At Major Oak Polishing we’re passionate about furniture restoration and returning uncared for and unloved items back to their former glory. However, you don’t need to be a French Polisher to give a new lease of life to a piece of furniture and save it from landfill. With our beginner’s guide to upcycling, anyone who is prepared to invest a little of their time and patience can quickly become a furniture saving hero!

A Beginners Guide to Upcycling

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is the process of taking something old and modifying it or improving it, so it can be used again and given a second life.

When we talk about upcycling, most people probably think of renovating furniture. Upcycling is also an increasingly popular trend in fashion, with old clothes and textiles being reused to create new garments.

In industry, companies such as Terracycle take the products that are difficult to recycle and produce things like park benches or pencil cases.

Why Upcycle?

Upcycling has several benefits and is also relatively simple, meaning almost anyone can give it a try.

The most significant benefit of upcycling is environmental. By reusing and renovating old items, you reduce the demand for new products.

You can also save A LOT of money by breathing new life into old items rather than buying new. Instead of spending several hundred pounds on a new item of furniture, you’ll be able to upcycle an existing piece for a fraction of the cost.

It can also be fun and incredibly rewarding salvaging an old furniture piece and giving it a new lease of life.

A Guide to Upcycling – Basic Equipment

The equipment you need will depend on what you’re upcycling and also what your plans are for the item. The list below covers the basics. As you develop your skills and start to grow in confidence, your box of tools will expand with the complexity of your project;

  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint
  • White spirits
  • Primer
  • Power drill
  • Hammer
  • Saw
  • Screwdrivers
  • Nails & screws
  • Strong adhesive


Simple Upcycling Techniques


When it comes to upcycling furniture, the easiest way to transform an item is to paint it. A popular trend is to take an old, dark piece of furniture and modernise it with chalk-based paint and a slightly distressed finish.

Painting allows you to select a colour that will fit with your existing décor. It also nicely hides any scratches and imperfections.

Once you’ve picked your paint colour, you’ll also need to invest in primers and paintbrushes. These can be picked up cheaply at any DIY store.

A little preparation is required before the fun starts with the painting;

  • Set up the area you plan to work in properly. If you’re upcycling indoors ensure any carpets or flooring are well protected.
  • If the item you are restoring is varnished, you’ll need to remove this before you start painting. A solvent is the quickest method of removing varnish, but if you fancy a workout, sandpaper will also do the job.
  • If you’re dealing with previously painted or bare wood, sand the surface lightly to help your new paint take.
  • Once sanded, you can apply the primer. Priming will help prevent the paint from flaking, and your hard work will last longer.
  • Once the primer is dry, you can apply your paint. For good coverage, you should apply at least two coats. If you’re covering a strong colour, you may need to apply more.


Sometimes it’s the little details that make a big difference. A set of drawers can be transformed by simply changing the drawer handles to a more decorative option. Depending on the type of handles you choose, you may need to create some new holes. A power drill will make short work of this task.

Get Creative

Some furniture may need a little more work, such as adding new features or taking away existing ones. Old dining room chairs can be given a new life by adding new cushioning and reupholstering the seat in a modern fabric. Chair arms can be chopped off to give the chair a fresh new look.

Guide to Upcycling Summary

We hope you’ve found this beginners guide to upcycling useful. Restoring can be a great way of creating unique, affordable and environmentally-friendly furniture. It can also be great fun, and it’s always satisfying when you complete a piece and see your finished handiwork!