I gave an old office chair a makeover this week, sanding off the glossy finish, bleaching it, and putting a coat of clear wax over the raw wood.
Here’s what the chair looked like when I started:
I got it at a garage sale for $20. For its age, the chair was in pretty good condition. I gave it a test drive before I bought it, and everything was in working order. The old casters and wheels rolled along just fine, and the seat swiveled 360 degrees smoothly.
The finish on the chair was another story, though. It had a really glossy sheen to it, and there were lots of scratches.
Obviously, I saw the bad finish as more of an opportunity than a drawback. I knew immediately that I wanted to strip the chair and leave it with a rustic, raw wood look.
Step 1: Sanding the chair
To start the project, I broke out my sander and some medium grit sandpaper.
I was able to sand almost the entire chair with my sander — even the spindles, which were flat. The only spot where my sander wouldn’t fit was in between the spindles. I hand sanded there.
After I had the finish removed, I gave the chair a once over with fine grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough spots.
I was thrilled with how the chair looked after it was sanded. Honestly, I could have stopped right here with the makeover and been happy with it. But I really wanted to see if I could lighten the color of the wood some more if I bleached it, so I kept going.
Step 2: Bleaching the wood
Since I’d never bleached furniture before, I went to Bob Vila for advice. Bob said I could use regular household bleach for the job.
I poured my bleach into a plastic bowl (because Bob warned me not to use a metal container, as bleach can corrode metal). Then I donned a pair of rubber gloves and went to work.
Bleaching wood could not be any easier. You just wipe the bleach on with a rag or brush it on with a paintbrush and then wait for it to dry.
Despite it being such an easy process, I managed to screw it up by accidentally dribbling bleach onto the seat while I was working on the back of the chair.
I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time because I was going to work on the seat next, but I was wrong. When I was all done and the bleach had dried, there were light spots where my dribbles had soaked in (which you can see in the photo below).
In hindsight, I should have wiped the dribbles off immediately (or put a plastic tarp over the seat to protect it from dribbles in the first place).
For a while there I thought my sloppiness had ruined my beautiful old chair. Thankfully, after I applied a second coat of bleach, the spots were less noticeable. And after a third coat, they had disappeared altogether.
Besides “don’t dribble,” here’s one other tip I can share if you’re thinking about giving furniture bleaching a try: Don’t leave your brush sit in the bleach in between coats. If you do, you might not have a brush to come back to.
I was using a cheap chip brush when I made this mistake, so it wasn’t a big deal that the bristles disintegrated. The incident served as a good reminder about the power of bleach, though.
Step 3: Applying clear wax
When I was done bleaching the wood, I applied two coats of Minwax Soft Touch furniture wax.
After the wax had dried, I buffed it with a lint-free rag, and my bleached wood chair was done. 😄
Bleached wood chair: Before and after
What do you think? When I asked my husband for his opinion, he told me it looked like it needed stain and varnish. 🤦 Then he offered to replace the antique casters with modern ones. 🤦🤦
In his defense, he’s taken to calling it “Mrs. Soquist’s chair,” in honor of his first grade teacher at Land O’ Lakes Elementary, which I think proves he’s not entirely soulless. 🤣
Here’s a final “before” and “after” look:
And here’s a peak at the tag under the seat.
The B.L. Marble Chair Co. operated in Bedford, Ohio, from 1894 to 1985. I’m not sure what year my chair was manufactured, but it’s nice having the tag to provide a little bit of history.
P.S. Here’s a list of my other furniture makeover adventures if you’re interested in reading more.