How to Refinish a Wooden Rocking Chair

Refinishing your weathered wooden rocking chair can save you from having to buy a replacement. Doing it by yourself can also save you money in the process. But you need the right tools and knowledge of how to refinish a wooden rocking chair to succeed in this project.

Start by cleaning your wooden rocking chair. Vacuum or dust it off to remove loose dirt and dust, or wipe it with a damp cloth. Apply a paint stripper on the whole chair to remove any previous finish and let it sit for fifteen minutes before gently scraping it out with a putty knife. When the chair is dry, use a sanding sponge to smooth it out. Wipe out the sanding dust with a dry rag. Next, spray the chair with a thin layer of lacquer, and then apply glaze – wiping the excess product with a rag as you go. Let it dry for about an hour before spraying it with a final clear coat of water-based urethane.  

Why refinish a wooden rocking chair

Even though wooden rocking chairs tend to have a long lifespan, exposure to weather elements and years of use can take a toll on any furniture. 

Regardless of the kind of wood used to make the chair, elements such as heat, moisture, and mold can cause damage. Refinishing is one way to shield the wooden surface from direct exposure to these harmful elements.

Carefully finishing your wooden rocking chair can also enhance and preserve its beauty. You can choose to finish the chair in a color of your choosing, seamlessly meshing with your home’s overall outdoor color palette.  

How to refinish a wooden rocking chair 

If you want your wooden rocking chair to last a lot more years outside, then you’ll want to invest some time in refinishing it. 

Step 1 – Prepping the chair for refinishing. 

If the chair has been sitting outside for long, it is likely to have loose dirt on the surface. Consider kicking off your project by dusting it off to remove the loose particles on its surface.

This first part should be easy. You could use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the dust or use a cloth to dust it off.

Step 2 – Removing the previous finish.

The second – most important thing – is to remove the previous finish, whether it was paint or some other coating, by applying a paint stripper. 

Use a sponge or soft-bristled paintbrush to apply a layer of paint stripper to the wooden rocking chair. 

Any paint stripper you can get on Amazon should get the job done. You can also buy one from a paint shop near you.

Whichever option you choose, make sure to apply the stripper on all surfaces of the chair. Ideally, it should cover every inch of the furniture to remove every bit of the previous coating.

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying the stripper. That said, apply it with heavy coats and allow it to penetrate the old protective finish.

Leave it on for approximately 15 minutes. This should be enough time for it to work the old finish, loosening it. 

You should then be able to remove the softened finish by scraping it with a putty knife. Be gentle about it, so you don’t gouge the wood surface. 

The curved surfaces will require additional care to clean. Clean them with a flexible stripping pad, as this will simplify your work.

Though the flexible stripping pad can do the job, you may want to use a piece of twine to achieve more finesse. Coat the twine with dampened pumice to make it reasonably coarse, and use it to work the tiny grooves in your chair’s turned spindles.

Your rocker is likely to have brackets, and metal bolts like most wooden rocking chairs do. Some people recommend removing these parts before starting the refinishing process, so you don’t prime or paint them.

Removing such parts may create an added ton of work to your project. We recommend simply covering the brackets or bolts with a painter’s tape, which you can strip off after you finish the project, and voila! 

The painter’s tape will come in handy for covering all the parts you don’t intend to paint.  

Step 3 – Sanding the rocking chair. 

With the old stain gone, it is time to proceed to sand the chair. Cleaning the furniture and removing the old finish before sanding ensures the fresh coat you will apply comes out nice and smooth.

Check to ensure the wood is dry before you start sanding. This step ensures you have a good, smooth surface ready for your new layer of clear coat. 

Use a medium grit sanding sponge or 220-grit paper to smooth out the surface and remove any raised grain that could make the finished wood look blotchy. 

Once done, use a clean, dry rag to wipe all the sanding dust before you start spraying the furniture.  

Step 4 – Applying your finish. 

The products you use to refinish your chair may differ based on your preferences. In our case, we will recommend using a wiping glaze or wiping stain concentrate for your finish. 

Also, ensure you have a foam paint brush for applying the glaze and rubber gloves to protect your hands from staining. You will also need a spray can of lacquer and a spray can of Helmsman Spar Urethane – preferably water-based. 

Start by spraying the chair with the lacquer to give it a tough, resilient, and water-resistant clear coat. The coat will also provide a good foundation for a nice and even glaze finish. Applying glaze on bare wood may result in a somewhat darker look that may be less appealing. 

You don’t need a heavy coat in this case. Just spray a thin, even layer of the lacquer on the whole chair. 

Examine the furniture for any rough spots that may require a light, quick sanding after you finish applying the lacquer. 

Use your foam paintbrush to apply an even layer of glaze on the whole chair, wiping the excess product with a rag as you go.  

Once you are satisfied with the look and depth of the glaze, allow it time to dry. Usually, the drying process should take anywhere from thirty minutes to one hour. 

