A Beginners Guide To Upcycling

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

Buying everything new can become pretty expensive, pretty quickly. And, while many of us would love to have a style of home we’ve seen in a magazine or on Pinterest – we don’t all have a budget that will stretch that far (sadly).

But, what we all have is a vision and a little bit of creativity – and the internet. Sometimes it is better to start an upcycling project – see where that takes you, and create a room around that instead. The great thing about upcycling is usually cost time, a small amount of money, and the outcome never looks like the piece of furniture originated as.

So where do you start?!

Photo by Hugo Alfredo Aguilar Jr on Unsplash

What Can You Upcycle?

If you have an idea of what you want, then actually you can begin to let your imagination run a little wild when you are out shopping or searching the internet.

Great items to try:

  • Clothes Hangers
  • Boxes
  • Knife blocks
  • Desks
  • Chests
  • Drawers
  • Tables and Chairs


Every handyman needs a range of tools to help them get the job done, and this is one of those jobs! Here are a few things that every upcycle should have in their arsenal.

  • Sander – multiple attachments
  • Sanding block and paper
  • Brushes – for paints and varnish, plus detailing brushes
  • Paints, stains, primers
  • Waxes
  • Glues – metal, wood, general
  • Wood putty and putty knife – for when what you are upcycling needs more than a little polish and paint.
  • Old clothes – unless you are happy to skip this bit
  • Face mask – floating wood particles, glue fumes, paint fumes – a heady mix.
  • Floor protection if you are inside

Choose Carefully

Armchairs, tables, and wooden chairs are all great places to start. If you don’t want to dive straight in on your own furniture, you can choose something from a second-hand store, or pick up something on Freecycle. Think about what it is that you want. Occasionally, you can get fortunate and find a period piece that could use some love. But be careful you aren’t about to practice on a particular fine or rare antique. It helps if you know how to spot fake antiques – so you know what you should and shouldn’t be working on.


If you want to start out slowly, then painting is a great way to go. Often darker wood can feel like something completely new with a lick of bright white paint. If you are going from light wood to dark wood, you will find this pretty easy. Just remember to use the right type of paint for the effect you want. With dark wood to a light coat, you are going to need a few coats to get even coverage.

Shabby chic tends to be the look of choice, and it’s pretty beautiful when done correctly.

Prep the wood – You’ll need to sand the wood down. Not only will it remove any dirt and grime hiding in the current coat of paint, but it will allow the paint to stick better. You should remove all handles, and fixtures so that you can get everything smooth. If you are going for a distressed look, then you don’t have to be too careful.

Primer – Priming the wood will give you a smoother finish and will make it much easier to work with in general. This is also where you will taper off any areas you don’t want to have painted.

Painting – You should aim for two reasonable coats of paint. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t beat yourself up about it if it isn’t. Allow the paint to dry overnight, and if you are looking for that real shabby chic look then chalk color is ideal.

Sanding – yes, again. Now it’s time to get your sandpaper back out. Think about where a chair will show wear over time, and for that authentic look, try to lessen the paint in those areas. Usually, it’s the corners and perhaps the backrest.

Clean – using a damp cloth, give it a very good clean. Removing and debris from the sanding and then leave to dry.

Wax on, wax off – applying a protective coat of wax will give your piece a beautifully polished look. Pay careful attention to any bits of exposed wood and remember to regularly apply the furniture wax to keep your item in excellent condition.


This will be something that you need to be willing to put in. Proper upcycling will take time to do. Between reading instructions, sourcing materials, getting the right tools, and then doing the job, it can take weeks to have something properly done. Just remember the size of the furniture is probably indicative of how much time something is going to take. The bigger the item is, the longer you’re going to spend perfecting it.


There are so many guides online to help you go from a plain wooden chair into something unique and beautiful. Spend as many hours as you can watching tutorial videos, and if you can head along to a class. Most cities have classes that you can take to gather skills that you don’t have.


Once you have mastered things like shabby chic, upholstery, and creating lampshades out of jam jars, this becomes a saleable skill. People are moving towards recycling, buying second hand, purchasing one of a kind pieces. And that is great for people who have found joy in turning old things into new things. Reimagining what they are, into what they could be.

Your furniture, and then the look of your home will always be individual and beautiful. So where others need to source exciting pieces, you can create them.

Hobbies make us happier. When you complete each project, you’ll get a sense of satisfaction and joy. Spending time doing something that you love, and letting your creative juices flow is stress relieving too.

Upcycling is a transformative process. And turning what might be typically outdated, or throw away into something useful. It’s eco-friendly and fun.


1 Comment

  1. August 14, 2019 / 8:41 am

    Hi! Thanks for a great post. upcycling is a great solution to be creative and keep things eco-friendly, instead of buying new furniture.

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