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Refinishing a Dining Table

This is a lengthy post...with a lot of pictures...but if you like happy endings, then read on my friend, read on ๐Ÿ˜‰

refinish table top

Awhile ago I wrote a post called Conquering My Fears of Refinishing Furniture. It was the story of my first experience with refinishing a piece and I'm so happy that my 'test flight' was on that dressing table and not this dining table! If it had been, I might have given up in disgust and never tried again.

This was a big project. My dining table has 3 leaves and I wanted to refinish all of them so when we had a large group over for dinner and I had to put all three leaves to use, the table would still look good. The good news is that I'd already painted the table apron and legs black.

The bad news...
Normally when I take on projects of this magnitude, I have some form of muscle at my disposal. Unfortunately, the bodies that house the muscle (my three guys) were on a youth trip to FL. So it was just Little Diy and I...meaning I was on my own!

If you've seen me in person, you know I'm not a big girl. And I'm not skinny 'cause I love to exercise! Manhandling this table on my own was not going to happen. Since taking it outside wasn't an option, that meant that all the work got done right in place.

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Supply List for Refinishing a Table top 



I thought this would be a straightforward project...and for most of you refinishing the average table top it will be. Unfortunately, things don't always go according to plan. 

This was a frustrating project and there were times I didn't know if I should keep going, throw in the towel and just paint the darn thing...or walk away and not look back.

Problem is...when you're working on a project of this size, it kind of eats into your living space. Hard to walk away from it. It's in your face! We'd been eating off our laps for about a week.

End result? I am happy to say that I think I'm finally loving it...but it was a long, messy, smelly process.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we...

The table needed to be redone because it was missing poly on all but its leaves so when we'd put anything hot or wet on it, we'd be left with white marks that didn't go away. There were numerous scratches on the surface. Plus, the color of the pecan was lighter than what I envisioned for this table.

Here are some pictures to show you what state it was in.

the before

This is not a family heirloom that has been in our family for decades. We've only owned this set since we moved to TN less than 2 years ago. It had been neglected by the previous owners but it's a gorgeous set and just needed a little love to get it back into tiptop shape. I was hoping I was the one to restore it.

So the stripping began. Not me, the table top! 

It was smelly even with the huge fan and windows open. I went through the whole can of Furniture Refinisher and had to go back to Lowes for more. I used that one up as well. 

The thing I noticed about this stuff was that the table still seemed tacky and blotchy, not what I was expecting. You can see here the difference it made though. It definitely was getting the finish off, but it was leaving a lot of residue behind. Smearing is how I would describe it.

stripping stain

Because the table was so tacky (almost sticky), I knew I wasn't ready to move on yet. I decided to sand it.

In my kitchen. 

My sandpaper kept gumming up from the residue that was still on the table and it was making a gummy hard mess on the table. What to do???

I remember I had a bottle of low-odor Mineral Spirits so I grabbed a cloth and rubbed that over the table top and it did a great job removing all the yuck. Sadly I ruined 2 of my electric sanding pads before I figured out what was going on.

Moving on...I ran my palm sander over the entire table top. Now, I'll be honest...I did hesitate - slightly - before doing this. Remember, I was in my kitchen! 

But I was too far into this project to turn back now. In hindsight, I really should have covered a few things (like my countertops and chairs) with sheets or something because I made quite a mess of my kitchen. 

A mess that involved a lot of dusting, which just happens to be my least favorite job in the whole world.

Here is the table once it was sanded.

sanding table top

I thought I did a great job and that it looked really good. Looking at this picture now however, I can see some of the darker patches where I should have sanded it further.

I believe this is what led to some of the complications I had with the staining process because all the dark patches are just going to get more pronounced. Sheesh, the things I wish I'd known. That is why I'm sharing my trials with you, so you can learn from my mistakes!

So after hand-sanding the edges and wiping the whole thing down really well with a tack cloth, I was eager and excited to get my stain on.

I first applied a coat of Minwax Wood Conditioner which is supposed to help to eliminate the blotchiness that can sometimes happen. 

The natural color of the pecan shows through and you can see that it has quite an orange/red tint to it. I wanted to go dark...not black, not red, but dark brown.

wood conditioner prestain

I had a can of Minwax Early American Wood Stain that I thought would be the perfect shade of not too dark, not too red, you know...just right.

