How to Refinish a Table
For years, I have wanted to refinish the table in our kitchen. It's not just any table…it's a hand-me-down from Noah's parents, and I absolutely love it. This is the table that sat in Noah's kitchen while he was growing up. I think it's so cool that we have our family meals at the same table Noah used as a child!
The actual table is gorgeous. It's solid oak and the shape and size I wanted for our kitchen. But the finish? Not so great. It has been through 30+ years of wear and tear, and what's left of the color on the table isn't exactly what I wanted (kind of an orangey/yellow color). So, for the longest time, refinishing this table has been on my “I'll do it someday” list.
Well, someday finally came! I wanted to get it done before we moved into the new house late this summer, and we had a couple of low-key weekends recently, so we went on and knocked it out. And let me tell you…it wasn't nearly as daunting of a project as I thought it would be!
I've never refinished a piece of furniture before this. Like, not a single one. I've learned a few things along the way, so I thought I'd write out a post to kind of compile what I've learned for others out there that have absolutely no clue what they're doing when it comes to furniture refinishing. I apologize if these directions are a little simplistic to some – believe me when I say that I had no clue what I was doing when I started this, and I'm sure one or two of you out there might be in the same boat!
(Affiliate links used in this post.)
Let's go back to the beginning of the project…
1. Before disassembling anything, take off any paint/finish using a orbital sander and a course grit sanding disk.
Now, you could take off the initial coat of paint/finish by hand with a piece of sandpaper, but trust me…with a project this big, you don't want to do that. We used something similar to this orbital sander and a 120-grit disk to take the piece down to the actual wood. I wouldn't say it took terribly long to take our finish off…maybe 2 or 3 good passes, but it was also very worn already. Expect to do at least 3 or 4 passes if you have a thick finish.
After sanding well, you want to be able to look at the wood at any angle and see no stain or paint finish. There shouldn't be a glow or remains of paint on the wood, no matter how you hold it.
We did this for any flat surfaces we could get with the orbital sander. For the curved edges on the legs, we took the legs apart and sanded well by hand with 120-grit paper (it's really the only way to get in the angles and nooks without wearing down the angles and edges with an orbital sander).
2. Go over every piece you sanded with a wet rag.
The goal of this step is to get rid of any dust and to make sure you're really down to the wood you're trying to finish. Take an old kitchen rag, wet it well, and really scrub every surface that was sanded. Make sure you get any sawdust out of the little cracks in the wood.
Allow the wood to dry for a few minutes, then go over the surface (against the grain) with your hand. You should feel the texture of the wood…you shouldn't feel any paint/finish smoothness if you completed step 1 thoroughly. As long as you feel a wood texture, you're ready to go on to step 3!
3. Do your fine sanding.
With this round of sanding, you'll want to get your wood super smooth and ready for paint/stain! We used 220-grit sandpaper (wrapped around a sanding block) to do this by hand…you could use the orbital sander if you'd really like to, but there isn't a ton of heavy sanding with this step, so doing it by hand wasn't that difficult
Once this step is done, you should be able to run your hand over the piece and not feel the grain of the wood…it should be almost perfectly smooth.
4. Paint or stain the legs.
(And when you have a cute painting assistant, it goes even quicker! ?)
5. Once the painted part is dry, reassemble and apply your stain to the tabletop.
The stain color we used for the tabletop was Minwax Espresso…this brand came highly recommended from several different sites. This is an oil-based stain, so keep in mind that it's going to need to be done in a well-ventilated area and won't come out of clothes easily. The half-pint can should be more than enough for a table.
Apply the first coat with the grain of the wood, using very light strokes (I used an inexpensive foam brush to apply the stain…that way, it could just be thrown away after the project was over). You definitely don't want to gloop (is that a word?) the stain on…use the smallest amount you can to cover the wood. If it's too light, you can always apply more later.
Once you've applied the first thin coat, allow it to dry for 5-10 minutes. Then, take a lint-free cloth (that you don't mind throwing away) and very, very lightly go over the stain. You don't want to take off any of the finish by doing this; you're just trying to get rid of any extra stain that might have pooled up.
Allow the first coat of stain to dry for a couple of hours, and reapply in thin coats as needed. You'll notice that the stain dries much lighter than it looks when first applied, so don't freak out if it looks super dark when you put the first coat on! I had to do 3 coats of stain to achieve the depth I wanted on my tabletop.
Once your final coat of stain is on, allow it to dry for 24 hours before moving on.
6. Once you achieve the depth you want in your stain, apply a polyurethane to seal it.
Especially if you're using this as a kitchen table, you'll want something that's going to protect the finish and be super easy to clean. I debated on whether to use an oil-based or water-based polyurethane for this, and water-based eventually won out…it allowed for me to use it inside without a ton of ventilation, didn't stink as much, and from everything I read, provided just as much protection as the oil-based variety. Plus, clean-up was much easier than using an oil-based finish.
I used Minwax Polycrylic in clear gloss for this last step. The half pint of this should be plenty if you're only applying to the tabletop. I used the same foam brushes from the staining step to apply.
