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How To Transform Second Hand Furniture Easily

Transforming second hand furniture is an easy and economical way to revamp a space. Learn how to refinish used furniture with these easy steps then pin the article to refer to it again later!



Many moons ago, before the chalk paint® craze and before I had a handle on painting furniture, I was thumbing through the Craigslist ads in search of a used kitchen table. I had two young boys at the time and I knew that I didn't want to spend a lot of money on an old table that may or may not catch some abuse over the next few years. But, just because I didn't want to spend a ton of money on a second hand piece of furniture that didn't mean that I didn't want to have a nice table for my family to look at and eat at.


Without too much searching on Craigslist, I discovered a used farmhouse style table and four chairs offered for the low price of $65. I snatched them up, ran to the store and bought myself 12 cans of white spray paint (smack forehead), too thick of a foam pad to reupholster the chairs and made plenty of mistakes along the way gave the table the royal scratch down to get that perfect farmhouse feel. (sarcasm).



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I'm slightly embarrassed to share my very first furniture flip with you, but I think it's important to learn from others mistakes. So, today I'm happy to be an example of what not to do, spill my guts and share some of my most valuable tips and tricks that I've learned from refinishing second hand furniture! (P.S. If you're interested in taking a peak at that first farmhouse table project I talked about above, I'll leave a picture of it at the end of this post- it's a great reminder that we all have to start somewhere on our learning how to paint furniture journey!)



Before we can talk about how to transform a used piece of furniture, let's chat first about some of the best places to find second hand furniture...


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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to products I love and use everyday. You can view our full disclosure here.


The Best Places To Find Second Hand Furniture


1. Craigslist

Peruse your local craigslist ads in the comfort of your jammies. It has been my experience that you'll see an increase in listings from Friday-Sunday as people use the weekend to clean out/declutter their homes/prepare to move. However, 75% of the time I can negotiate the very best prices on Mondays or Tuesdays- those that aren't patient enough to wait another weekend want to get rid of their furniture quick! If you live in a small area, your Craigslist listings might look few and far between. Broaden your search to the next big town and you might just find what you're looking for! I scored a great deal on this vintage buffet and this used headboard using Craigslist.

2. OfferUp

Craigslist is the King of online sites when it comes to buying and selling used furniture. But there are a few additional online options you can try as well. When you're looking for used furniture for sale don't overlook OfferUp, VarageSale, Krrb, and Bookoo.

3. Yard Sales

This is probably my least favorite way to find second hand furniture. I prefer not wasting my time driving around looking for that next possible gem. But, that doesn't mean that I haven't pulled over on the fly and found some nice second hand pieces this way. You'll find that most owners are willing to negotiate on their prices. If people are having a sale to downsize before a move, people will drop prices quickly to get rid of their stuff. If you decide to go this route, be prepared to get up early. The early bird gets the worm!

4. Thrift Stores/Local Habitat for Humanity

You can find great used furniture bargains at second hand furniture stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Do a search in your area for "used furniture stores near me" and you might be surprised to find a thrift store that you didn't know about. Ask your local thrift stores when their mark down days are and what days the highest amount of inventory gets put out. I found this older dresser and this 70's dresser at our local thrift store.

5. Estate Sales

Estate sales can be hit or miss. Generally speaking, estate sales are usually advertised within your local Craigslist page, but you can also sign up for alerts for your local area on EstateSales.net. Be sure to check out Kelly Elko's post on Estate Sale Tips. She's dishing out some of her best kept secrets to make sure you have the best estate sale shopping experience.

6. Family/Friends

The most convenient way to find used furniture comes from your grandparents or parents! Let's face it- vintage wood furniture was clearly constructed better back in the days. If your relatives are down sizing and offer you a piece with dove tail drawers, say yes! You can give those good bones an easy facelift and it will leave you with a nice quality piece of furniture customized to your liking. Hop on over and see what I did with this desk that I received for FREE from a friend!

7. Local Facebook Community Pages

Most cities now have local FB community garage sale pages.. If you're looking for a specific used furniture item you can put in your key words in the search bar within that group page for easy searching. Most community pages have rules such as the seller has to go in order of who expressed interest first. If you're on at the wrong time, its possible to miss the buy of the century, but it's still a worthy search option!




