90s Oak Dining Set Gets a Make-over

Valerie Burge
by Valerie Burge
7 Materials
9 Hours

Our little dining set had taken some abuse over the years. And it was looking pretty rough with water stains and scratches, not to mention dated! It was getting to the point that I was embarrassed when guests stopped by, without giving me enough notice to iron off the water marks! So after putting it off for a very long time, I decided it was time to tackle this project. Let's learn how to refinish a dining table together.

Because this is the only dining set we have, I decided to work on it in stages. While my daughter was away one weekend, I worked on the table. Because I couldn’t lift it out to the garage by myself while it was assembled, I removed the top from the base. This was very easy, there were just eight screws that needed to be removed.

Then I brought both pieces out to the garage for sanding. I worked on the top first. I sanded it with an orbital sander and 80 grit paper. But as I got further along in the sanding process, it because clear there was a layer of veneer on this table!! At this point I considered hauling it to the curb – but after a little break (a glass of wine) I decided to carry on.  


Because the veneer was still firmly attached, there was no way I was going through the effort of removing it! So I continued sanding, as gently as possible, and then applied wood filler to the little grooves and rough spots on the veneer, using a putty knife. Then sanded it again with a 220 grit paper to smooth it all back out.

Wood filler to smooth it out

Then I stained the top using dark walnut gel stain, applied with a cloth. I would have loved to stain it to match our vintage side-board, but I’ve bought so many stains trying to match that colour and haven’t found one yet!

Half stained

I gave the table base a very light sanding and painted it white. I also painted the lip on the table top the same colour.  I’ve never used this shade of white before and it’s my new fav!!! Not as stark as some of the whites I’ve used in the past. It’s Fusion Raw Silk. (I’m going to use the left-over paint for my coffee table!)

Painted base
Painted lip

Then I re-assembled the table and sealed it. 

I used three coats of clear satin finish on the table top, applied with a brush. I did a very light sanding, using a sanding block, between coats. It only took about two extra minutes to do this step and it resulted in a beautiful smooth finish.  I removed the dry chalky reside with a dusting mitt I got at the dollar store.

Light sanding between coats

I sealed the base with two coats of matte wipe-on poly, applied with a damp cloth. I did a third coat on the ‘feet’, just so they had extra protection from being bumped with the chair legs. Then the table was complete!!

The next step was to work on two of the chairs. This way we would still have two usable chairs while I worked through this project.

I sanded the chairs with my orbital sander. I paid extra attention to getting the glossy coating off the seats and the outer ring of the back-rests (where people tend to grab it). The rest of the chairs I just gave a light sanding.

Chair sanding

My original plan was to use a paint sprayer on the chairs. But I found the results were bumpy and it was creating a big mess on the surrounding garage floor (even though I used barriers). And it was sucking up the paint like crazy! Perhaps it was because I’m not experienced with a sprayer, or maybe my sprayer is not a good one. I don’t know! A lot of people swear by them. Either way, I stopped after the legs of the first chair were done and finished painting them the old-fashioned way, with a brush! I did two coats per chair. 

Then I did two coats of the wipe-on poly on the entire chair and a third coat on the high traffic areas (seat, outer rim of backrest and front legs).

First two chairs completed

A couple weeks later I got around to doing the two remaining chairs – using the exact same process. I found it easier on my back to flip the chair upside down on my counter top while painting the legs.  

And this is our re-styled dining set! I’m so glad this project is behind me and that I no longer feel embarrassed when company stops by. 😊  

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  • Angie Weisheit Angie Weisheit on Sep 16, 2020

    You did a beautiful job! The only question I have is how did you sand the chair legs, with all the curves and nooks in them? I am getting ready to do the same thing to a set I bought off of marketplace years ago. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks!! 😊😊

  • Sara Sara on Sep 22, 2020

    Is the finish on the table hard enough to set a glass down without leaving a ring?

  • Theresa Theresa on Sep 01, 2022

    Your lamps are very interesting , stained glass ? Great job !

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4 of 107 comments
  • Lula Porter Lula Porter on Sep 01, 2022

    When it comes to matching old stains, I learned to mix my own. Try the mix on a piece of scrap wood. You'll get really close.

    I love your work on the dining table and chairs. I'm working on an antique wooden high chair for a friend and hate dealing with fancy rounded legs. At least my project can sit in the back room while I ignore it calling me to finish it.

    • Valerie Burge Valerie Burge on Sep 01, 2022

      Thanks for the tip! I'm actually starting to mull over the idea of bleaching the sideboard. I love that new trend. But the finish is still in great condition so it would be a 'make work' project. LOL Good luck with the high chair!

  • Angi Angi on Nov 26, 2022

    Beautiful! I'm going to attempt doing the same to my entertainment center 😳😎