The polyurethane goes on a little cloudy, which is totally normal…the finish will dry clear. Nevertheless, you'll want to put very thin coats of your finish on. Give each coat about an hour to dry before applying other coats as needed, giving the table a sand with a fine-grit sandpaper between each coat.
Don't be surprised if you have to apply more coats of the polyurethane than expected…especially for a high-traffic table, you'll want to put on a few. The bottle recommends 3 or 4, but all in all, I had to apply 5 to really get the texture and finish I wanted for a kitchen table.
And just like that, with just a day or two of work, I had the gorgeous farmhouse table I had been dreaming of! Trust me, if I can figure out how to refinish a table, you can too…it is a super easy project that you'll love for years. (And I had a question about the chairs – they are here, and I sanded/stained the legs while I was doing this to match the top of the table.)
How wonderful to update something… and have the project turn out nicely. 🙂
It turned out fantastic. I’ve done a few tables and they can be tricky.
I love old furniture and having a family hand-me-down makes it even more special.
Very nice transformation!
I love this post. I’m hoping to find an old table for my breakfast area and redo it, so your post was very helpful. I love the curves on the table too. It turned out great. Thanks for sharing on Sunday’s Best.
Nicely done! It’s nice you were all able to help in updating your table. I hope it brings many more years of use in your kitchen. Thanks for sharing with us at Creatively Crafty #ccbg 🙂
Your table looks lovely. I am so happy to see you restored it. it looks like it will get you two for seveal more years.
Thanks so much, Christine!
Hi Leslie! I have always wanted to do this. Thanks for the easy DIY instructions, can’t wait to give it a go. The table looks beautiful! You have been featured this week at Dishing It & Digging It. Thank you so much for sharing with us 🙂
Thanks so much for the feature! 🙂
Beautiful…and you have such a pretty helper!
Aww thank you!
Looks beautiful, but after all that work I was hoping for more after pictures!
It’s currently sitting in my cave of a kitchen where the lighting is terrible…hoping to get some updated pictures up of it when we move in a couple of months!
Awesome post! I’ve been thinking of refinishing my table, and this tutorial is perfect! Can I ask how well the tabletop has held up over time?
I have been absolutely amazed with how well it’s held up! It still looks like new, even after wiping down almost nightly. The only issue I’ve had was really my fault…I worked on our Christmas wreaths at the table and the wire from the wreaths scratched it. Totally my fault, I wasn’t thinking!
Thank you for sharing. I purchased a round dining table second hand to refinish and followed you steps. This was my first project and your instructions were perfectly helpful. After all the coats of the polyurethane, was it completely smooth?
I’m so glad I could help! I wouldn’t say it’s 100% smooth – it still has a tiny bit of grain to the touch, but definitely smooth enough to keep clean for a kitchen/high traffic table.
It’s a great work that is done by you. It’s look beautiful and i just like your work skill. I have a old kitchen table and i have been thinking to refinish it hopefully your tips are helping me. Thanks for the sharing your great experience with all of us.
Can I ask what type of paint you used in the legs? Satin, flat, semi-gloss, or gloss. I am going to attempt the same process on a beautiful solid oak table we have and was going to paint my legs and chairs black. I read several sites that say to use chalk paint on the legs and chairs and put a gloss finish in them as well for durability.
I used a semi-gloss on mine audit’s held up well (it was Valspar, I’m not sure of the specific type). I thought just using a semi-gloss was much easier than chalk paint, but if you’re wanting a more weathered look, chalk paint is definitely the way to go!
What a nice thing to have that table from so long ago. One tip, you don’t have to sand the pieces of wood you will paint. Just give it a good wash with soap and water and use a primer, then good quality paint over. The table is beautiful.
Great idea to try next time…thanks!
This is great! Can I ask – do you remember – you said a half pint would be fine to do just the tabletop – I’m going to do my table but it’ll include the base/legs as well. Think a half pint is still enough?
If I remember, I had plenty left that could have been used on legs. You should be fine just getting a half pint!
Thank you for the very detailed steps on how you went about this. I have wanting to redo my kitchen table and chairs since we moved into our new house but have been to scared to try and not willing to pay someone else to do yet at this point. With these details, it is looking like this is going to be attempted yet this fall!!
You are very welcome…good luck to you!
Thanks for taking time to give us your tips! I’m curious about the base holding up to getting kicked and a broom/mop/vacuum being smacked into it?
It’s actually doing pretty well! I do clean it once a month, and that takes most of the scuffs off. No paint chipping to report yet.
I have an oak table this will be perfect for! Where are your chairs from? I love the whole look!
Thanks…they are Target! I linked them just now at the bottom of the post (they’re called Brookline Tufted).
I like that you have chosen two colors for refinishing, it looks fantastic with your chairs.
This post is exactly what I need! So happy it was the first in my google search. Thank you for the clear step by steps! Can’t wait to start my project…. I scored a beautiful farmhouse table and chairs for $125!!
I hope it helps – best of luck to you!
Do you use polycrytic or polyurthan on top of stain
I used the polycrylic pictured above.
Nice job on the restoration! Have you ever seen the restorer?
Not sure what you mean – could you explain?