Introduction: How to Restore Wooden Tables/Furniture

Hi in this instructable I will walk you through the processes and steps involved in restoring a piece of furniture that has seen better days. I will show you how I restored a set of 3 teak occasional/ coffee tables, but this is really more of a guide of how to restore any wooden furniture. The 'ible is by no means exhaustive, however, I will show you what I believe to be the best method/s, but I also try to note alternatives where applicable.

Without further ado....

Step 1: Supplies/tools

What you'll  need:
•Sandpapers- 80 and 100 grit minimum, best to have assorted grits on hand
•Sanding block
•Power sander- could be substituted for the sanding block but I would only recommend using a palm sander/ random orbit sander and be gentle with power sanding (no belt sanders or disc sanders as they could take too much off and do more damage than good)
•Stain if you plan on changing the colour of the piece
•Your chosen finish- French polish, Teak oil, Danish oil, Tung oil, Linseed oil, varnish, Polyurethane, wax, or even... dare I say it, paint.
•Wood Glue or PVA glue
•Rags and Cloths
•Set Square
•Metal rule
•Protective goggles
•Dust mask or respirator
•Latex/ vinyl gloves
•Some old clothes that you don't mind getting very dusty, and maybe a little stained
•Oh, and lots of time...and a large workspace would be useful

Okay, lets get started.

Step 2: Surveying the Damage

First of all you will want to survey the extent of the damage to your table/ piece, for instance; is scratched badly or if the finish is scratched through to the bare wood? Does it have watermarks that has removed or destroyed the existing finish? Are there any stains/oily marks that are ingrained in the wood and cannot be cleaned off with cleaning products? Is the existing finish rubbed or wearing off?

Are the legs and any other attached pieces square, or holding themselves in the position the should be in?

Is the surface true and level?

Have and pieces warped or bowed?

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, then you will probably have to do it more vigorous restoration. However, if the piece is merely a little, faded and lacking lustre all over then it shouldn't take as much work or time to bring it back to its best.

Step 3: Sanding

Remember, safety first, dust mask, goggles, messy clothes etc.. if you get dust in your eye or something you'll wish you hadn't been worried about looking/feeling like a burke!

This step may take a while so get your messy clothes on, grab your sanding block and paper or your power sander, don't forget to use a dust mask as it's going to get very dusty, if power sanding I would also recommend using safety goggles to protect your eyes from the dust. If your piece needs a heavy resto and the original finish, or what's left of it, needs removing, I recommend starting sanding with 80 grit paper to remove the finish more quickly. If your piece is just looking a little dull and with only minor scuffs and faded patches for example, skip to step 6 as you could probably get away with starting with 100 grit or other fine paper just to dull up the surface.

On my tables the tops were a bit scratched and there were a few water marks from drink spillages over the years and looks dull and patchy in places due to the sun fading and bleaching the finish and drying out the wood. So I started sanding my tables with 80 grit sandpaper on a sanding block. There are very few rules whilst sanding in situations like these except always use a sanding block, or at very least an off-cut of wood so you're sanding evenly, and always sand wi the grain of the wood, otherwise you risk scratching the surface further.

This step takes a while, keep sanding until the surface is free from all old varnish/finish and until you've sanded out any scratches. Also, try and sand until the surface looks like one flat colour (unless the colour variation is natural to the wood) as with my tables they had been faded by the sun so were a lot more worn/dull looking in patches and 'bright'er' in those out of the sun. If this is the case spend more time on the brighter areas as it is likely that the sun had broken down the finish on areas in frequent direct sunlight so was easier to sand through on the other areas. Just keep sanding by eye until the whole surface looks nice an uniform and you are through to bare wood all over, this will help the final finish be as uniform and as 'flat' (a term you may hear people say, literally meaning it looks flat, as often finishes can bring out any uneven areas) as possible.

Don't go too mad trying to get it even as wood is natural material so will always be slightly different colours and have different grain patterns, which is one of the reasons why I believe wood is so beautiful when treated properly and looked after to bring the most of out it.

**Please note, many newer tables are not solid wood any more  but are thinly veneered. If you suspect your piece to be veneered, only very very lightly sand it, else you risk sanding through to the base wood!

Step 4: More Sanding: the Legs

Whilst the wooden surfaces is unfinished try to avoid touching it with bare hands as this may leave grease/natural oils from your fingers on the wood which may show up when finished, so either wear nitrile gloves (or equivalent) or rest your hand on a rag or something like that when you need to rest your hand on the wood.

