Dining tables are almost always the heart of a home where people come together and connect with one other. But if your table is looking a little worse for wear, you might not feel so great about inviting people to share a meal at it.
Whether you’ve got an extendable timber dining table, an antique heirloom or a bargain you grabbed second hand, refinishing your table can transform the way it looks. And the good news is, it’s not too tricky to do. Follow the steps below to refinish your table top and fall in love with it again!
Decisions to make before you start
What type of table do you have?
Identifying what your table is made from and whether or not it has been stained can help you decide the best way to finish it.
- Solid wood – solid wood tables will have growth rings and a grain which wraps naturally around the sides and edges of the table. Solid wood is the easiest to refinish. If the wood is stained, beware that underneath a different colour may emerge.
- Composite or faux wood – manufactured wood will not have the growth rings. Sometimes there may be a veneer on top which is a thin layer of real wood on top of the composite or particleboard. Veneers are much harder to refinish than solid wood as the layer is so thin.
- Laminate – much like the veneer tables, laminate tables have a thin layer on top. However, instead of being made from wood, the laminate layer is made from plastics. These types of tables are not appropriate for refinishing.
What type of finish do you need?
A finish is the layer you put on the wood furniture to protect the surface of the wood. Without the proper finish, or if the finish is damaged, your wood may expand out of shape when exposed to too much moisture or shrink and crack if it dries out.
There are many different finishes available. They can fall into two categories:
- Penetrating finishes – this type of finish will soak into the wood, leaving a more natural look and protecting the wood from the inside. Examples include linseed oil, Danish oils and tung oil.
- Surface finishes – these stay on the surface of the wood and are often more durable, but they don’t look as natural. Examples include shellac and varnish.
What safety precautions should you take?
You should do steps 2 to 4 in a well ventilated area such as outside, in a carport or garage with the doors open. It is also recommended to wear a dust mask, safety glasses and gloves.
Step 1. Gather your tools and equipment
For a simple table, the equipment needed for refinishing is not expensive and should be easy to find in any major hardware store. You will need:
For general cleaning purposes:
- General cleaning spray
- Cleaning cloth
- Clean rags
If you are using a stripper:
- Stripper (preferably environmentally friendly)
- Paint scraper
For sanding the table:
- 3 x sandpaper at different coarseness (e.g. 60 grit, 100 grit and 150 grit)
- A sanding block or mechanical sander
- Stain (optional)
- Primer and paint (optional)
- Varnish or finishing oil
- Brush or cloth for application
Step 2. Clean the surface
It’s important to thoroughly clean the surface of the table, including the legs, to ensure dirt and grime won’t get trapped when you refinish it. Use a general purpose cleaning spray and a damp, clean cloth. You may need to go over it a few times.
Step 3. Strip and sand the surface
You now have to decide how you are going to remove the existing finish, and how deep you want to go. Your two options are essentially: sanding or applying a stripper and then sanding.
Using a stripper
Using a paint brush, apply the stripper across the table according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It will usually be quite a thick application. Then cover the table in plastic wrap and leave for 24-36 hours.
By this time, the varnish will have separated from the wood and you can use a paint scraper to remove the finish. If parts of the varnish still remain, you may need to repeat the process. Once all the varnish has been removed, sand the table down until it is smooth.
Sanding can be done by hand (sandpaper around a sanding block) or using an electrical sander. For both methods, start with a fairly coarse sandpaper across the entire table. Then repeat the process with a finer sandpaper until the surface is smooth to touch. Use clean rags to clean the dust off the surface. You can also wipe the surface with mineral turps to remove any fine dust that remains.
Step 4. Apply the appropriate finish
Follow the steps below for the type of finish you are applying.
Stains should be applied with a brush or clean rag evenly in the same direction as the grain of wood. Any excess should be wiped off. If you want a darker result, leave the stain longer before wiping off. You can apply more layers until you achieve the look you want. After staining, you will need to apply a protective finish as well.
Apply varnish with a brush in the same direction as the grain. Smooth out any lumps as you go and then let the varnish dry completely. Once dry, apply a second coat.
If you want to paint the table, make sure you apply a primer coat first and wait until it dries before applying your coloured paint to the surface. When the paint is dry, you will need to apply a varnish as well to protect the table’s surface.
Apply oil to the clean surface with a brush or clean rag. Follow the grain of the wood and aim for a consistent and smooth finish. You may need to use quite a lot of oil. Keep going until the wood stops absorbing it and use some force to rub it in. The oil will enhance the natural colour of the wood as well as protecting it from moisture.
Step 5. Fall in love with your table again
Now that you have transformed the look of your table, you can make the most of it! No more annoying scratches, stickiness or flakey bits of varnish. You’ve got a table you’ll be proud to have at the heart of your home.
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