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What's the process for refinishing a wooden table?

I just stumbled across an old wooden coffee table that I'm sure will look even more beautiful once sanded and stained. I've never done this before, and I want to make sure I have all the necessary equipment. I know I need to sand the table before I apply the stain, but what needs to be done after that?

9 comments
  • Janet Pizaro
    Janet Pizaro Smithtown, NY
    on Jun 22, 2016

    You have to seal the stain with a non-yellowing polyacrylic.

  • Handan & Greg @ The Navage Patch
    Handan & Greg @ The Navage Patch Glastonbury, CT
    on Jun 22, 2016

    Hello Haysha, my hubby (Greg) gave a makeover to a vintage desk and the top turned out beautifully. He posted about it with all its details here on Hometalk, so you can search for that post. The post name is: Vintage Desk Makeover. I hope that post will help :-) -Handan

    • Haysha S.
      Haysha S. Cedarhurst, NY
      on Jun 22, 2016

      Thanks Handan, I'll definitely check it out.

  • Ann
    Ann Schenectady, NY
    on Jun 22, 2016

    Be sure to sand off all of the old finish, or you will have trouble getting your stain to dry. Polycrylic is a great sealer for light use, but I recommend polyurethane for something that will get heavier use. I used polycrylic on my dining table and I'm now in the process of refinishing it because the polycrylic wore off on the edges of the table. I'm using polyurethane this time!

    • Ann
      Ann Schenectady, NY
      on Jun 22, 2016

      I don't remember, but I don't think so. Even if polyurethane was more expensive, I'd pay it, rather than having to refinish an item again. Don't get me wrong, I've used polycrylic on a dresser top and have had no problems - not so on the table!

  • Cara
    Cara Chicago, IL
    on Jun 22, 2016

    You can do is use a paint stripper to remove the original stain. Let it sit for about 20 minutes and then use a tool to scrape it off. After that it's recommended to sand down further before restaining and sealing it. If you put sealer on the wood before you stain it, the stain will be absorbed more evenly. After the stain you should use either a wax, oil, or polyurethane coat. Good luck and make sure you do this outside or in a well ventilated area.

    • Haysha S.
      Haysha S. Cedarhurst, NY
      on Jun 22, 2016

      For now, I'm trying to do as much as I can without buying new equipment. depending on how difficult it is, I may get myself some paint stripper for next time.

  • Johnchip
    Johnchip Washington, DC
    on Jun 22, 2016

    Are you looking for a 'valuable finished wood piece' or a 'rustic homey piece'? If the later, clean it, latex spray paint it, wipe it down while wet. Repeat with other colors or wipe on stains, when happy, seal it with a poly satin.

    • Haysha S.
      Haysha S. Cedarhurst, NY
      on Jun 22, 2016

      I think I'm looking for more of a valuable finished wood piece. If I stain it after I spray it with paint, would I still see the grain of the wood?

  • Johnchip
    Johnchip Washington, DC
    on Jun 22, 2016

    If you want a fine finished wood look, you will have to go through all the steps of sanding, cleaning, staining (which can come in many tones and/or colors), and final finishing with some poly clear coating or oil finishing product. A lot will depend on the wood itself, the age and type and quality. If you area total novice, I would suggest you look at some Youtube videos on refinishing wood, and test yourself on small piece of wood before tackling the big piece. Primary info: wood is porous, paints are solid coats with a stain/tint in them of a color. Stains/pure tint are simply the color. All will penetrate wood. once it is in the grain it is there to stay. Oils will continue penetrating prior to any surface paint, poly or varnish coat. Oil penetrators can also be used as a final finish, but will require more long term care/maintenance.

    • Haysha S.
      Haysha S. Cedarhurst, NY
      on Jun 22, 2016

      Thank You Johnchip for the quick education. I'll proceed with caution. I'm excited to start out on a new adventure.

