How to upcycle | Norton Abrasives

How to upcycle your old furniture

Lady sanding chair - upcycling furniture

Have you ever considered upcycling furniture? With so much focus on being good to the environment and with many of us tightening the purse strings, upcycling can be a great way to give an update to some tired pieces or even help to brighten up a room. Let’s face it, who wants to fork out hundreds of pounds on a new item when all your existing furniture really needs is a bit of TLC?

So you’re ready to begin upcycling, but how do you actually do it? We bring you our top tips to help you get started!



  • Drop cloths / plastic sheeting
  • Safety equipment – safety glasses, gloves, dust mask
  • Sandpaper (aluminium oxide or general purpose) – 60 & 80 grit
  • Finishing paper – 180 & 320 grit
  • Dustpan and brush
  • Paint brushes 
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Wax / varnish
  • Sanding block – fine/medium & medium coarse (optional)



1. Choose your piece

You might already have a table you want to brighten up, or you may be on the lookout for a new chair that will really bring your room together. Whether you already own the piece or you want to supplement your collection, be sure you check it’s still structurally sound before you waste any time working on it. If there are any holes in wooden items, it could be woodworm and therefore best to avoid.

Choose your piece to upcycle


2. Prepare your workstation

Once you’ve got the furniture, you need to get set up. Choose your work station carefully as you’ll need some space and good ventilation. There might be some cleaning up to do after you’ve finished so make sure you lay down some dust sheets to protect anything you want to keep intact! It’s best to wear protective items such as gloves, protective goggles and a dust mask too.


Sanding furniture to upcycle it

3. Sanders at the ready

This is the most important step as you need to remove the old layers to reveal your shiny new item of furniture. Using aluminium oxide or general purpose sandpaper in a medium grit (e.g. 80) gently sand all areas of the piece to remove rough edges, working in the direction of the wood grain. If you’re working on a piece that has already been painted, you’ll need the same sand paper, just in coarse (60 grit) as this will be able to cut through the paint. You want to achieve a really smooth finish, so try to work evenly. To finish, you'll need to go over the entire piece with a  super fine finishing paper (e.g. 320 grit) so you've got a smooth surface to paint. Blocks can help achieve a perfect finish on hard to reach, flat, angled or contoured surfaces.

Make sure you remove all dust with a brush before moving on to the next step.


4. Pick your paint

Paint can really liven up any furniture. Once you’ve got a good surface, you may want to start with a primer before applying the paint. Remember, you’ll need to sand down the primer once it’s dry (you can use the same sanding products you used in step 3). Then it’s a case of adding some colour! Apply it evenly with a paintbrush (or a roller if it’s a big piece) and ensure it’s completely dry before adding a second coat. The type of paint you choose can also affect your finish: chalk paints are very popular to leave a matt, rustic look, while gloss will give you a high shine – get some testers to choose the right finish before committing.

If you need some colour inspiration, read on about how coral is the colour of 2019!

5. Shabby chic

Desperate to get the shabby chic look, but not sure how? Once you’ve painted the piece of furniture, it’s all in the sanding! Using a finishing paper in super fine or even a wet and dry paper in 320g or higher, you can fade the paint by gently rubbing the surface. Don’t attack the full piece – less is more! Focus on the areas that are likely to wear the quickest under normal use, such as edges or around handles, and try different grits on different areas to make it look more natural. Just sand repeatedly in the same direction until you get the finish you want.

How to achieve shabby chic


6. Waxing lyrical

Once you’ve got the look you want, you need to protect your work. Apply a coat of soft clear wax with a soft, lint-free cloth or you can choose to varnish the furniture if you’re happy with a high shine finish. Both of these seal and protect the paint so you can enjoy your new piece for longer!


And that’s it – easy! If you’re ready to get started and need the right sanding tools, we have a range of solutions to help you upcycle anything you fancy. Check out our distributor locator to see where you can buy our products.