This is a lengthy post...with a lot of pictures...but if you like happy endings, then read on ;)
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
- Minwax Furniture Refinisher
- superfine steel wool
- low-odor mineral spirits
- wood conditioner
- palm sander
- tack cloth (to remove sanding dust)
- stain of your choice (I used Minwax Early American as well as Minwax Walnut Gel Stain
- low-sheen poly
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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 :)
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. It adds a richness to the overall look and it 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!).
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!
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!
Here's one more look back:
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!
bringing beauty to the ordinary,
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