Introduction: Painting and Staining a Coffee Table

So a while back I thought it might be fun to refinish my coffee table. I mentioned the idea to a friend one night and before I knew it we had sand paper and were sanding the top of my coffee table off. Now that I have finished the project I figured I should share it. Most of this project was completed through trial and error and took much longer than it should have.

This is a simple guide on how to paint and stain a coffee table or really any other piece of furniture. Before the table had an ebony stain and a whole lot of scuff marks. With a little help from my friends there is now a large skull with wings in the center and a border with flowers, vines, and fairies. I only refinished the top of the table. I had a lot of help from friends and it was a really fun project.

Overall, this was a low cost project for me, but I did already have the coffee table and some of the other supplies. Everything else I got at my local hardware store, and I ended up spending roughly $30.

1 coffee table
clear gloss
foam applicator
sand paper (medium grit 100 and extra fine grit 220)
electric sander
paint brushes
acrylic paint
vacuum cleaner
pencil (3B)
tracing paper
digital camera

Step 1: Sand the Table

I started with the medium grit sand paper. Initially two friends and I hand sanded the table top. I would not recommend this. If you have an electric sander, use it. We managed to sand the table in one night, but it took approximately 2 1/2 hours. I live in a condo so I didn't have the luxury of doing this in an open area, so I used the vacuum to clean up dust and wear a mask if you are sanding off old finish or varnish. Make sure and sand down the entire table top, don't leave old finish.

Step 2: Sketch the Image

After sanding the table, I drew an initial sketch of the skull. A friend drew the flowers in the corner of the table. She freehanded a flower pattern in each of the four corners. I sketched the skull in pencil, working from a business card of a local tattoo artist keet. The sketch changed as I worked on it over the next several days, as did the corners of the table with the flowers. I added wings to the skull, which progressed over the course of the project. Initially, I freehanded the wings, but in order to make them symmetrical I ended up tracing the right wing and transferring it to the left side later during the project. At the corners of the table the flowers remained, but I added the border of vines and later the fairies were added by another friend.

Step 3: Paint the Skull

I begin by painting the skull in stages. First, I painted most of the skull white and allowed that to dry. With acrylic paint I generally wait about 15 minutes for the paint to dry. (Drying times vary with the amount of paint and the amount of humidity in the air, so make sure its dry before you paint again). Next, I added the black. After the black, I added an ivory color for highlights. Finally, I touched up the painting with a little further white and black. The wings were also painted in stages. The right wing came along nicely. I painted it yellow, with a different shade of yellow for the border. Then my sister painted two more coats to give the color a more consistent look.

The left wing was originally painted by a friend of mine, but because its shape was actually quite different than the right wing I sanded it off. After sanding the wing off, I traced the left wing and transferred it to the right side.

To transfer the wing, I traced the right wing with a large sheet of tracing paper using a soft drawing pencil (3B). Then I flipped the paper over (so that the tracing is face down on the table) and positioned it next to the skull. I taped the paper down and then scribbled over the tracing. This transfers the soft graphite from the paper onto the table. After transferring the wing I painted it to match the right one.

Step 4: Paint the Flowers, Vines, and Fairies

The flowers were a freehand sketch on the table in pencil. They were then painted pink and purple. I alternated the colors between corners of the table. The vines were also a freehand sketch and then painted a light turquoise and later light teal to add details. The fairies were the most complicated part.

The four fairies were drawn out on a sheet of computer paper by a friend. I wanted to preserve the style she had used to draw them, so I transferred them onto the table in the same manner that I used for the wing earlier. First though I needed to make the fairies smaller. As my friend had drawn them they were just slightly too big. I took pictures of the fairies using a digital camera and changed their image size using the gimp (great free photoshop alternative). Once I had the images the size I wanted, I printed them out, cut them out and then transferred them to the table. Once the fairies were transferred, I painted their bodies a manganese blue and their wings a magenta. I used a dark blue for the details.

Step 5: Stain the Table

I stained all the unpainted portions of the table with an ebony stain. Stain in a well-ventilated area and be sure to wear some sort of mask to keep from inhaling too many fumes. Remember not to leave excess stain on the table. Wipe it down with a rag once you have applied the coat. I ended up applying 4 coats of stain to get a dark even coat. I also recommend doing this in a relatively clean environment. This helps to keep any sort of dust and debris from sticking to the table while it dries. I had to stain my table outside and dirt in the air kept getting on the table.

Step 6: Touch Up the Painted Image

After applying the stain I needed to touch up the painting. A little bit of the stain had bleed into the painted areas. Basically, I ended up repainting the fairies, flowers and vines. This actually really improved the look of the table. Additionally, the purple in the flowers was quite dark and blended in with the stain on the table. In order to make the purple parts of the flower pop out from the table more I outlined them with a lighter purple.

Step 7: Add a Clear Gloss.

This step is extremely important because I painted the table. A stained table doesn't necessarily need a gloss, unless you want a shiny finish, but because I painted the skull and border I needed something to protect them. The clear gloss protects the painting. I applied two coats of a water-based clear gloss using a foam applicator.  Specifically I used Minwax Polycrylic.  I applied the gloss right before I went to sleep at night so that it would be dry in the morning.  Don't forget to do this in a well ventilated area and wear a mask.  At a minimum the gloss should be allowed to dry for 3-4 hours depending on the humidity in the air. After the second coat I used the fine grit sand paper to lightly sand the gloss and make sure that it was a level coat. Finally, I added a third coat, let it dry overnight, and now I have a newly painted table.

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