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Consider These Quick Tips When Buying Second Hand Furniture




  • Know the Dimensions of Your Space. There's nothing worse then purchasing thrift store furniture only to find out that it doesn't fit in your home. Darn! Don't forget your height requirement in addition to the depth and width measurements although you can always add legs to your used furniture if it's off by several inches. Put a measuring tape in your purse as you head out the door. 
  • Do A Smell Test. Your nose won't have to get too close to detect smoke or major pet odors. But, even minor smoke odors can create additional work. I have been guilty of being lazy on a few occasions and found myself detecting smoke odors after bringing it home. It's not a total loss. It just creates more a few extra steps for yourself. In my Favorite Furniture Painting Products & Tools post, I mention a few suggestions that you can try to get rid of those strong smells once and for all!
  • Look For Structural Damage. Open up drawers, sit in chairs, lean on the furniture and inspect the piece carefully. Don't worry about little fixes like small gauges, scratches, missing hardware, loose drawer railings- even a beginner can repair those problems easily. Whatever kind of damage you see, be confident that you or someone else can fix it. Don't be afraid to point out the imperfections to the owner to negotiate a better deal. 
  • Look for quality items made from wood. Be picky. Be choosy. The right piece will find you. Don't settle for chintzy laminate or cheap pressboard in your hustle to find the right piece. I've had great success painting pieces with a veneer finish! Just keep in mind that you want to aim for quality- it will last you longer in the end. 
  • Second hand chairs are tempting! Kitchen and dining chairs can be a beginners DIY dream! A beginner can get by by selecting new fabric and perhaps some new foam cushions with a staple gun. However, give it some good thought when it comes to upholstered side chairs or larger ones that would go in a family/living room setting. Unless you have advanced upholstery skills, you'll want to make sure you like the current upholstery or at a minimum educate yourself on the reupholstering costs before you fork over your money on a steal of a deal. That good deal could lead to expensive costs later if you're unaware of the costs to hire out your reupholstery. As a guide, check out these case studies of real life upholstery jobs and what people really pay. Of course, painting the upholstery is also an option! (and one more reason to make sure that the upholstery is in good shape.)
  • Think Outside The Box. Repurpose an old dresser and use it as a bathroom vanity. Create a custom cabinet and a media console by separating and transforming a china hutch. Purchasing used furniture will likely save you big $$. But, if you can get two pieces of furniture for the low price of one... we'll that's plain old robbery if you ask me. ;)
  • Use Pinterest For Creative Inspiration. Sometimes its hard to visualize what a particular piece of used furniture will look like painted or refinished. If you find a second hand piece but you're unsure how to refinish it, don't be afraid to take a step back and peruse Pinterest for a few minutes to get some furniture ideas and inspiration while you're standing in the middle of a thrift store or garage sale.
  • Price.  Speaking from experience, the asking price is usually not the final price. Don't be afraid to negotiate for a lower number. The worst they can say is no. 



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How To Transform Second Hand Furniture Easily!



Here is a recent example of a second hand furniture transformation! I was on my way to the grocery store when I passed by a Goodwill store that called out to me. It was in the middle of the afternoon- not necessarily a prime time for finding the best furniture selection, but sometimes when you have a gut feeling that you're going to find something good, you're compelled to act on it. ;)



I walked in immediately saw these nightstands marked down to $25 a piece. It's probably a little hard to see but there was some minor water damage in the top right hand corner, a dirty and dusty finish and some minor scratches to the front and sides. Common everyday imperfections that you might also find on used furniture in your own local area. The good news!? They are all easy to remedy!



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1. Make Your Repairs

If the scratches are minor (not too deep) you can sand down the scratches until your imperfect area blends in with the rest of the surrounding surface. If there are deep scratches, you can easily fill those in with 3M Bondo Wood Filler, let dry and then sand.


You can also typically sand down minor water damage marks. I like to use my Orbit Sander to sand down the tops of my pieces. For all other light surface scratches, sanding by hand using a medium to light grit sandpaper works great!




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2. Prep Your Used Furniture


Before you paint, take off any hardware and consider storing it in one zip lock baggie. This makes it easy to find them when you're ready to re-reattach them.


Do you remember how dusty and dirty these were? I used a solution of TSP to quickly gave them a good wipe down. You'll find that most DIY paint companies claim that you can use their paints with little or no prep. That's just not true. The MOST important thing you do to transform your used furniture IS THE prep!


