Results from Restor-A-Finish

By Kate Riley October 18, 2011

My little sis pesters me about furniture because she’s always looking for great finds and she knows if she gets me talking about old furniture I’ll ramble on for days. Sis has been looking for a small sideboard or buffet, so when I stumbled upon this antique at a thrift store last week for $75, I quickly snatched it up for her. I liked the size and solid structure with its dovetail joints, plus it had no major damage. But it was a little sad looking and definitely in need of new stain, or perhaps even paint.  

I was on the fence about whether to paint it, but thought I’d try to restore the wood first. I had heard about a product from several antique dealers that breathes new life into tired old antiques and doesn’t require the typical strip/stain/poly steps that are required to fully refurbish wood furniture. The product is Howard’s Restor-A-Finish and I thought this latest vintage piece was the perfect candidate to give it a try.

I followed the instructions and used a very fine grade steel wool (level 000) to wipe down the buffet in the direction of the wood grain, then applied two coats of the Restor-A-Finish. I also pulled off the acanthus applique attached to the back because it was bugging me, then replaced the center hardware and broken pulls with new ones lightly coated with Rub N’Buff in ‘Antique Gold’. 

Here’s a peek at the easy transformation that took about an hour.


buffet before


buffet after final

Not bad!

I grabbed these three products at my local True Value Hardware to see how well they’d perform on this buffet.

restor a finish etc


I confess, I was a little surprised. I’m not a fan of gimmicky products but after using the Restor-A-Finish, I do think the surface is much improved.  I followed up the Restor-A-Finish with the recommended Feed-N-Wax but before I did that, I tried out the Minwax Blend-Fil pencil to fill in a few deep scratches.  My response to the Blend-Fil was mixed. From a distance, the deep scratch is minimized but up close, you can see it’s a waxy filler, and on this piece the shade is a little off.   

blend fil pencil


The finish ends up being a little oily, so be sure to rub off the Restor-A-Finish as directed and don’t leave it on your wood.  Also, I noticed the product seemed to enhance the underlying deteriorating layers of original varnish. This picture doesn’t show that, and it’s very subtle, but I notice it in bright light.    restor a finish top before and after


The thing that impressed me the most about the Restor-A-Finish was the removal of these small water spots on the front.


water spots before 2


no more water marks


If there were deeper water (or heat) marks, gentle sanding and restaining would be the real solution. I do give a thumbs up to the Feed-N-Wax. I’ve used that product a few times over the years, it smells much better and gives wood a nice luster. 

restore a finish results


Here is my initial impression of Howard’s Restor-A-Finish:

Pros: Restor-A-Finish removes cosmetic surface water spots and minimizes scratches, it comes in several shades, and is great for beginners who don’t want to take on a full refinishing job. 

Cons:  Restor-A-Finish is really stinky but the odor dissipates quickly. It should be used only in a well ventilated area. You cannot apply poly over it, only wax, which is fine with me, but requires waxing every few months to maintain the luster. In my opinion, because of its oily nature, it enhances any imperfections that may exist in the layers of original varnish underneath. 

Bottom line, this product is like plastic surgery for furniture. It won’t return your piece to the flawless finish of its youth but it will take 10 years off, and at $12 bucks a can, that’s a pretty good price for a quick facelift.

Have you ever tried Restor-A-Finish?  What were your results?  Were you pleased or displeased? 


True Value Blog Squad legalese: “I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program as well as my writing about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.”




  1. What a steal on that buffet! The RAF looks like it did the job, especially with those water spots. From the photos, you can’t really see any remaining damage. You know your stuff! :) I bet your sis will be really pleased!

  2. That product looks great. I have to keep it in mind next time I am doing just touch ups to an old piece of furniture.

  3. Your sisters project looks terrific and what a deal!

    We recently ran across the Restore-A-Finish and tried it on a Cherry Armoire that had been damaged by sunlight. Came out like new. Love the product and the results were far better than we had expected.

