This is a post by BargainBabe.com staff writer Libby Balke.
It was on the side of the road, lost, forlorn, broken. But underneath the peeling paint, the careworn surface, and the broken leg, I saw a diamond in the rough. So I pulled out my cell phone to call my parents, and minutes later we were stuffing the old oak table into the back of their Subaru.
It took my fiancÃ© and me five months of blood, sweat, and splinters to refinish and repair the old table. Whenever we had a chance — between wedding planning and finishing our degrees — we’d head to my parents’ garage, where our table reclamation project claimed a corner of the unheated room.
As fall turned to winter, and winter to spring, our wedding date neared; by the time we walked down the aisle, the table looked like it can come straight out of a West Elm catalog, the perfect addition to our shabby chic love nest. (BB’s table refinish project took one afternoon – it can be done!)
In the seven and a half years since, that table — once destined for the trash heap — has been a staple of our ever-moving household. It’s moved from Ohio to New York to Georgia to North Carolina, earning enough frequent flyer miles to require its own credit card. It’s been the centerpiece of dinner parties and Thanksgiving meals. It’s borne the brunt of not one but two children learning to feed themselves. It’s become a fort, a castle, and a favorite hiding place.
And none of it ever would have happened if I hadn’t taken a chance on a piece of old furniture.
Where To Find Old Furniture
I found that old table during bulk trash week. That’s the time of year when the city rolls out massive trucks to collect the oversized waste it won’t pick up during the other 51 weeks of the year. In my own neighborhood, we have bulk trash week too — and watch as pickers from across the area converge on our neighborhood every August to scavenge through the old furniture, tools, and electronics that end up on me and my neighbors’ treelawns.
But sorting through someone’s old junk is just one way to find old furniture. I’ve been able to find wood furniture — some of the easiest to repair and reclaim — from a wide variety of sources:
- Consignment shops — Depending on the location of this shop, and the type of clientele it caters to, you may end up paying a pretty penny for somebody else’s cast-offs. Look for shops that don’t specialize in high-end used furniture for the best deals.
- Salvage yard — Where I live, there’s a business that actually sorts through all the bulk trash the county collects to find items that can be reclaimed. They then clean them off and put them up for sale at incredibly reasonable prices.
- CraigsList — A friend of mine once wanted to get rid of some old nightstands, and thought the trash was her only option. Instead, she listed them on CraigsList for free to anyone who wanted to pick them up. Other sites like and FreeSharing work by connecting individuals who have something to give away with others who are looking for those items.
- Charity Stores — I’ve long been a fan of donating to local charities, like Goodwill and Salvation Army, which resell items and use the profits to support programs that help the needy. Not only will you get a good price at these charity stores, you’ll also know you’re helping your community.
Now That You’ve Found It, How Do You Fix It?
The first step to refinishing furniture is to make sure the item is salvageable in the first place. When you’re “shopping” — and I use that term loosely — check that the furniture is free from damage that would render it unusable:
- Worms in the wood
- Warped wood
- Water damage to wood
Be sure to test it out, ensuring it’s strong enough to bear weight. Be diligent: a chair that creaks may have some loose screws (easily fixed) or a cracked leg.
Refinishing furniture is easier than it sounds.
- Get rid of a bad paint job by using either a chemical paint stripper or plain sandpaper.
- Applying new paint or just a coat of oil-based stain can not only improve the aesthetics of wood furniture, but also prolong its lifespan.
- If the upholstered surfaces of the furniture are torn or smell, replace them; while this is probably too time-consuming (and costly) for a couch, it’s easy to do for a seat cushion.
- Double-checking the wood furniture for loose screws or broken bolts and washers can improve the structure’s integrity.
Have you ever tried refinishing furniture? How did your project turn out?