Some furniture pieces need an overall light sanding (especially if the finish has a lot of sheen or has a waxy build up from Pledge like products), but at a minimum take the time to wipe down your used furniture so that it's free of dirt, grime and oils. It only took me 40 minutes from start to finish to sand down the imperfections and wipe these nightstands down. And it was easy!




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3. Paint Your Furniture, Then Protect It


Select your paint brand and color(s). Some of my very favorite furniture paint brands can be found here!


For this thrift store furniture transformation, we mixed a beautiful custom grey hue using Pure & Original's Burned Sand and Black Classico Paint, then wet distressed them. After 24 hours, we sealed the nightstands with several coats of General Finishes High Performance in Flat.



This DIY furniture project was completed within 3 days (including drying time). With minimal effort, minimal time and minimal money, we transformed a pair of second hand nightstands into this! We're calling these The Mitzler Nightstands Project. What do you think? Do you see a big improvement?




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...And as promised, here is a quick before and after of my very first experience transforming a second hand piece of furniture. Learn from my mistakes, friends!



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Here's what NOT to do when refinishing used furniture!:


  • I'm giggling here but take a peak at the new seats! Take a peak at the obnoxious height of my foam padding choice. It made my chairs super cushy, but look how much room (or lack of) it gave my family to slide their legs underneath.  Oops! ;) Don't be like me! Make sure you take measurements before you pick out your materials.
  • Let's point out the obvious and talk about the distressing elephant in the room! When I first starting painting furniture, the process of distressing stressed me out and it was simply because I didn't know how to distress furniture properly. My table looks like I literally took sandpaper and scratched the table back-n-forth in specific spots (because that's exactly what I did!) In my opinion, distressing furniture should look natural, not deliberate. I've learned a few tricks since then! If you're struggling with how to distress your own furniture, check out our How To Distress Furniture Naturally tutorial. It's an easy technique that walks you through how to get the perfect naturally worn finish each and every time.  It's definitely worth the read!
  • Using spray paint is certainly a choice, but its one that I would NEVER use again on wood furniture. There are so many BETTER looking paints and finishes! Here are a few of my tried and true paints brands that I like! 



Since furniture makes up such a large percentage of our homes expense, we can't replace furniture as often as we would like. Rather than paying full price for furniture, consider transforming second hand pieces with a little elbow grease and a few supplies. I challenge you to give it a whirl!



Still not convinced? Stop by and see what my DIY Furniture Refinishing Friends did with these second hand furniture finds!

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1. Reviving a Craftsman Pedestal Table by 58 Water Street
2. How To Love Your Furniture When You Hate The Color by Just The Woods
3. Trying Out Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint by That Sweet Tea Life
4. When In Doubt, Go With Red! by Whimsy and Wood
5. How To Transform Second Hand Furniture Easily by Thirty Eighth Street


Happy DIY-ing!
Carrie || Thirty Eighth Street


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44 comments

  1. Love this post Carrie! I see these end tables all the time here in TX. I may have to snatch a few up for small projects!

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    1. Thanks, Crystal! I see them all the time here too! They were popular with the sled bed craze in the early 2000's. ;) I've seen them refinished in all kinds of colors. They look beautiful painted!

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  2. Great post Carrie. And those nightstands are absolutely fabulous! I made the mistake of adding chalky type paint on mine and not sanding so it feels like chalk right now. Not the desired effect.

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    1. Oh, I'm sorry! Did you seal them by chance? I really love General Finishes High Performance in Flat. It has a low sheen but great protection. I usually seal the tops of my high traffic pieces with at least 5 coats.

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  3. Carrie...that color gray is gorgeous! Hope you wrote down the 'formula'...I'm still a furniture refinishing newbie and would love to find more pieces to hone my skills. Thanks for the tips.

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    1. Thanks, Lynn! I fell in love with the custom color too! Mixing paint colors is a close runner up to actually painting the piece. Be patient as you look for your pieces. They are out there and you'll be glad you waited for that perfect one at the right price!

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  4. I LOVE how you transformed these second hand pieces. The color is absolutely beautiful!! You make me feel like grabbing my keys and driving to my local Goodwill to hunt for a piece I too can paint. Thanks for the inspiration...NancyJeannete@ladyandthehouse.com

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    1. Then, I have done my job right today! Thanks so much for the sweet compliment, Nancy! I hope you do venture out and have fun on your hunt!

