to refinish completely, partly, or not at all, may be the hardest part of the restoration. Determine what type of chair you have acquired, keeping in mind that many true antique chairs are better left untouched, other than a possible cleaning. Start by giving the chair a good, complete scrubbing, following the directions on a commercial wood cleaner if soap and water or a bit of mineral spirits will not do the trick. At this time, also check all joints, inspecting for cracks as well as sturdiness.

However, what if your chair is in need of restoration? Determine the woods original finish so you know what you will need for the stripping phase. Also, determine if this is going to be a full or partial stripping. If only part of the chair is in need of refinishing, only do that part. If the whole chair is going to be in need of stripping, can it be unassembled first? If you take this route, mark the pieces as you take it apart if you think you will need direction in putting it back together. Then, assess what the chairs finish consists of. Fine sandpaper can be used as the first step, no matter what you think you may end up using to strip the chair. If you are extremely lucky, a fine sanding will be all that is required. To determine other possible finishes, and how to strip them follow these steps:

In an unobvious spot, such as the underside of the seat, apply a cotton ball soaked in denatured alcohol. If after about ten minutes the old finish dissolves, you are working with a shellac finish. Lacquer thinner applied per directions on the bottle, in a similar out of the way spot, will work if the finish is lacquer based. From this point, depending on the type of finish, and/or thickness of paint, you will need to either sand, or use a commercial solvent to strip. For an item that has layer upon layer of paint, a heat-stripping tool may be your only option. Follow all instructions and precautions when working with any of these products.

After the chairs stripping, refinish in whatever fashion you choose. Stain or paint to reflect the tastes of the new owner or to accent a space. If you have re-glued any joints, make sure to allow ample drying time before use.

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