How to Refinish Wood Furniture Church Pews for Only $20

A few months ago my sister’s friend asked her if she wanted some church pews. Apparently, the church was renovating its interior and wanted to find good homes for them. How to Refinish Church Pews for 20When she sent me the text asking if I wanted any, I immediately jumped in and asked her for two. Church pews make the best benches for any patio!

When she dropped them off (ya…she and her husband are awesome like that) they filled my garage. Christmas was coming and I had no time to work on them so they sat acting like a shelf for all of the junk we could pile on them. When I finally found the perfect table, it was time to get busy on the benches. Here’s how I transformed them for only $20 each.


The supplies I needed for this refinishing project included:

Total = $40 with tax for both benches. So about $20 each!


  1. Lightly sand the benches using a palm sander and 120 grit sand paper. Norm from This Old House uses 80grit and progressively moves to the larger numbers (finer paper), but you only want to scuff the surface so that the gel adheres to it. You’ll need to add more layers of gel stain if you sand the pew to the bare wood. The choice is yours. I went the easier route. Don’t forget to sand with the grain, otherwise you’ll get ugly patterns will need to add more gel to cover up your mistake. Yup, I’m telling you this based on experience.

    original church pew

    Here is the original church pew that sat in my garage for months waiting to be refinished.

  2. Wipe off the dust using a cloth.
  3. Put on your latex gloves. They break easily so be prepared to replace them throughout the project or get some heavy duty ones. I like the thinner ones because I like to get in the groves and it’s difficult with big bulky gloves.
  4. Paint the first layer of Java color gel stain with a foam brush or with a piece of cloth that you’ll throw away later. Be super careful with the stain. It can stain your hands, floors and anything it comes into contact with.

    Gel Stained Church Pew

    Here is the gel stained church pew.

  5. Let the gel stain dry 6 to 12 hours.
  6. Repeat the Java gel staining and drying for at least 3 total coats until you’re satisfied.
  7. After the gel stain has dried you can apply the polyurethane using a new foam brush or cloth.

    Refinished Church Pews

    Here are both of the church pews completely refinished.

  8. Let the polyurethane dry for 4 hours before applying a second coat. Here’s how mine came out.

    Church pew refinishing

    Here’s how they look with the new refinished table.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do I Use Gel Stain?

Gel Stains are heavy-bodied. They don’t soak into the wood like other oil base stains do. They still stain the wood, but don’t require a gazillion layers. They include a combination of pigments, oils, and urethanes and produce results that are both gorgeous and durable. I’ve only used General Finishes Gel Stain, so I can’t comment on the other brands or types. I prefer to stick with what works for me because I absolutely hate reworking my projects!

Why Do the Pews Appear Shorter?

You may have noticed that the church pews are shorter than the originals. My husband, Lonny used a reciprocating saw to cut the edge we didn’t want. Then he pieced it back together with the existing screws.

Where Can I Purchase Supplies?

You can purchase the gel stain and polyurethane at Amazon, Woodcraft stores and any store that deals with selling wood products exclusively. I was unable to locate this brand at hobby and home improvement stores so save yourself some time and just go straight to the source.

Other products can be purchased at Amazon, Dollar Tree, Target , Walmart, hobby stores or any big box retailer.

Should I buy a quart or a pint of gel stain?

If you’re only painting one bench a pint will be fine. If you want to do more than one, I suggest buying the quart. You should only need one pint of the polyurethane either way.

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