While refinishing a small piece of wooden furniture is a labor-intensive and messy job, unusual skills and tools aren't required. Nor is there a need to worry about dangerous fumes and caustic chemicals: Refinishing products are safe when used as directed.
Before you begin a project, however, here's some advice that can save you time and trouble.
* Visit a library or bookstore and pick up a book on refinishing before beginning your first project. Home centers and hardware stores are another excellent source of information.
* If you suspect the family heirloom you're about to refinish may be a prized antique, get it appraised before you strip it. Sometimes an antique's unique value is in the finish -- and you may destroy its value by removing it.
* Choose a workplace that's well ventilated, dry and warm, and offers good lighting. Inexpensive plastic dropcloths can turn virtually any room in the house into a temporary work area.
* What to wear: Rubber gloves keep hands clean, while old clothes are not only expendable, they're lint-free from repeated washings. Safety glasses are essential when using paint removers or other chemicals that can irritate the eyes. Wear a face mask when sanding.
* Basic equipment includes drop cloths and newspapers, rags and inexpensive paint brushes, steel wool or sandpaper, a putty knife, wide-top jars or coffee cans with lids, waterless hand cleaner and paper towels.
* When stripping the old finish off a chair or table, place the legs in a tin can or aluminum pie pan. Then recycle the remover that runs down the legs.
* Need more help? Minwax, a leading manufacturer of wood refinishing products, offers a free booklet, "Tips on Wood Refinishing." Write: Minwax, P.O. Box 260, Dept. WLP, Whippany, N.J. 07981. For assistance on refinishing,
Formby's wood-care products provides customers a toll-free help line: (800) FORMBYS.
And Parks Corp., the manufacturer of Carver Tripp wood finishing products, offers free information on furniture refinishing; call (800) 225-8543.