Refinishing an Old Wooden Table




Introduction: Refinishing an Old Wooden Table

This step-by-step process provides the information necessary to refinish an old wooden table. Buying new furniture can be an expensive ordeal, and as a university student who lives off of Twizzlers and ramen, I can’t afford these high-end furniture pieces. When I found this beat-up, but solid coffee table at Goodwill for $8.00 I wanted to bring this water damaged and blemished wood back to its former glory. Whether you’re looking to find a cost-effective alternative, or looking for a new DIY project, the process of refinishing a wooden furniture piece introduces some basic woodworking techniques and ultimately teaches a useful skill.

List of Materials and Equipment

In order to effectively refurnish your table, the following supplies are needed.

Electric sander

220-grit sandpaper (fine)

150-grit sandpaper (medium coarseness)

120-grit sandpaper (medium coarseness)

80-grit sandpaper (coarsest)

Wood stain


Paint brushes

Paper or plastic tarp


Safety glasses or goggles

Face mask


Paint thinner (optional)

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Step 1: Prepare Your Work Area

Wood working is not an indoor activity, especially when you live in a 2-bedroom apartment.

  1. In an outside, flat area, lay down enough tarp so there’s a 2-foot cautionary border surrounding the perimeter of the table.
  2. Before you start the sanding process, change into old worn-out clothes. Wood stain and polyurethane are both potent and difficult to remove from fabrics and hard surfaces.

Step 2: Sand the Entire Table

Sand entire table With the Coarsest (80) Grit Paper, then sand with the medium coarse paper (120 and 150), and then sand with the finest paper (220).

  1. Attach the coarsest (80) grit paper to your electric sander. On my sander, the paper sticks to the rotating surface by use of Velcro. Depending on what sander you have, this attachment method may differ.
  2. Before you commence sanding, make certain you are wearing your safety goggles, face mask, and gloves.
  3. Begin to press the sander up against the table.
  4. Sand in the direction of the grain of wood. Not doing so will scratch the surface, which may only be apparent until after the finish is applied.
  5. Sand with the 120-grit and 150-grit medium coarse paper. I preferred switching between 120-grit and 150-grit, as in I sanded with the 120, switched to 150, then switched back to 120, and then back 150. I would also suggest sanding by hand with the medium coarse paper if your furniture piece has small crevasses that are hard to reach.
  6. Next, sand with the finest 220-grit sandpaper by hand.

Step 3: Apply the Stain to the Table

After the sanding process is completed it’s important to apply the stain shortly after. All that sanding makes the wood very dry and “thirsty” for stain.

  1. Wipe down the table with a damp cheesecloth to clear away as much sawdust as possible.
  2. Mix the stain.
  3. Generously dip your brush into stain and then begin to brush the color on in the direction of the grain of the wood.
  4. Completely cover the table with a heavy layer of stain and let sit for 5 minutes. If you would like a deeper and darker color, you can let the stain sit for up to 15 minutes.
  5. Using a new cheesecloth, even out any blotches in the stain.
  6. Allow the stain to dry overnight. This waiting time depends on the wood stain brand; for Min-Wax stain, it is suggested to wait two hours, however, I ended up needing to wait 36 hours for the stain to fully dry.

Step 4: Apply an Optional Second Coat of Stain.

If you are content with the color of the table after one coat of stain, skip this step. However, if you desire an even darker color, do the following:

  1. Prepare your electric sander with the 220-grit sandpaper and gently sand over the first layer of stain. This is done so the second coat of stain will settle more evenly into the table; sanding will also prevent the brush strokes from looking streaky.
  2. Once again, allow appropriate waiting time to let stain dry.

Since I liked my color finish, I skipped this step.

Step 5: Apply Polyurethane to Protect the Stain

Polyurethane seals in the stain and protects the wood so it’s important to correctly apply the coat uniformly and abundantly.

  1. Slowly stir the polyurethane in an eight-shaped pattern. This pattern prevents air bubbles from forming.
  2. To apply polyurethane properly, soak your oil-painting brush so that the polyurethane covers two-thirds of the bristle length.
  3. Then apply long and even strokes. The key to perfecting a coat of polyurethane is to not over brush after you’ve applied the finish.
  4. Let dry for 24 hours in a well-ventilated area.
  5. Apply a second and third coat to insure that the stain is sealed.
  6. To clean your brushes, let them soak in a mixture of paint thinner, dish soap, and water for 20 minutes and then rise them off.

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    2 Discussions

    DIY Hacks and How Tos

    Awesome restoration job. I have been meaning to do with with my coffee table but I haven't had time yet. At least now, I have a good tutorial to follow. Thanks.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you!