If you have any questions at all about the value of your piece, consult an expert before you get started.
When you find a piece of wood furniture that needs a little love, it's really tempting to just fork over the cash and take it home as your next pet project.
But wait, says woodworking expert Teri Masaschi, author of Foolproof Wood Finishing: For Those Who Love to Build & Hate to Finish.
There are some things you need to consider first before you decide to refinish.
"You're far better off buying something that has old dirty varnish on it that just needs to be stripped," she says.
"It takes time to knock the piece apart and completely remove the old glue and start over," Masaschi says.
"Re-gluing a chest of three drawers could easily cost 0 to 0." To get an idea of what your piece will look like refinished, find a protected spot where the original wood is visible, such as the back of a solid-wood drawer front, underneath the top surface of a chest of drawers, or the backside of a leaf in a drop-leaf table.
Make sure that you like the look of the grain and that you understand what color you’ll come out with in the end—old wood often finishes much darker than newly milled wood.
"It's clear, you can see through it to whatever's underneath, and stripping old finish is really easy — it typically comes right off with products you can buy at the hardware store." Look for signs that the piece was made before 1950, maybe even 1960.
"That’s when particleboard and laminate surfaces and cutting corners came along," Masaschi says.
Generally, even mass-produced furniture from before 1960 is sturdier and better made than today's cheap furniture — your find doesn't have to have antique value to be a great vintage piece that will give you years of service.
Still, you should be careful with really old pieces, mostly those made before 1850, because refinishing them yourself can hurt their value.