This $15 mid-century modern sideboard by Bassett Furniture was a great yard sale find, but it needed a lot of restoration work. I wouldn’t consider myself a professional furniture rehabber, but it was the perfect piece of furniture on which I could practice techniques.
Low-and-behold, it turned out great.
Permanent placement aside, it was in rough shape. The sideboard top had heavy scratches and bad water stains.
Refinishing a Damaged Wooden Sideboard in 7 Steps
- Clean and sand the sideboard
- Choose your stain color and wood conditioner
- Wipe down sanded surfaces with water
- Lightly re-sand the surface
- Pre-condition the wood for staining
- Apply stain
- Coat with polyurethane
Step 1: Cleaning and Sanding the Sideboard
The visible damage didn’t affect my decision to buy the piece. After getting it home and cleaning it down thoroughly with bleach (to take care of some mold inside the cabinet door), Goo Gone (for a sticker that had been long adhered to the top), and Murphy Oil Soap (to see how much I might be able to buff and polish it up myself), I figured I had nothing to lose if I were to sand down the flat surfaces and refinish it.
So, sand it down, I did. I began with a fine-grade sandpaper and Pete’s oscillating tool with the sanding attachment (the same do-gooder that I used when I was sanding down a kitchen cabinet). The fine paper was fine for breaking the finish and curing the shallow scratches, but it wasn’t nearly enough oomph for the larger scratches. The fine sandpaper barely helped with the serious water stain.
Next, I used a super coarse, 80-grit sandpaper.
I took it easy, applied even weight to the oscillating multi-tool, and worked only with the grain. When you start to go perpendicular to the grain, the sandpaper leaves visible scratches. Go too deep with the sanding, you’ll also risk penetrating the veneer.
It was apparent early in the sanding process that if I sanded the top, I really needed to sand the sides, door, and drawer fronts. An hour and a half in, I stepped back. It was one of those “there’s no turning back, and we also better go pick out some new stain” moments. I loved how it looked at this point and was motivated to continue.
Step 2: Choose Stain Color and Wood Conditioner
With the flat drawer fronts also sanded, we tried to find stain that was as close to the original finish as possible. This was because there were some areas that would be difficult to access with a sander. They weren’t in bad condition or dented, so I hoped to leave them as-is and just re-stain and refinish the flat panels.
I bought several things at the store, with some affiliate links to Amazon:
- Tack cloths ($3, as recommended to get the sanded wood particles and any dust off the surface pre-staining and finishing)
- Pre-stain wood conditioner ($8, a product that I’d never used, but was advised to in the past; it’s like a primer for softer hardwoods, coating the grains first and allowing the stain to consistently absorb it)
- Oil-based stain in English Chestnut ($4, decidedly the closest we could match the existing wood finish)
- Sandpaper (both rough and fine, power-tool-based and hand-based)
- Gloss Polyurethane (a Rust-Oleum Ultimate product)
- A paintbrush (for the pre-stain)
- Rags (terrycloth and absorbent for consistent stain application)
Step 3: Wipe Down Sanded Surfaces with Water
Before I got to conditioning the wood, I performed one last round of sanding with fine sandpaper. To make the stray grains stand more upright on the wood, I first dampened a rag with water and wiped down all surfaces.
Step 4: Lightly Re-Sand the Surface
After a few minutes in the heat of the afternoon, the surface had dried and exposed new fine grains that I was able to smooth down further with fine-grade sandpaper. Going back over it left it in a pristinely smooth condition, so note to self: always do that.
Step 5: Pre-Condition the Wood for Staining
As I mentioned, this was my first rendezvous with pre-stain wood conditioner. The product is shockingly red and watery.
The instructions suggest using a rag or brush to apply. I chose a paintbrush for ease of application after testing with a rag.
Following some simple tips, I ran it on smoothly, thoroughly, and quickly, but avoided excessive pooling. I wanted to coat the entire to-be-stained surface. If you’re wondering, that entire pint of conditioner is going to go a really long way, maybe lasting the rest of my DIY-loving life. I may have only used a few tablespoons for this entire job. This is how it looks when it’s wet.
Per directions, I gave all surfaces a wipe-down with a clean rag about 10-15 minutes after application. It still appeared slightly wet in this picture, but was quickly drying.
Step 6: Apply Stain to the Sanded Wood Surface
The English Chestnut oil-based stain went on much easier than any other stain I’ve ever applied in my life, and using a rag to apply along the grain made it feel very controllable and consistent compared to experiences with foam brushes or paint brushes. The motions were more that of cleaning the kitchen countertop with a rag than painting a surface.
There was a funny picture of me wincing and crossing my fingers for good luck as I got started, but you could see a little too far down my shirt and this isn’t that kind of blog, so I’ll show you this one instead:
And this picture too, as I got a little further along. Let’s count how many wardrobe changes I made over the course of this day; two already shown, and I know with certainty that there was another outfit in between from when I scooted to The Home Depot. What can I say, I do a lot of laundry. But isn’t this first coat of stain going on pretty nicely?
It’s probably the first time that I’ve really put an effort into keeping the coat of stain light. With all of the shiplap wall paneling I’ve done, I had been intent on keeping the wood really dark and therefore was more heavy-handed and less inclined to massage the stain into the grain or wipe off excess. This was different. And it was obvious.
Step 7: Add a Coat of Polyurethane Over the Cured Stain
I know this post is becoming ungodly long, so I’ll skip ahead to the third (or fourth) wardrobe change of the post (although it was actually on Day 3 of the project, after I had let the stain dry a bit in the garage for two days and then moved all of the pieces into the sunroom).
- It’s easy to apply
- Boasts serious self-leveling power
- It’s quick dry (<2 hours, usually, depending on humidity)
- Has a durable finish (in my experience)
When I’m applying it, I start by rolling it on with a 6″ foam roller. After it’s rolled on, I then go over it with a paintbrush really, really lightly just to even out any bubbles and make it look a little more painted on:
See how it looks a little purple? That’s mostly an effect of the poly reflecting the color of the stain, and it helps to make sure you have good coverage. This polyurethane dries perfectly clear.
Now, as you might have noticed by now, the English Chestnut stain is a lot different from what the original finish looked like. Not that it isn’t pretty now, I just really wanted it to match. Oops.
Step 8: Do Staining Touch-Ups (Optional, Obviously)
Because of this variance, I needed to refinish the legs and go into the beveled areas after the original staining and strip the finish so that I could re-stain them in the same color. I used a combination of common sandpaper to get in the tight spaces by hand (using both rough and fine stock), but used a sanding bit on Pete’s Dremel to bite through most of the accessible finish. It worked pretty well.
Re-staining these crevices was easy too. Using the same dampened rag technique, application was smooth. There was just one issue: it seems as though the wood used on these beveled areas is different from the veneer used on the outer-facing drawers and large surfaces. Whomp, whomp. Can you see the difference between the lower piece of trim and the beveled edge after a few coats of stain trying to even them out?
Making it match as best as I could manage, I forged ahead to try not to let it bother me. After all, these pieces of trim are mostly covered in the shadows of the door and drawer. And really, the rest of the buffet looked bitchin’.
Remember what it looked like when I started?
The sunroom ended up being our favorite place for it. Against the sunburst floor and wooden walls, it really fits in and can be enjoyed in the space that we work in on warm days.
And from the right. Oohs, ahhs.
The drawers are still empty, but I finally have permission to buy a few nice table accessories knowing that I have a place to put them.
Side note: The mounds of glass on the table? We found it at Ontario Beach Park in Rochester, NY. Best haul ever.