Whether you found a great piece at a flea market or have a family heirloom that’s been sitting in the garage for years and needs a little help, there’s a good chance you have a piece of furniture or two that you’ve contemplated refinishing. But the thing about refinishing a piece of furniture is that it requires stripping and sanding and staining and shellacking and all sorts of work that’s time consuming and could potentially ruin a piece if done incorrectly. So should you hire a furniture refinisher instead of tying to do it yourself?
We talked to Todd Peterson of Peterson Mobile Woodworking to find out how to know if your furniture is a candidate to be refinished or repaired, how long it’ll take, and what you can expect to pay.
What kind of furniture can be refinished?
Most wood furniture, like tables, chairs, desks, banisters, mantels, doors, and more can be refinished; it’s more a matter of whether or not it’s worth it. Peterson points out that furniture is so expensive these days that you can actually save a lot of money if you find a piece you love that also just needs a little love. “It’s usually worth it if the furniture is solid wood,” he says. Furniture these days isn’t made as well as it used to be, so if you find a piece that has solid construction, there’s a good chance it’s worth giving new life to. That being said, if the wood has been painted or if there’s water damage, there’s no way to tell what the finished product will look like, so keep that in mind.
Where do I start?
First, you want to make sure you know the value of the piece. If you think it’s an antique, get it appraised because you want to make sure that repairing or refinishing it doesn’t diminish the value. You may also want to get an expert’s advice on how an antique or heirloom should be refinished or restored so that you can make sure you’re taking it to someone who is qualified in that area.
How complicated is the refinishing process?
“I always tell customers usually don’t know what the process is going to entail until I start working,” Peterson says. “Restoration can be very tricky and I learn things about the furniture as I’m stripping the paint and seeing what I’m dealing with.” Anything that’s carved, painted, needs wood filler, or has a lot of components be complicated to refinish, so it’s important to be patient and hire someone you trust.
How long will it take for my furniture to be refinished?
Peterson says it can take him anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on factors like the weather (cold and humid weather can both affect the drying process), the state of the furniture, and how much detail is involved. Peterson says, “It’s going to take some time, but if you trust the person doing the work and know he’s doing it correctly, just be patient and know it will be worth it when you get a beautiful piece of furniture back at the end of the process.”
Does all damaged wood furniture need to be refinished?
Peterson gets a lot of clients who want him to fix furniture that was damaged while being shipped or that survived flooding or a fire. However that furniture doesn’t always need to go through the refinishing process. “A lot of times I can repair a piece of furniture without stripping it and starting all over,” he says. “It’s a matter of getting the colors as close as possible to the original finish.” So if you just have some minor damage, be sure to ask about all options before settling on the bigger job.
How much does it cost?
Peterson says that you can expect two ways of being charged. One is by the hour and the other is a bid on the total job. Hourly rates may range from $25 to over $100 depending on where you are in the country and the type of job. Get a written contract before any work starts with an estimate and make sure you’re notified if any additional hours or work is needed.
How should I choose a furniture refinisher?
Feel free to ask about the refinisher’s training, experience, and area of expertise. In addition, Peterson says that he takes before and after photos of all of his work so that he has something to show potential clients. In addition, you should ask for references and read other customer’s reviews on sites like Thumbtack.
Todd Peterson is the owner of Peterson Mobile Woodworking in Carmichael, California and has been refinishing furniture for over 25 years. He prides himself on being honest with his customers about if a piece of furniture is worth repairing and doing quality work. You can find him on Thumbtack.