Some ways to refinish old church pews include stripping them down to the wood and polishing with beeswax or stripping and staining. Paints and other mediums can produce decorative finishes, such as shabby chic and craquelure.
Because many old church pews are made of solid hardwoods such as oak and walnut, many people prefer to preserve the original grain and color of the wood. To do this, strip off the old finish, and sand the wood down to the grain. To seal the wood, use a mixture of an oil, such as tung or olive, and melted beeswax. This clear finish preserves the wood’s beauty while the wax protects it from scratches and gouges.
Since many hardwoods also look good in more than one wood stain, also consider stripping the pew to the grain and refinishing it in a different colored stain. For instance, if the pew is part of a nautical design scheme, use teak stain on oak or walnut to re-create the look of a ship’s deck boards.
Many decorative finishes also work with church pews. Some ideas for paint finishes include whitewash and milk paint. These can be combined with other decorative effects such as decoupage and craquelure.