Now for some more sanding. If the legs and other pieces are removable, you may find it easier if you remove them, this allows you to lay them flat and means you won't be applying lateral pressure on the joints while sanding. I won't repeat myself, you should have had plenty of practise at sanding with the grain by now.

Step 5: Running Repairs

Once you have sanded all surfaces to your satisfaction using 80grit paper, now would be a good time to do any woodworking repairs or replace any parts.

If your piece was made using traditional jointing methods such as rebates, dowels, mortise and tenon and glue they may have worked loose over time if your piece is old or has seen a hard life. Some joints, such as table legs are more likely to get wobbly than others, these make the table unsteady so it's best to try and repair them.

If you have any loose joint of this construction simply squeeze some wood glue/ PVA glue as deep into the joint as you can get it, too much glue is better than too little as you can always remove any squeeze out. once glue is applied clamp the joint up checking the angles and levelness using a set square (presuming your legs are vertical, if they are not you'll have to use an adjustable angle square, find the angle from a leg that is OK and compare that to the one you're repairing) and spirit level.

Some tips for repairing tricky joints:
If you can't get the nozzle of the glue bottle into the joint and the glue squeezes all over the outside of the joint, I sometimes use a surgical syringe to squeeze some glue right down into the crack of the joint.

Sometimes clamping joints together when repairing them is difficult because other pieces are in the way or it's quite awkward for some reason, so I sometimes use a car/trailer ratchet down strap to tighten the joint and put clamping pressure evenly around the piece. I usually use scraps of hardboard/wood/corrugated card to protect the wood from the metal ratchet. Alternatively, an old belt/s can be used, or even string if it's something small. Scrap wooden blocks can always be used as tensioners between the piece and belt. I find this a good way of clamping large things or things that aren't uniform shape.

Another tip is to leave any glue squeeze out to go rubbery/tacky, which can take anywhere between 15mins and a couple of hours, depending on the conditions and the amount of glue that has squeezed out, and scrape it off with a sharp chisel rather than wiping it off with a damp cloth as sometimes, only sometimes that leaves a mark where you've wiped the glue into to wood in such a way you could never get it off. However, if you're careful you can still wipe the glue off with a damp cloth if you prefer.

Back to my project. Some of the legs of my tables were loose, but they just needed the bolt tightening up to the mitre bracket. However, I noticed the corners of the wood had split at the top where the bolt had been put into the legs (pictures show it better), although I believe they have been like that since manufacture and it doesn't effect the structural integrity of the tables at all, I'm a bit of a perfectionist so had to fix it even though it won't be seen.

I prised the cracked piece off until it snapped fully off or was hanging on by a splinter, as it is actually easier to repair than trying to get glue down the tiny gap. It seems counter intuitive I know, but the piece will actually go back perfectly, the wood splinters mean it will only fit in one way. Apply some glue and put it back in place, it should locate itself into place, and clamp up using some scrap wood between the wood and clamp faces to keep the splintered piece flush with all planes of the leg and to ensure the clamps can't damage the wood.

Step 6: What? More Sanding?

Yes, unfortunately more sanding. If you started with 80 grit then you need to go over everything again using 100/120 grit abrasive paper to remove the scratches from the 80 grit and to smooth the surface in preparation for finishing. Although it may be tedious don't rush this step as it is just as important as the first sanding; this step ultimately dictates how smooth your finished article will be.

The reason I suggest doing the second sanding after the repairs is just to make sure all surfaces are flat, in case any pieces that were glued back are minutely high, and any small particles of glue get removed. If you've replaced any pieces round the edges off too to remove any chance of splintering. 

Remember to take your time, don't apply too much pressure and sand with the grain.

Step 7: Finishing- Options

If you want to stain your piece, say you have a light wood and want to stain it dark, or if the piece was originally stained and has worn off in places, now is the time to apply the stain to your piece. Follow the instructions on your chosen stain or wood dye, there's loads of information on the web and probably instructables about different types of stain and their advantages and disadvantages so I won't open up that can of worms.

French Polishing
This achieves probably one of the nicest finishes you can achieve on wood but it does take a lot of time and elbow grease. This method involves using shellac, dissolved and diluted in mineral spirits/alcohol, and is traditionally applied using a 'fad' (some people call it a 'rubber', but I believe that means something rather different to you Yanks), which is a wad of cotton screwed into a ball and wrapped with a square piece of cloth, again, usually soft cotton cloth. The shellac solution is applied using the fad and is best applied in a circular motion. As it is applied the shellac sinks into the wood and the spirit evaporates leaving a waxy protection. Since the solution is diluted it takes many coats to achieve a good finish and protection but if done well can give a mirror-like finish. The more coats you do, the better it will look. What I have described is just an outline, for a more comprehensive process see the wikipedia entry

If you don't fancy that, but want to try French polish, although I haven't used it so I cannot vouch for it's effectiveness, you can buy ready mixed, brush-on French Polishes.

