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Chris Howard of Antiques and Modern Offers Furniture Refinishing Advice

Professional Help: Refinishing This Craigslist Find

Su Casa member Katedavis recently asked for some help with refinishing a cool bar she found on Craigslist. Since it's Renewal month here at Casa, I thought that her post fit in perfectly with our theme.

I felt like I was in a little over my head with giving great advice on this issue, so I thought I'd pull in Chris Howard, who you might remember as the awesome midcentury-modern furniture refinisher I highlighted in my Adventures in Craigslisting posts. Let's see what advice he had for Katedavis.

Chris labeled the necessary steps as, "Strip, sand, repair, prime, paint . . ."

He says,

If this project is taking place indoors, I'd recommend hand painting. If you have access to a garage or exterior space, spray painting will get the best results. For color, black is versatile and modern. Black will go with any color pallet. Unfortunately this is the hardest finish to perfect.

To see all of the steps, just


  1. Remove any hardware, adjustable shelves, and any moving parts that can be done separately. Prepare space with tarp, dust covers, etc.
  2. Strip. It's important to strip away the old finish (dirt, grease, remaining glues, etc.) to guarantee the paint's adhesion. Otherwise the paint might not stick; the finish may orange peel; or, the paint could chip off. In addition, furniture strippers will soften/ripple the contact paper, making it easier to pull off.
  3. Sand. Always in the direction of the grain, sand from low grit to higher e.g. 150-180-220. When sanding veneer be sure not to sand through.
  4. Repair the damaged corner with Bondo. First use a razor to cut triangles, dig holes — crevasses, whatever is necessary so the Bondo locks/grabs in place and won't pop out in the future. Read the directions. Mix. (You'll have 15 minutes to work with the mixture.) Push the Bondo into the space, slightly higher than it needs to be. Once the mixture gets firm, wait 5-10 minutes and use a razor to gently slice the Bondo into shape. Allow it to fully cure for about an hour. Then use 180-grit paper to do the final shaping. For other significant fills use Bondo (or plastic wood for small chips) and a Spackle knife.
  5. Do a final sanding with 220 over the entire surface. Use a cotton towel to wipe off any dust from the surface and grain. Repeat until there is no evidence of dust on the towel. In addition you can vacuum the surface.
  6. For home painting projects, I'd recommend either Rustoleum professional, or Rustoleum Painters Touch. They're readily available at OSH, ACE, Home Depot . . . and generate a durable, smooth factory-like finish. If you're confident with your brush and fanning skills, go for it. Brush lines can be finely sanded out. Rustoleum also sells Aqua, a child-safe, water-based paint. Color charts and MSDS available at Rustoleum's site.
  7. Apply two coats of Rustoleum Primer. Working from one side to another (Left to right, right to left, half-way overlapping each line). Allow the wood to soak up the primer. The can says it dries in two hours . . . but let it dry one to two days. Then lightly smooth with 220-grit paper (or #0000 steel wool), and remove the dust. If the sand paper gums up quickly, the primer needs additional time to dry. (Drying times may vary depending on weather conditions.)
  8. Apply two coats of FLAT (in the color of your choosing). Flat sands easily and the dry time is much less than the primer. Let dry for 1 day . . . sand with 220, then dust.
  9. Apply two to three coats of semi-gloss. This will create a strong finish, which will last for years to come. Use #0000 steel wool to buff between coats one and two . . . make sure there is no dust anywhere before you spray the final coat. This will be dry to the touch within two hours. . . . But will not cure for two weeks. (The can does not say this).
  10. (For tabletops spray a clear coat of nonyellowing scratch-resistant enamel.)
  11. For a heavy-use bar, consider custom glass cut for the top, and a mirror behind the liquor shelf. Also available are tiny halogen light fixtures for cabinets, to create a high-end modern touch.
  12. Lastly, pour a stiff drink, relax, and admire your work.

Thanks, Chris! That's some excellent advice that I'm sure Katedavis will appreciate, as will other readers interested in a refinishing a project.
If you have other technical home project questions, send me a private message with the subject line Professional Help, and I'll do my best to find an expert to answer your queries!

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