    • Any instructions if you decide to strip, sand and refinish later? Or do you do it as usual if applyed until you get to it? Would fine steel wool help then apply another coat of Restore a finish?

  4. I had never heard of this product until recently. A couple weeks ago we got a steal on two solid mahogany nightstands and a dresser, and the lady running the antique store actually cleaned up the pieces for us using this product. I was so impressed that we got a can too. We even tried it on our dining room table which needs a full refinishing, and you’re definitely right – it does not help any kind of major imperfections. However, it is great for fixing surface imperfections, water spots, etc. and restoring the finish (hah). And, I imagine it works well for upkeep of any antique piece.

  5. I have used this product a couple of times over the past 15 years or so and if you don’t expect miracles it is a good facelift. I’ve used it when I don’t have time to refinish a piece or if the piece or item is just a little tired. It is stinky. Your sideboard looks good.

  6. I have been using this for a while now, it is a life saver on kitchen cabinets. I had bought a beautiful antique china cabinet for 25 dollars at an auction because it looked so bad and then used howards and I was able to sell it for 300 after. I also use it on my kitchen cabinets and it has saved a toltal refinish on them. I now use this on everything I dont want to paint

  7. Thanks for sharing. I haven’t tried any of these products but put them on a list I keep of recommendations. :)

  8. I used RAF on my 1980’s vintage builders grade kitchen cabinets (dark oak finish) and it was a great face-lift for a small monetary investment. The smell is bad but does disappear pretty quickly with good ventilation. We used this product in preparation for putting our house on the market. I will definitely use it again in the future.

  9. Wow that looks like it worked pretty well! Could be a good option for refinishes on furniture that the finish isn’t too damaged. I’m glad you let us know how much it cost you at the store. I’m always unsure what kind of prices are reasonable for these kinds of needs-to-be-refinished furniture pieces at the resale shops…

  10. I’ve used this, as well, with amazing results. I love this stuff for those items that don’t really need to be stripped and refinished, but have some damage. I’ve had good results with it covering scratches and removing water marks, etc. I think it must have some kind of a solvent, so it cleans the wood, as well. I’ve had great results, and they do last! That buffet looks gorgeous. I also you the wax and feed, once a year, on my older (non-poly-finished) wood furniture. We do it on New Year’s Day, and it keeps it looking great.

  11. Wow…such a difference and I love that you restored the piece rather than just painting it- I have a similar dresser that really needs some loving- will definitely try this- thanks for the great review!

  12. Wow…such a difference and I love that you restored the piece rather than just painting it- I have a similar dresser that really needs some loving- will definitely try this- thanks for the great review!

  13. I’ve never tried it, but it looks like I would definitely be happy with the results. I’ll have to keep this in mind next time I come across a tired piece.

  14. Meant to ask-did you replace the hardware, or just clean it? I see one handle was damaged in the “before” picture. If you polished them, what did you use??

  15. I used RAF on bathroom cabinets with good results. The finish was in fair condition, but RAF made them look almost like new.

  16. Um, wow. Didn’t expect it to make as big of a difference as it did. I am a believer! I usually go the route of sanding, staning, sealing and it is SO time consuming. This is a great option; so glad you posted about it.

  17. Good morning! I just did a post about Restor-a-Finish a handful of days ago. Isn’t it great stuff? I’ve been using it for a few years and love the “quick fix” it gives. Come check out the results I got on my armoire under “Old Wood Refreshing” ;) Love your buffet as well.

  18. Love that buffet – so much character and it looks fantastic after your elbow grease. I can’t believe you posted on this today because just yesterday I bought Retor-A-Finish at Home Depot for my living room coffee table that was scratched up. It looked great yesterday but today I notice it’s kind of streaky. I haven’t used the wax so maybe the final result will be better with that. It did fill in the cracks and return it’s luster though.

  19. I love it – I used it to restore my parent’s reddish oak builder cabinets – they look awesome! Make sure to use the wax every 6 months or so to keep it shiny. So much cheaper and easier than refinishing! It sometimes helps to use a shade darker than you’re wood to restore a particularily bad piece.