  • Constance G
    Constance G Brownwood, TX
    on Jun 22, 2016

    Your in for a long period of working on this piece, everyone who has done this will debate the pros and cons of water vs oil based products. I personally use water based, over all its kinder for the earth and myself. First get a really good stripper and use a plastic scraper to remove it, plastic is better than metal because your less likely to score the wood. You may go through more than one of them. Also be certain there is no veneer on the piece, its thin and easy to damage. I highly recommend the use of a tack cloth throughout the process, 0000 steel wool for final sanding. It will smooth your wood and give a lovely kind of warmth. (again personal choice) Study different colors of stains, apply a sample to a scrap piece of wood and let it sit a few days, sometimes add a additional coat after a couple days let sit, this will be your true color once applied, fair warning though, even with a coat of polyurethane or whatever you choose as sealant, over the years the underlying stain will darken, so if it is a light color you desire, or a dark color, be aware of the choice and long term usage. As for sandpaper, get a various assortment of grit, lowest number being the coarsest, as you sand use higher grits to smooth your item. Some will sand until there is not a single scratch, gouge etc rendered from previous owners are left, others like myself, will leave a few here and there to give the piece additional character, choice is yours. The application mediums are varied as well, sponge brush or pad, paint brush, wiping on with a old clothe, again choice is yours. I suggest you buy painters gloves if you choose to wipe on though, that way your not scrubbing it off your skin. Because this is your first piece, have fun with it and expect a few mistakes here and there.

  • Sam
    Sam Tooele, UT
    on Sep 7, 2016

    Much of the older vintage type furniture from the early 1900's to now has veneer on the top surface and possibly other surfaces. This means that the wood is very thin and glued to a cheaper solid wood to get the table top. This means that you will need to be very careful that you don't sand through the veneer to get out any deep pits, dents, etc. You can use a good colored wood filler on the deep divitts. I would recommend that you do not use a power sander. They remove too much wood too soon. Then you will have a terrible time hiding the glitch. When you do get all the sanding done, I would suggest that you use a pre-stain conditioner as your first coat. I use Minn-wax brand and it works well. I use it when I make a new piece of furniture, I have never used it on a reconditioned piece because it is difficult to get all pre-existing stain out of the pours. It is clear, looks like alcohol but does not have a strong odor. Put it on with a foam brush, let sit for 10 - 15 min. and wipe off with a soft lint free cloth. Follow the directions on the can. It makes the wood look wet. It is designed for staining softer woods to make them stain more evenly because of the difference in the summer growth and winter growth. I make oak furniture with a light oil stain or a clear finish. I use the pre stain conditioner even when I want a natural finish (no stain). I use Minn wax polyurethane satin or gloss to finish. I recommend at least three coats applied with a soft lint free cloth; let dry over night and lightly sand with 220 grit paper to dull the finish and take out any bumps or lint. Apply the next coat and do the same until you get the desired finish you want. On top surfaces, like tables of any kind that will have items set on them, I go with 7 coats. You end up with a more natural color that you can see through and see the wood grain. Do not sand the last coat. This works wonderful on solid wood dining tables. When it gets dinged up a little, get out the belt sander to remove most of the polyurethane then finish with a finish sander and hand sanding. Start with at least 100 grit graduating to 120 grit and finish with 220 grit. Use the same process in prepping the wood before you start the finishing steps. Always finish your sanding with hand sanding and good lighting to make sure you have all the scratches out. Don't start the finishing steps until you are sure you have all the scratches out. If you are not aware, alI sanding does is remove material to eliminate noticeable scratches by making less noticeable scratches. Make sure you have good lighting to work with. Your project will not be as you hope for if you don't take things slow and be observant of what is happening. It takes every step completed to the best of your ability for you to be happy with the finished project. You may have a mistake here or there, but if you follow my directions only you will be able to find them. Take your time. Do not set a completion date. You will be happy with your results. The next project always looks better than the last. Develop your skills and you will be a woodworker for life.

  • Norma Cook
    Norma Cook
    on Jun 2, 2017

    We just bought a coffee table that looks identical to yours. It came with two matching end tables that were in a little better shape, but I intend to refinish the entire set to match. I'm thinking of re-doing the tops with the stained wood look, and painting the legs and aprons a creamy white with a dark glaze to accent the carved details. Have you finished your table yet?

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