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  5. I love the makeover! The tables look great! Thanks for all the great tips too!

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  6. Wonderful shopping tips and painting advice. I always tell myself, practice makes perfect. I love the tables. The color is fabulous.

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    1. I loved how the custom paint color turned out too! And you are so right, the more you paint, the more you learn and feel comfortable doing it! Thanks for stopping by, Debra!

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  7. Great tips from a master Carrie. I still have so much to learn when it comes to making over pieces of furniture and you've shared a wealth of information in one post. Pinning so I can come back again and again

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    1. Awe, Michelle! You made my day! I'm so glad you found this post so helpful!!

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  8. Carrie - does the General Finishes sealer cause paint to yellow? I know some sealers do. I want to avoid that. We are re-doing my daughter's bed, and some small accent pieces. Do you still recommend that same brand on white/light paint colors? Also, do you like the other finishes (satin or semi-gloss) do you recommend a different brand for that? Thanks! Love this blog. You are amazing.

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    1. Hi Monica! I really like to use General Finishes High Performance to seal and protect my furniture pieces. I usually apply 5 coats to the surface areas (tops of dressers, nightstands, buffets, etc). You can get away with less coats for light traffic area projects. The sheen is a personal choice. I really like the look of waxed furniture pieces- but for most furniture pieces I just don't think wax holds up. I usually select a Flat finish because its the closest to mimicking a wax finish but with great durability. The only time I've ever had GFHP yellow on me is when I miss a drip. The collection of the HP in a lump does look somewhat yellowish. If you're painting a bed that has a chance for more drips- say a bed with lots of spindles you could add a smudge of paint to your top coat to tint it white. Pour out the amount of top coat you'll need, then add just barely any paint. That way if you happen to get a drip that goes unnoticed, the drip will at least be the same color as the paint. ;) If you're painting a flat surface headboard- I wouldn't bother with tinting the top coat- I've never had it yellow on me! Yay for fun projects! xoxo Hope that helps!

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  9. Your tables look great. I love that color.
    Thanks for sharing at Waste Not Wednesday.

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  10. Lots of great information in one post, Carrie. Your night stands are beautiful! And how lucky are you to have found a pair?! Thanks for sharing, Cynthia

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Cynthia!

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing for Waste not Wednesday! you were my feature this week! We will be live at 10 pm EST!

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  12. Great ideas. I always need new pointers when re-doing a piece of furniture. I have not used the Pure and Original paint yet so might just have to order some for my next project. Thanks for sharing your post at the Family Joy Blog Link Party this week!

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    1. Melissa- You are going to fall in love with Pure & Original paint! The color choices are amazing too!

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  13. What a great tutorial. I will be featuring this tonight at my Swing into Spring party that opens at 8pm EST. Please stop by and pick up an I've Been Featured button. Thanks. http://diybydesign.blogspot.com

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  14. So may wonderful tips for someone who is starting out and also has been doing it for a while!

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    1. I'm so glad you found some helpful tips! Thank you, Sam!

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  15. Wow! Such a helpful resource. So glad I found this at the #HomeMattersParty. I've Pinned it to come back to later.

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    1. Yay! I'm glad you learned something new!

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  16. Great Job! Thanks for sharing at Dishing It & Digging It!

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  17. These look great! Thanks for giving us all the details of how you transformed these pieces. Great job!

    Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I'm featuring you this week!

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    1. Thank you, Richella! Glad you enjoyed our nightstands!

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  18. Lots of great information here for the DIY beginner. Thank you for sharing at Snickerdoodle. I am featuring your post today at the Snickerdoodle party.

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  19. Great tips for upcycling furniture Carrie!!! pinning :)

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    1. So glad you found it helpful, Tara! Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  20. I absolutely love furniture flips! It's what got me started! And Craigslist is definitely my go to to find old furniture to refurbish! Great post!

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    1. Craigslist is a great place to find deals!

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  21. What great tips! I always love to see before and after pictures. I usually use chalk paint, but always seem to use spray point (I know, cringe ;) because I am just TOO impatient, but I usually have to touch our kitchen chairs up every year.... ;) mypeartreehome.com

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    1. I'm glad you found our tips helpful! Spray painting is definitely a quick way to get a transformation. Sometimes its the best solution for things that will need touch ups frequently. No cringing here! :) Thanks for stopping by, Morgan!

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