  20. Very nicely done. I use this product on my coffee table about once a year. It gets a lot of heavy use and occasionally someone forgets to use a coaster. It does a pretty good job at removing rings and hiding scratches. Like you said, not perfect but much better. After my dog jumped across it and made some huge scratches, I gave up perfection. I’ve had to “restore” this table many times and it always looks so nice when I’m done.

  21. I love your entries that goes over refurbishing old pieces of furniture! $75 is a steal for a buffet! I have been looking for one myself and can’t seem to find anything under $300 at consignment stores. I will check out flea markets next. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Wow it looks great! I’m glad you used it and shared b/c I look at that product all the time when I’m in home depot wondering how it would be on my great grams coffee table….It scares me to put anything on it but maybe now I’ll give it a try :)

  23. Kate – try the Minwax Stain Marker “pen” next time. It seeps into the wood and doesn’t leave a film at all. I just used it on several chairs that were dinged, and it made a big improvement.

  24. Wow that’s definitely a great face lift! And for only taking an hour, not bad at all. That piece is a lovely find!

  25. Beautiful! I’m glad you didn’t paint. Can you say something more about the rub-n-buf? I’ve been thinking about it for the tarnished copper cabinet pulls I found to help restore their finish (nothing I’ve tried has helped).

  26. Oh I LOVE Howards Restore A Finish. I use it all the time. When we bought our bungalow our kitchen cabs was in desperate need of help. They were in great shape but the wood needed a good touch up. I read about Howards online, tried it out and fell in love. Make sure to do the bee’s wax too. Also helps. The buffet looks awesome tho. What a great find and for only $75! Sweet!

  27. 1) After using both the stain marker and the pencil, I’ll take the pencil anytime. The reason: The pencil is more forgiving if you get the wrong color. Easier to buff/sand out and re-try. IMHO The marker acts like a permanent marker, and if too dark a color is chosen. v-e-r-y. b-a-d. results. The markers are a real challenge to correctly color match to the wood.

    2) Following an abatement contractor using duct tape. Yes, DUCT TAPE. On CUSTOM woodwork!!! (Such sacrilege!) We used HRAF on dark walnut stained interior trims, baseboards, and cabinetry. Worked like a charm removing the stickum, cleaning the wood, and getting that gorgeous richness back!

    I still can’t get over. Duct tape on wood. For shame!

    Speaking of sacrilege. I need to go gut my latest FCF (Free Curbside Find): an old dead stereo-phonograph cab. Hmmm, now how to re-purpose that lucsious wood cabinet?!;)

  28. I discovered Restore-a-Finish this summer after scoring some mid-century bedroom furniture on Craigslist. Took me alot of research to figure out how to restore the blonde maple without staining it darker. The dresser tops were in pretty bad shape, but the rest of each piece was in pretty good shape, just needed some love. I sanded to tops down to completely remove the finish, and I think I ended up using 2 coats of Restore-a-Finish, followed by the Feed & Wax. On the sides & drawers I just applied the Restore-a-Finish with a steel wool as recommended, followed by the wax. They look great! The tops aren’t as shiny as the rest of the piece, since the wax isn’t as shiny as the poly that I assume is on it, but I still love how they turned out, and would totally use it again!

  29. What a great find! Thanks for the tips and product reviews! I always love your furniture makeovers with instructions! I pinned this one for future reference:)

  30. I have been using Scott’s Liquid Gold on my antiques for years. I have had some pretty sad-looking pieces that looked great, after using that. I highly recommend it!

  31. Very, very cool. Haven’t used this either, but so glad to see great results! Thanks for sharing it with us!!

  32. I’ve a HUGE fan of Restor-A-Finish, but you have to know your limits with it. It’s great for the stained trim in my home. It makes all the little dings and shallow scratches around the doorways and baseboards disappear. I’ve also found it’s good for removing that strange grey-ish, slightly sticky stuff that builds up on old wooden arm rests. Gross be gone! It’s not the same as stripping and restaining, but for small blimishes or bringing back some of the luster, it’s fast and easy.

