Chipped paint from everyday use, white rings from coasterless coffee cups, the gigantic scratch from when your 3-year-old used it as a sketch pad, not to mention the newly discovered mold on the underside -- all may make you want to heave that old table to curb and start fresh. But if it's vintage, a family heirloom or a high quality piece that has just seen better days, tossing it out may not be an attractive option. Don your best ventilation mask; look beyond the ugly exterior, and reclaim that seemingly hopeless piece of furniture with a just little effort.
Mold may sometimes grow on furniture that was exposed to an excessive amount of moisture, so inspect any piece of furniture thoroughly before beginning the refinishing process. Painting over moldy surfaces is not recommended and may even result in peeling, not to mention potential health problems, including allergies, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wearing rubber gloves and protective goggles, remove the mold by wiping it with a cloth dampened by rubbing alcohol -- but beware, the alcohol may damage or remove the finish on the furniture. This isn't a problem if you were already planning on refinishing the piece, but may add unexpected time and money to the project if you were hoping to only remove the mold and be done. Scrub the mold if it's stubborn until all traces of it are gone, and let it dry thoroughly.
Proper preparation yields the best results when refinishing furniture. Though sometimes tedious, carefully removing the old finish and fixing any visible imperfections in the wood is worth the time and effort. Apply wood filler with a putty knife to scratches or significant divots in the wood. Allow it to dry before reapplying, if needed; the patched spot should be slightly raised from the rest of the surface to allow for sanding. Always working in the same direction as the wood grain, and use an electric palm sander with 120-grit sandpaper to remove the original finish on large areas. Sand by hand the legs and arms of chairs and tables or other intricate detailed areas. Check patched spots to make sure they are not higher or lower than the furniture surface; make any necessary adjustments by either sanding more or refilling the area. Once the piece has been evenly sanded, move to finer 220-grit paper to smooth the surface. There is no need to remove every trace of stain if you are going to re-stain in the same or darker shade, and the same goes for repainting a previously painted piece. The only time it's necessary to remove all traces of the original finish is if the piece is going from painted to stained.
Painting or Staining
After using a damp cloth to wipe all the dust away, you can start the painting or staining part of the project. Use long, even strokes to apply a water-based stain with a natural-bristled brush in the direction of the wood grain. Overlap the brush strokes and wipe the surface of the wood with a clean rag to remove any excess stain. Continue this process until you reach the desired color -- the more coats of stain applied the darker the finished product. To paint a wood piece or apply paint to laminate furniture, brush on an oil-based stain-blocking primer and allow it to dry completely. These primers help paint cover more evenly and adhere more sufficiently. Cover the furniture in a satin finish latex paint, using a high-quality, natural bristled brush or foam roller. Apply two coats of paint, waiting 24 hours between each. Stained or painted, seal your mold-free and newly refinished piece with three coats of a polyurethane topcoat. Brush it on with a good paintbrush, and then allow it to dry and sand it gently with steel wool between each coat.
Wood furniture with areas of upholstered fabric, such as the seat cushion of a dining room chair, should also be carefully inspected and treated for mold. Replacing the seat cushion works best, but if you don't want to, you have other options. Sweep the fabric with a stiff brush or broom before thoroughly vacuuming the upholstery. Sweeping loosens growing mold and vacuuming removes the spores. Do this outside. For washable fabric, wipe the upholstery with a damp sponge dipped in a mixture of mild detergent and water, or for a more potent clean, use a mixture of 1/4 teaspoon bleach and 1 cup of water. Test in an inconspicuous area before cleaning your upholstery with anything.