I bought this table used ages ago and it wasn't in great shape then. However, with all the drippy cups and messy dishes that have been set on it over the years, the varnish has been peeling more and more. Pretty much every time I'd clean it would get worse. I decided it was time to fix it up.
This process was super easy and cheap. I had all the materials on hand, so it didn't cost me anything. However, I'm pretty sure you could get all the materials necessary for less than $15.
Step 1: Materials
Old wood furniture
Sandpaper (course and fine grit)
Sanding block (I also recommend an electric sander though it isn't required.)
Wood stain closely resembling the current color of the piece of furniture
Wood sealer or varnish
White acrylic paint
Paint brushes (one small one large)
Small disposable container
Step 2: Sanding
The table I used isn't the highest quality to begin with, so I decided it wasn't worth the time and effort it would take to completely sand the table. Most of the varnish is intact, so my concern was repairing the areas where the varnish was peeling and giving it a bit of an update.
Sand anywhere you want to add the painted detail. I chose to sand the tops completely and a few various places where the varnish was peeling elsewhere.
Tip: The varnish didn't want to come off in the lesser used areas so, I used some pliers to scratch it up and help the sander take it off.
Step 3: Tape and Paint
Tape off your design.
Water down the white paint. How much water you add depends on how subtle you want the design to be. I put about 1 part water to 1 part paint. If you're not sure, use more water than paint and add paint if it isn't as dark as you'd like. You could also just apply the paint directly, but I wanted a more rustic distressed look.
Apply the paint mixture.
Wipe off the excess with a rag.
Step 4: More Sanding
Take the painter's tape off and sand off any bleeding edges.
Here's where you can really make it look rustic. I sanded mine quite a bit here. I sanded the bleeding edges particularly hard, but also sanded it randomly in various areas just to make it look worn.
Step 5: Apply Stain
Apply the stain to any sanded areas with a paintbrush and wipe off the excess with a rag after about 10 minutes.
Step 6: Apply Water Seal
I already had this water seal from when I remodeled my bathroom with plywood, so I decided to use it again. I applied it and then wiped off the excess. It left the table very waterproof but not shiny. I was happy with this, but if you want it more shiny, go with a varnish or lacquer product instead. Regardless of the product you use, apply something water proof to protect the wood.
Step 7: Enjoy
Go ahead! Update that old piece of "well loved" wood furniture. Start loving it all over again.