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How to Salvage a Garage Sale Find

Finding Furniture at Garage Sales
If reupholstering is the way to go, make it fun and invite some friends to come help you.
If reupholstering is the way to go, make it fun and invite some friends to come help you.
Gary Houlder/Lifesize/Getty Images

Finding bargain furniture that's attractive and functional may well be the holy grail of garage sale shopping. But when you're evaluating furniture, keep some things in mind. Refinishing wood can be hard work, and reupholstering furniture isn't a picnic either. Check your potential purchases with a realistic eye, both for their condition and your time and desire to whip them into shape.

Wood furniture can be deceptive. Solid wood furniture can take a beating and still be salvageable, where peeling veneers or pressed wood products with water damage are often beyond help. If you see watermarks on solid wood or dirt buildup from neglect, a little wood soap and a mild abrasive can make a big difference. Even a slightly abused piece can be transformed into a shabby chic find and given a new life with a change of hardware and the right accessories. You could also strip and refinish furniture that's in otherwise good shape. There are products on the market these days that make stripping, sanding and staining furniture easier than it used to be.

When dealing with wood furniture that has more significant damage like loose joints, broken legs, split wood or deep gouges, the problem may or may not need a difficult fix and should be evaluated by a woodworking professional or talented amateur. Wood glue and filler can handle quite a few problems, but if the fix requires special tools that you don't have, you could spend more money repairing your find than it would have cost you to buy new.

If you're interested in a piece of wood furniture that has significant problems but is still structurally sound, you could always cheat. A table that looks OK on top but has a gnawed leg courtesy of someone's teething puppy might benefit from a table skirt held in place with hook-and-loop tape. And if only part of a side table, chair or chest is visible beside another piece of furniture, some creative furniture arranging could take care of the problem too.

This make-do attitude can be extended to upholstered furniture, too. As long as a piece is sturdy, there are steps you can take to make it a good candidate for your room. Having a chair or couch professionally reupholstered can be pricey, but solidly built pieces with wood trim and fine detailing may be worth it.

In the next section, we'll plug in a few garage sale appliances to see how they perform.