How to Dull a Glossy Finish

Any woodworker deals with the problem of how to dull a glossy finish at least once in their career. Perhaps you sprayed a finish that was glossier than expected, or maybe you purchased a piece of high gloss furniture at a garage sale that would look much better if it wasn’t so highly polished.

While achieving a higher gloss finish is easy as pie, dulling a high gloss finish involves a bit more work, and it’s easy to see how a novice would be nervous to tackle this project. Today, we’ll cover some helpful tips that will teach you how to dull a glossy finish in no time.

What You’ll Need

There are a few different ways to dull a gloss finish, and depending on which method you go for, you may not need all of the supplies listed below. But, here’s a general list of everything you may need for this project:

  • Orbital sander
  • Wet/dry sandpaper or sanding blocks from 220-1200 grit
  • Polishing pads
  • 0000 steel wool
  • Coarse polishing compound
  • Finish of your choice (matte, satin or semi-gloss)
  • Paint brush (if you aren’t using a spray finish)
  • Mineral spirits

Method I: Sanding Out the Gloss

This method should be your first stop when trying to dull a gloss finish. For many projects, this is the only method you’ll need to achieve the results you’re looking for. But, if you’re unsatisfied with your results, you’ll still be able to double back and try a different method if you start by trying to sand out the gloss finish.

Keep in mind that you’re going to be removing layers of the finish by sanding it, so you should proceed with caution if you’re unsure of how thick the finish is. If the finish is thin, you may end up sanding through the finish, which is a problem you don’t want to run into.

Step I: Sanding

If the finish is thick, you can start with coarse sandpaper, like 220 or 300 grit. Apply some soapy water or mineral spirits to the surface of the piece, and then start sanding the surface. Just a quick once-over will do just fine. Once you’re finished, wipe the surface down, and repeat the process with the next grit.

If you’re unsure of how thick the finish is, it’s best to start with higher grit sandpaper that will remove less of the finish. In that case, start with 400 grit sandpaper.

Once you’ve reached 600 grit, clean the surface completely and take a look at your work. You may be happy with the results at this point. If that’s the case, your work is done, and all you’ll need to do is clean the surface and enjoy your furniture.

If you find that the finish is now TOO dull, keep sanding with higher grit sandpapers. Start by wet sanding with 800 grit, and then check your work once again to see if you’re happy with the finish. If it’s still too dull, move on to 1000 grit and check again. Then, move on to 1200 grit.

Step II: Polishing

If you find the finish to be still too dull, or if there are lots of swirl marks in your finish after you’re done sanding, you can move on to using polishing compound.

Apply some polishing compound to a buffing pad attached to your orbital sander and begin to polish the surface. Start with a coarse polishing compound. Don’t apply any additional pressure to your sander; the sander will do all the work for you.

Once you’re finished buffing, clean the surface with some soapy water and a soft cloth. If you’d like to restore more of the gloss to the finish, repeat the buffing process with a finer polishing compound.

Method II: Sanding and Refinishing

If you’re not thrilled with the results you were able to achieve with sanding, that’s okay. This method should be a surefire way to achieve a finish you’re happy with.

First, you’ll need to remove the polishing compound you’ve applied. You can accomplish this with naphtha or a similar solvent. Then, give the finish a quick once over with some 220 grit sandpaper to rough up the finish and provide the new lacquer with something to stick to.

Before spraying the finish, make sure that the surface is completely clean and dry. Then, spray a light coat of the finish of your choice onto the piece. Depending on the gloss level you’re hoping to achieve, you may go for matte, satin or semi-gloss.

A light clear coat will dry quickly, so you should have a good idea of how the finish is going to look within a half hour or so. If you’re happy with the look of the finish, apply another light coat or two of your finish, and allow it to dry and cure.

Final Word

Learning how to dull a glossy finish is an important lesson for anyone who enjoys woodworking. Using some basic woodworking tools, you can quickly and easily remove (or restore) a gloss finish on any woodworking project. For some helpful tips on how to get a great finish, check out this article from Wood Magazine.

About Gus Donaldson

I built houses for over 30 years and recently retired. I've made lots of mistakes and hopefully teach you not to make the same ones. I still love to build and have a garage workshop that I use for hobby projects like the walnut bookshelf I made for my wife. I like to write and let people know that working with your hands and tools does not need to be intimidating.

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