Best Way to Refinish Wood Furniture, 60 Minutes, Polish With Wax, Steel Wool (2023)


Showing how you can give wood furniture a refinish using steel wool and wax to polish in less than an hour.
Wax on wood furniture with fine steel wool cleans, finishes and polishes beautifully your old and new wood furniture.
It will refinish water based coatings, oil based polyurethane or varnish, film finishes like lacquer or shellac, lacquer and other coatings. A wax rub gives wood a richer look, an even finish, a warmer feel and resists water, not to mention a great shine.
It is the final step to presenting your home to friends or finalizing your woodworking project.
IMPORTANT The longer you let a new finish cure, the easier it will be to rub it, and that goes for any sheen.
IMPORTANT You can’t rub a satin sheen up to a gloss sheen, but you will improve a shine greatly with polishing.
IMPORTANT You must have enough of a finish for this to work. You cannot polish bare wood.
Dust in the air makes it hard to get a clean, smooth finish in any environment, no matter how it’s applied. You need a dedicated clean room, and even then, the finish can dry with particles or bush strokes. So what chance do we that finish in the garage or basement wood shops have? Steel wool wax rubbing removes those problems and smooth out the sheen differences.
Also, a waxed steel wool finish just looks better. The rubbed shine just looks better. The gloss from a spray gun, brush or pad simply isn’t the same: it is smoother, reflects more light, and is deeper and more.
By rubbing in the direction of the grain, scratches on older furniture are filled to refract light in an even pattern. The steel wool leaves the surface flat, with a glossy, reflective surface without any scratches visible.
And the feel of the furniture is luxurious. Wood is a living thing, and is more than appearance. You should experience the wood. People touch the wood, hold it. You can’t get that from Formica.
Here’s how you do it.
It takes work to apply the wax in long strokes, putting pressure on the steel wool to clean and polish the wood.
Use quality steel wool as they aren’t all same and may be rough. Not all steel wool is created equal. Rub with the grain of the wood.
Start with 400 grit sandpaper with paint thinner as a lubricant to remove a small layer of finish to clean and smooth the surface of dust, scratches and marks
Fill the pad of 00 steel wool with paste wax. It will lubricate the steel wool as well as apply the wax deep into the imperfections for a smoother surface.
Don’t miss rubbing the ends of the wood, and keep going in the grain’s direction.
Flip the pad over as the pad gets worn. Add more wax as you go along.
Use long stokes in straight lines with the grain, working the wax. The entire wood surface should get at least 7 rubs or passes.
Then use 0000 steel wool to remove the excess wax and polish the wood. Apply lighter pressure when removing the wax. Use the same application pad more wax if needed.
Too much wax will show if rubbing your finger on the surface leaves a smudge. Cold water can be used to harden the excess wax so it can be removed easier with the four zero steel wool.
At the end, you can use a clean cloth for buffing off any residue wax to get a glossy surface.

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Blair gilbert here for gilbert's pro hardware in saint clair, shores, michigan and mr I'm going to show you one of my dad's tricks to making a piece of finished furniture something that you've made and varnished or polyurethane yourself, go from good to perfect.

So here we have a nice piece of black.

Walnut that's got polyurethane on it it's, looking pretty good, except that it's.

Not perfect it's got a little bit multi, sheen there's, a little bit of dust in the finish.

So when I feel it it's, not absolutely perfect and we're going to use some paste wax and steel wool on a finished project that actually has been curing for four or five days, and it could be other things.

It could be lacquer.

It just has to be hard enough so that you won't, scratch it.

So the most important thing is you let your last coat of your finish cure out as a prep to steel, wool, waxing we're, taking a little bit of mineral spirits paint thinner we're, taking some 400 grit, sandpaper, water, dry sandpaper, 400 grit.

I've wrapped it around the sponge to keep it flat.

And I've been seeing this a couple times to take and even out the finish there's, fortunately, five coats of finish on here.

So this can afford some sanding without it me burning through the finish this spot here had an extra little pile of dust.

Probably came off my friend's arm when he was varnishing the dust, you always have to make sure you put on clean clothes, whenever you're putting on your last coat to finish actually any coats of finish in the old days.

We could get a product called steel wool wax by star bronze company.

Nowadays we can't get it anymore.

So now we're using minwax paste wax, we are using two zero steel wool and then we're gonna buff this off with 4-0 steel, wool.

So here's.

What you do you take the paste wax, and you liberally apply it to the countertop.

And what you're doing here is you're getting the wax on and the steel wool.

The wax is acting as a lubricant.

