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Is That Old Piece of Furniture Worth Restoring?

Flipping Furniture for Fun and Profit

We have all heard of flipping houses. That’s where folks buy a home that needs a bit of love and give it the love it needs by painting the interior and exterior, cleaning up the landscape, updating the kitchen, bathroom, and other areas of the home, and quickly reselling (or flipping) it. You may have seen reality TV shows devoted to such activities.

Have you heard of furniture flipping? Similar to house flipping, it is a real industry where folks make a living finding old or used furniture and restoring it. A great example is the reality shows “Everything But The House” and “Flea Market Flip,” both dedicated to finding used furniture and giving it new life.

This isn’t just a side hustle anymore. People are making a living, and some, a good living at this type of flip.

Where Do You Start?

Selecting furniture to refurbish may not be as straightforward as you think.

If your goal is to refinish the piece for your own use, pick out a piece you like and move forward. But first, read the tips below.

If your goal is to fix up a piece for resale or flipping, this is where the work begins.

Once you have determined the above, consider the following before you begin your search:

  • Your customer. Who is it? Are you the customer? If not you, who do you think will be buying the furniture when you have restored it? Do you live in an affluent area? If so, consider a large piece such as a dining room table, armoire, larger dresser, or other items that might fit the potential customers’ choices. If you live in a college town, set your sights on a smaller piece that will probably only be used for a few years. You get the picture.
  • How much work you are willing to put into the project? A heavily damaged dresser may not be the best choice for your first project.
  • The piece’s structure. Look for solid wood construction, not particle board or plywood.
  • Brand name. Popular name-brand furniture should give you a sense that the item was well constructed. Brand names such as Ethan Allen or Thomasville and several others, are usually branded in the inside top drawer on the left-hand side.
  • If a solid piece of wood is warped, it might be very difficult if not impossible, to fix.
  • Check the drawers to make sure they slide reasonably well, and the doors open and shut without much difficulty. If these don’t work, it may be a sign of internal warping. Pass on the piece.
  • How the pieces of wood are held together is key to a durable specimen. Dovetail joints for drawer construction are an indicator of quality construction. When you can’t see any connectors such as metal or plastic corner angles or nails, the connection is likely to be doweled, which indicates the quality and skill of the craftsman.
  • The smell test. As you examine the furniture, don’t just look at it; smell it. You don’t want to buy a piece with any lingering odor from a fire, smoke from a smoker, or ammonia from animal urine or dander. It is almost impossible to get those smells out. A week or two in a small office or bedroom can bring out these unwanted smells, and probably won’t get you a repeat customer.

With these tips, your purchase will likely be something you will look forward to working on.

Fixing It Up!

Cleaning up your purchase requires a few tools and materials, plus a healthy dose of patience. There are some steps to take initially to determine the extent of the project.

  • Initial Clean. Use a damp, not wet cloth, and wipe down the entire piece, removing dust, dirt, and grime.
  • Remove any peeling paint or lacquer.
  • Remove the hardware, setting it aside for its own cleaning process.
  • Remove the drawers and doors. Restoring around these is not advised for a complete project.
  • Hardware can be a challenge. Cleaning, repairing, and acquiring hardware is a broad enough topic to warrant its own DIY blog. Suffice it to say, there are hundreds of websites and YouTube videos to guide you.

Once this has been completed, you can start the process of removing the finish layer(s) from the wood. To accomplish this, you will need some basic tools:

  • Sheets of coarse to fine-grained sandpaper for hand sanding.
  • A sanding machine and the sandpaper suited for it.
  • Wood putty and a putty knife. You may want to have several different blade widths of putty knives. A narrow knife can help confine the putty to a smaller area when necessary.
  • Small picks or awls will be needed for fine detail designs.
  • Varnish and paint remover, lacquer thinners, and denatured alcohol (grain alcohol). These liquids will help soften the finish in those hard-to-get areas, and areas you need to coax a stubborn glob of lacquer out of.
  • Paint brushes for finishing and removing dust from tight areas.

There are many tools and products that you can buy, however, these basics will get you started. Also, consider how you might finish the wood. This will help you make appropriate decisions as you progress through the restoration process. For example, if a wood veneer is gouged, patching it may not be the best course of action, therefore you might cover the blemish with a painted finish instead.

Restoring furniture can be a relaxing task. The hours you spend focusing on the process can be calming and meditative. The process is considerably more intimate than restoring a building. The feeling of accomplishment, however, is just as thrilling.

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Homeowner Handbook | #FurnitureFlip

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