DIY: Dining Room Table Refinish

The table before it was refinished.
The table before it was refinished.

So, this dining room table refinishing project has been years in the making. And by that I mean, it’s been needing to be refinished for years. Poor table. Our family was totally abusing it. The protective finish wore off a few years ago, and stains were settling into the bare wood grain. With lots of messy baby feeding days looming in the not-so-distant future, I finally tackled it this summer.

I’ve painted lots of furniture in the past, but this was my first time refinishing and staining a piece. I’ve been known to bite off way more than I can chew, so I spent lots of time researching exactly what stain and finish I wanted and studying the steps carefully. I learned a lot, and I’m proud of my results. I’ll share my process with you.

The left hand side has been cleaned with the vinegar solution, the right has not. There was such a build-up of oils and newsprint ink.
The left hand side has been cleaned with the vinegar solution, the right has not. There was such a build-up of oils and newsprint ink.

First I cleaned the table with a water and vinegar solution, so as to remove any stuck on goo and help neutralize any grease or oils.  I used about a half cup of white vinegar to a half gallon of warm water. The wood grain was already starting to open at this point, so I didn’t want to completely saturate the table, and used a light touch with the solution.

Next I started sanding. I would recommend using a small belt or power sander, but my workshop is in the basement just underneath my daughter’s nursery. She’s usually asleep when I am working on projects, so a loud sander wasn’t an option for me. Whether you use a palm sander or do it manually, cover up anything nearby that you don’t want to get dusty. Wear safety goggles and some type of protective face mask. If your table still has a good layer of old varnish on it, you’ll probably want to strip it before sanding.

The table after a few sandings.
The table after a few sandings.

With sandpaper, the lower numbers have a coarser grit and as the numbers get higher, the finer the granules are. This table is a soft wood, perhaps fir, so I didn’t want to bite into the wood too deeply with a super coarse sandpaper. I started with 100, stepped up to 150, and then finished with 220, so that the surface was a smooth as possible. Be sure to sand with the grain of the wood, so as not to scratch or damage it.

In between sanding stages, I removed the saw dust with a tack cloth. Be sure to do a very thorough job of it after the final sanding. You don’t want the dust to mar your stain and top coat.

Fill any cracks or holes with a stain-able, sand-able wood filler. Use a plastic spackling knife and follow the directions on the tube. I used Elmer’s Carpenter’s Wood Filler MAX.

An optional next step would have been to apply a wood conditioning product, which helps the stain soak into the wood grain more evenly. In retrospect, I should have done this step, but chose to skip it in the interest of time.

The products I used for my refinishing project.
The products I used for my refinishing project.

I wanted my table to end up with a slightly white-washed look. I chose Minwax Wood Finish in Pickled Oak. (FYI, don’t bother looking for this color at Home Depot, just stop by Ace Hardware in Bremerton.) I applied the stain, going with the wood grain, with a synthetic brush and let the first coat sit for 15 minutes for maximum absorption. I removed any excess stain with a soft, dry rag. After letting it dry for five hours, I repeated this process one more time. Make sure to have proper ventilation in your work space for this step.

The first application of stain, settling into the wood, before being wiped off.
The first application of stain, settling into the wood, before being wiped off.

For my top coat, I used Minwax Water Based Polycrylic, in a satin finish, for low odor during application and easy clean-up. Wait 24 hours after applying your last coat of stain before  you layer on the top coat. Apply a thin, even coat with a synthetic brush. Don’t over brush. Let it dry for two hours, and lightly sand with a 220 grit sandpaper. Remove all dust. Repeat this process, as many times as you see fit. Since this is our main dining table, and I wanted to ensure extra protection, I did five coats.

The after. The table is stained and sealed, so it can't be damaged by our normal wear and tear.
The after. The table is stained and sealed, so it can’t be damaged by our normal wear and tear.

I’ll admit that this project was very time consuming, and took me the better part of a week, because I needed to care for my children and run a household in between steps. That said, I am so glad I did it, and am very happy with the way it turned out. Our table is now ready to withstand our daily wear and tear for quite a few more years. Next up- refinishing the dining bench to match!

The table looks great now. I'll tell you the tale of the white painted chairs another day...
The table looks great now. I’ll tell you the tale of the white painted chairs another day…
The bench is next!
The bench is next!

If it’s time to refinish your dining table, you might just be able to squeeze it in before you host Thanksgiving!

6 thoughts on “DIY: Dining Room Table Refinish

  1. The old family dining table looks fabulous, thanks to your research and hard work! Congratulations. I know it will serve you well for many years to come as your children grow up. I look forward to joining you again for wonderful meals, conversation and celebration!

  2. Lovely job, Betsy! I especially appreciated the vinegar solution step. I need to redo our oak floor that also has some damage like your table. Very helpful–thanks for sharing!

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