31 Ways to Upcycle Wooden Furniture

If you're hoping to transform wooden furniture pieces from drab to fab, you've come to the right place. We've got all the inspiration you'll need. Upcycling wooden furniture is hugely rewarding – for both you and the planet. Whether you want to keep or sell your upcycled furniture, we've got 31 creative ways to help you fall in love with upcycling wood.

31 ways to upcycle wooden furniture
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1. Keeping an open mind

Having a wish list helps, but it’s good to stay open-minded. You may be thinking you’d love to upcycle a chair only to meet the perfect bench. The great thing about upcycling wooden furniture is it’s wonderfully adaptable. Why not repurpose by turning that sideboard into a bathroom cabinet or that cupboard into a bookcase?

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2. Starting small

A top tip is not to jump straight in. Starting with simpler pieces like a coffee table, side table or even a dining table can help to build your confidence. Straighter edges are easier to work with. Practising sanding and priming chair legs or stripping table tops help you to hone your skills. Handy too if you want to flip and start selling your upcycled projects.

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3. The right tools for the job

When working with wood, it pays to have an electric sander and dust masks. For painting, there are differently sized paint brushes, and masking tape is great for neat edges. People often sell second-hand tools and toolboxes on Gumtree and you might even pick up a work bench. Why not upcycle a wardrobe or wooden chest to store all your tools in?

4. Moulding

If your furniture is the right size, but you’re after something grander, moulding can help. Gluing pre-finished mouldings or beading to furniture is an easy way to make a smaller piece grow in stature. Painting the new additions to match the rest of the piece makes them look like they were there all along.

31 ways to upcycle wooden furniture

5. Think transformation

Wooden furniture, from bedframes to chairs, wardrobes to dining tables, is great for upcycling. You can go for a theme where everything matches. Or you can opt for a more eclectic feeling with mismatched pieces. Taking the doors off or changing the tops can make them look totally different – upcycling a chest of drawers, for example, by adding a metal top and handles and going all urban.

6. Know your woods

Older, darker pieces of furniture can be made of woods like oak, walnut and mahogany. These woods are expensive. Nowadays, more wooden furniture is made with woods like pine and ash. Some furniture woods have a distinctive colour, like poplar that’s greenish or rosewood that has a purple tinge. Coordinating soft furnishings can make the colours pop.

7. Veneer and MDF

Veneer has a top layer of more expensive wood glued to less expensive wood. MDF is an artificial product where shavings of cheaper wood are compressed into sheets. It’s usually coated when used in furniture and is strong, light and inexpensive. MDF is great for kids’ rooms, especially when you cover it with glow-in-the-dark stars.

Painting on a smile
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8. Painting on a smile

Are you looking to restore wood or do you want it to look completely different? One of the easiest ways to give wood a whole new look is with paint. And it doesn’t need to be plain. What about going for a patchwork quilt effect with different coloured squares, or using a high-gloss finish?

Can you just paint over wooden furniture
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9. Can you just paint over wood furniture?

Some paints can be applied directly to wood, but to get a smooth surface, sanding first works best. A primer helps the paint stick too. You can produce an on-trend ombré effect by using darker paint at the base of your furniture and blending to a lighter shade as you work your way up.

10. Paints for wood

Oil-based paints are durable, but take longer to dry and contain solvents. Water-based paints dry more quickly and have fewer chemicals, but aren’t as hardwearing. Both types of paint come in fabulous finishes like satin, sheen and matte. Chalk paints are great for upcycling. They give a shabby-chic finish where it’s fine to see brush marks.

11. Choose to distress

A distressed effect gives a lovely rustic look to your furniture. The easiest way to distress furniture is to paint it first and then sand down the edges to give it a worn look. For a super-modern look, you can paint one colour on top of another. Then when you sand it down, the lower colour peeps through.

12. A strong finish

If you want a more natural look, you can use varnish, wax or stain. Varnish stays on the surface of the wood as protection. Stains protect wood too, but they’re also fab at changing its colour. Wax helps to bring out the natural grain in the wood. These guys all work well if you don’t want to hide the woodwork.

13. Colours rule

The rules are, there are no rules. Wood paints come in every shade of the rainbow and adding colour is an ideal way to revitalise a tired piece of furniture. You can choose complementing neutrals or clashing statements. Why not paint the outside a different colour to the inside or the legs a different colour to the top?

How do you upcycle old pine furniture

14. How do you upcycle old pine furniture?

Pine is great for upcycling. That orange colour comes from the varnish, so you may need to remove this first. If you’re keeping it natural, you can sand it down, wipe it clean and add a clear varnish. Pine furniture loves a new paint job. Painting it cream gives it a farmhouse look.

15. How do you upcycle dark wood furniture?

Don’t be put off by dark furniture that doesn’t fit with your decor. It may take a bit more elbow grease and a couple of coats of primer but you can get wonderful results. Preparing the wood means you can paint it lighter or apply waxes and polishes to reflect its natural beauty. Or why not make it really striking and use paint to go darker still?

