How to Refinish and Reupholster a Bench

Give an old bench a new lease on life by stripping then refinishing the legs and freshening up the upholstery with new foam and fabric.

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Materials Needed:

  • old upholstered bench or stool
  • sandpaper in coarse-, medium- and fine-grit
  • oil-based stain
  • spray polyurethane
  • 1" chip brush for staining
  • screwdriver
  • pliers
  • staple gun and staples
  • foam sheet
  • upholstery fabric and coordinating trim
  • scissors
  • dropcloth or tarp to protect work surface
  • optional: chemical stripper

Remove Old Upholstery

Flip the bench over and using the appropriate screwdriver (either Phillips or flat), remove the screws securing the upholstered top to the wooden legs (Image 1). Note: Tape the screws together or place them in a labeled baggie; you'll need them later to reinstall the seat. Next, use pliers to remove the screws or nails securing the existing upholstery (Image 2). Tip: Remove all layers of fabric, if there are multiples, leaving only the original layer.

Remove Existing Finish

Starting with coarse-grit sandpaper then working your way down to medium- then fine-grit, go over all areas you plan to refinish to remove the existing stain. Note: If the existing finish is paint or stain in good condition, removing it with a chemical stripper may be necessary. This finish was so old and in such bad shape (Image 2) that a heavy sanding was enough.

Stain Then Seal Wood

Use a disposible brush to apply stain to the bare wood, being sure to brush it in the direction of the wood grain (Image 1). Allow the stain to fully dry, preferably overnight. Protect work surface, then coat all stained areas with spray polyurethane, being careful to hold the can 10-12 inches from the wood's surface and keep the can moving as you spray to prevent drips (Image 2).

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