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How to Restore a Wooden Table

a person covering an old table in a coat of varnish

a person covering an old table in a coat of varnish

Source: E_serebryakova/Shutterstock.com

From library ladders to Hoosier cabinets, fixing up a roughed-up or mistreated furniture piece is extremely rewarding. But if you’ve never tried your hand at any kind of antique furniture restoration project, you might want to start smaller and simpler. One easy beginner restoration project? A wooden table. Perfect for novice restorers, a wooden table can give you good practice sanding and finishing. Plus, you can pick up a basic old wooden table at any flea market or thrift shop. 

Ready to start? Here are step-by-step instructions on how to restore a wooden table so you feel confident and inspired to bring that fixer-upper furniture piece home.

Supplies You’ll Need

Before you begin your first wood table restoration project, make sure to grab all your supplies. Here’s precisely what you’ll need: 

  • All-purpose cleaning spray
  • Cloth or paper towels
  • Coarse sandpaper (grits 60, 120 and 360)
  • Block sander or mechanical sander
  • Tack cloth (dry and clean!)
  • Stain or primer and paint

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How to Restore a Wooden Table, Step by Step

a person prepping a wooden table surface for refinishing

Source: Koldunov Alexey/Shutterstock.com

With your supplies on hand, you’re ready to begin your restoration project. Here’s a step-by-step process on how to restore a wooden table to appear good as new! Or, at least, cleaned up to enhance its inherent charm. 

Step One: Analyze the Table (and Be Honest About Your Skill Level)

Give the table a good look-over. Does it have hand-carved details and scrollwork that might be tedious? For a first-time restorer, it’s wise to start out working with a wood table with less ornamentation. All those tight corners and crevices can be tricky if you are just learning. So, it’s important to be honest with yourself and your skill level.

In the same vein, you want to choose a wooden table made of solid wood. Avoid working with something made with a veneer overlay, which is thinner and more fragile to work with sanding-wise. But, how can you tell it’s veneer? Since veneer sheets are rotary-sliced from a log, it creates a pattern that repeats across the width of the grain. 

Step Two: Give the Wooden Table a Thorough Cleaning

Prepping the surface is one step many first-time restorers tend to miss. However, while it takes some elbow grease to thoroughly clean off all the dirt, oil, grease, etc., it is worth the effort. Otherwise, you’re simply sanding all that gunk and mess straight into your new, soon-to-be stained surface. For this step, you’ll need a basic all-purpose cleaner and paper towels or rags. 

Step Three: Start the Stripping Process

Take your roughest sandpaper grit (the 60) and begin sanding, working with the grain. This stripping process essentially removes all the old paint and varnish, allowing you to start fresh. If you’re one who appreciates some quiet solitude in the workshop, by all means, sand by hand. However, a mechanical sander will go much faster. Once you’ve stripped the wooden table from tabletop to legs, wipe it down with a tack cloth to remove any remaining dust. 

Thought you were done sanding? Sorry, but no. You’ll need to repeat the same process, only this time using finer 120-grit sandpaper.   

Step Four: Apply Your Finish of Choice

a paintbrush sitting on top of a newly opened can of grey paint

Source: Efetova Anna/Shutterstock.com

In the next step, you will apply a finish. Whether you choose a stain or primer and paint is up to you. When choosing a stain, don’t try to match the existing finish. Keep it simple and choose something you like. Wipe down the table and apply a coat, letting it dry. Once it’s dry, do a pass with your 360-grit sandpaper, wipe down the dust and repeat until you have the depth of color you desire. When painting, you’ll follow the same steps, sanding down the primer before painting.

There’s also a third option: furniture oil. Using a simple oil can enhance the richness of the wood’s color and accentuate the grains. It can also protect the wood past the surface and be reapplied time and again. Oil will not offer the same sheen as a stain or finish. Choose a tung or Danish oil – or even a teak oil – for dense woods to give your wooden table a more natural look. And remember: You can always try furniture oil first, moving on to a stain or paint if it’s not to your liking.

Step Five: Add a Protective Clear Coat

One final step you can take is to add a clear coat. With all your efforts, a clear coat can provide a layer of protection over stains and paints. However, should you choose to use oil to present the wood’s natural beauty, a clear coat is not needed. 

Apply two coats of either polyurethane or polycrylic, sanding between each with the fine-grit 360 sandpaper. 

Now you know exactly how to restore a wooden table. The next time you find a good-looking, period-style or vintage table at the thrift store or estate sale, you’ll know exactly what to do with it. Don’t be intimidated by this easy furniture restoration project. Once you put your stripping, sanding and finishing skills to practice, you’ll be eyeing every wooden table you pass, eager to bring it home. 

 

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