dining room · table

How to make a table shiny

Yesterday, you saw our ‘new’ table and now you’re eyeing your own wooden dining room table, right? I know a few of you are. Good news! Copying us is not hard! It just takes a little time, a little dedication, a little muscle and a little patience.

The patience is for the mess of sawdust that will soon coat your floors.

Unless you wait for warmer weather and take the whole project outside. Come to think of it, that’s a really good idea.

This project was, really, the Husband’s project. He was quite willing to allow me to pick his brain a little in order to get the details on exactly how he did it.
Refinishing a basic wood table


Basic wood table
(We believe ours is pine. The wood is kind of soft. However, it shouldn’t matter what kind of wood. Something with a strong grain is best. However, this likely won’t work on a particle-board-and-veneer table. If you’re not sure what yours is, look at the bottom of the table top. If it’s wood, you’re dealing with a wood table!)
80 grit sandpaper
120 grit sandpaper
150-180 grit sandpaper
220 grit sandpaper
Dark stain of your choice
Clear drying wood finish. (We used Varathane Diamond Wood Finish for the hardest possible finish. As I said, the wood of our table is kind of soft.)

White paint of your choice. (A cream or another contrasting colour would also work. I’ve seen a table finished like this with turquoise legs. We’re not quite that daring, but it was fabulous! We used Wedding White by CIL, leftover from our dresser make-over and originally bought for a project we never got to and which has now been completely forgotten.)

Pure bristle paint brushes (One for paint, three for the finish)

Step One – Sanding!

This is the most tedious, least rewarding step. The goal of sanding is to sand until the table has moved from smooth, to beyond smooth, to silky smooth. Hence, 4 sandings.

Start with the 80 grit. In reality, the Husband used 23 grit on the first sanding, but he found it left behind scratches that were deep enough, we can see them in the finished product, even after 3 more sandings. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you want a slightly rougher finished product, use a coarser grit. A little distressing isn’t a bad thing! However, if you want a nice, smooth and uniform looking finished product, start with around an 80 grit sandpaper. In this step, you’re taking off the previous finish, so it will be the hardest bit of sanding you’ll do. Sand the top and the legs with the 80 grit. Go with the grain. You’ll damage the table a bit if you sand against it.

Don’t worry about getting all the varnish off the legs. You’ll be painting them, so you just want to rough them up so that the paint will bond properly to the wood.

Once all the previous varnish has been removed from the top of the table, move to the 120 grit sandpaper and give the whole thing another rub down. Again, you’re only roughing up the legs to allow the paint to bond, so don’t worry about doing a perfect job.

The 150 and 220 grit sandpapers only need to be used on the top. By using these two grits of sandpaper, you’ll get such a beautiful silky smooth finish, you’ll be tempted to stop there. Don’t. Trust me.

Sanding is done! Go clean up. It may take about 10 sweepings before you get all the sawdust off your nice dark bamboo floors and you’ll never get it out of the cracks. Don’t bother trying.

Step Two – Staining!

Stain your table top. Using a rag (Make sure it’s completely free of lint! Well used cleaning rags work best.), rub the stain into the table top. Wipe off any excess with another rag. Work in manageable portions so the stain doesn’t dry to much before you wipe it off. Rub, wipe, rub, wipe, until the whole table top is stained your beautiful, dark stain.

If it’s not quite dark enough for you, or there a few blotchy spots to fix, do it again once it has dried, either to the whole table, or just to the blotches.

To avoid blotches even more, there is a conditioner you can apply to your wood that will even the stain out a bit more. Check out your local home improvement store for that.

Step Three – Painting!

This is probably the easiest step and most straight forward. Grab your paint brush and your white paint. Paint the legs. Two or three coats is sufficient.

Allow the table to dry really well.

Step Four – Varnishing

The Husband put 3 coats of varnish on the table top. We wanted a nice hard surface. It is, after all, our main table, and could get nicely beaten up over the years we plan to keep it. Just slap the varnish on there. It’s liquidy stuff, so watch out on your corners and your table legs – it drips really easily.
Use a good bristle brush for this. Ours may have been a little lower than necessary on quality. There may or may not be a bristle stuck in the varnish.

We did discover that, while we bought clear drying Varathane, it did, in fact, dry kind of yellow on the legs. We don’t mind this – our white dining room chairs have some (very fake) yellowish distressing on their legs, so it makes the whole set seem more cohesive. If this would bother you, make sure you apply very thin coats of the Varathane to the legs. A thinner coat will dry clearer. And you’ll avoid drips all the more easily.
The Varathane takes about 3 hours to dry, so it is possible to get 2 coats on in a night. After the final coat, allow it to cure for about 24 hours. Don’t forget to tell your friends that they shouldn’t use it either, even if it seems rude… we had a very near disaster involving a stack of flyers and the flimsy inked bag the flyers come in the first night after we declared it finished.

The result of about two weeks of hard work?


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