Here's the first coat of stain...I tried everything out first on one of the leaves to make sure I'd like it before moving on. I like the color but...

staining a table

Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Weird variations in the wood, wavy lines, light and dark shading?

Maybe deeper sanding would have helped to eliminate this and maybe not, I'll never know now. I let the stain dry before applying a second coat.

staining a table

It looked a lot better but still much too red for my taste. And what's up with all the color variations? 

Like I said, I've only ever refinished one wood surface before, my entry table makeover, and I didn't run into any problems like this with it. I tried Googling it, but couldn't find any answers. Everything said the wood conditioner would prevent this from happening, and clearly in my case, it didn't.

I also had some high humidity kick in which meant my stain was not drying in the time it said it should. I basically decided to just give it 2 or 3 days to dry further and hope it wouldn't be tacky before I moved on in the process. 

And that's when all the muscle returned home ๐Ÿ˜‰

I had one more trick up my sleeve to alter the color. I had about 1/3 of a mini can of Minwax Walnut Gel Stain leftover from another project. 

After checking to make sure my table was thoroughly dry, I applied the Gel Stain with a rag, and wiped it off. It's really hard to do it uniformly on such a big surface because I'm not tall enough to reach across the table to the other side, I had to walk around. I was trying to avoid marks in the middle of the table where the stain stopped and started. 

But I really liked the look with the darker stain. This was what I was trying to achieve all along!

The gel stain adds a richness to the overall look and the table looks more like an antique. So I continued with the entire table (and said a little prayer that I'd have enough stain and...I had just enough to finish!).

gel stain

refinishing a table top

I let it dry for about 3 full days before applying my poly. I didn't want to rush it; I wanted to get this part right. And like I said it was very humid outside so that's why it took extra long to dry. Imagine how long it would have taken if I'd done this outside...I might still be waiting!

I used Minwax Wipe On Poly that promises 'hand rubbed beauty with polyurethane protection'. It's so easy to apply, you just rub it in with a cloth, lightly sanding between coats. I applied 3 coats because it is a table top and I wanted the extra protection. It has a very light sheen, slightly more than I would get from wax. Not the heavy glossy shine from most polys. A pint was more than enough for my huge table and I still have a lot left for touch-ups. It's a great alternative to wax!

Although my tabletop didn't turn out quite the way I envisioned, it is definitely an improvement. 

Any refinishing experts out there, I would love to know how I could have avoided the blotchy variations in color. Is it just the type of wood of my table? Or is there something I should have done differently, like sanding further?

Now that I've taken two of the leaves out, as we'll keep it for our everyday use, and put a handmade burlap table runner on top that matches my recovered chairs, it looks fabulous!

refinishing a table

refinished table top


refinishing a dining table

I'm really glad I didn't have to resort to painting my table because I just love the richness that wood adds to a room, and I love a painted bottom and wood top.

I hope my story will be valuable for any of you who are either considering a refinishing project or too intimidated to just get started on one. It is a big job, yes, but it can be broken down into very do-able steps. It is so rewarding once it is complete!

Do your homework first and hopefully you'll be able to avoid some of the complications I had to deal with!

Here's one more look back:

how to refinish a dining table
If you are considering refinishing your dining table, my advice is to go for it. Do your research along the way (is your table top wood or veneer? if  wood, what kind?  will you need to sand the top...if you have a lot of gouges...or can you simply strip it and change the color?)

Make sure you have all the tools and products you'll need before getting started. Nothing is worse than having to stop what you're doing to run out and buy more supplies (believe me, I know from experience). On that note, when buying supplies, it's better to get more (the quart of stain rather than the pint). You'll usually save on a bigger quantity anyway, and that way you'll know for sure you have enough.

I'd love to know if my story inspired you to tackle a similar project...and I'd love to see your results!

If I can be of help in any way, feel free to contact me. I'm no expert, I'm learning just like you, but I'd love to help you if I can!


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56 comments:

  1. I love happy endings! Thank goodness you and the table survived.

    All your hard work paid off because the tabletop looks fabulous! I need to redo our kitchen table but now I'm scared. ;)

    {big hugs}
    ~ Ashley

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  2. In the end, it turned out great! I am no expert either but my guess is that you needed to sand a little deeper.

    Mary @ Orphans With Makeup

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    1. Thanks Mary, that's what I think too. Luckily the darker stain helped the "blotchiness" blend in and it looks great now...just took a little experimenting :)

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  3. love that you were willing to tackle refinishing. so much better to see a little wood in the house. your home is lovely.

