A Guide to Wooden Furniture Restoration Materials

Workshop Materials: Steel Wool, Abrasive Powders, Adhesives

Steel wool, abrasive powders, and adhesives are must-have materials for any at-home workshop, especially if you plan to work on furniture restoration or repair projects. 

Steel Wool


Steel wool, in grades from medium to superfine, has assumed a major position in furniture work for smoothing and for removing finishes softened by paint remover. Steel wool is especially useful for veneers or delicate inlays, where the surface being refinished is very thin and could be damaged by sandpaper.

The one area where it can't compete with sandpaper is in smoothing down a rough surface. Steel wool does have its disadvantages: Some professionals feel that steel wool gums up too quickly and that it leaves too many steel particles behind. Use steel wool of the appropriate grade for the job. If you aren't sure what your options are or which one is best for the job, check out the Types of Steel Wool sidebar.

Abrasive Powders

For the very fine sandings of applied finishes, and for certain surface repairs, pumice and rottenstone powders are widely used. Pumice, available in grades F through FFF, is a bit coarser than rottenstone; both are useful for final finish smoothing and for stain removal. Start with rottenstone; if this is too mild, move on to pumice.

Pumice comes in F through FFF grades. It is a fine  abrasive, used for rubbing between finish coats and for final buffing. It's also used for stain removal, when applied with oil (such as linseed oil).

Rottenstone does not come in a grade and is even finer than pumice. Rottenstone is used for buffing between coats, for final buffing, and for stain removal.


You'll probably use a variety of glues in furniture repair. Much of the choice comes down to personal preference, but a few basic differences should be kept in mind. The most important considerations are water-resistance and strength. If the furniture will be used outdoors or exposed to water, use a water-resistant or waterproof glue. If the part being repaired is structural, such as the leg of a chair, choose the glue for strength.

For most repairs, carpenters' glue is adequate-experiment to find the glue you like and get good results with. In special circumstances, use the appropriate glue for the job.

Adhesives Options

Below is a listing of the types of adhesives and when to use them for furniture refinishing projects.

Polyvinyl acetate glue (white glue)

White liquid, usually in squeeze bottle with applicator nozzle.

18 to 24 hour setting time

Clear dry appearance

Uses: General repair work. Don't use if exposed to moisture or water. Good for nonstructural wood-to-wood bonds.

Aliphatic resin glue (carpenters' glue, yellow glue)

Yellow liquid, usually in squeeze bottle with applicator nozzle.

12 to 18 hour setting time

Clear dry appearance

Uses: General nonstructural woodwork in dry environment; made especially for wood. Faster setting time, slightly stronger bond than polyvinyl acetate.

Plastic resin glue

Powder, mixed with water to creamy color. Sold in cans.

18 to 24 hour setting time

Clear dry appearance

Uses: Strong bond for structural supports. Needs a tight fit to set properly. Water-resistant, but not recommended for outdoors; can weaken under high temperatures and humidity.

Resorcinol glue

Two-part glue, liquid and powder. Sold in cans.

10 to 12 hour setting time

Brown dry appearance

Uses: Very strong, water-resistant. Use for both interior and exterior. Expensive. Once mixed, good for only three or four hours.

Hide glue

Liquid, orr flakes mixed with water and heated.

24 hour setting time

Amber, brown dry appearance

Uses: Traditional carpenters' glue. Liquid form easier to work with. Very strong bond. Avoid use in high humidty.

Contact cement

Light-colored liquid, sold in bottles or metal units.

Setting time on contact; cures in 1 to 2 days

Clear dry appearance

Uses: Best used for veneers. Donn't use for wood joints. Expensive and flammable.


Two parts, resin and hardener, mixed to thick liquid. Sold in tubes or cans.

5 minutes to 24 hour setting time.

Clear, amber dry appearance

Uses: Extremely strong bond; should bee sed only to fasten metal to wood. Expensive. Must be used quickly after mixing.

Painter's tape, throwaway paintbrushes, and other similar materials are important to have in the workshop, even though they are not frequently used. Let's review their many uses in the next section.