Popular methods for refinishing furniture include using water-based polyurethane, polyurethane, lacquer, and penetrating oil finishes. Polyurethane finishes typically provide greater protection than the more natural-looking penetrating oil finishes, and water-based polyurethanes are easy to use and better for the environment. Lacquer is studier and sleeker in appearance but more difficult to apply than other finishes.
Before applying a water-based polyurethane, rub the piece with a moist cloth, and then let it dry before removing the raised grain. The finish appears as a milky, white color when first applied, but it dries transparently and quickly.
When using a semi-gloss or satin polyurethane finish, stir the product well, and avoid creating any bubbles. Instead of applying thick coats of the finish, use multiple thin coats, and sand the piece between each new coating using 220-grit paper.
For optimal appearance, use a spray when applying a lacquer finish. Apply as many coats as needed, and afterward, sand the final coat using 0000 steel wool and paste wax. If desired, use a polishing compound to give the final product a more lustrous appearance.
Penetrating oil finishes are suitable for antiques or to simply make a product more durable. Apply several coats, and let each one soak before removing excess oil by buffing and rubbing the piece. Applying paste wax helps provide additional protection while complimenting the appearance of the finish.