Raw Wood Bookcase Makeover

9 Materials
2 Days

Somehow I ended up with a bookcase my great-grandpa built. I don’t know how this happened, but I’m glad it did. I loved the bookcase because my great-grandpa built it, but I wanted to refinish it to match my home decor style. It was originally a warm-red color. I started seeing raw wood furniture around and thought that would match the rest of my decor. So the girls and I began the process of giving the bookcase a raw wood makeover!

After I did some research, I decided to simply sand and wax it to get the look I wanted. I didn’t want to paint it and have a fake raw wood look, especially since it already had a beautiful grain. I simply wanted it to be the natural wood that my great-grandpa worked with when he was originally building it.


It was important to me to ask my Grammy about how she’d feel about me refinishing it. I wanted to be respectful, especially since I hadn’t a clue what the story was behind this bookcase.

If you read my Mother Day post, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn my Grammy was all for me refinishing it.

Her exact quote went something like this, “That old thing probably needed to be refinished a long time ago!” with a giggle in her voice. Like me, she believes that by refinishing the bookcase I wouldn’t be tarnishing its legacy.

Why I Involve My Girls in My Projects

I incorporated the girls for a few reasons. One because they love to help me with my projects. They are 2 and 4 years old right now, so helping Mommy is high and their priority list. I also think it helps teach the girls different things. What better way to teach them about following directions and steps than actually doing a project with directions and steps? Also, I find it to be even more meaningful having a bookcase that my great-grandpa built that was refinished by his great-great-granddaughters. It adds to the story that this particular piece of furniture can share now. The last and most important reason is that we are making memories when we do things together.

The Raw Wood Makeover Process


The first thing we did to start this raw wood makeover project was clean off the bookcase. We took all the decorations and books off of the shelves and dusted. This step seems simple and obvious, but when you’re refinishing furniture with a 2 and 4-year-old, these little steps must not be overlooked!! They can’t help me with everything so I wanted to ensure I utilized their abilities in all the places I could!

Striping and Sanding

Now, this is where I started having the girls go play with something else while I worked alone. This bookcase didn’t have a thick coat of poly on the top, but it was certainly sealed with something. I initially tried to sand it with the girls but the topcoat was tough. I knew it was going to require some stripper to get down to the raw wood. Also, I ended up taking the bookcase completely apart because it was quite wabbly and I was afraid the girls and I were going to break a board rocking it back and forth so much.

To strip the boards I followed the directions on the jar of the stripper we had sitting on our shelves. It was definitely annoying, but ultimately I think it was for the best. After I had it all striped I invited the girls back to the garage with me to finish sanding the boards. This time around we saw a huge difference.

I will add that the girls and I were using a little mouse detail sander. So it wasn’t necessarily a fast process. About 75% of the way through I complained to my husband about how long it was taking. He then told me we had a hand-held belt sander!!!

He was holding out on me!!!

While the girls were sleeping I took the belt sander and finished the sanding process.


After everything was sanded, we wiped all the boards off with a regular rag and then came through a second time with a tack cloth. The girls were able to help with this step. Again, it seems small and obvious, but this is one of the most important steps when refinishing furniture. Doing this ensured there weren’t any small sand particles lingering when I went to put the wax on.

I chose a wax for this particular project because I like the look of the final product, but also because this isn’t going to be a high-traffic piece of furniture. It will have books pulled on and off the shelves, but otherwise, it isn’t going to see much more than that. I don’t need to protect it from water, steam, or food. When applying the wax I did this alone but I did allow the girls to be in the garage with me.


The next and final step for this project was to build it again!! For this I needed help.

I recruited my husband because I’m not confident in my abilities with a nail gun yet. He has taught me about all the how-to’s, but I simply don’t trust myself.

After the bookcase was finished it was time to bring it back in the house. I carried it into the living room to ensure this beauty would be seen by everyone. The final step in the process was to style our new raw wood bookcase!

The Styling Process

While I was decorating and taking these pictures the song “She’d Say” by Andy Grammer came on and I literally had to fight back tears. I’m naturally a crier, but this was intense, even for me. The whole song talks about a child that never met their grandma and all the things the grandma would say to her if she were still around.

This immediately made me think of the things I’ve heard about Great-Grandpa, and the things I know of Grammy and then like a gust of wind on a completely still day – What will my children say about me to my grandchildren? What will my grandchildren say about me to my great-grandchildren? What is the legacy I’m going to leave behind? It wasn’t necessarily a painful question. But it certainly was one I needed to ask myself. Maybe it’s a question you need to ask yourself as well?

I’m so glad to finally have this bookcase in the living room. It is such a beautiful silent reminder of where I come from and those I love so dearly! It’s a reminder of the past, but also a challenge for my present and my future. It speaks quietly about what my legacy will be. Will I leave a legacy I’ll be proud to leave to my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? This is my favorite DIY to date, and honestly, I don’t know if anything will ever top it!

Thanks for stopping by! Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest! Have a great rest of the week! XoXo

Open Your Doors,



Since I created this post, I learned that this bookcase was in fact not the one my great-grandfather had built. With today’s technology, you’d think that I would have sent my Grammy an image of it to verify, duh!

Now when I sit beside this bookcase don’t see great-grandpa, but I do see my girls.

I can look back on my life and see all kinds of accomplishments, but those that have the most meaning are the ones that I achieved while working with a team.

My team has changed over the years, and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of the team I’m on now. My husband and daughters are some of my favorite teammates I've ever had!

Resources for this project:
See all materials
Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.
Hometalk may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page.More info
Aliya - Open Doors Open Hearts
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
  2 questions
  • Joy Joy on May 23, 2021

    After removing the back, how do you keep it from wobbling? The back stabilizes a bookcase.

  • Kim Kim on May 23, 2021

    I am just wondering why the books are all backwards?

Join the conversation
3 of 12 comments
  • Chris Chris on Feb 24, 2022

    I am in my December time of life and this was such a joy. To instill the history of "things" in your life and your children's is so important.

    • Thanks so much, Chris! It is something that I think about often. The legacy that I'm leaving for those who are coming after me and the legacy of those who came before me. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this post!

  • Bry Bry on May 22, 2022

    Great project to do with your little girls. Even though it wasn't great-grandpa's bookcase, it's still nice with beautiful wood. I enjoyed reading about your project and your story.