The finish achieved by oiling is much dependent on the type of oil you use, so follow the instruction for your oil or follow my instructions in the next step as I chose to oil my tables.

Waxing is also a nice way of finishing a wooden piece, but doesn't necessarily give the best protection for a piece and may require fairly regular re-waxing.
If you are going to use wax I like a clear beeswax as I can use it for everything but you can get tinted/coloured waxes which are good too. I particularly like briwax as it just seems to be really nice to apply.

This is not an exhaustive list are there are many other finishes you could use including varnish, and if the furniture is beyond visual repair, then you could always paint it and give it a new lease of life as 'shabby chic' but I hate to see people doing this to furniture which is still good.

Step 8: Oiling

Since my tables are made of teak, I naturally decided to use teak oil on my tables. I looked at the instructions on the bottle, and I partly followed them and partly ignored them and followed what I've read elsewhere and what I have found to be the best way of applying it. Before you apply any kind of finish you should brush off any dust from the piece and work area as you don't want to compromise the quality of your finish.

Most oils/people will tell you to apply the oil liberally and leave to sink in for 15-20 minutes and then wipe off the excess. From past experience I don't tend to add it too liberally as I find you end up wiping almost all of it back off again in 15 minutes time. As long as you cover it well it will be fine as it soaks in slowly so no more is absorbed if you put lots to begin with.

Often people/products tell you to apply the oil with a soft, lint free cloth or rag but the one I used also said you can apply using a brush which, after having used both, I think is better and much prefer because I think there's more control over how much you put on and you can get a more even layer. Another reason is that when using a rag, the oil soaks into the rag and you'll never be able to use it all, so you use more oil to get the same coverage on the wood. So basically, there is more control and less wastage with a brush.

That's just my personal preference. So, after leaving the oil for 15 minutes I wiped off the excess with a rag and then left it a further 12 hours to dry fully before being ready for another coat.

Tip: If you're oiling a flat piece like a tabletop or similar it's good to raise it off the surface with something, I used an upturned tray and then you can get to the sides more easily and oil underneath the edge if necessary.

Step 9: Just Keep Oiling!

If you are only doing light maintenance, 1 coat should be sufficient. Although that is probably all my tables needed, I decided to go all out and do the heavy on my tables by taking them back to the bare wood, so I did 3 coats. 3/4 coats should be about right for bare wood, 1 or 2 for lighter work. Use your judgement after each coat, but I would not recommend more than 4 coats as over oiling can cause the wood to rot.

If re-coating is required, wait until the previous coat is fully dry and give the surface a very light sanding with 100 grit or preferably a bit higher, 120 should be fine. I used 400 grit wet and dry (without water) at one point, as well as a 100 grit piece that had been well used so was probably more like 120 grit.

If you can use a fresh piece of sandpaper as you don't want to be putting all the wood dust from earlier back over the piece and thoroughly wipe/ brush off any wood dust and particles off the piece and clean  the work area as you do not want any dust getting on/in your next coat of oil as it could totally spoil the finish of the tables.

Step 10: Finishing Up...

At this point I carefully reattached the legs to my tables and buffed in a coat of clear furniture wax just to prolong the life a bit. It would be a good idea to polish/ wax your newly restored furniture every couple of of months or so and possibly a coat of oil every year or two or when it looks like its losing it's lustre. Hopefully, if you take care of it, then it will never get into a state of disrepair again so you will never have to do this whole process again, just light maintenance.

I hope you found this instructable informative and helpful, and have fun with your projects. If you found this helpful I would be very grateful of anyone that voted for this instructable in the Cabot Woodcare contest.

I am in the process of restoring a wooden bowl and may try brush on French Polish on it so when i buy some and try it I'll post a photo instructable or something.

Thanks for reading, I hope you feel compelled to save some lovely old wooden furniture from the scrapheap, or to just give a new lease of life to ones you may have neglected to look after properly...the finished item is enough of a reward I can assure you!

I welcome any comments, constructive criticisms and if you undertake any projects like I have shown I would love to see the results.

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