So why we apply it we're not scratching the steel walls and scratching this countertop.

The wax is acting as a lubricant is allowing us to put this on smooth out any imperfections, any little pieces of dust that may be in this countertop are being buffed off and we're, getting a nice coat of wax at the same time.

But you will see when we buffed this off with 4-0 steel wool.

Now, mind you, this job takes some elbow grease.

We sell it by the pound gilbert's hardware.

So we do this all with the grain.

We keep buffing with the grain until we start running out of whack when you're finishing a piece of wood as an amateur in a house or a small homeowner shop.

You don't, you cannot make this a dust free environment.

You can only minimize the dust.

And so what we're doing here is we are taking and we're, getting rid of that dust that got into the last coat of finish.

This is a nice even layer of wax on it.

And now I take 4-0 steel, wool and I'm buffing off the excess wax.

And now what will happen is when I'm done here I'm going to take a nice piece of wood and I'm going to make it into a perfect beautiful piece of wood, you had to have enough finish on it to pull this off.

So you don't do this to bare wood or wood.

It only has some varnish in it.

You have to do it to wood.

That's been totally sealed.

We did this mostly on table tops things that my friends come over and run their hands on.

We put drinks or and it's, just to take and make something not so much for door, casings or doors.

This is a hard job.

You have to take and work this wax in and clean.

The finish then you have to take 4-0 steel wool, and you have to buff it off.

So this is not a really easy job.

Just take some effort.

But the nice thing is is when I'm doing a tabletop or the top of a bookshelf, or something that people are going to touch and and experience.

And the other thing that this has done is it's made the finish the sheen is a lot more even of a satin than when we started.

Now we have an even finish.

We have a polished surface that's going to last years, it's going to take a half hour to an hour to do a large table to do a beautiful job.

The difference is is that once you're done it's worth it.

Because this finish is now pretty close to indestructible with this tabletop.

Here has gone from just a so-so finish to something that people are going to take rub their hands on and will admire.

So you can see where we've gone from a nice satin finish to a polished hand, waxed finish using steel, wool of all things you.


Is steel wool good for finishing wood? ›

Steel wool is typically used by jewelers, metal craftsmen, and woodworkers as an abrasive for cleaning or smoothening out their working surfaces or giving them a shiny finish.

Can I use steel wool on wood furniture? ›

For areas that appear to have a buildup of dirt, dip 0000 steel wool into the cleaner and rub lightly with the grain of the wood. Then dip fresh cloth into clear, warm water, wring the cloth out and wipe the surface. Polish or wax. Do not reheat remaining mixture.

Can you buff wax with steel wool? ›

Waxing Tips

If your wax dries too hard, simply recoat and allow the solvent to soften it before buffing off. You can save a step when smoothing and waxing an existing finish by applying the wax with 4/0 steel wool. Be sure to wax with the grain when using this method.

How do you apply wax to wood with steel wool? ›

Using an Ultra Fine Steel Wool (Grade 0000), apply a thin coat of wax on the surface in the direction of the wood grain. Allow the wax to dry for about 20 minutes and then buff to a sheen with a cotton cloth or a Liberon wax polishing brush. If the wood is new or very dry you may need to apply another coat.

Where should you not use steel wool? ›

Don't use steel wool on plastic surfaces or food storage containers—these will easily scratch up and make for breeding grounds for food stains and bacteria. For cleaning these bins, stick with warm soap and water.

What is the best steel wool for finishing wood? ›

Without a doubt, Liberon oil-free steel wool is the best steel wool currently on the market. Unlike other steel wool brands, Liberon treats the steel wool after manufacture to remove the oil used in the manufacturing process. Because the steel wool is virtually oil-free, it can be used without fear of contamination.

Will steel wool scratch wood? ›

Rubbing With Steel Wool.

As long as the strokes are straight and you keep an even pressure, the scratch marks you leave with the steel wool will soften and enhance the appearance and feel of the finish. It's unlikely you will rub through to the wood if you have applied at least three coats of a film-building finish.

What grade steel wool for furniture? ›

0000 Extremely fine

The finest variety of steel wool with the marking 0000 is used for polishing waxed wood and to remove water stains on furniture and garden furniture.

Should you wet steel wool? ›

There are different steel wool types, so ensure you get the right one for your project. Sandpaper has various grits, so choose the right one for your needs. You can use sandpaper wet or dry, but steel wool is most suitable for dry use as it is prone to rust.

