Outdoor Bench Refinishing

You know that free couch turned outdoor bench I shared several weeks ago?  And the desperate please-give-me-some-love shape it was in?

I finished refinishing it.  Before we get into the details, here are a few more before photos of the worn finish.  This was at the front edge, where the cushions rest.

And on the back support.

The back was in the best condition.

Here’s the play by play on how the sanding, staining, and upholstering happened.

Of course sanding had to happen before I could do anything else.  It’s gotta get worse before it can get better, right?  I used an orbital sander with 220 grit paper to sand all of the flat surfaces.  If you’ve never sanded something and have concerns, use a high grit paper (this will prevent removing anything too quickly) on a hidden area until you get a feel for it.  I started with the arms and the top rail.

For rounded areas, I used a combination of the orbital sander and good old fashioned sand paper.  Again, this is much easier with a high grit paper.

After an hour of sanding, I had the back and the top pieces sanded.

Then came the front and the detail work.  Sanding between the slats was a pain the my butt.  But, that afternoon, I had the entire bench sanded and ready to stain.

Well, I skipped the under side and the back bottom slat because the cushions cover that up.

See, you wouldn’t know if I didn’t show you.  I’m really that lazy.  So, that was day one of my bench project.  It’s looking Scandinavian a little pale for the summer.  Day two consisted of staining to give it a Brazilian tan.

As planned, I used stain (Minwax Dark Walnut) left over from the bookshelf I refinished last summer.  We keep old shirts to use as rags.  Along with rubber gloves, I applied a coat of stain with one rag and wiped it off with another seconds after applying.

Better, but not as dark as I had in mind.

I let the stain set overnight and applied a second coat the following morning.


Day four, I bought a quart of Minwax Clear Shield Exterior Oil Based protective satin finish.  The oil based clear coat protects the wood from heat and moisture.  To apply, I used a Purdy paint brush.  I don’t work for Purdy and I’m not getting paid to say this.  Purdy brushes really are great.  One even coat and another day of dry time.  Then, another coat and 24 hours of dry time, which completed the wood refinishing stage.

I decided to upholster the cushions for several reasons.  One, the cushion base was simply stretched canvas, which sagged.  Two, I wanted one cushion, not three.  Three, I didn’t want/don’t know how to sew three fitted slipcovers with zippers.  Four, I’m cheap and wanted to buy half the fabric.  I’m not an upholsterer, but I’m definitely not a seamstress.  Disclaimer: I’m sure I did many things that a real upholsterer would cringe at, but it worked for me.

I had Ben cut a piece of old plywood to size to use as my base.  A new piece of 4 inch thick foam would have cost about $80, so I decided to reuse the old cushions.  I bought a full-sized foam mattress topper to cover the cushions for a seamless look.  I also bought two yards of clear vinyl table cloth for a water barrier.  Then, I gathered a staple gun, staples, scissors, and my fabric.

With my supplies ready, I prepped the cushions for upholstering.  First, I stapled the cushion pads to the plywood to prevent shifting.

For a seamless look, I covered the seams with a strip of foam.

Followed by another layer of foam.  I placed the foam smooth side down, with the cushion covered plywood on top.

Starting on the long sides, I stapled the foam at the center.  Then, pulled the other side tight and stapled again.  I stapled the entire length and then started on the corners.  For a straight, smooth corner, I pulled the foam tight.

Then stapled straight out from the corner.

Pull the outer folds and staple down tightly.

Staple inside for a tight grouping.

Cut the excess foam and repeat for all corners and materials.

Honestly, the foam was much easier than the vinyl.  The vinyl is less pliable and creased more.  The fabric was easy in comparison though.  And, here’s a tip:  If you’re not using an upholstery grade material, buy extra fabric to fold over several times to keep the stapled areas from tugging free and fraying.

That was my process, we’ll share the finished bench tomorrow.  For now, I’m wondering if you’ve refinished or upholstered furniture?  Have you sewn tailored cushion covers?  Got any refinishing/upholstering tips you’ve learned along the way?

16 thoughts on “Outdoor Bench Refinishing

  1. How do babies sit like that? Every time I see one in that position it makes my knees hurt! Guess that means I’m officially old at 32! 🙂

    Can’t wait for the big reveal tomorrow! 🙂

  2. I can’t wait to see the finished product! I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months and it’s one of the blogs that inspired me to start my own! I’m blogging at http://www.sweethomeminneapolis.com now! I re-upholstered my dining room chairs last winter and a headboard several years ago (back when Trading Spaces was big). I’m gearing up to upholster a new headboard, soon! Have you used nailhead trim before? It adds a great touch.

    Thanks for being an inspiration!

  3. Thanks, ladies! Sorry to be such a tease, but the post was already sort of long. And, if I keep the suspense, you’ll think it’s even better, right? 😉

    Sarah, I’m flattered that we inspired you to start blogging! We heart Minneapolis! I’ve never used nail head trim, but I have an idea I want to try. We’ll see if/when that happens…

    1. Thanks, Ashley! I thought the same thing when the finish was finally even. Now, with the covered seat, it looks like a million bucks. I still have to get some larger pillow forms, but I love it so far! Stay tuned for the reveal tomorrow. 🙂

  4. I love it!! It looks so good! I was so inspired by these posts about this. I made my BF stop to get these cool vintage chairs and I need to refinish them in a similar fashion. I have to experiment with the cushions because they are leather and attached. Hopefully it’ll be half as cute as this!!

    1. Hi Nora,

      Thanks for your sweet comments! I’m thrilled to hear you’ve been inspired by our bench. 🙂 Hmm, is the leather in rough shape? If you post pics on our FB page, we might be able to offer some tips.

      Happy refinishing!

  5. What an awesome project! I haven’t upholstered anything, but I’d give it a shot if I could find anything as gorgeous as that sofa/bench. Can’t wait to see the final result!

  6. What a great tip on the folding the fabric… seems simple enough, but I have never thought of that.
    I refinish things all the time – my tip: Always take twice as long on the prep as you want. Prepping property takes a long time, and is the boring part, but you will be glad that you did!
    Can’t wait to see the final bench!!

    1. Megan,

      I totally agree about the prep work. When refinishing, the prep is so important because it is the base for everything! And, the folding works great! Glad you found a tip. 🙂


  7. I love this project and the after is AMAZING!!! I think I have the dinning room set that matches this couch. Our chairs had the same orangy-red plush-like fabric before I covered them.
    Way to go!

    1. Tara, Thanks so much!! That’s too funny. I’d love for you to post pics on our facebook page. Also, where did you find your chairs? I’ve had a few people ask where they can find something similar, maybe this would help?


  8. Can’t wait to see the final result!
    Not to be a creep or anything but you have such cute little hands. If it wasn’t for the wedding rings I wouldn’t have known it was you.

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