How to Restore Wood Furniture Without Sanding? [DIY Guide]

Has your dining room table seen better days? Have the kids set one too many cups on the side tables without coasters? Maybe your wooden desk is worn down where you work all day. At any rate, you want to refinish the wood furniture in your home, but you are not into the whole process of stripping, sanding, and refinishing. No problem.

If the piece of furniture you are working on is not heavily damaged and just needs some love to refresh it, you can easily refinish it without sanding and stripping. You will need to clean the surfaces thoroughly, see if the finish will take a new coat, repair any small damage, apply a new stain, and seal it. That may seem like many steps, but it is worth it in the end to refresh a well-loved piece of furniture. 

Keep reading for detailed steps to follow for restoring your wood furniture without stripping and sanding.

Evaluate the Condition of the Furniture

Before you know which steps to take to refinish your furniture, you need to evaluate what condition it is in. Therefore, you need to understand a few things about how staining and finishing wood furniture works. Stain is what adds color to the wood. So if your table is deep brown, it probably has a walnut stain. The finish is the outside clear layer that protects the stain and the wood from moisture and other damage. 

When you evaluate the furniture, you will need to decide if your furniture needs a new stain and finish or just a finish. If the color is faded or worn off, you will need to add a stain. If it is just the finish that is worn down, you may be able to simply recoat it with a new finish. If you are not sure, take a soft cloth, pour some mineral spirit on the cloth, and gently wipe it onto the furniture. If it looks great, then all you need is a new finish. Let the mineral spirits evaporate and you will be ready to move on to the next step. 

Clean the Furniture

Before you add any more stain or a new finish, you need to completely clean the piece. Simply mix your favorite dish soap and warm water. Use a sponge or soft cloth to clean all the dirt and grime off of your furniture. If there are fancy carvings or moldings, use a soft toothbrush to clean in the cracks. Wipe it all clean when you are done and let it dry overnight. 

Repair Any Damage

Fill in Small Cracks 

When wood dries out, it gets cracks in it. If your furniture has small cracks, you can fill them with wax fill sticks. If the cracks are thin and shallow, you can press the wax in like you are coloring hard with a crayon. If it is a wider crack, cut off a piece of the wax and warm it up in your hand. Then press it into the crack and smooth it over with your fingers or a popsicle stick. 

These sticks come in multiple wood colors. You may be able to buy a set to keep around the house for quick repairs when you notice them or just the one color you need for a particular project.

Large Holes or Missing Veneer

Sometimes, a well-used piece of furniture may have a chip out of an edge of moving or the use of daily life. You can fill this missing piece with a little bit of epoxy from an epoxy stick. Epoxy is a kind of putty that has to be mixed and shaped. Then when it hardens, it will be a permanent part of the furniture where you attach it. 

This kind of epoxy is very easy to use. You will cut off the amount you need from the epoxy stick. Then, while wearing gloves, knead it in your hands like clay until the 2 parts are well mixed. You will have about 15 minutes to press and shape it into the hole in the furniture. It will set in about an hour. Then you can sand off any edges that are rough and it will be ready to stain or paint.

If you are super crafty, while the epoxy is still soft, you can use a razor blade to add texture and wood grain to it, so that it matches the surrounding wood. Be sure to let it cure completely afterward so that your design stays solid.

Fix Rings from Cups or Hot Dishes

If your family does not always use a coaster, or you accidentally put a hot pan on the table once, you may have white rings from moisture that got under the finish. Truly, you may have to sand these areas to completely remove the rings, but we have a couple of suggestions that can help reduce how obvious the damage is without sanding or stripping.

First, try covering the area with the white ring with petroleum jelly and let it sit overnight. Wipe it away the next day and see if the moisture from the petroleum jelly has reduced the obvious rings. 

Another option is a mixture of white vinegar and olive oil. Combine equal parts vinegar and olive oil and apply to the damaged. Rub the area gently with a soft cloth until the oil penetrates the finish and reduces the visibility of the rings. 

Apply New Color

You have a couple of choices when it comes to refreshing the color of your wood furniture. You can match the existing color, or you could go darker. You cannot choose a lighter color without stripping and sanding. 

The easiest kind of stain to use is a water-based wipe on gel stain. However, if your project is an older piece or a “difficult” kind of wood, like aspen, that doesn’t take stain evenly, you might consider an oil-based stain. Water-based stain is easy to use and cleans up with water.

Oil-based stains are easy to use, but you must clean them up with mineral spirits or paint thinner. Furthermore, oil-based products are flammable, so even if you use disposable rags and sponge brushes, you must let them dry thoroughly before throwing them away so that they do not catch fire. 

Once you have chosen oil or water-based stain, choose your color.

Applying the stain is simple. First, put on disposable gloves to protect your skin. It’s called “stain” for a reason. Then you can use a soft clean cloth or a disposable sponge brush and apply the stain in the direction of the wood grain. The benefit of using a gel stain is that it doesn’t drip.

Let the stain sit for a few minutes, then wipe it off in the direction of the grain with a clean dry cloth. If you want a deeper or more intense color, let it dry for about an hour, then reapply the stain. 

Let the stain dry overnight then you will be ready to apply the finish.

Apply the Finish

Applying the finish is the same process as applying the stain. The only hard part is deciding which finish to use! 

Again, you can choose from oil-based and water-based finishes. You can also choose from satin, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes depending on how shiny you want the finished product to be. 

Once you have decided, you will apply the finish with a soft cloth or sponge brush in the direction of the wood grain and let it dry. You will probably want to apply at least two coats. If you are refinishing your dining room table a wipe-on oil-based finish is the best bet as it will protect the surface.

Let the finish cure overnight and your newly finished piece will be ready to use.

Other Considerations


You can paint rather than stain your wood furniture if you are not set on saving the wood grain. This is a good solution if your piece was wood veneer and it has a lot of damage to the veneer. You can patch the veneer with epoxy and then paint the whole piece. 

If you choose to paint, you will still want to apply a clear finish over it to maintain its integrity and protect it from further damage.

Sanding and Stripping

This is not the most fun in the world, but if the finish is in bad shape, it may be the only option. If you are not up to the task, call around in your town and see if there are any furniture restorers who can take care of this step. Some places are able to “dip” furniture in order to strip it. This is especially helpful for ornate pieces with many little decorative nooks and crannies.

Caring for Wood Furniture

One of the worst problems for wood furniture is dry air. You may dust regularly, but you need to take the time to oil your wood furniture 2-3 times a year, especially if you live in a dry environment. This till help keep it looking good and it will preserve the finish for many years.

Final Thoughts

Restoring a damaged piece of furniture adds a layer of love to it. It also offers you a sense of satisfaction with being able to make this improvement to your home. It is possible for your to refinish your wood furniture without stripping or sanding. Clean it well, check the finish, make any repairs, add new color with stain, and apply your favorite clear finish to protect the work you have done.

Related Questions

  • How do I refinish wood furniture with paint?
  • How do I waterproof wood?
  • How do I refinish wood furniture that has been painted?
  • How do you properly strip and sand wood furniture or cabinets?

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