(StatePoint) Whether you’re sprucing up your current home or decorating a new one, furniture always is a focal point in decor. But in today’s economy, buying new pieces can take a serious bite out of your pocketbook, and finding ones that fit your sense of style can be challenging.

More people now are buying unfinished furniture or salvaging older pieces, and finishing or refinishing them with wood stains of their choosing to enhance the appearance.

«You don’t have to be an expert at home improvement to finish or refinish furniture, plus you can upgrade to higher quality workmanship with the money you are saving from buying unfinished pieces,» says Sean Morris, product manager for Cabot Stains. «The easiest pieces to finish are tables and bookcases. The key is properly prepping furniture and using high-quality wood stains.»

With the wide variety of stains on the market, you can stain furniture to accentuate the wood or even alter its appearance to look like another type of wood. You can make a piece fit in with other furniture or cabinets, or stand out from other wood in your house, adds Morris.

Finding furniture to stain should be no problem. Before rushing out to buy another dining room set or coffee table, take a second look at the one you have in your home, garage, attic or basement. You also can hit yard sales, garage sales or thrift shops for great deals on older pieces that can become your next centerpiece with proper staining and care.

If you don’t have luck with local thrift stores, Web sites like Craig’s List (www.craigslist.org) or eBay (www.ebay.com) can do the trick.

Once you’ve found a piece of furniture to work with, getting started is easy. Morris offers the following tips:

* Before applying a finish, all surfaces must be clean, dry and unsealed by any previously applied varnish or polyurethane.

* Sand the furniture, using progressively finer grits of sand paper. Remove all sanding dust before staining.

* If refinishing older furniture, focus heavily on surface preparation. Any stains that aren’t sanded out or «bleached out» will manifest themselves once the finish is applied, so beware when buying used pieces with tough stains that may have penetrated unprotected wood.

* When staining soft woods such as pine, birch or fir, first use a high quality conditioner like Cabot Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. Designed to stabilize uneven wood grain, it eliminates blotchy color and inconsistent stain coverage.

* Use a scrap of wood of the same species to test the finish for final appearance and color.

* Select a stain made specifically for furniture and interior products. The right product will highlight the individual character of the wood and add subtle color. For help in selecting a stain, visit www.cabotstains.com.

* Stain with a brush and allow to dry. Then apply polyurethane, sanding between coats once each coat dries.

«If you make a mistake like choosing the wrong staining product or wrong color, you can always fix it,» says Morris. «While working with the stain, ‘re-wet’ the area with more stain to remove or blend in the error. We’ve developed Cabot stains to be very friendly in this regard. However, if the stain has dried or the polyurethane gets damaged in the drying process, it must be sanded off.»

For more tips on finishing furniture, visit www.cabotstains.com or www.unfinishedfurniture.org.

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