  33. This may be what I’m looking for to use on my kitchen cabinets. I have 15 year-old stained solid cherry kitchen cabinets. They are beatiful, but the finish is definitely showing its age. Do you think this would be a good product to revive them?

    • Hey Julie, it depends, but I’d test it first on kitchen cabinetry. I don’t see the harm in trying it out, perhaps on the inside of one of your cabinets just to test it. That’s what I’d do!


  34. I really appreciate the post on this, I recently picked up a waterfall dresser (if you want to check it out, this is the link: that has some serious damage and I’ve been trying to decide if I should try the restore-a-finish or just paint it. I’m still on the fence a bit, but at least now I’ve seen what it can look like in real life, not just ads. Thanks again!

  35. Wow that stuff worked great. I think my mother has that exact buffet or one very similar. She actually has the full set. Buffet, Dining room table & chairs and China Cabinet. When she had it restored a few years ago I think they told her it was made of Black Cherry Wood.

  36. My in-laws have a rocking chair that is in bad need of repair, but the quotes to refinish and repair it were cost prohibitive. I’m definitely going to have to talk to them about trying this product, because the detail on the piece really is beautiful!

  37. After reading this post, I headed out to buy both products. I have 80’s oak kitchen cabinets that have a few too many ‘memories’ on them. Ended up doing all of the kitchen cabinets after testing it on the worst one. I was impressed…they look so much better. I took the handles off so that I could get that area really well. It did darken them slightly but I’m okay with that. Several of my neighbors have had their cabinets stripped and restained (expensive!) so I am thrilled that for less than $25 and one afternoon mine now look great. Thank you!

    • So happy to read that, thank so much Kelly! I love hearing other reader’s experiences!

  38. You did such an awesome job on this! It looks like brand new. I’m debating whether I should refinish my dresser or just paint it….this makes me want to refinish it!

  39. I have an old bookshelf that needs restoring. It’s really sad looking but has a good shape and is very practical. I’ll have to try one of the 2 methods.

    FYI I finally figured out how to install the font. What’s a shame is that it will upload it to picassa but not into picnik. Thanks for the info I needed. I hadn’t installed a font before. Now the possibilities are endless. :)

  40. As someone who did faux finishing professionally for ten years, I love your site. I would have probably ben ordering expensive products, etc. when sometimes a simple quick fix is best. Looks great.

  41. Thanks for offering an alternative to completely refinishing a piece. I think you had wonderful results and you were able to restore a vintage piece without days of work. I wouldn’t be concerned too much about the scratch…just adds to its charm. Well done, Kate!

  42. I used it on a few of our inherited pieces that the hubs won’t let me touch with a paint brush. It does work quite well to give an old piece a little facelift. And I agree 100% with the smell- not good!

  43. Kate, this is great! My mom has a vintage buffet that I convinced her to hang onto. I want to use it in my home, but how do you incorporate vintage pieces with your regular decor, without making it feel like grandma’s house? Please do a post on this for those of us who are clueless!! :)

    • Oh Stacy, what a great question and a brilliant idea for a post! The key is to be very selective. ONE vintage piece is my rule and surround it with more modern upholstered pieces for a collected and eclectic feel. I’m putting this on my list of articles to write, stay tuned!

  44. I have been using Restor-A-Finish for years and am extremely pleased with it. I’ve inherited lots of odds and ends and -so far- it’s worked on every piece that needed help. I highly recommend it!

  45. This is absolutely INSANE, Kate! I love that the refinish just enhanced the character that was already in the piece, simply beautiful. Andrea

  46. Kate,
    I used Restor-a-finish on a wooden framed mirror and was amazed at how easy and effective the product was. I love the stuff and after seeing your antique piece restored, I’m even more of a fan.

