This project is perfect for old wooden tables that have surrendered their time to the years. This great DIY project enables you to restore wood’s lost luster with some TLC via careful sanding and a fresh varnish coat. The key is to remove as much of the old finish as you can, fill any dents or splits in the wood, then sand, restain and revarnish. Follow these steps carefully to bring worn wooden tabletops back to “like new” condition.
Materials You'll Need
A belt sander (optional)
Heat gun (optional)
Chemical polyurethane/varnish stripper
Finish sander (optional, but recommended)
Sandpaper or blocks with #120, #240 and #320 grit
Grain filler or wood putty
Sanding sealer (optional)
Oil-based or polyurethane varnish
Paint brush, or Preval Sprayer
- Refinishing valuable antique furniture can significantly reduce its value. If you own an antique, and you wish to sell it, consider products designed to restore the wood without refinishing.
- Be patient. Removing the old varnish will be a challenge, regardless of whether you sand or use chemical stripper.
- If you are not proficient with a belt sander, it is recommended that you use chemical stripper to remove the old finish.
- Compared to hand sanding, a finish sander will help to achieve a uniform grain. It will also save your back and arms from strain.
- To get the right color, it is recommended that you do a “practice run” or two on a small piece of wood to get your desired color and gloss before you finish the table.
- Work in an open, well-ventilated area, especially when sanding and applying varnish.
- Spraying on 3-5 coats of varnish will provide excellent scratch resistance and watermark protection.
Preparation: Remove the Old Finish
- Put on respirator and eye protection.
- Remove the varnish through one of the following methods:
- Electric belt sander: It's best to do this work outdoors, in a shop, or an open garage.
- The varnish and wood dust will travel far from your work area and create a mess.
- Be Careful! Keep steady control of the sander. Make even passes with the grain of the wood, and use consistent pressure.
- Try not to dig-in. Avoid sanding one area of the table for too long, as still may cause over-sanding and create an uneven surface.
- Chemical stripper: Apply stripper to one area at a time and wait the recommended amount of time before attempting to remove the finish.
- Once the chemical stripper takes effect, use a scraper or putty knife with rounded edges to pull up and peel away the old varnish.
- Use the stripper to remove as much of the finish as you can, but don't expect it to remove 100% of the varnish.
- Apply stripper as needed until all the varnish is removed.
- Sand stubborn areas with #120 grit paper.
- Blow off debris then wipe down the surface with mineral spirits to remove dirt and oils.
- Apply grain filler or wood putty to fill any holes or cracks in the surface with a putty knife, then let dry.
- Sand the filler until it is even with the wood’s surface.
- Sand every area of the wood to be refinished, working with the grain.
- Begin with the #120 and working to the finer #240 and #320 grits.
- Your objective when sanding should be to even out the pores, cracks and crevices in the surface, but it doesn't need to be perfect.
- Blow off any sanding dust then wipe the surface down with a rag and mineral spirits.
- Put on respirator, eye protection, and protective gloves.
- Apply a coat of sanding sealer, wipe away any excess, and then allow to dry.
- Sand lightly with #220 grit paper.
- Mix varnish thoroughly. Begin by tipping the can over several times before opening, then stirring the contents.
- If you use the Preval sprayer or vFan, thin the varnish with mineral spirits, using 20-30% of the volume of varnish.
- Using a brush or the Preval Sprayer, apply an even coat of varnish. Move with the grain, not against it.
- Wait the recommended drying time between coats.
- Do a light sand with #320 sandpaper, wipe away any dust, then apply another coat of varnish.
- Repeat previous step until 3-6 coats of varnish have been applied.
- Allow table to dry for at least one full day in a well-ventilated area.
Disclaimer: The “Preval How To” articles (such as this one above) is for informational purposes only and is intended to provide general information guidance. Because products, materials, techniques, building codes, federal, state and municipal laws vary, and are continuously changing, as is ordinances, C.A Acquisitions LLC, Chicago Aerosol and Preval assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information contained herein and disclaims any liability for omissions, errors or the outcome of any project. It is the responsibility of the reader (you) to comply with all appropriate laws, manufacturers guidelines, rules and regulations for any project or product used. You must also take any safety precautions and exercise caution when taking on any project and by following the MSDS warning for every product or paint used in conjunction with the project completion. If you HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR DOUBTS IN REGARD TO ANY ELEMENT OF A PROJECT PLEASE CONSULT A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL.