Refinishing indoor teak furniture blog pin

Refinishing Retro Teak Furniture for Indoors

Sarah Stahl
Sarah Stahl
Passion for transforming tired, old furniture into bold works of art. Sharing my learning with you.

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I love Retro Furniture and I am not the only one. Teak Furniture continues to grow in popularity, particularly with styles from the 1960’s and 1970’s.  With furniture pushing on over 50 years of use, how can you refinish indoor teak furniture back to its glory, while preserving its retro charm?

Table of Contents

Consider this when Refinishing Indoor Teak Furniture

Vintage Teak Coffee Table with a fresh coat of oil

Firstly, before you dive into refinishing indoor teak furniture, you need to understand what makes Teak special. It’s very unlike other wood.

Teak is an oily, which makes it water and bug resistant.  Perfect for outdoor furniture and use on boats.  It, however, can make it a challenge for refinishing with water-based products.

Teak veneer due to its thinness can be considered for water-based products but I would only consider oils and waxes on solid teak.  Not sure what type you have?  Check out the differences between solid wood and veneers.

For more information on Teak wood itself and how to identify it, make sure you read this handy list of the characteristics of Teak wood.

Oil or Water Based Finish?

The options for refinishing Teak or any wood is endless.  Everyone will declare that there is a right way and a wrong way.  Should you use the original oil methods or the new, durable products.  The choice is very much a personal choice! 

So, will you keep the original retro charm with oil-based products or opt for a low maintenance with water-based products?  The choice is yours!

Use a coaster to protect your vintage furniture, oiled teak coffee table
Oiled Teak
Midcentury modern after refinishing and restoration work, with water based top coat
Water-Based TopCoat

Original Retro - Refinishing Teak with Oil Based Products

The original pieces finished in the 60’s and 70’s was done with oils.  Most likely Danish Oil. If you wish to keep the soft glow of an oil finish, then you will need to refinish the piece in a similar method.

Tool List for an Oil Finish

A bucket and Lint Free Cloths for cleaning furniture prior to painting
Various cleaners for cleaning furniture prior to painting
Well worn Bosch Orbital Sander
Gloves, A Necessity for Cleaning furniture prior to painting

Which Oil to Choose for Teak?

I’m currently testing this out myself as it is a frequent question I receive.  Until I feel comfortable with a response on which oil my preference would go to, I recommend reading this article on hard was vs danish oil from The Wood Work Place. 

Low Maintenance – Refinishing Teak with Water-Based Products

You will require all the items from the list for refinishing teak with oil-based products, except for the Danish or hard wax oil.  You will require instead a water-based topcoat.  And I personally like to use a de-waxed shellac to make the wood grain pop.

shellac being brushed on a wood veneer inlay table
Shellac makes the colours pop in wood

Refinishing Indoor Teak Furniture Process

The initial steps to refinish your teak furniture is similar at the start, whether you opt to refinish with oil or water-based products.

Cleaning your Piece

Before you start any refinishing process, you must clean your piece of furniture! 

It’s best to use a degreasing cleaner to get out the years of dirt, oil, and grime.  For full instructions on how to prep your piece and the types of cleaners available; check out how to clean before painting.

When your piece is clean, I still opt to go over the whole piece with fine steel wool and mineral spirits.  Mineral spirits help to remove any wax or oil still residing on your piece of furniture, and the steel wool will help to get into the grain.  

When you are sure that the previous oil or wax finish is removed, you can move onto sanding.

How to clean furniture before painting pin

Sanding your Teak Furniture

If your piece is veneer or you are in doubt, start with 120 grit.  Most furniture has been previously sanded and finished.  So, the sanding you will be doing now is strictly to knock back the wood grain you may have raised and remove any small scratches and imperfections. Your goal is for your wood to appear uniform throughout.

Sanding is a skill, so please read this for full details on how to sand veneer.   For more tips on sanding and possible tools you require, check out this detailed page.

Sanding Veneer Pin,

Remove All Dust

Before you taken any further steps, you should use a tack cloth to remove all dust that you created from your piece.  This dust when caught in your finish will appear unsightly.

Apply your Oil (for oil-based finishes)

Oil to feed teak furniture when it dries out
Natural oil to nurture vintage furniture

Read the instructions on your chosen oil carefully before you start your application.  Each oil is applied in a different manner for different length of times. 

The general process will be, that you apply the oil with your preferred method, whether a sponge, sponge brush or paint brush.  Apply the oil evenly over the whole piece and wait the recommended amount of time, before wiping it off with your clean, lint free cloth.  This is followed by the recommended time to allow to dry.  Usually between 24 to 48 hours. 

The initial application may be followed by a second application following the same process. You can opt to sand after the first application lightly, with 220 or 240 grit. 

Upcycled cocktail cabinet in art deco style. Large drink cabinet in teak and mahogany woods
Teak Drawer Fronts finished in Hardwax
Veneer repaired on a piece which was primed for odour blocking
Teak Door fronts finished in Oil

Applying Water Based Topcoat (for water-based finishes)

Only opt for a water-based topcoat if you are working with veneer.  Solid teak may still contain oils which could ruin the finish over time.

I have personally completed 1 teak piece with a water-based topcoat. Read the whole restoration process.  The client was going for durability with no maintenance whatsoever.  This finish will lose some of the warmth and glow that oiled teak is renowned for. I tried to recreate that glow using shellac under the topcoat for warmth. To best achieve the natural look, opt for a matte finish on top.

I always apply a de-waxed shellac to my wood pieces before I opt for a water-based topcoat.  The shellac will help to make the wood grain pop, like it was oiled.  Then top with a matte finish to knock back a bit of the shine of the shellac.

1960's Sideboard badly damaged
Before Refinishing; Click for full Process
1960's Sideboard angled view
After Refinishing with water-based products

Maintaining your Teak Furniture

Teak furniture which was finished with a water-based topcoat will not require any additional maintenance, other then the standard dusting and using coasters.

An oiled or hard waxed piece should be oiled once a year, or when the wood starts to look dry. 

For the process of caring for your teak furniture over the years, read Indoor Teak Furniture Care.

How to care for your teak furniture with teak cabinet as background

Changing the colour of your Teak Furniture

I personally love the orangey-brown of aged Teak.  Its unlike any other wood type and that makes it distinctive.  However, if you are considering adjusting the colour of your teak, there are oils which come in tinted shades.  Pick a shade which you feel is the colour you are trying to achieve and remember that it is easier to go darker then lighter. 

Always try a sample of the colour in a non-noticeable spot, such as the underside of the table or the back of a leg. You want to ensure that when added, the colour still lives up to your expectations.

Final Thoughts

I find that both methods of refinishing teak have their Pros and Cons.  It’s really a personal preference for what you wish to achieve regarding long term durability and maintenance.  Whether you are a purest and stick to oils or love the durability of a water based finished,  we all have a single goal, to keep gorgeous retro furniture in homes and out of landfills. 

Cathedral Figured wood pattern on teak

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