how to restore wooden terrace chairs

Find out how to restore terrace chairs: cleaning the old oil, sanding all the areas and finishing with Danish Oil.

A few years ago we restored a set of 6 terrace chairs. The foldable chairs were built out of solid wood and the seats and backs were made out of textile material. All we had to do was to clean and finish the wood to bring it in a good condition. The textile was going to be changed later by another workshop.

The chairs were brought into our workshop in the condition you can see in the pictures. First, we tried to discover what type of wood was used to build them, but we couldn’t find out more than it was some exotic essence (from Africa). We even didn’t realize what color and texture they had until we actually started cleaning the old layers of oil with which they had been finished. We were surprised to discover a beautiful type of wood. It had a beautiful red color, with fibers in various shades: some of them were bright red, others were whitish.

The terrace chairs before restoring

The pictures with the old look of the chairs are real. We realized they were finished with oil, with more or fewer leaks at the joints. Their color was brown with many spots, where the wood seemed to be discolored, by no means reddish. The texture was still fine. In some places, specifically at the joints, the surface was sticky due to the leaks of the oil.

the color of the terrace chair, that needed to be restored, was very different from the natural color of the exotic wood from which the chair was built
Before restoration, the wood color was different from the natural one

The textile material of the backs and seats initially khaki green was to be replaced with a white one. Unfortunately, we don’t have pictures of the chairs after replacing the textile material, but it surely matched wonderfully with the new red color of the wood.

the way the folding chair looked like before restoring it
The folding chair before restoration

The edges of the planks were blunted by the time, but clearly, they had a very normal aspect considering the years past from the moment of their built.

the way the edges and the surfaces of the chair planks looked like
The edges and the surface of the planks were damaged by the time

Cleaning the old oil layers

We started the restoration by removing the textile material and dismantling the chairs so that the whole process would be easier and faster.

The first thing which had to be done was to clean the old oil. For that, we used a belt sander with 80 grit sandpaper to make things work faster. This method had proven to be by far the best and the fastest method of cleaning the old paint, varnish or oil out of the wooden furniture or apartment doors.

We used the belt sander only for cleaning the easily accessible surfaces up to the corners. To save as much time as possible when cleaning, we replaced the sheet of sandpaper whenever we needed it because it loads quite quickly with oil.

We made the movements with the belt sander along the wood fiber. That way there was no risk to appear too many traces by using 80 grit sandpaper. Those unsightly traces would have been very hard to be sanded and that meant that all the time gained in cleaning the oil would have been lost.

we cleaned the wood by using the belt sander with 80 grit sandpaper
The wood cleaned with the belt sander

We could no longer use the belt sander to clean the narrow surfaces and the areas between the planks. The distance between the planks was less than the height of the sander. There we tried several other methods by using the sheet sander and the multitool, obviously, both with 40 or 80 sandpaper, depending on the thickness of the oil layer that had to be removed.

we sanded the marrow sides of the boards, so as to get a better look
Sanding the narrow sides of the boards

At the corners and even on the narrow edges of the boards, the oil was very hard to be cleaned because the sandpaper loads too fast. After several attempts with all types of electric sanders we had in our workshop, we discovered an easy method of removing oil: a simple cutter. We must admit that we discovered the method after we initially tried to clean the corners of the joints with a chisel. The position of the chisel, however, did not allow us to easily clean the areas near the corners and the narrow edges between the planks. There also was a high risk of appearing a lot of traces that had to be sanded later.

So, we held the cutter with the blade on either side of the edge of each plank, and with smooth movements, very carefully (the cutter blade could break very easily), we cleaned the oil more easily.

cleaning the narrow areas of the chairs with a cutter in order to quickly and easily remove the old oil
We cleaned with a cutter the old oil from these areas

The multi-tool was very useful to clean the corners, thanks to the small, triangular support. It was very easy to handle and very easy to control. We also had to change a lot of sheets of sandpaper.

After cleaning with 80 grit sandpaper, we sanded the chairs with 120 grit sandpaper to get smoother surfaces.

The most pleasant part of restoring was rounding the edges using the sheet sander. Some areas needed to be sanded by hand, with 120 grit sandpaper. That part was satisfying because all of a sudden the whole look of the wooden chairs changed completely.

the wood was smoother after sanding all the surfaces and all the edges with 120 grit sandpaper
The way the chairs looked after sanding the wood with 120 grit sandpaper

Applying the special oil for wood

The chairs were finished using Danish Oil. We chose this type of oil because it protects the wood, but it also shows the beauty of the fiber. That was what we were looking for because the wood used to build them had absolutely gorgeous textures and colors that had to be highlighted somehow. This type of oil protects the wood from water, wind, snow, rain, sun and freezing, being enriched with U.V. filters. It maintains the natural look for a long time because it reduces wood blackening.

We applied the oil with a clean cloth and spread it very well to avoid leaks. We also took care to spread it in the shade, to avoid a quick-drying in the sun. After 5 minutes we wiped the surface with another clean cloth, to make sure that the excess oil will be removed.

the way the wood grain pattern looks after the restoring the wood of the terrace chairs
The wood grain pattern is very nicely highlighted after sanding the wood and applying the oil

In the instruction of how to use this type of wood oil, we had read that after 6-8 hours the second layer can be applied, sanding the surfaces after the first layer, with 220 or 240 grit sandpaper. After about 7 hours we applied the second layer of oil, as well, removing the excess, but without sanding. The surface was very smooth before applying the first layer. After the first layer of oil, it became even smoother. So this last sanding was no longer necessary.

the way the restored terrace chairs look like after applying 2 layers of danish oil, designed especially for outdoor furniture
The wooden terrace chairs after applying 2 layers of oil

After cleaning and sanding one side of a chair, we applied two layers of oil. We had put that side next to an old one, to see the difference before and after restoring: a very big difference.

after restoration, you can see the color difference between the old side of the folding chair and the freshly restored side of the chair
The color difference between the sides of the chair: the old one and the restored one

After another day (we read the instructions and we found out that the complete drying is done in 24 hours) we reassembled the 6 chairs and we placed them nicely next to each other.

changing the look of a set of 6 folding deck chairs
A set of 6 deck chairs with a new look

The wood had wonderful red color, hard to compare with the shade of brown with which they entered the workshop door.

the wooden terrace chair had a completely changed look after restoring the wood
After restoration, the appearance of the terrace chair was completely changed

The following photo was taken to highlight the color difference between the table before restoration and the restored chairs. That table was also built out of the same type of wood.

the way the wood look after restoration and the new color revealed after finishing them with Danish Oil
The exotic wooden terrace chairs after restoring

You can also learn how to make a beautiful outdoor round table out of recycled materials!

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