What is the best wax polish for furniture? ›

Harrell's Traditional Wax Polish is regarded by restorers as probably the best wax polish for the care and protection of antique and fine furniture. Containing beeswax, the wax is available in five colours, from clear to Georgian Mahogany.

How many coats of wax on wood? ›

If you're covering unfinished furniture, plan on applying a total of 3 layers, but remember to buff the wax between each application. Once you finish waxing and buffing the furniture, wait about 30 minutes before placing things on the furniture or using it.

What is the best cloth to apply wood wax? ›

It's best to use a lint-free cloth to apply wood wax. For a more thorough penetration, 0000-grade steel wool will work more effectively.

Does steel wool remove finish? ›

If that doesn't work, you could try the steel wool. However, keep in mind the sharp edges of that product will - and are designed to - cut through the finish. You'll probably remove the stain, but you'll also remove some of the finish.

What does steel wool do to stained wood? ›

Steel wool 0000– for smoothing out after applying each polyurethane step. Polyurethane– for sealing in the wood after staining.

Do mice hate steel wool? ›

Pests like rats and mice hate chewing through steel wool, since the sharp edges hurt them the more they try to chew. Steel wool is also non-toxic, unlike many pest control solutions, so you can place it around your house without worrying about one of your pets or children getting into it.

What is the hardest finish you can put on wood? ›

Polyurethane is the most durable option for indoor woodworking projects. It's highly effective at protecting cabinets, doors, furniture, and floors from scratches and abrasive damage. Polyurethane is also water-resistance and is intended to enhance the natural appearance of the wood with a statin or mid-gloss finish.

What is the best surface finish for wood? ›

Lacquer, specifically pre-catalyzed lacquer, is considered by many professional woodworkers to be the best finish for hardwood furniture, in terms of balance between beauty, protective qualities and ease of application and care.

Why not use steel wool on oak? ›

I gave the answer to the question, but neglected to mention that I also advised the caller about the dangers of using Steel Wool on oak. The two really don't go together, as any steel fibres left in the pores of the oak will react with the tannins causing unsightly brown stains.

What does vinegar and steel wool do to wood? ›

In order to get the best aging effect, the iron acetate (what happens when you mix vinegar and steel wool) has to interact with the tannins in wood to oxidize and create an aged effect.

What do you put on wood to make it shiny and smooth? ›

The best option is to use a varnish or lacquer to give the wood a high gloss finish. While varnish can be sprayed or brushed on, lacquer is best applied by simple spraying. Spraying makes the surface seem finer than painting as it doesn't leave any strokes behind.

How long does steel wool last? ›

So if you keep your steel wool pads in the freezer, they'll last basically forever — and certainly stay rust-free until your next big mess.

Is steel wool better than sandpaper for wood? ›

Sandpaper is Best for Post-Sanding Cleaning

But steel wool makes it hard to clean up after sanding because you have to clean up fine wool and wood dust. On the other hand, after sanding with sandpaper, you only need to clean up the wood dust.

What is 0000 steel wool used for? ›

Steel Wool Grade 0000 is a flexible, ultra-fine steel wool used to cut back between coats of varnish, paint or oil finishes.

Will steel wool lighten stained wood? ›

Use Steel Wool to Lighten Stained Wood

Steel wool is a viable option to lighten wood without sanding. Start by dampening your 0000 steel wool in warm water. Run the steel wool along the grain of your wood to avoid scratching it.

What grade of steel wool burns the best? ›

Medium grade steel wool will burn longer with higher intensity. Finer grade is therefore recommended. Finer grade is usually designated 0 (you could see 00,000 or 0000). The finesse reduces as the grade value increases (typically seen up to 4).

What grade is steel wool? ›

Steel wool products are supplied in grades from the coarser grades 3 and 4 to the super fine grade 0000. Rust-resistant (stainless) steel wool is also available.

Can I use steel wool instead of sandpaper? ›

Sandpaper substitute

Steel wool is a simple stand-in for fine-grit sandpaper. Use the finest gauge steel wool (0000) to sand between layers of oil-based paint (if using water-based paint, minute bits of leftover steel wool may rust) or to buff out the final coat of paint.

Why can't I use steel wool on polyurethane? ›

Never use steel wool with water based finishes because the particles can become embedded into your project and rust.

Do you use steel wool after polyurethane finish? ›

Using steel wool or sand paper allows you to create a uniform surface for the next coat of polyurethane, which generally looks nicer, more professionally, etc. In my experience, assuming the finish is dry, there isn't a difference other than the coarseness of the sand paper or steel wool.

