Kenzi Wilbur, AD CLEVER
Actually, no—designers and woodworkers aren’t the only ones who can refinish a table. You can give your trusty-but-a-little-beat-up flea market find a whole new lease on life in just a few steps, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever wielded sandpaper. (And technically, you don’t even need sandpaper if you're planning to paint the surface rather than stain it—here are your options if you’re looking to skip that step.) Once you’ve refinished your table, you can use all of your newfound knowledge on that one rickety dresser you have, on that could-be-really-great side table, on that hand-me-down sideboard. Go to town—here’s how to get it done.
First, shop for a few supplies
All-purpose cleaning spray and a cloth or paper towels
Coarse sandpaper (60-, 120-, and 360-grit)
A block or mechanical sander
A clean, dry tack cloth
Stain (or primer and paint)
Now, Here's How to Refinish a Table
1. Understand what you're working with
Furniture designer Andrew Hamm cautions you to “pay attention to the level of detail on the piece before you start. Superornamental furniture is going to be tedious, so if you've never refinished anything, stay away from pieces with too many hand-carved details, scrollwork, or tight corners.” Solid wood is a better candidate for refinishing than veneer, which tends to be thinner. (And for that matter, don't attempt to refinish laminate either—it’s plastic, people.) If you’re not sure what kind of wood surface you're working with, Hamm recommends looking at the grain pattern: “If it repeats across the width of the grain, it's veneer, because it's been rotary-sliced off a single log to make a sheet.”
2. Clean, clean, clean
The biggest mistake first-timers make with refinishing is not spending enough time prepping the surface. Before you even get to stripping the current finish, thoroughly clean off any dirt, oil, or grease (otherwise, you’ll just be grinding all of that into the wood as you sand). Use your normal cleaning supplies here, like all-purpose cleaner.
3. Strip the first finish
Starting with your roughest sandpaper (60-grit), sand following the grain to get rid of what’s on the table now: varnish, old paint, whatever. You get bonus points for doing this all by hand, sure, but a mechanical sander will make the job go, ahem, much smoother. Now wipe down your table with a tack cloth so it’s free of dust, then go at the surface again, this time with your 120-grit.
4. Apply your color or stain—or better yet, no colour at all
“Once I strip everything off raw wood, I’ll go straight for an oil,” Andrew says. “Furniture oils sink in and protect wood beyond the surface, can be reapplied in the future, and bring out rich colors in the wood without shine.” Try teak oil for denser woods, or tung or Danish oil for all-purpose finishing. If you don’t love the natural color of the wood, find a stain you like, but don’t try to replicate the color of what the piece used to be—and if there's a single damaged section, you'll want to refinish the whole table versus attempting to spot-refinish: “No stain will match the way your grandmother’s walnut table aged in the sun of her dining room for 60 years,” says Andrew. If you’re staining, wipe everything down, do one coat, let it dry, and then do a pass with your finest sandpaper (360-grit) and wipe away any dust. Apply another coat, and another if you see fit—it all depends on the depth of color you’re looking for. (If you’re priming and painting, sand the primer coat as soon as that’s fully dry, and then proceed with painting. But Andrew warns that paint isn’t as durable as an oil, especially for a high-traffic piece of furniture like a dining table.)
If you go the oil route, you were done a step ago. Have a beer! Stainers and painters: Andrew recommends a clear coat to help with longevity—look for polyurethane or polycrylic, both of which require two coats. Sand between coats with your fine-grit paper.
Feature Image: Unsplash