As the final process, spray the furniture with a clear coat of the water-based Helmsman Spar Urethane. Start with the bottom to the top of the chair and dry for about fifteen minutes. 

The clear coat of urethane is specially formulated as a clear protective finish for chairs exposed to weather elements that could be potentially damaging. 

With this protective layer, the rocker will be able to withstand the harsh effects of the sun’s UV rays, water, and temperature changes.

The product is loaded with UV blockers to reduce the fading effects of sunlight. It forms a protective barrier against rain and moisture.

How much does it cost to refinish a wooden rocking chair?

The cost of refinishing a wooden rocking chair will vary depending on the products used (if you do it by yourself). If you choose instead to enlist professional paintwork, you can expect to spend anywhere between 200 and 500 USD. 

The cost will be slightly higher than that of refinishing a regular dining seat or table because rockers are generally more complex. 

You can expect to spend more money on a weathered rocking seat compared to a newer one that requires less work to refinish. 

So, the amount comes down to the condition of the chair you are looking to refinish, as this will determine the process. 

Dos and don’ts when refinishing wooden rocking chairs

You may get the job done even by taking a different approach than what we have described here. However, there are a few ground rules that will govern each process you follow. Take a look.  

The Dos

  1. Do clean the surface before jumping into the refinishing project. This is to remove any dirt, grease, or oil on the chair surface that could affect your project. 
  2. Do wear rubber gloves and a protective painter’s mask when applying paints and primers. These products contain chemicals that could harm your skin or trigger allergic reactions when you inhale them. 
  3. Do read the instructions on each product and take each recommended precautionary measure to avoid accidents.  
  4. Do condition the surface or apply a primer to seal the wood and even it out before using paint or the refinishing product. 

The Don’ts

Do not use orbitals or electric sanders. Using such tools on this kind of project will not provide good results as certain chair parts are too narrow for the tools to reach. Not to mention that you risk damaging the furniture when you use an orbital or electric sander. 

Do not refinish furniture without repairing the damaged parts. You want a chair that will function as well as it looks. Refinishing one without repairing loose or broken parts will only end up with a beautiful but unstable or wobbly piece of furniture. 

Do not use power washers to clean the seat. The pressure on a power washer will likely damage your furniture by causing cracks from opened seams in the wood. 

Tips for maintaining wooden rocking chairs outdoors

Proper care and maintenance can go a long way in maximizing the lifespan of your furniture. And, it doesn’t take a lot of work to maintain and care for your rockers.  

  • Clean any dirt as soon as it occurs or when you become aware of it

Things such as spills, bird droppings, sunscreen, or grime can become stubborn stains if left to linger on the wood for long. Even with protective finishes, these stains can still act as a petri dish for mildew, leading to unsightly discolorations and untimely deterioration.

Cleaning outdoor rocking chair as part of how to refinish a wooden rocking chair

Cleaning them off as soon as possible will prevent permanent staining or damage and ensures your chair remains pristine for much longer. 

For loose dirt, get in the habit of dusting the surfaces with a clean, dry cloth or sucking up the dust with a vacuum cleaner. 

For spills and sticky substances, use a clean rag dampened in a solution of mild dish soap or oil soap and water. The idea is to avoid letting water sit on the chair for long. 

 

  • Bring the seat inside during the offseason. 

When you know you won’t be using your beautiful wooden rocker for some time, the wise thing is to bring it indoors. 

Keep the chair sheltered away from the harsh elements outside to protect and preserve its good features.  

No one sits on a rocking chair outside during winter. This is a good time to store the outdoor furniture indoors until the season changes.

  • Cover it up when not in use 

If you prefer to leave your chair within its designated space outside, consider covering it with an appropriate fabric. You can get durable furniture covers on Amazon and the local furniture stores near you. 

While this may mean added expenses, it will be well worth it. The little investment will shield your furniture and keep dust, sun rays, and rain from damaging it – maximizing your investment in the long run.

  • Paint the chair as often as recommended 

Your furniture manufacturer can offer recommendations on how often you should refinish your outdoor rocker based on the environment or weather conditions it is exposed to. Be sure to follow these recommendations and give the furniture the occasional treat it requires. 

Although painting eliminates that natural look of your wooden chair, it is a worthy tradeoff 99-percent of the time. 

  • Seal it with a water-based option 

A water-based sealant can be an excellent alternative for those who wish to retain the aesthetics of their wooden rockers. 

A suitable sealant provides the same, if not better, protection of paint without altering the furniture’s original color. 

Sealants protect the furniture against moisture from the outside environment while allowing the damp wood to dry within. As such, your furniture will not rot or warp if you seal it. 

Conclusion 

Many homeowners choose to refinish their favorite furniture by themselves today because they increasingly realize they don’t have to be skilled to do it.

You can borrow the same mindset and start your DIY refinishing projects today. You will find it cheaper and satisfying to see a project through without the help of a professional. 

You also have the added advantage of this detailed resource to guide you through the project.

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