How to Refinish Your Garage Sale Finds

refinished midcentury modern sideboard

I found this solid Midcentury Modern sideboard last spring and restored it to its former glory.

I could spend all day taking advantage of springtime garage sales and bringing home special furniture finds for my home. Sure, sometimes you can find flawless pieces, preserved so well by their owners that they can transition into your home’s decor without a beat, but more often than not, the treasures you find at yard sales need a bit of work, and some can even benefit from being fully refinished.

Need to learn how to refinish your new finds?’s furniture rehab and repair section provides much inspiration, showing you how to revive and restore nearly every surface you’ll encounter, but to see how I restored a solid hardwood vintage sideboard last spring, keep on reading.

How to refinish wooden garage sale furniture.



Step 1

 Open GalleryHow to repair scratches on wooden furniture.Assess the damage when you’re still scoping out your find at the yard sale. How is the construction? If there are doors and drawers, do they operate well? Is anything warped, splintered, or water-damaged? My Bassett sideboard vintage find was in great shape, save for the surface, which had many deep scratches and some signs of water damage, as if from glasses with condensation.

Step 2

 Open GalleryHow to clean wooden garage sale furniture finds.Clean, clean, clean. I start with the grimy spots, using a multi-surface or bleach spray to eliminate mold, grime, and ink, and follow-up with a touch of Goo-Gone for any residual sticky spots. A diluted form of Murphy Oil Soap works well for an all-over scrub, wiping down any excess moisture with a dry rag as you go to avoid letting it soak in.

Step 3

 Open GalleryUse varying types of sandpaper to remove the existing finish.Once clean and dry, you might find that the scratches and damage are less noticeable, but if it still looks to be in poor condition, get ready for a full-on refinishing project. The original finish of this sideboard came off gradually as I used a series of power sanders, first with rough sandpaper to smooth out the scratches and remove the layers of polyurethane, and then with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough patches.

Step 4

 Open GalleryHow to refinish a vintage sideboard.Sanding will take some time, but it is really worth it. Keep going to reveal all of the original wood on all surfaces.

Step 5

 Open GalleryPrepare materials to refinish your vintage furniture.With the piece sanded, wipe it down entirely with tack cloths to be free of dust. Tack cloths are sticky and capture remaining particles of finish better than a dry rag, without damaging the unprotected surface. I chose to prepare my sideboard with a pre-stain wood conditioner, which I understand helps the stain absorb more evenly, depending on the type of wood you’re working with. I chose an English chestnut oil-based stain finish to apply over that.

Step 6

 Open GalleryUse a pre-treating agent for some types of wood when you are refinishing.If you’re using a pre-treater, apply it per the directions on the packaging. I used a simple paint brush to apply it (it is liquid like water, not thick like paint) right in our driveway.

Step 7

 Open GalleryStaining your vintage furniture to complete the restoration or rehab process.Staining is the fun part! Use a rag that you’re willing to throw out when you’re done, and apply the stain to the surface in long, even strokes. You will want to massage the stain into the wood lightly so that you don’t have puddles forming. The more you massage it in, the lighter it will become; after it’s dry, you may decide to add a second or third coat.

Step 8

 Open GalleryRefinishing Bassett Sideboard with new stain and polyurethane.When the stain has dried adequately, add 1-2 coats of polyurethane to seal the refinished piece of furniture. I find application easiest and more even when I use a small foam roller to apply, and then follow up with a brush over the wet surface.

Step 9

 Open GalleryRefinished garage sale sideboard.With the finished piece dry, reassemble the drawers and enjoy your rehabilitated garage sale furniture!


  • Cleaning agent
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloths
  • Pre-stain solution
  • Stain


  • Power sander
  • Paintbrushes
About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

More About Emily Fazio

22 Responses

  1. Very good article! We will be linking to this great article on our site.
    Keep up the good writing.

  2. Seeking help says:

    If you want to increase the resale value of the old pieces of furniture then you must try repairing and retouching them with perfection.

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  8. Bosko says:

    Is there any alternative for polyurethane?

  9. Joey says:

    I can't believe you did that refinishing job so nicely. That wooden furniture is looking very new. I've two this type of furniture's and I think I'm going to through with those following above suggested steps. Thanks for inspirations and instructions.

  10. home décor says:

    Thanks a lot mate for giving your formula that How to Refinish Your Garage Sale Finds now i have known the discussion which is so much useful to me as well. And i have liked your lesson… I am sure your work is best always and i am see the discussion which will be very useful to me as well………

  11. sideboardsuk says:

    That's really gorgeous. I love your creativity.

  12. penelope says:

    We were lucky enough to find a "full-set" of a "hand-painted" black lacquered, oriental design bedroom set for my daughter (who is obsessed with anything "Japanese). The problem – the top of the dresser had been left up-side down & not only got "mildew" on it, but, the lacquer is beginning to crack & disintegrate. I have no idea how to gently sand it (if that is what is required) or what to do – for fear that anything will damage the hand-painted design underneath. My husband thinks that we should just have glass cut to fit & place that on the top (hoping that it would stop anymore damage to progress or occur). I would love to have it completely restored. I don't even know what type of "refinisher" to contact I hesitate to attempt this undertaking myself. ANY suggestions would be more than appreciated. Thank-you!

  13. Martha Murphy says:

    I have blond hardwood floors the original tongue and groove that was built with house. I need your help plz coz I have a few cigarette burns in the floor in front of the couch where I've dropped cigarettes on the floor . Plz can u tell me a easy fix I can do myself to fix this so it don't look like crap, I rent don't have a lot or money and I need to do something fast befor the landlord see's it plz help tell me what to do . Thank you. DIY

  14. Joy Libert says:

    The piece you picked has been in our family for years!!! My parents kept 33 rpm records in the pop open door side and then it held the linens for formal dinners in the drawers…my 86 year old father still uses that piece in the dining area! They purchased that piece in 1964 in Norfolk Virginia! They have kept it in mint condition so it looks just like yours! You did a great job!

  15. Marcus says:

    I found an older, solid wood (but painted) vanity dresser (without mirror) at the local Habitat store for $25. I planned to convert to a kids desk. After a good cleaning and sanding it revealed itself to be solid birds eye maple. I decided against staining it and finished it with 5 layers of wipe-on polyurethane and added solid brass knobs. A beautiful piece of furniture that I will re-claim some day :-)

  16. Katrina says:

    I love the mid century modern look. I have been fortunate to find a number of pieces in good condition at the thrift stores. This piece did lend itself to a full blow makeover. I do have a few pieces that were not the "best" of that era…so I think a bit of paint on these will make them a bit more fun. I agree with Nancy…great job!

  17. Nancy says:

    I really love that you restored that beautiful Basset Midcentury Modern piece!!

    Kudos to the fact that you didn't paint it!! Yeah!!!!

    I just can't explain how I feel when someone takes a beautiful wood piece and covers it up with paint!! What a truly horrible thing to do to wood.

    Bless you for doing honor to this great sideboard!

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