How to Refinish A Wooden Buffet (A Beginners Guide)

You either found a unique wooden buffet on the side of the street (you are SO lucky), or you have purchased one to flip, or maybe you already have one in the house? Either way, you want to do a makeover of some sort, right? That’s awesome! I have been refinishing and doing furniture makeovers for years now and I want to teach you exactly what to do, whether you want to paint or stain you have options.

A simple process to refinish a wooden buffet is to first clean the piece, then sand it down, then apply your paint and stain. Once your paint and stain products have dried you then apply your clear top coat for extra durability. 

Although those steps seem quite simple I have created a full detailed guide below for everyone, from the beginners to the pros, this 8 step refinishing guide will certainly help you refinish your wooden buffet.

How to Refinish A Wooden Buffet in 8 Steps

1. Remove the Hardware

removing drawer pulls

Starting off I always recommend removing the hardware, whether you plan to upgrade the hardware or not you still remove it. This is because grease and grime can get caught up behind the drawer pulls and can cause your paint issues down the road. You don’t want to sand grease into your wood, it can cause your paint to not adhere properly and it could peel off quickly, I had this issue before and it’s best to avoid it as best as possible.

2. Degrease Cleaning

prep work degreasing furniture

As I said, we removed the hardware to get the furniture grease cleaned up. I like to use a degreasing product such as Krud Cutter or I will mix warm water with a small amount of dish soap. I take an old cut-up t-shirt or a lint-free rag and wipe the buffet top to bottom. Really scrub, you will see the rag turn brown and be shocked how much dirt has accumulated over the years.

Don’t forget to clean inside the drawers and cupboards, these areas usually have dust build-up and it’s best to wipe all that stuff out from the start. I sometimes take a tack cloth and wipe inside these areas and it really cleans the dust out.

3. Fix Any Structural Damages

fixing furniture structural issue

This step is important, but not everyone will have to deal with it, and those who can skip it are lucky because it can be time-consuming. However, the work isn’t hard, I will have wood glue on hand with a drill plus a variety of screws. I find where the structural damages are and determine the best way to fix it, as you will see in my YouTube video I use wood glue plus screws to hold on the loose buffet tabletop surface.

For the most part wood glue is your best friend, it can fix small issues, sometimes you need to use a drill to pre-drill a pilot hole then add a screw for more support if required.

4. Sanding and/or Stripping it Down

After our wood glue dries and our wooden buffet is structurally sound we can get started on sanding and stripping. Since we are working on a wooden buffet you can skip using paint stripper if you want, but I find if you have a large top surface using stripper saves you from getting super dusty and spending a lot of time sanding things down.

Stripping the Old Finish

stripping wood furniture

You will see me stripping the areas I plan to stain, in my experience using stripper then doing some light sanding provides a more consistent stain job. Paint stripper is simple to use, I use Klean Strip 15 minutes application, apply a decent amount over the old stain/paint/finish and let it sit and bubble up for 15 minutes.

The stripper removes all the old stains and finishes bringing us down to bare wood.

Once bubbled you can use a scraper to scrape up the gooey substance into a waste bucket. You may need to do this twice for better results. Once finished, take grade #0000 steel wool and pour mineral spirits to clean the remaining sticky residue. Rub the mineral spirits into the wood using the steel wool, I recommend wearing gloves here and having a respirator, and then take a rag and wipe the surface clean of any debris.

Now we wait until the mineral spirits completely evaporate before sanding the wood down.

Sanding the Buffet

sanding buffet

Remember, we can sand to bare wood or strip to bare wood so if you stripped the areas you wanted to be stained you can just use 180-220 grit sandpaper to clean it up. Sometimes you may need to start with lower grit sandpaper if the wood needs a good sanding to clean up scratches or to remove the remaining finish.

Anyways, if you don’t use any stripper you can begin sanding the surfaces. I use a random orbital sander and a detail mouse sander, the random orbital sander is best for large flat surfaces while the detail mouse sander is great to get the hard corners. To sand a surface for stain you need to get down to bare wood, if you are painting the surface you can just sand the surface lightly so your paint adheres better.

When sanding to bare wood I start with 60 to 120 grit to break down through the old finish, once through I finish it off with 180 to 220 grit sandpaper to have a smooth finish ready for stain. 