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    1. Thanks so much...it was a lot of work, but I agree (I love the wood) and hopefully it won't need to be redone again for a LONG time ;)
      p.s. love your hydrangeas; we used to grow them when we lived in OR and I remember the color is dependent on the pH of your soil; hydrangeas like to grow in a more acidic soil (you could try adding some Garden Lime or something like that).

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  4. I can totally sympathize with the amount of work this is! I refinished my own dining room table not long ago. http://anurseandanerd.blogspot.com/2014/06/refinishing-my-dining-room-table.html

    But I think yours turned out beautifully! Looking at it, I would have never guessed you struggled to get there. Great job!!

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    1. Yes it is a beast of a job! I'm so glad the actual painting was already behind me! Thank you for visiting and commenting :)
      Cindy
      p.s. I love your table, the green base is perfect with the farmhouse style! We used to have a farm table and I'm kicking myself for selling it!!

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  5. It looks great! I'm keen to sand my dining table top and refinish it as well. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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    1. You're so welcome Melanie. It is a big job but so rewarding once it's complete ;)
      Best of luck with yours,

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  6. This looks similar to what I did about 2 years ago. Only mine now needs done again, because kids writing hard without anything under paper. The latest was my daughter doing her nails and dribble nail polish remover on the top?? I will have to look into that hand rubbed poly finish though. Your table turned out just gorgeous.

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    1. Thanks so much Chrissy!!! I think the finish you use will make all the difference, although nail polish remover destroys everything! It is a huge job and one that I hope I don't have to do again! Thanks so much for stopping by ;)

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  7. This turned out great!!! I am considering refinishing my table top also, this was very helpful. I am definitely painting the bottom now no way am I going through all that with the whole thing! Plus I love the look of the wood top and painted bottom. :) I am in the humidity zone (yuck) also so this was a great reminder humidity will play a part and to plan for that.

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad it was helpful! It's a big job, just take it step by step and don't rush it. Good luck ;) Btw, your Mad Hatter Tea Party post was delightful!

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  8. The table looks absolutely stunning! Great job!

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  9. That's absolutely gorgeous and I just love your table runner!! :)

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  10. The table is beautiful.... and the whole set together in the dining room looks wonderful! :)

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  11. Cindy...you should be very proud of your table. It looks beautiful. You may know about the imperfections...but no one else will know. I love the look of your table runner, too. What a lovely dining room you now have. :)
    Thanks so much for sharing your makeover with us at Project Inspire{d}!

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    1. Thanks so much Diane! I am hugely relieved that it looks as good as it does...there was a time when I wasn't sure. Appreciate your visit :)

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  12. Looks so pretty! I love how it turned out. You definitely worked hard and should be proud!
    Thanks (from me too!) for linking up to Project Inspire{d}! Will be featuring your awesome makeover this Monday.

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  13. Cindy, what an amazing transformation! You did a wonderful job. Love it! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

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  14. Beautiful! I'm looking to refinish a dining set I just purchased, so this blog will be a ton of help! Which paint brand/color did you use on the table legs and chairs?

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    1. I actually made my own chalk paint using the recipe found here and black paint http://www.diybeautify.com/2015/07/chalk-paint-user-experience-brand-reviews.html

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  15. Hi there, your table is beautiful. I have one that I have been working on for over a year. Slow process and room needed to work....but will finish this month!! Love the stain you used. I love your cute rug. Decor steals???? I've seen it there a few times. You can eliminate white rings, water marks and heat marks by using place mats and/or a tablecloth. I always use those on wood tables just to protect the top.

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  16. We are in the process of refinishing our table currently. Thanks for taking the time to post your project. **Question: where is that cool floor covering under the finished table from? Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Kimberly, good luck on your table! The bamboo mat is from Decor Steals...not sure if they still carry it but you can sign up to watch their sales so you're notified! Here's the link http://bit.ly/1JnIrxk

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  17. I am in the process of refinishing my table at the moment and found your post while in between coats. There is a product I found called Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner. It is supposed to curb all blotchiness. Fingers crossed that it is actually working on my old Ethan Allen. I love your whole dining room-you have done an awesome job! The dramatic white in a black hutch and the white in the turquoise backed shelf are adorable. And like the other commentator-love the bamboo stenciled mat.

