How to Start a Furniture Refinishing Business

A woman refinishing a chair in her home workshop as a small business.

 Dougal Waters / Getty Images

In this day and age of reducing waste and our impact on the earth, refurbishing furniture is an excellent way to fix and reuse quality items that need a little TLC.

Refinishing furniture requires several skills. Furniture repair needs a knowledge of carpentry to fix broken items, such as loosening stuck drawers or re-setting legs. Refinishing involves stripping away paint or old finish, sanding, and applying a coat of paint or stain. Some items might require reupholstering—the replacement and recovering of fabric-covered items. Some pieces of furniture might need all three tasks to bring them back to life, while others need just one or two.

As the owner of a furniture refinishing business, you can earn a home-based income fixing items either brought to your location or on-site (if space and equipment allows). Or, you can find furniture in need of TLC, refinish it, and then sell it. 

Advantages of a Furniture Refinishing Business

There are several advantages to starting a furniture refinishing business:

  • You can earn a home-based income working with your hands.
  • You can build a client base working with people who love antiques and are willing to pay for custom refinishing. 
  • Set your own hours, whether it's late at night, around your existing job, or part-time as a side hustle.
  • By having a home workshop, you save on the overhead of having to rent a storefront or workshop. 
  • If you already have space and equipment to refinish furniture, your startup expenses can be relatively low.

Disadvantages of a Furniture Refinishing Business

There are a few downsides to starting a furniture refinishing business, including:

  • It can take time to build up a consistent clientele. 
  • Competition can be stiff in some parts of the country.
  • Pricing your services can be a challenge as you need to figure out the cost of materials, time involved in the work, and your overhead. Because each item is different, with various levels of need, you'll have to provide individual estimates for each piece of work. 
  • Furniture repair is solitary work, which can get lonely.
  • Some aspects of fixing furniture can be dangerous, such as toxic stripping agents. You'll want to make sure you use all safety precautions to avoid injury or illness related to the work.

What You’ll Need to Get Started

A home-based furniture business requires many of the same tasks as any other business and a few skills that are specific to furniture repair. 

You should have experience in furniture refurbishing. You can get started if your experience is as a hobbyist, but you should also be able to understand how the furniture is constructed, as well as the art and era of furniture, especially if you plan to work on antiques.

If you plan to refurbish furniture in your home, check with the zoning laws in your area, and obtain a waiver or variance if necessary. Because working with furniture may involve extra noise or fumes, it's possible you won't be able to run your business from a residential neighborhood. 

Check the competition in your area by visiting the website of your local Chamber of Commerce, which will list all the businesses registered with the Chamber. From its website, you can look for other furniture refinishers to get a sense of how many competitors are in your town or county.

Other early business needs include:

  • Choose a business name and the appropriate business structure. 
  • Obtain a business license from your city or county business office. Often you can apply for a license online from your locality's website.
  • Set up your bookkeeping and consider hiring an accountant if you don’t have one.
  • Buy refinishing equipment and supplies, including strippers and sanding tools you don't already own.
  • Set up a well-ventilated workspace and safety equipment to help you avoid inhaling toxic chemical fumes.

Marketing Your Refinishing Business

Take professional before-and-after photos of the work you have done, even if it's on your own furniture or inexpensive test pieces you found at a garage sale or flea market. The improvements should be dramatic enough to highlight your skills.

Create marketing materials such as business cards, print and online advertising, vehicle signage, and a website to promote your business. Begin networking to build relationships with antique dealers, flea markets, and collectors to spread the word about your services and promote repeat business.

Consider having a display at flea markets, trade shows, and home expositions. When you provide quality service and deliver your products on time to your customers you will encourage referrals and repeat business.