There are some really talented furniture refurbishers, refinishers or up-cylers, or whatever you’d like to call them! And furniture transformation posts abound on Pinterest. It can be inspiring to see how creative people turn one person’s junk into another person’s treasure. These projects might look like a mere paint job, but in fact, there’s more that happens behind the scenes. If you’d like to learn how to do the same, here are essential tools you’ll need if you want to be a furniture upcycler or repurposer.
Note: in this article we’ll be referencing multiple tips from one furniture recycler whose name is Jo. She was nice enough to let us use her photos as samples in this post! Visit her Etsy shop here.
1) Use a power sander for nearly all your furniture upcycling projects:
Regardless of the antique furniture you decide to pick up for refurbishing, you’ll quickly find that nearly all surfaces will need a good sanding down before applying any paint or new finish. Some primers and paints may be advertised as requiring no sanding. However, it’s still a good idea to at least scuff up your surfaces a little bit. Some do it after each paint coat too. The idea is that the sanding down will help the paint ‘stick’ to the surface better. Sometimes, sanding is not your only tool needed for this: scrapers can help too.
While you could use your elbow grease with a piece of sandpaper to do this job, you’ll find that a power sander can save you so much time. These come in many varieties – the topic could be a blog post in itself. However, they are relatively cheap (especially if this will be an investment project for you, and you plan to sell your refurbished furniture later). You can also find one used on Craigslist, sometimes under $20 (though remember, you get what you pay for!).
2) Sometimes, you might be able to use a planer and jointer on existing furniture
This might be a bit of a foreign concept to professional furniture refinishers. However, sometimes, you might need a planer or jointer (different from a joiner!). These tools are often used to flatten slabs or edges of wood in the woodworking craft. The reason we mention them here is that if you ever find you want to take a thick layer off of a wood surface, this may do it faster than sanding alone (though, you can’t skip the sanding altogether!).
Having these tools would also be useful in case you want to add some reclaimed wood to your repurposed furniture creation. Think: using a live-edge wood slab on top of old table legs. Another application would be when creating something like a headboard out of old screen shutters. You’d need the edges to be flat against each other, for strong joinery.
It wouldn’t be a good idea to use a planer on finished wood, however, according to this forum. So remember your sander, noted above!
These woodworking tools also come in many varieties. If you’re not going to be doing carpentry and joinery full time, you might be able to get away with hand-held electric types. Though you’ll need to have good dexterity and precision when using them!
3) It helps to have a jigsaw, circular saw, sabre saw or other type of wood cutter handy when refinishing furniture
These tools are also the kind of thing you may not need often when refinishing furniture. But when you do need them, they can be big time-savers. Sometimes, a jigsaw, circular saw or sabre saw can be bought on Craigslist for very cheap, or found in a lending library (if your city has one). Each of these have different functions when cutting wood – and their changeable blades can create rough or smooth finishes. So you’ll need to do your research on the type you want to have around.
Why these tools? Sometimes, you might want to cut off a piece of furniture, to make it into something new, like this bench that was made from an old dresser. Not having to use a manual saw can make this process much easier.
We should say though, that these tools come with their own safety considerations! You should know how to use them before you attempt to cut anything! Wood can be tough, and if there are nails along your cutting path, you could hurt yourself!
4) Invest in clamps and glue to fix broken furniture properly
As you can see by the Facebook post of this furniture refurbisher, sometimes, you have to fix up drawers or other components of your piece before they can be worthy of reuse. Glue is often a great way to accomplish this – especially when nails or staples might only serve to crack the wood, instead of saving it.
When used on wood, woodworking glues are very strong – sometimes stronger than what you need out of them. However, you can’t just apply the glue and let it sit. To form a tight bond, you should clamp your two wood pieces together. That’s where some good clamps come in.
Clamps come in different sizes, and the most flexible will be the long, extendable kind. But, for a cheap fix, you can also get smaller clamps for the not-so-big joints you need to attach.
