Wondering how to restore old barstools? Check out this DIY project where I leveled and painted some old barstools to make them look new again!

(I know what you’re thinking…long title huh?)

A dear sweet friend had four barstools she was using as counter stools and she asked me to cut them down then refinish them. Here is a photo of how they turned out:

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Want the steps? I broke it up into three sections below so if you don’t need a step you can easily skip it.

Alright lets go

Cutting Down Barstools

In case you are not up to date on stool ins-and-outs, barstools are commonly around 29″-32″ tall while counter stools are around 23″-28″. So if you take barstools and use them as counter stools, your knees will be bumping with your counter. One solution is to buy new stools….the other is to cut them down to a height that works.

Note: Starting off these stools are exactly 30″ tall

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I kinda got lucky with the design of these stools because you see at the bottom of the legs there is that decorative indention? Well that one section is 4.5″ so all I had to do was cut along that line to get these stools down to a working height of 25.5″.

If your legs don’t have this then cut you a piece of scrap wood to 4″, or 5″ (whichever measurement you want for your particular stools) then find a level surface to set the stool on. Now line up your piece of wood with the leg and go around the entire thing making a line as you go. If your leg is cut at an angle then make sure you are mimicking that angle. If you hold your template wood flush with the base then you won’t have any problems. After you have all the legs marked, you just have to cut.

1) I laid the barstool on it’s side and used my circular saw to lop off the ends.

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Leveling a Wobbly Stool

All four of these stools rocked before I cut them.

1) I unscrewed all four screws that attached the legs to the seat.
2) Then I rocked the stool back and forth so I could figure out which legs were the short shits that were causing the trouble.

3) Next I picked the stool up a little then knocked it on the ground in order to drive the legs into the seat a little further. I did this until there was no more wobble in my stool.

4) To make sure the seat stayed where it was while screwing the screws back in, I had my husband sit on it while I put it back together. I would recommend doing this or it will just go back to it’s original position and you will have to do it again.

I have a couple notes for this step:

  • Make sure you’re on a level surface. Brush off the ground before placing the stool so something doesn’t get under the legs and throw you off.
  • This trick might not work for every stool. It might be the case that you need to take extra material off with a belt sander.
  • Also, sometimes a stool will still slightly rock, but when a person is sitting on it, it doesn’t move. So before you get frustrated that it isn’t working, try sitting on it and then testing it out. ; )

Painting Barstools

Heads Up: I did a lot of reading and question asking before starting this project and I don’t know what information might help somebody out, so I’m just gonna put it all. Bare with me (or skip over) if you already know pieces of information. Hopefully if you don’t know about painting furniture then you will find it useful….fingers crossed.

Oh, and also please note that my blog isn’t sponsored by anybody, so when I mention a product it’s just me telling you what I personally used and my honest thoughts about it.

The first thing to know is these barstools have a coating of poly on them and my girlfriend decided she wanted them painted with latex paint.

Do you have to strip the poly before painting? No. However you also can’t just go in guns blazing either and paint over it or it will eventually start to peel. The key to getting a good paint job to stick is surface preparation. Since the poly seals the surface and has a very smooth texture, if you want to paint over it then you need to go over it with sand paper and rough up the surface and take the shine off the top. This will lightly etch the surface and give the primer something to grip onto.

1) So the first thing I did was purchase a 180 grit sanding sponge that is made by Norton. A handle can be attached to it so you get the flexibility of the sponge but also an easy way to navigate it around your project. I sanded the surface of the entire stool.

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The below photo captures the different sheens between the portion with poly (far right) and the portion after meeting sand paper (left side).
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Oh, and thats Rooster. That’s her ‘love on me or I will just stare at you’ stare.

2) After sanding the entire stool I took a tack cloth to clean the surface off all the material I just created. If you don’t like using tack cloths (they are kinda sticky) then use a damp rag and wipe down the stool. Whichever you use, just make sure the surface of the stool is free and clear of any saw/poly dust before you move on to the next step.

Let me pause and go on another information rant…

The next step is priming. Do you have to prime? There are some sources that say you don’t have to, especially if you buy a primer/paint combo. I however think of it as double reassurance. It only tacks on an additional 2 hours or so and if it means giving the stool a better bonding surface (which means more durable) then why would I not?
Reading about primer can take up a lot of time so to summarize for you….

Oil Based Primer:

  • Has the reputation of being superior to waster based.
  • However, it takes longer to dry (typically around 12 hrs).
  • You need to use a natural bristle paint brush to cut down on brush lines.
  • After using, you have to clean your paint brush with mineral spirits or paint thiner to remove the primer from the bristles. (This is not hard so don’t be intimidated)
  • Has higher VOCs so you need to work outside or in a well ventilated area.

Water Based Primer:

  • Dries very quickly (typically 30 mins – 1 hour)
  • Low VOCs.
  • You need to use a Synthetic brush
  • It can be rinsed with water afterwards.

Can you put latex paint (water based) over oil based primer? Yes.

Can you put oil based paint over over water based primer? NO.

I decided to go with oil based for this project because almost all the professionals strongly recommend it. I already had a pint of Kliz Original so I moved forward.

2) I primed. Again, use a natural bristle brush for oil based primers. If you decide to use a water based primer then use a synthetic brush.

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3) After priming all four, I called it quits for the evening and let the stools dry overnight and all during the next day while I was at work.

4) The next thing I did was get back out my 180 grit sanding sponge and just lightly go over the surface not only to get rid of any tiny priming flaws, but to also scratch the surface slightly to give the coming up paint something to grip onto.

5) Now I painted. Note: Again, I’m using a latex paint which is water based. If you are also using a latex paint, then make sure to use a synthetic brush. (Natural bristle brushes will soak up the water and become limp)

I decided to use my Wagner spray gun to apply the paint instead of a brush. Below is a photo in case you are in need of a recommendation. I purchased mine online at Home Depot.
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I set up a little work table right outside my shop and painted, then moved the stool inside to dry.
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6) After letting those sit and dry, I laid down an old t-shirt, and flipped the stool over so that I could get the inside spots I wasn’t able to reach with the stool upright.
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Now, wanting to add a little accent to the seat I asked my friend if she would be interested in having her last name initial on it. She loved the idea so I told her to go pick out a font she wanted so I could make a stencil. If you are interested in learning the steps to make one yourself, see my post about how to make a stencil.

7) Once a font was settled on, I printed off a few different sizes so I could see which one would suit the best.

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8) Next I figured out where I wanted the B and taped it down, then started painting it on.
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As you can see, the lines didn’t come out 100% neat, so then I went back through with the blue of the stool and cleaned them up some.

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9) After the B was dry, the last thing I had to do was put a clear coat on it. Since I used latex paint, I used polycrylic (which is also water based). If you want to brush it on then I would suggest using a foam brush but you can also use a synthetic paint brush. I decided to use my spray gun once again to save on time.

Since I already had the primer and brushes, this project mostly just cost me my time. So if buying new stools isn’t in your budget right now, just spend the next couple of evenings giving your old stools a nice new look.

The biggest cost on this project was the $13 pint of Behr paint, however if you want to cut costs even lower then check the “oops paint” section every time you are in the hardware store until you find a color you like. These only cost $2! Can’t beat that….

Total Time: 9 Hours

Total Cost: $17
If you don’t have the paint brushes and primer then this project will cost around $45.

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