I spent the better part of today wearing out sandpaper on a nice oak dresser which I believe was originally sold sometime between the two great wars. It is a nice piece that I think was worth about $300.00 dollars before I started and will be worth about $300.00 when I am finished. So why am I spending so much time and effort refinishing this dresser if it will not increase the value? Because this piece will probably never leave the family and will continue its life being just what it was originally intended to be – a functioning piece of furniture. Plus, it looks a little nicer with fresh glue joints and an attractive finish. I have decided to stay with a finish close to the original but there certainly are other options. For example, painting with one of the popular chalk paints would definitely look good.
There are times, however when refinishing is a terrible option and can completely destroy the value of the item. High end collectors want nothing to do with anything that has been refinished. I have seen examples of rare and expensive items virtually made useless because the well- meaning owner wanted to make them look a little better. This seems to happen a lot with antique firearms, fishing lures and other highly collectable items.
Just because an item is old does not mean it is highly valuable. My dresser is a good example. It is a nice, serviceable item that can provide use and enjoyment for many more years. It can do its job better with a bit of a facelift and a fresh coat of lacquer. On the other hand, I have an old Heddon bamboo fly rod that someone in the past tried to help with a coat of varnish. Its value went from several hundred dollars to about fifty. But, it is still a nice item and fishes very well and I am proud to own it!
So, when should you refinish and when should you not? Remember, once an item has been refinished it can never be taken back to its original condition – caution is advised. My rule of thumb is simple. The older it is, the harder it is to find, the better it is made, the less likely it is to be a good candidate for refinishing. Save your energy for those well made wooden furniture pieces found at garage sales, antique malls or of course, at Burton Auction!