What is a substitute for 0000 steel wool? ›

Scotch-Brite Light Cleansing Hand Pad 7445 - Mild Abrasive Hand Sanding Pad - White Hand Pad - For Metal, Vinyl, Porcelain - 6" x 9" I use these pads as a 0000 steel wool substitute ... I use these pads as a 0000 steel wool substitute for a final rubbing on shellacked furniture.

Does steel wool go rusty? ›

Iron is a metal that easily rusts. Steel wool has iron in it so steel wool can rust.

Can water drain through steel wool? ›

There's enough room for water to get through, but nasty hair and gunk will get caught up in the steel wool (and won't go down the drain). The best part? Just toss the steel wool after the bath.

Can you finish wood with just wax? ›

Can I wax polish bare/raw unfinished wood? Yes you can, If you are looking for a wax only finish. I do understand that a natural wax only finish has a unique look and feel to it but I must say that this is not a finish that I actively promote very much.

Which is better for wood oil or wax? ›

According to our observations, many tests, experiences and hundreds of impregnated tables, hard wax oil is the best product for impregnation. It combines the best properties of oil and varnish – brings out the natural look of wood and protects the tabletop against stains.

Which polish is best for wood? ›

Lacquer wood polish

The lacquered wood polishes are considered among the best varieties of wood polish. They dry up faster, provide better surface protection, add richness, and also make the wood more durable. As it is quite easy to remove, a new polish and finish can be applied to the wood whenever needed.

What is the best oil to polish wood furniture? ›

5 of The Best Oils to Use for Wood Furniture
  • Linseed Oil. This oil has been used as an all-purpose household cleaner since ancient times. ...
  • Lemon Oil. If you have hardwood furniture, this is probably the most important oil you should try using. ...
  • Lavender Oil. ...
  • Mineral Oil. ...
  • Tung Oil. ...
  • Conclusion.

How do you seal wood before waxing? ›

Wood to be finished with paste wax must be thoroughly sanded and sealed with a coat of thinned shellac. When the sealer is completely dry, rub the wood along the grain with No. 0000 steel wool; then clean the piece of furniture thoroughly with a tack cloth.

What kind of steel wool for stripping wood? ›

Make sure to use the #0000 super fine steel wool so the wood doesn't get scratched up.

What grade steel wool for refinishing furniture? ›

Grade 00 steel wire wool is the finest grade after grade 0000. It should be used to clean, smooth and prepare the wood or metal surfaces before you polish, wax or paint the surface. Using grade 00 steel wire wool with a suitable solvent will provide you with better results.

Do you use steel wool wet or dry? ›

There are different steel wool types, so ensure you get the right one for your project. Sandpaper has various grits, so choose the right one for your needs. You can use sandpaper wet or dry, but steel wool is most suitable for dry use as it is prone to rust.

What grit sandpaper removes the most wood? ›

Buying Considerations for Sandpaper Grit
Sandpaper Grit Guide
60-80Extremely coarse; best for removing large amounts of wood and rounding off corners.
100-150Medium grit; good for general purpose sanding.
180-220Fine; used to roughen surfaces for painting or as a first passthrough for later sanding with ultra-fine grits.
2 more rows
Feb 2, 2023

How do you make wood shine like glass? ›

The best option is to use a varnish or lacquer to give the wood a high gloss finish. While varnish can be sprayed or brushed on, lacquer is best applied by simple spraying. Spraying makes the surface seem finer than painting as it doesn't leave any strokes behind.

What is the best wood treatment for furniture? ›

Varnish is one of the best wood finishes on the market. Not only does it give your furniture and floors a high-glossy appearance, but it also protects your surfaces from scratches, stains, and water damage. While varnish is available in a variety of shades, it is typically clear or has very little color.

Is it better to wax or oil wood? ›

Your goal with your wood project decides whether you want to use wax or linseed oil. Wax only stops the wood from graying. Linseed oil adds to the wood's beauty. Wax doesn't penetrate the wood, but linseed oil does, offering enhanced wood protection.

What is the best natural looking wood finish? ›

Shellac. In my opinion, shellac is the best natural wood finish for one main reason: it's the most protective natural finish on the market. Unlike other options, shellac forms a barrier on top of the wood, stopping water, dirt, and other things (*cough*crayon*cough) from reaching the pores of the wood.

Is it better to wax or varnish wood? ›


Compared to the waxed finish for wooden furniture, the protection offered by a varnish will be more durable over time. We recommend waxing especially for decorative purposes, to embellish a wooden piece of furniture while providing it with a certain degree of protection.

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