Refurbishing a Wooden Bed Frame

A double bed with a wooden frame is placed in a loft

Abode/Getty Images

A wooden bed frame, especially one made from a quality hardwood, is a significant investment when purchased new. So as an alternative to buying a new one, it makes a good deal of sense to consider refurbishing an older bed frame. Whether it's one you already own or one you've obtained as a giveaway or purchased used, an older bed frame can be renewed to vintage condition at a fraction of the cost of buying a new one.

The term refurbishing can mean many things, from simple cleaning to complex disassembly, repair, and refinishing. How much of this process you take on will depend on the condition of the furniture piece and how dramatically you wish to change its appearance. 

Materials You Will Need

The tools and materials you'll need to refurbish a wooden bed frame will depend on how extensive you choose to be. For a complete refurbish job that involves some wood repairs as well as sanding and refinishing, you will need:

  • Wrenches and screwdrivers for disassembly
  • Dust mask and work gloves
  • Respirator (if recommended)
  • Bucket
  • Household vinegar
  • Rags
  • Disinfectant
  • Wood putty or wood filler (if needed for repairs)
  • Wood glue (if needed for repairs)
  • Clamps (if needed for repairs)
  • Electric sander
  • Sandpaper (120- and 200-grit)
  • Sanding rope or string (for bed frames with spindles)
  • Tack clothes
  • Paint sprayer (optional)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Pre-stain conditioner or paint primer
  • Wood stain or paint
  • Polyurethane

Step 1: Preparation

Before you begin refurbishing, remove all linens, the mattress, and the box spring, and put them aside, preferably in a space separate from where you'll be working. For best results and safety, disassemble the bed frame, then move the wooden pieces from the bedroom and place in a well-ventilated area, such as a garage or covered patio. Make sure to collect all hardware so you'll have it when it comes time to reassemble the bed frame. 

  • It is important that you work in a well-ventilated area when working on a project this size so that all chemical fumes and sanding dust can easily escape the area. Wear a dust mask or other nose and mouth protection to prevent you from breathing in any sanding dust. When using stains or polyurethane finishes, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for breathing protection. 

Step 2: Cleaning

Dust, dirt, grease, and other contaminants accumulate on wood over time. It’s important that you remove them before you begin sanding. If you received your bed frame used, it is even more important that you clean it for sanitary reasons. For best results, use a solution of water and vinegar to clean wooden furniture. It not only helps remove odors, but it’s also a natural way to combat bacteria.

If you’re worried about bacteria, bed bugs, or other pests in the bed frame, spray it with a disinfectant spray and/or a safe indoor pesticide spray. If you do apply insect spray to the bed frame, make sure to wipe it down after it dries to remove any residue before sanding.

Step 3: Repairing

After the bed frame is thoroughly clean and dry, repair any damaged areas. Use wood filler or putty to fill in any cracks, dents, or chips in the frame. Although pre-tinted wood fillers are available, it's best to use untinted wood fillers for this project, as the next step will involve sanding down to bare wood. 

If your frame is severely damaged, you may need to replace a part of the frame with a new piece of wood or use wood glue and clamps to reinforce any broken parts. Spindles and joints can be reglued if they are loose. Very loose joints may need to be reinforced with new wood screws—drill countersunk pilot holes, drive reinforcing screws, then cover the pilot holes with wood plugs or wood filler. 

Let any repaired sections dry overnight or up to 24 hours, depending on the type of repairs you made.

Step 4: Sanding

When the wood putty, filler, or glue is dry, sand the entire frame with 120-grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface and remove surface finish down to bare wood. If you plan to restain the wood, considerable sanding may be necessary to remove the surface finish and existing stain. For best results, use an electric sander. Spindles can be sanded by hand using loose sandpaper or sanding cord. Don't worry about some blotchiness—some remaining stain color in the wood will even out once the new stain is applied.

Remove all sanding dust with a tack cloth, then sand again with 220-grit paper until the surface is smooth to the touch. Using a tack cloth, remove all sanding dust. 

  • Note: if the bed frame will be painted rather than stained, you can simplify the sanding process somewhat, since complete removal of the stain will not be necessary. The final sanding pass should be aimed at smoothing the wood, but don't worry if considerable stain color is still evident, as paint will cover it. 

Step 5: Staining or Painting

Paint or stain your bed frame as you wish, depending on the look you want for your bed frame.

To paint your bed frame, begin by applying multiple thin coats of painting primer. For best results, use a sprayer to apply both the primer and paint coats, but if you are brushing, apply the primer and paint in several thin coats to avoid drips and runs. After the primer dries, apply multiple thin coats of paint, using either a sprayer or paintbrush.

To stain your bed frame, begin by applying a pre-stain conditioner to the entire frame, following the manufacturer's instructions. Let the conditioner dry completely, then apply the stain. Stain application can be done by wiping with a rag, brushing, or spraying. Most DIYers find wiping to be the easiest method of application. 

  • Note: Combination stain/varnish products are available, but generally do not provide the smooth finish that is possible when you first stain, then apply a polyurethane varnish top coat. 

Step 6: Applying a Top Coat

After the stain has dried completely so it is no longer sticky or tacky to the touch, apply a polyurethane varnish to create a protective top layer. Follow manufacturer's instructions regarding the application, as this can vary depending on the manufacturer. In most cases, applying two or even three coats provides the best results. Most instruction will suggest a very light sanding between coats of varnish. 

A top-coat of clear polyurethane varnish can also provide a great protective layer to painted wood surfaces. Again, follow manufacturer's instruction for applying varnish over painted wood. 

Step 7: Reassemble the Bed Frame

After the top finish is completely dry and is no longer sticky or tacky to the touch, bring the frame pieces back to the bedroom and reassemble the pieces. Any damaged or rusted hardware should be replaced rather than reused.