If a timber piece’s finish is badly scratched or you simply don’t like the colour, then painting over it is definitely not your only option, and on pieces with interesting wood grains, it can be a real shame to hide that.
You’ll need to start by stripping back the current finish. Again, there are chemical options which work well, but if you’re not comfortable using those, then you’ll need to sand. Start with a coarser sand paper (80–150 grit) until you’re down to the wood, then finish with a finer paper (150–200), always sanding in the direction of the grain, before giving the timber a good clean using a lint-free, microfibre or tack cloth. A once-over with an alcohol-based solution like acetone is also a good idea to get rid of any oily residue that could discolour the wood.
Now to refinishing. Don’t leave the wood completely bare as it’ll mark and stain easily and also oxidise (silver) in the air. When you’re doing it yourself, the easiest, most foolproof finishes to attempt are oils and waxes, and they’ll also give you the most natural look (as opposed to lacquers and varnishes, which leave a richer, shinier finish and are very hardwearing, but are best left to the pros).
A clear wax is about the closest you’ll get to a completely natural, untreated finish (you can also get coloured waxes), and although it’ll repel water, it’s not the most hardwearing against knocks because it just sits on top of the wood, rather than penetrating it. It’s easy to apply – simply rub on then either wipe off straight away for a matt finish or leave a while then polish to a satin sheen.
Oil, on the other hand, seeps into the wood so won’t add a film to the surface. Linseed oil is the most common and not very expensive, but it will slightly darken the colour of the timber, which you may or may not want. Linseed is the base for our IsoGuard® oil, but we also include pigments that either reverse the darkening effect (Natural Oak) or bring their own finish (Chalked and Seasoned Oak). Plain linseed oil will offer some protection against spills and scratches, but IsoGuard® gives you more time to mop up, and also has a matter finish to linseed’s satin one. Either way, you want to apply a lot of oil to the timber, keeping it moving for ten minutes, then wipe off whatever hasn’t been absorbed.
(When it comes to our own furniture, all our timber designs are protected with IsoGuard® which means, save for outdoor pieces, they shouldn’t need much in the way of care or refinishing. If you do find that you need or want to though, we’ve included lots of detailed information in our timber care guide.)