When sanding a surface that is going to be painted I skip the low grit sandpaper and just sand the surface smooth with 180 to 220 grit sandpaper. 

5. Priming

priming furniture black

Priming is something a lot of people skip and think is unnecessary, but I find it helps the paint adhere so much better. You DON’T PRIME FOR STAIN but you can condition the wood, but I’ll mention that in step 7. I use an oil-based spray primer which 100% adheres better to the wooden surface than a water-based paint would. You can also use shellac-based primers such as Zinnser BIN Primer, but typically I just buy cheap Rustoleum flat spray primer and it works great.

What else is priming used for? If you don’t prime, especially when using lighter coloured paints you can see bleed through in your paint. This is typically wood tannins causing yellow and brown marks throughout the paint, but if your prime using an oil-based product or shellac-based you will not see this problem.

After spraying or rolling your primer on you should use a 220 grit sanding sponge to make sure the surface is smooth from spray bumps and roller marks. I know the cheap spray cans can spray terribly sometimes and you can just sand the issues down before adding paint. Plus, if you have sanded surfaces down for stain later, I recommend taping it up and covering it so you don’t get primer and paint on it.

6. Painting

painting buffet black

We made it. Our surface is smooth from sanding it down and it’s primed for paint. Now we can apply paint in multiple ways but I find the easiest is using a brush, plus I find it relaxing too. I use a Wooster brush and damp it down with water before starting, this helps the brush glide and create that ultra-smooth finish. I also used Coal Black Fusion Mineral paint, and I love this black paint. I paint in the same line as the wood grain if it happens to be visible, this helps any brush strokes match up with the wood grain, hiding them as best as possible.

Apply 2-4 thin coats, sanding with a 220 grit sanding sponge between coats. I say 2-4 coats because a darker color will only need 2 coats while some lighter paints need 4 coats to get good coverage. 

7. Staining

applying gel stain to wood buffet

Now we can peel off any tape that we had protecting the surfaces that we are staining. Make sure the surface is clean, I use a tack cloth again to remove any dust that could interfere. We have options here when choosing a stain, there is an oil-based penetrating wood stain and there is a gel stain, both are great.

Penetrating stain is like a watery substance that you wipe over the surface and let it penetrate into the wood for a few minutes, then you wipe the excess stain off. These stains can take 6-24 hours of dry time before adding a finish.

Gel stain is thick, you still wipe it all over the surface that needs to be stained, you can let it sit for a few minutes if you want but I find it doesn’t really matter. Once you wipe it on, grab a clean lint-free rage and wipe it off with the grain. You need to wipe it all off, if you leave it on it may not dry properly causing issues later on. Gel stain needs 24 hours to dry before adding a finish.

8. Apply Top Coat

spraying polyurethane to wood furniture

Awesome! We have finally made it to the final step, and a super important step at that. I don’t get it, but so many people just paint a piece of furniture these days skipping the top coat, your piece is going to scratch up from a towel, I am serious. Skipping a top coat such as water-based polyurethane, paste finishing wax, lacquer, and many others is a bad idea. The clear coat is designed to provide durability to handle everyday use, without it your piece will be scratched up like crazy in no time.

I like to spray water-based polyurethane in a paint spray gun, either with the Homeright Super Finish Max or my Wagner Flexio 590. It is best to thin the water-based poly with 10% water for best spraying results.

Other options to apply water-based poly is with a foam applicator, I would avoid a brush or foam roller. Furthermore, you can buy spray cans that spray water-based poly or regular polyurethane (oil-based) which works fine. Water-based products are better for me because I can use water to clean out my spray guns.

However you plan to top coat your buffet you should apply a minimum 3 coats of protection, the more the better!

How to Refinish A Wooden Buffet Video

Watch the full process in my Youtube video below. It takes you through the full process of refinishing a wooden buffet, plus the voice-over explains even more tips throughout. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the channel, I am always refinishing furniture!

Final Thoughts

All in all, this guide was designed to help you understand the process of how to refinish a wooden buffet. You can decide how you want to design your piece, all paint or no paint, or all stain or no stain, that’s the best part about refinishing furniture.

I hope you learned a thing or two in this detailed step-by-step guide, and if you have any questions reach out by email or jump over to my YouTube Channel.