The unfinished furniture that comes in a package of precut timber pieces can be a good buy. It costs less than finished furniture of similar quality, and with a little care, you can finish it superbly in a color or style to suit your decorating scheme.

The range of package furniture is extensive – from bookshelves and cupboards to dressing tables, china cabinets, and divans. Many designs are modular, which means you can mix and match units to suit your needs.


A hammer and screwdriver are the only tools needed. Nails and screws, and some times glue, are supplied with the package. A simple assembly instruction leaflet is included. Be sure to read the directions carefully. In some cases such accessories as handles are supplied, but usually you buy them separately.


There’s an interesting selection of finishes suitable for package furniture – from varnishing or painting to antiquing. A combination of finishes is effective; for example, you might “blond” varnish the casing of a chest-of-drawers and paint the drawers.

Precut furniture is usually made from kiln-dried radiata pine. At the final stage of manufacture it is sanded to a fine finish, but as with all timber, exposure to the atmosphere tends to raise the grain. So it is wise to prepare the surface before applying a finish such as paint or varnish. Rub with a piece of fine sandpaper around a small wooden block.

Before applying a finish it is best to use a filler or sealer. This ensures that the finish will apply evenly and won’t soak into parts of the timber (causing a blotchy effect) where it is extra porous.

Wood Stains

Wood stains are available in a range of timber tonings as well as attractive colors. They can be used as a one-coat covering or finished with a polyurethane varnish. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying the stain. After the allotted time, wipe off with a clean soft rag along the grain of the wood.

Wood stains can be used to darken or color timber, or to get a “blond” effect. Brush or rub on white stain, allow to penetrate, then wipe off and apply clear varnish.

Varnish Unfinished Furniture


Most modern varnishes are made of synthetic resins that dry fairly quickly to give a hard surface. Follow the directions on the can and apply with a soft paint brush, brushing in well and avoiding drips. Leave overnight until thoroughly dry.

Using fine steel wool, firmly buff in direction of grain. When a slight luster appears, brush away steel wool dust and apply a second coat of varnish. Again wait overnight until timber is thoroughly dry and buff with steel wool.

Continue this combination of applying varnish and buffing with steel wool about four times. The result (about five days later) will be a lustrous satin finish. As a final touch, rub in a clear paste wax. Rub with a clean cloth and polish with another clean cloth.

Points to remember: never varnish in damp weather or on surfaces that are not completely dry, and avoid working in a dusty atmosphere.


After preparing the timber as above, paint as follows:

  1. Use a good brand of quick-dry paint and mix thoroughly.
  2. Lay on the first coat, brushing in fairly well. When dry sand lightly but thoroughly. Clean up sanding dust.
  3. Give a second coat of paint, brushing on rather thickly in the shorter direction, and smoothing out in long light strokes in the opposite direction.

Two coats should be enough. If not, sand piece lightly after it is thoroughly dry, then apply third coat.

Antique Unfinished Furniture


Antique finishes consist of a colored base coat and a translucent glaze rubbed on top of the base coat to give the piece a two-color effect. Usually the top glaze is similar in color to many oil stains. Some manufacturers produce kits with all the necessary ingredients.

  1. Prepare furniture by filling in holes (if any) with wood putty, then sanding. Then use a prime-sealer before proceeding.
  2. If you have bought a kit, one can will contain flat finish paint in the color you have chosen. The other can will contain glaze. Apply paint, being careful to avoid drips and runs.
  3. When dry, sand the piece, and if necessary apply a second coat of flat paint.
  4. Let piece stand for three or four days before applying glaze. This will give the paint time not only to dry, but to harden completely.
  5. After stirring glaze well, brush on sparingly.
  6. Scrunch up a piece of cheesecloth and wipe off most of the glaze. On the high edges of a turned spindle, or on the center area of a flat piece, rub more off to give a highlighted look. As you blend toward edges, the glaze tone should be deeper. You may want to leave heavier glaze on a carved area to emphasize the carving. It’s a good idea to practice on scrap material and experiment with effects.


Frosting: If the work is delicately done, beautiful effects can be secured by using white to glaze over furniture enamelled light opaque colors, resulting in a “frosted” look. White primer material or enamel is used in the glaze mixture in place of the oil color. This is applied, wiped off, and finished in the same manner as for “Antiquing.”

The spatter technique, which gives a speckled texture, requires a stiff brush. Try an old toothbrush for small areas, or a small whisk broom for larger surfaces. Flip glaze off the bristles in a coarse spray. Bend the bristles with your fingers or a stick to get a spring action that will throw the spray. To avoid blobs, don’t overload brush.

After reloading brush each time, try out your spatter on a newspaper to get rid of blobs and to judge your aim. Because spatter is a “chancy” method, apply it over work that has dried overnight. Then you can wipe off and try again.

Dry brush is the technique most often used by professionals for furniture antiquing. It gives a more grainy texture than wiping. If your piece seems to lack interest after wiping, apply the dry-brush technique right over it.

First, wipe your brush dry, and spread bristles by pinching so that they will deposit color in irregular separate lines (a cheap brush works better than a good one).

Instead of dipping your brush in paint can, spread some glaze on a saucer or sheet of aluminium foil. Pick up the glaze with tip of brush. Apply glaze in long straight but irregular lines, work in direction of grain.

For beginners it may be easier to get the “dry brush” effect by wiping with coarse material of some kind – a Turkish towel, paper towels, even a square of carpeting.

When you’ve finished wiping allow paint to dry thoroughly, usually 24 hours.

The “wet look” (strong, bright colors with a high-gloss finish) is in great demand for ultra-modern treatments of cabinets, bookshelves, and other furniture.

For a “wet look” custom color, first paint the color coat, using a flat-finish, high-color paint. Give it the “wet look” with a high-gloss, water-clear varnish. This makes a color that is much brighter and stronger than a semi-gloss paint of the same color.

Fabric or Wallpaper for Unfinished Furniture

Fabric or Wallpaper

Fabric or wallpaper is sometimes used to cover timber furniture, the inside of drawers, and other surfaces. The fabric or paper should be carefully cut to size with a razor blade, wallpaper knife, or other sharp tool.

If the covering is not self-adhesive, apply adhesive to the area to be covered as well as to the paper or fabric.

Smooth covering firmly into place, working it down so that no air bubbles are left under the surface. Wipe smooth with a clean, dry cloth, but use a damp cloth to remove any adhesive that has smeared over the edges. Remove these spots before they have a chance to dry.

After the paper or fabric has dried, it can be treated, if desired, to a surface coating of water-soluble acrylic (satin or matt).


When the furniture has its “finish”, carefully attach hardware such as drawer handles.