How to refinish a beat-up paddle or old wooden favourite

Updated: March 18, 2019

wood-paddle-on-wooden-background Photo by marekuliasz/Shutterstock

Refinishing a beat-up paddle or rocking chair is a simple way to bring an old favourite back to life.

Polyurethane (or other varnish) is the most protective interior wood finish you can apply easily by brush. It resists water, alcohol, and heat, and is tough to scratch or scuff. Cabinetry, tables, and window sills are face-lift contenders, but get advice before you strip or sand antiques. Outdoor projects? Use the same method with spar or marine varnish.

1. REMOVE the finish (I use a chemical stripper) following safety precautions. Varnish will not stick to an old, peeling finish, so be thorough.

2. CLEAN dirt, grease, and wax from surface with mineral spirits (paint thinner). If the wood is scratched from scraping or if spots of finish remain, sand very lightly.

3. THIN the first coat of polyurethane with an equal amount of thinner for deep penetration. Next two or three coats: three parts varnish to one part thinner.

4. BRUSH ON finish with the grain, using a quality natural-bristle brush. Don’t over-work finish; brush back and forth a few times, move on, and don’t go back.

5. WAIT at least 24 hours between coats, or 48 hours in damp or cool conditions. There will likely be dust nibs trapped in the underlying coats. To remove them before applying the final coat.

6. WET-SAND lightly: Lubricate the surface with mineral spirits and use 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper. Wipe with a clean rag to remove the sanding sludge, and apply the final coat.

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