Clamps are also going to be needed when you want to cut straight lines, using the saws mentioned above. They also are extremely helpful when sanding with a power sander, since those things can make your wood move all over the place!
5) Use an air compressor with pneumatic tools to attach refinished furniture pieces together
Sometimes, you need a drill, a drill bit and a screw. Or a hammer and nails. But other times, the job can be done more efficiently with pneumatic tools, like an air gun stapler or brad nailer.
This furniture refinisher shows how she uses her air compressor to brad nail a back panel onto a hutch she has repaired, and is going to paint. A pneumatic stapler can also be handy for re-upholstery projects too.
As a side note, some power sanders can attach to an air compressor hose, in case you don’t want to go electric. In fact, there are multiple tools that can be used with an air compressor.
The down side of air compressors is that they have to refill with air when empty, and they are also noisy. But they can sure pack a punch with those staples or nails!
6) A drill and drill bits are your best friend when repairing furniture
A power drill is a handy person’s best friend. They are versatile in that they not only help you drill holes, they can be used to twist screws into place (or unscrew them!) much faster than with a hand screwdriver. There are also attachment pieces you can buy that allow you drill larger holes than a ‘regular’ drill bit would allow. And, many drill bit kits can fit into any drill. Drills also come in both wired and battery-operated forms.
You can get a cheap wireless drill for around $30 at IKEA. It can do the job, but if you want something with more force, you may as well get something from the hardware store. Often, drills will come in sets with other power tools, which may turn out to be a better deal than buying each separately.
You may find that you won’t only be using your drill to repair furniture! You’ll be using it to hang pictures and shelves, attach hinges and do other work around the home! You can even attach a scrubber to it to make housecleaning easier!
7) Pliers, cutters, screwdrivers, wrenches, mallets and other nail, screw and bolt removers
When you start repairing any pieces of furniture during restoration, you may find yourself running into metal pieces – nails and bolts – that you no longer want, or should be replaced.
Sometimes, nails, screws and bolts need special remover tools. Same goes with old staples.
You can’t just sand or cut over these – the metal is strong. Leaving them in there could cause rust, or cracking in the wood. So you need to remove them, and perhaps later fill them with wood filler, if you need the area to stay in-tact.
That’s where it helps to have a set of pliers, cutter pliers, screwdrivers (including multiple heads, and attachments to remove screws), wrenches or anything else that will do the job as cleanly as possible! Here is an article that explains your options in more detail.
A mallet or hammer is also useful here, if you are able to reach a area where the nail or staple can be knocked out from reverse.
8) A paint can opener is small, but unforgettably useful
This is a small one, but still worth mentioning! For the dollar or two you’d spend on this, you’ll save yourself a lot of headache trying to open cans of paint in the future! Be sure to hammer down your paint can lids so they form a good seal, to protect your paint for later!
9) Safety gear should always be considered when using furniture refurbishing tools
Lastly, please don’t forget that these tools are not just noisy, they can cause particles to fly into your eyes or respiratory system. They can also damage body parts themselves! Always be safe! You’ll need:
- Work goggles or protective eyewear
- Gloves with grip, and to prevent cuts
- Ear plugs
- Clamps (remember our recommendation above – these prevent loose objects from moving during sanding or cutting)
- Protective footwear (don’t do this in sandals folks!)
- Common sense, and learned safety skills
To conclude: being a furniture upcycler requires the right tools to get the job done!
As you can see from our list above, handling furniture for repair, refurbishing or upcycling can require a variety of tools. You may not need all tools on every job, but you will likely come across cases where you need this or that. You can chose to go all-out and get all your tools at once. Or, you can buy them as you need them. If you’re not sure whether furniture recycling will be a ‘thing’ for you, start with used, or cheap tools, and then build up from there. You can always invest in the more expensive brands and features later.
We should also mention that our list here is not comprehensive! You may be making lots of trips to the hardware store as you come across different needs. Plus, you’ll need supplies – like sandpaper, paint strippers, wood oils, stencils, brushes, and much more! Your creativity is the limit!