Restore a Patio Bench
Rita Ribiat - Detroit, MI

Hardwarian Rita Ribiat

Gratiot True Value Hardware

Detroit, MI

Restore a Patio Bench

Level: Experienced

Your wood patio bench was once the best seat outside the house…a great place to socialize, relax, or just sit back and watch your garden grow. But age, wear, sun and rain can take a big toll on outdoor wood furniture, marring its surface and stealing its luster. Luckily, you don't have to bench your bench... not when you can strip away the years and restore its beauty and health.

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  • Stripping Stain and Paint

    Old, weathered stain or paint can wear unevenly or become dull and lifeless, so it's tempting to just cover them with more…but don't. The new coat won't adhere or wear well if it's not applied to a clean, smooth surface. Instead of covering the old finish, strip it away with either chemicals or with heat; instructions for both techniques follow.

    Helpful Tip

    Place cloth or plastic drop cloths under the bench to shield your deck and surroundings from chemicals and debris.

    Safety Alerts!

    No matter which finish-removing technique you use, always wear safety goggles, protective clothing and chemical-resistant gloves to protect your eyes and skin.

    Lead is toxic, and scraping, sanding or removing old paint may release lead dust into the air. Women who are pregnant and children should stay away during this process. When you're working with lead dust, wear a NIOSH-approved respirator and clean all debris carefully with a HEPA vacuum and a wet mop. Before you start, learn the proper methods of protecting yourself by contacting the National Lead Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or visiting

    Always read and heed all manufacturers' safety warnings on product labels. Some strippers contain extremely toxic or carcinogenic chemicals. Newer products are often safer and more environmentally- and people-friendly, but may take considerably longer to work.

    Always wear a respirator when using harsh chemicals.

    Stripping with Chemicals

    Chemical stripping is done two ways: with furniture refinisher or chemical stripper. Furniture refinisher is the less harsh option, so it's best to try it first to see if it will effectively do the job.

    Helpful Tips

    Furniture refinisher removes most clear finishes, but not polyurethane. If that's what you're dealing with, skip right to a chemical stripper.

    Here's an easy way to tell if the surface is coated with polyurethane: apply a small amount of nail polish remover, pure acetone or a refinisher to the surface. If it doesn't soften, it's probably polyurethane.

    Be sure to check the label on the bottle of refinisher to see if its ingredients react with steel wool; if so, they'll stain the finish. Use bronze wool or another applicator instead.

    Chemical Stripping Using Furniture Refinisher

    • Step 1: Apply the Refinisher

      Working a small area at a time, dip a steel wool (or other) pad into a small container of refinisher and rub the surface in a circular pattern, using light pressure.

      Helpful Tip

      Frequently rinse your pad in clean refinisher to avoid build-up.

    • Step 2: Remove Residue

      When you've removed the finish, go over the entire surface with clean refinisher to remove residue and lap marks.

    Chemical Stripping Using Professional Chemical Stripper

    • Step 1: Brush on the Stripper

      Brush on a thick coating of stripper with a single pass of the brush - don't brush it out the same way you would a coat of paint. Wait until the finish has bubbled up before trying to remove it (check the label - some formulas take 24 hours, others just 10 minutes). If you're using a slower-acting stripper, keep the surface from drying out by covering with plastic food wrap.

    • Step 2: Lift Off Loosened Paint

      After the finish has bubbled up, use a metal or plastic scraper to lift off the old finish if the surface is flat. If it's irregular, use an old toothbrush, a polypropylene automotive parts-cleaning brush or a steel wool pad. Scrape the residue into a cardboard box, then rinse your brushes and pads in water. Clean the surface well with mineral spirits or water as recommended by the manufacturer. When all the finish has been removed, apply a neutralizer to stop any additional chemical reactions.

    Stripping with Heat

    Using a heat gun is a quick and effective method for removing the finish from flat surfaces.

    • Step 1: Apply Heat

      Heat a small area until the finish bubbles up.

    • Step 2: Scrape Residue

      Scrape the finish into a cardboard box.

      Helpful Tip

      The heat technique can leave residue in the pores of the wood or in detailed areas and crevices that can't be scraped away. If that starts to happen, stop using heat and apply a chemical stripper (see steps 1-3) to finish the job.

      Safety Alerts!

      Always wear a heavy glove on the hand you'll be using to hold the heat gun and scraper because they can get very hot.

      Never use heat to strip paint containing lead to prevent it from escaping into the air.

    • Sand as Needed

      After using a scraper or chemicals, you may find the surface is marred, has a raised grain or feels or looks ''fuzzy.'' If so, smooth the surface with sandpaper. Start with 120-grit and complete the job with a finer sandpaper (240-grit). For irregular areas, hand-sand with a rubber or foam sanding block. Sand large and flat surfaces with a random-orbit sander. Go over the surface with a damp rag to remove dust particles.

    Re-staining Your Bench

    • Step 1: Choosing Stain

      Now that you've stripped and smoothed your bench, it's time to apply a fresh coat of stain. There are several different types of stains to choose from, depending on the look you want to achieve. If you want to enhance the color of the wood, use tinted stain. If you want it darken it or mask the grain, use semitransparent stain, which is also the most durable. Most stains are already combined with a sealer, so you can stain and seal in one step. If the product you choose doesn't contain a sealer, you'll have to seal the deck after the stain dries - and do it again each year.

      Helpful Tip

      You can buy a stain that contains an ultra violet (UV) protecting chemical - it will keep the sun from turning your bench gray.

    • Step 2: Applying Stain

      Use a 2'' or 4'' brush and start staining the backrest first (if any drips land on the seat, you can cover them afterwards). Use an even, back-and-forth motion, making sure the stain soaks into the wood without puddling.

      Helpful Tips

      As you stain, keep a small piece of cardboard nearby to catch any drips - otherwise, you risk dark spots. If you later find you've missed any, wipe them away with mineral spirits as soon as possible.

      When buying brushes, choose natural bristles for oil-based stains and latex bristles for water-based stains.

      If the stain you have selected does not contain a sealer, wait until your bench is completely dry and spray on a coat of polyurethane to give it a healthy shine and protect it from weathering.

    • Add Decorative (and Comfortable) Touches

      Want to add a splash of color and style to your bench — and a whole lot of comfort? Spruce it up with some decorative cushions and pillows (just make sure they're weather-resistant and easy to wash). Don't spend too much — that way, you can buy new ones whenever you're in the mood to "redecorate."

      Congrats! You're done. Enjoy your newly restored wood patio bench.

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