How to Refinish a Wood Shelf

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Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver

  • Orange-oil paint stripper

  • Synthetic and natural bristle paintbrushes

  • Rubber gloves

  • Respirator

  • Paint scraper

  • Clean rags

  • Sandpaper, 120-, 150- and 220-grit

  • Orbital sander (optional)

  • Stain

  • Primer or sanding sealer

  • Paint or clear finish

Old shelves are easy to modify to new surroundings.
Image Credit: Piotr Krześlak/iStock/Getty Images

Some refinishing projects, including chairs, cabinets and doors, are so messy you may not want to do them yourself. A shelf is a different matter. It's small enough to place on a workbench and it's mostly flat -- two qualities that make it easy to strip and sand. Refinishing a shelf is a good way to learn the skills you need for larger projects.


Step 1

Remove all the hardware from the shelf using a screwdriver is applicable. Remove any brackets that were supporting it. Dust off the shelf so it is as clean as you can get it.

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Step 2

Ventilate the work area. Don rubber gloves and a respirator. Coat one side of the shelf with paint stripper using an old, clean paintbrush.

Step 3

Allow the stripper to remain on the shelf until the finish starts to bubble. Scrape it off with a paint scraper, going with the grain of the wood. use more stripper if the stripper dries out before the finish softens.

Step 4

Turn over the shelf over and strip the other side, the edges and any features such as molding or wooden brackets. Wipe the entire shelf with a damp rag when you're done. Dry the shelf with another rag. Let the shelf air-dry.


Step 5

Sand the shelf with 120-grit sandpaper using an orbital sander if the wood was stained and you want to remove the color, or rub sandpaper with the grain of the wood.

Step 6

Sand again with 150-grit sandpaper to prepare the wood for finishing. Wipe off the sanding dust with a dry rag or use tack cloth.


Step 7

Stain the wood, if desired, by painting stain on with a brush and wiping off the excess with a rag. Always wipe with the grain of the wood to prevent streaking.

Step 8

Apply a seal coat. Paint on stain-blocking wood primer with a paintbrush if you plan to paint the shelf. Apply clear sanding sealer if you plan to use a clear finish.


Step 9

Scuff-sand the seal coat with 220-grit sandpaper when it dries, which usually takes 30 minutes to an hour. Spread a coat of paint with a paintbrush. Apply a coat of clear finish. If the paint or finish is water-based, use a synthetic bristle brush to brush it. Use a natural bristle brush for spreading brushable lacquer or oil-based varnish or paint.

Step 10

Let the first coat of finish dry overnight, then apply a second coat. Repeat if necessary.


Unless you have to remove multiple coats of paint, you don't need a strong stripper. An orange-oil product should work.

Spread a little paste wax on the top and bottom of the shelf after the last coat of finish dries and buff it up with a rag to make the shelf shiny.


If you spray or paint lacquer, keep the room well ventilated and wear a mask to protect yourself from the fumes.


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