Fixing Up Furniture the Frugal Way

by Shaunna Privratsky
Fixing Up Furniture the Frugal Way photo

Many people don’t realize how easy it is to fix up used furniture, whether for your own home or to sell for extra cash. Here are my secrets for frugally fixing up furniture.

It has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember. When I was eight, my Dad brought home an old wooden camper and gave it to me for a playhouse. I scrounged up some leftover paint and discarded furniture and turned it into a little girl’s castle.

Ever since then, I enjoy finding gently used furniture and turning it into a useable item, either to keep or to sell. I discovered there is a big market for fixed up furniture at garage sale prices. Many people want the bargain of thrift store finds, but don’t want to put the work into fixing it or don’t know how. I’m going to let you in on my secrets.

Pick a Piece of Furniture

First, you have to find a piece of furniture. It may be something you already have, something someone gave you, a deal too good to pass up at a thrift store, or a discarded item someone threw away.

Look for pieces that have a pleasing shape or perform a specific function, like a sturdy bookcase or a nicely shaped end table.

Make Any Necessary Repairs

Next, decide what needs to be done.

Are any parts broken? Figure out if you can repair it yourself or if it can be fixed cheaply enough to make it worthwhile. The more you can do yourself, the less money you have to put into the project.

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Paint It

Once the piece is sound, decide if you want to paint it, stain it, or spray paint it. Think about where you want to put it, as this will help you pick a color that complements your décor.

Neutral colors are a sure bet with black and white leading the pack. Don’t forget about silver or gray, which is a staple in the design world. Navy, brown, and shades of green are good choices as well, while a bold piece in red can really make a statement.

Once you pick a color, prepare the piece just like you would a wall. Clean it, fill any cracks or holes, and then sand smooth. I use a lightweight spackle that seems to work on just about everything and is paintable and stainable.

When you’re ready to paint, place the furniture piece on a drop cloth or old bath towel to protect the floor. A shower curtain works as well and can be picked up at a dollar store. I keep a wet rag handy for unplanned splatters.

Start painting at the top and work down, so you can catch drips. Always go with the grain of the wood. If there is no visible grain, go with the logical direction and stick to it. The first coat should be thin; remember you are just coating the surface. Let it dry thoroughly.

The second coat goes on smoother and fills in any thin spots. Some pieces may need a third coat to really give it a nice finish, especially if you are using a light color to cover a dark piece of wood.

Or Stain It

Speaking of wood, some pieces are just too nice to paint, but have a few scratches or blemishes. Staining is another method of restoring furniture to its former glory. The first step is to find the closest color match of stain. If there is a drawer or small piece that you can bring to the store, all the better.

There are two kinds of stain, which are the traditional stain you rub in with a rag and the stain that you spray on. Use this when you are staining the whole piece. Gel stains are like regular stain, but easier to work with because they are thicker, so you use less.

Rub the stain on the spot, working with the grain of the wood. You can vary the color by how much stain you use. Make the wood darker with additional coats or keep it light with just a little stain. Finish with a protective coat of clear polyurethane, which seals the piece and protects against nicks and scratches and also repels dust.

Or Spray Paint It

A third option to fix up your furniture is spray paint. When staining or painting isn’t an option, reach for the can. Spray paints come in every color under the sun, and also different formulas. If your surface is plastic, concrete or rusted metal, reach for that formula for a perfect finish. It’s worth paying a bit more.

Spray paints work best on smooth surfaces, especially metal. Start with a thin coat, holding the can about eight inches away. If you are too close, drips and globs form and leave uneven splotches. Two or three thin coats give better coverage than one heavy coat.

Some of my favorite pieces are thrift store finds that I’ve fixed up, including our dining room table, a fancy bookshelf, and a sleigh bed. It was broken, but I fixed it and figured out a different way to attach the bed frame, so it is sturdier than ever. With a fresh coat of black paint, it is the showcase of my bedroom. Besides, I’ve always wanted a sleigh bed, ever since I was a little girl in my playhouse.

When you can look past an ugly paint job or a few scratches, you may find a treasure waiting for transformation. Use these tips to start fixing up furniture the frugal way.

Reviewed March 2023

About the Author

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Visit her at The Discount Diva.

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