  47. My husband and I are big fans of Restore- A-Finish. You’re right, the vapors will definitely wake you up! Howard’s Feed-N-Wax is another go to product for us. We are antique dealers and we learned years ago that RAF can work magic on pieces that otherwise would spook others from buying or repairing. It is an alternative to a timely and costly stripping and total refinish of a piece of furniture. I also use these products on all my new furniture at home. The great thing about Howard’s is I can clean & polish the furniture at the shop with it less frequently due to the staying power of the product. A little Howard’s goes along way and helps to cut down on dusting time(I’m not a big fan of dusting). I go over the furniture with a dry, soft cloth 1-2 times a week, and the finish appears as if I just applied Howard’s. Great stuff, and unlike Restore-A-Finish, the orange scent is pleasant.

  48. I find that the Guardsman furniture markers work better than the Minwax waxy pencils. They ususally come in a 3 pak of light to dark. Start with the lighest and work you way up. I have had good success with these.

  49. I’ve never used this product, but I do use Old English furniture oil and get the same great results. It’s AMAZING and even cheaper! It’s also very easy to find and available at most grocery stores. I should do a blog post about it. Hmm… thanks Kate! =)

  50. We’ve used Restor a Finish several times with great results. We did a desk with similar results to yours that can be seen here:

    It is stinky – and it does need time to dry, otherwise you get the gunk all over your fingers. I especially love this when getting a piece ready to show that may have been sitting for a while. And now that I know what it is – I see it in all the furniture/antique shops!

  51. I love, love, love restor-a-finish. I used it on my kitchen cabinets with great success. It was my last ditch effort to avoid replacing them. They were all faded and dry and in pretty bad condition, and they look fantastic now. Recently, I used restor-a-finish to spiff up the old quarter-round trim moulding I pulled up when I replaced my powder room floor. It kept me from having to buy (and cut – hate the miter box!) new trim. Yay!

    One more thing – if you buy a light-ish color (I have golden oak), you can use it on a range of wood finishes without worrying about making unwanted changes to the color of your piece. I’ve used golden oak on my oak cabinets and on my mahogany coffee table with equal success. If you have a range of wood tones in your house, you’ll get more milage out of a lighter color.

  52. I must tell you that I bought some Restore a Finish over the wkd and just finished practically every table in my house. They look beautiful. Thank you so much for the information!

  53. I love this product! I used it on my 1980’s kitchen cabinets a few years ago and it worked great!

  54. I would like to use this product on a mid century desk I bought. The desk is a wheat golden color but I would like it to be more of a walnut color. Has anyone ever used a darker shade of restore a finish on an initially lighter colored piece? Suggestions?


  55. Thanks so much. I used these products today to bring a garage sale find back to life. It looks amazing. Not a huge fan of the pencil although it did serve its purpose. Thanks so much!!

  56. Have been a huge fan or Restore-a-Finish products for several years. Ashley asks about using a darker shade on an initially lighter colored piece. I’ve done that several times and have always been pleased. Rejuvenated several pieces for my college-age son’s apartment with this product. He was amazed at the results. Another convert!

    Am off to try your painting suggestions on several pieces this week. Can’t wait!!

  57. Did you remove the hinges on this piece? I have my Grandfather’s maple chest. The brass plated pulls and hinges are in desperate need of a clean. I am concerned that if I removed the hinges to clean them they would not hold in the original holes again. Do you have any experience with this concern? Thanks for any insight that you can provide.

    • Hi Eileen, yes I removed the knobs first, if you have trouble, leave the hinges in place and use painter’s tape to protect them from the product.

  58. Love, love, love Restor-a-finish. We bought a house with older cabinets in the kitchen. Still in good solid shape, but desperately in need of some TLC. I really thought about the whole strip and refinish plan of attack, but there were so many of them, I decided I would give Restor-a finish a try. Turns out it was the right move and they look fantastic. I’ve had several people tell me they look brand new and can’t believe it when I tell them they are the same original cabinets that were in there when I bought the house.

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