Tips and Techniques for Refinishing Furniture

Safety is the most important consideration when using chemicals and power tools. Even if you've had many years of experience with power tools and home repairs, we recommend you use a safety checklist that includes the following:

Safety Considerations and Preparation

  • Organize your work area. Collect all of the tools and equipment you will need ahead of time and have them arranged and sorted before you begin the job. To help keep important items and equipment together, you can place your materials on a large tray, in a cardboard box, or in a work apron with pockets, arranged in the order you plan to use them. Also consider whether you will require a wastebasket, water, paper towels, tape, or other materials that will help you complete the project.
  • Protect your eyes. Regardless of your visual status (blind, visually impaired, or low vision), always wear impact-resistant safety glasses that completely enclose your eye area and are shielded along the sides and top edge of the lenses. They can be worn like glasses, or can fit over your own eyeglasses. Many types of safety glasses can also be obtained with prescription lenses.
  • If you're working with paint remover or other strong chemicals, avoid skin contact by also wearing work gloves and an apron.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Label all chemicals with any of the methods and materials described in Organizing and Labeling Your Workshop and Tools.
  • Check the lighting. If you have low vision, make sure that the lighting in your work area provides sufficient illumination. You can read more about lighting at Lighting. A lamp with an adjustable flex-arm or gooseneck is usually a good choice because you can adjust the direction of the light as needed. A flex-arm floor lamp on wheels allows you to move the light with you as you move around your work area.
  • For additional work preparation and safety tips, see Home Repairs Safety and Preparation Checklist and Safety Tips for Using Power Tools.

Using Sandpaper

  • Sanding is always done by following the direction of the wood grain.
  • You can generally determine the direction of the wood grain by feeling it with your fingertips. The grain usually follows a lengthwise pattern on a board.
  • If the wood is painted or is older, you may not be able to feel the grain. In most cases, sanding lengthwise will produce the desired result.
  • To raise or feel the wood grain more easily, apply a small amount of water to the surface of the board and wait several minutes. The water will usually cause the grain to rise so that you can feel it with your fingertips.
  • Use your sense of touch to check for smoothness or to locate areas that require additional sanding. For more information about learning to maximize your senses, including touch, see Maximize Your Senses.

More About Sandpaper

  • The fineness and/or coarseness of sandpaper is indicated by grit sizes or mesh numbers: the finer the abrasive, the higher the mesh number.
  • Mesh numbers, going from coarse to fine, are as follows: 24, 36, 40, 50, 60, 80, 100, 120, 150, 180, 220, 240, 280, 320, 360, 400, 500, and 600.
  • Sizes 80, 100, 120, and 150 mesh are medium-range sandpapers.
  • If you have low vision, you can use a low vision device to read the mesh number on the package. Talk with your eye doctor or low vision specialist to determine if a low vision device, such as a chest or around-the-neck magnifier or a magnifier mounted on a flexible gooseneck stand, could be helpful for sanding tasks. For more information about low vision devices and training, see What Is A Low Vision Examination?, Low Vision Optical Devices, and Vision Rehabilitation Services.
  • It's also possible to use your fingertips to determine the grit size of the sandpaper.
  • Sandpaper backing refers to the different weights of paper backings for the sandpaper. The letters A, C, D, and E indicate the different backing weights.
  • "A"-weight paper is a very lightweight backing called finishing paper. "C" and "D" are medium-weight backings called cabinet paper. "E" is a heavyweight backing used for rotary or belt sanders.
  • For most sanding jobs, begin with a coarser sandpaper and gradually move to a finer paper as the work progresses; for example, after using 80 mesh, go next to 100 or 120 mesh.
  • Wrap the sandpaper around a sanding block, which can provide more stability and control.
  • Be sure to cover/sand the entire surface, using an organized pattern of overlapping strokes.

A Blind Woodworker's Story

Read the personal account of a blind cabinetmaker who didn't begin serious woodworking (including high-quality cabinetry) until after losing his sight. His story is at the WoodWeb.com site.

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