How do you update veneer furniture

16. How do you update veneer furniture?

You’ve got lots of options. If the veneer is in good condition, you can paint it or varnish it. If the top layer is coming away slightly, you can glue it back in place. Where the veneer is badly cracked or damaged, you may need to remove it. Treating and painting the wood underneath gives your furniture a whole new appearance.

17. Can you paint over veneer without sanding?

That depends on the kind of paint you use. Chalk paints work well on veneer with no sanding at all. If you do need to sand veneer furniture, the key is to be gentle. The veneer layer is thin, so using a fine sandpaper avoids damage. Or you can use layers of varnish to bring out the natural wood look.

18. Can you repaint MDF furniture?

Yes you can – with the right precautions. Untreated MDF isn’t waterproof, so you’ll want to use a primer or an oil-based paint. That way you’ll keep the colour on the surface where it belongs. MDF furniture is less expensive than solid wood and appears more modern. It looks great with bright shades or a distressed finish. Or why not use masking tape in the process to give it a funky stripe effect?

Embracing the outdoors

19. Embracing the outdoors

Wooden furniture looks beautiful outdoors. As long as you’ve treated it properly with a waterproof finish, it can withstand a bit of rain. Garden furniture covers will also help keep it dry. To preserve its gorgeous looks, you can put the piece away over the winter. You can make a wooden bench perfect for summer evenings by adding lots of cushions and throws.

20. On the move

Wooden furniture can be quite heavy. You may be looking for versatility and furniture you can easily move around. Why not take inspiration from your office chair and add castors or wheels? Castors come in lots of colours and can be metal or plastic. Some have brakes too to stop the furniture moving once it’s in place.

Custom built

21. Custom built

Stencils and transfers are fun ways to customise your piece. There are so many to choose from. With a stencil, you fix it to the furniture with masking tape. Then, using a brush, sponge or spray, paint over it. With a mosaic stencil, you can create a cool terrazzo effect. Or with transfers, you can stick them directly to the furniture, carefully smooth them over and then remove the backing. The results look amazing and it’s the perfect way to add impact to a painted piece of furniture.

22. Adding appliques and ornate carvings

Adding appliques and decorative carvings can instantly uplift a piece. You can add them to doors, drawers, edges and even legs. Why not paint your furniture in period colours with gold carvings for a renaissance feeling?

23. Expressing your personality

If you’ve got some skills with calligraphy or drawing, why not add your own design or writing? Painted hand or foot prints look cute too. Using pieces of self-adhesive wallpaper inside drawers or on shelves is another fun touch. There are masses to choose from and they can really make a statement. Or you could do a bit of decoupage by gluing pictures or greeting cards to your coffee table and make it a talking point.

24. Hitting the floor

You may have seen furniture with tops made from scraps or planks of wood flooring. They look incredible and the fact that they slot together makes them fun to work with. You can even match your table to your floor. It’s also another great way to spruce up a cupboard or make new shelves.

25. Mixing materials

How about a complete makeover? Wood complements so many other materials. You could use fabric on chairs or add ceramic tiles to your coffee table. How about fitting pieces of cane webbing to your chest of drawers or mirrored tiles to your wardrobe doors? Replacing a table top with a piece of kitchen worktop gives an edgy style.

Glass-topped tables

26. Glass-topped tables

Strengthened glass makes a chic table top. You can leave it plain or use it to showcase cards and photographs. If you fit beading around it, this can give protection from sharp corners. Why not try glass on your chest of drawers too?

27. Quirky decorations

Take a tip from trendy designers and up the ante with quirky decorations. Ideas include fixing loose-leaf book covers to a bookcase or vinyl records to a TV stand. Or why not attach a wine rack to your sideboard and make it into a drinks cabinet?

28. Happy handles

Swapping handles is a surefire way to give your furniture a whole new look. From antique to funky to cute as a button – you can buy matching sets or mix them up for a quirky look. Not only do they come in lots of colours and patterns, but you can change the shape of your handles too. Buying white handles means you can make your own finish.

29. Getting hooked

Adding hooks or hangers to your furniture adds a feature and makes it more practical. You could add hooks to a bookcase or dresser – great for hanging cups and mugs. Or you might like to put hooks on the side of a chest of drawers for extra storage. Brightly coloured hooks look great in a kids’ room for little hats and coats.

Second legs

30. Second legs

Is your furniture literally on its last legs? Time for a change. The easiest legs to remove are ones that you can unscrew and replace. Or if the old legs are safe, why not just repair and paint them? For a completely different look, you can replace the legs with pallets or pieces of scaffolding.

31. Sit back and relax

You can cut foam pads to size and cover them with your choice of fabric. Adding ties will keep them in place. If the chair already has its own padding, you may just need to give it a good clean or tighten the upholstery and replace the stuffing. Or you could go all out and make loose covers in matching fabric.

There’s no doubt that upcycling wooden furniture is full of possibilities. It’s exciting, rewarding and great for the environment. Once you’ve got the hang of it, why not check out our guide to selling upcycled furniture?