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    1. Thank you 'Unknown', I hope you see this reply! The Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner is the product I used on my table. The trick is to make sure that you sand all the old finish, gouges, and even blotchiness from your wood before applying. I've used it on other projects and it does work beautifully!

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  18. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE! this is my next project! i used the weathered gray on the table in my eating area and every day it makes me happy! i am DYING to sand my farmhouse table because it IS the orangey color...and shiny! Yuck! did you palm sander not make a ton of dust inside the house? it looks so great!

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  19. Thank you Rosa, yes there was a lot of dust in the kitchen (the dust bag on my sander did catch some of it), but I would definitely recommend sanding outside, lol! Sometimes there's just no stopping me :)

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  20. What a great happy ending!Your project is so attractive and helpful for anyone.

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    1. Yes, I love happy endings and was so relieved that the process turned out! Thanks so much!

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  21. I recently purchased an Ethan Allen Dining Set. The Table top got damaged in shipping from the consignment shop. Husband said it was all his fault for not checking the pedestal before placing it upside down on the table top. The boy helping us, left 4 bolts in the pedestal and there was numerous scratches, but I have seen worse. I agree, you should redo all of the pieces, but it is a real chore, we are talking more than 8 hours of stripping and sanding. I am trying to match the finish with the leaf. I followed all of the instructions on the can and website on applying the Minwax Polyshade to a T. I got the color I wanted, after numerous attempts, (apply, strip, and reapply). It only took one coat. I then applied the polyurethane to finish the job, and the Polyshade pulled off with the swipe of the brush. After speaking to Minwax representative, we are thinking there is a coat of some type of wax on the wood before they apply the finish. I am waiting for Ethan Allens to call me back to give me the low down on what is used to finish these tables.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear about your table top problems. I hope you get it resolved without too much additional work!

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  22. I have this very same table. am considering refinishing it. thanks for all the tips. have done lots of refinishing in my day but just older now and trying to get up the energy to do it. JUST DO IT. my chairs have more cane on them . I like the look of yours. how did you prepare them for the paint. or whatever you put on them.? awesome job. thanks

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    1. Connie, I understand how much work it is, believe me! Maybe you can stretch it out over several days or even weeks. I used chalk paint on the chairs and table legs...a wonderful product that requires no prep, no sanding...just cleaning first! I wrote a post about why I love chalk paint so much...if you're interested, you can read it here http://www.diybeautify.com/2014/03/chalkpaint101andchalkpaintcompanies.html

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  23. I am about to embark on refinishing my dining rm table. It is a large table with 5 leaves. Got a amazing buy on it, but is in need of TLC. Thank you for your post.It provides me with encouragement!

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    1. You can do it Susan! Just take your time and know it probably won't be done in a day ;)

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  24. great and helpful post.i am looking for a post of refinishing a dinning table as like it.so,i learn many tips of refinishing a dinning table by reading your post,thank you.

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  25. Your post will help me to refinishing my dinning table. I already got many tips for doing my work properly. Thanks for your share.

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    1. That's great Sarah, good luck with your table!

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  26. What is the steel wool for?

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    1. Great question, I used the steel wool with the Furniture Refinisher to strip the original finish off the table!

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  27. Do you know what grit the sandpaper was? Did you start out with coarse and then go to fine or did you use the same grit from beginning to end?

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    1. I used the sanding pads that vane with my palm sander. I started with very coarse and worked my way to fine, making sure to only sand in the direction of the grain!

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  28. I really love your rug under your table! Where can I get it?

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    1. It's from Decor Steals, there should be a link in my sidebar. Its not always available but does come around again. It's a bamboo mat.

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  29. What an amazing job you did, it's just beautiful!

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  30. Hi Cindy!
    I apologize if you're getting two comments from me I'm not sure if my last comment posted or not!

    Fantastic job on your beautiful table! I was just curious as to what the beautiful dark blue color is on the chairs and table legs, I would love to use it!

    Thank you for all your great work!

    Amber :)

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    1. Thank you so much Amber! The table legs, apron and chair were painted with a DIY black chalk paint. It's not blue, although looking back at the pictures, I can see what you're talking about...it does look a little blue. Sorry I don't have a great product to share! But you can mix up ANY color of your choice and make your own chalk paint following my recipe in this post http://www.diybeautify.com/2015/09/how-to-make-diy-chalk-paint-using-store-samples.html

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