Before putting new finish on furniture, remove the old finish. Lowe's home improvement store recommends either sanding off old finish with high-quality sanding equipment or using a chemical stripper. Most chemical strippers work by making the old finish weak enough to either scrape off with a putty knife or wash away with water. After removing the old finish, sand wooden furniture to make it smooth. Lowe's also explains that some people choose to fill in open wood grains with a wood filler before finishing, while others choose to leave wood grains open for a more textured and natural look.
Most people choose to stain wood furniture when refinishing to add color and protection to the wood. Lowe's and Utah State University Extension explain that home improvement stores sell multiple types of wood stain. Penetrating oil-based stains soak into the wood and tint it. They allow the natural wood grain to show through the stain, while adding color and protection. Water-based stains and polyurethane stains come in a variety of tinted and clear types, and they add a protective coating to the outside of the wood rather than soaking into the wood like penetrating oil stains.
Faux finishing gives furniture a finished or aged look with paint and sealer rather than actual wood stain. It allows decorators to tint furniture in colors other than the natural wood colors that stains usually come in. Martha Stewart recommends mixing two ounces of latex paint with 12 ounces of water to make a mixture for faux finishing. The mixture should then be painted onto the furniture. It will add color and appear somewhat translucent, allowing painted-on decorations to show through. After painting on a layer of the faux finish mixture, Martha Stewart suggests going over the layer with a dry paintbrush and then painting over the dry faux finish with a clear water-based sealer.
Rather than staining a piece of furniture, some people choose to paint furniture after removing its old finish. According to Martha Stewart, painted furniture can get an antique look easily and painting allows people to choose from a very wide variety of furniture colors. White painted furniture often has an attractive "shabby chic" look, and colorful furniture can contribute a lot to the mood of a room or match a paint color in the house exactly.