How to: Refurbish Wood Furniture

While Martin was out the other day, I decided to tackle our dining table troubles.  The table is older than us, and it was starting to show.  The varnish was worn thin on the top.  We had to use coasters and placemats for anything that touched the table.  If we didn’t, the wood would soak up any moisture and leave a horrible water mark.  You can imagine the mad scurrying we were doing any time a drip landed on the table.  It was time to do something.

The good news is that refurbishing pieces with old varnish is really easy – especially if your surface is flat like a table.  The job is really tidy, too, so all I had to do was pull the table away from the wall and get to work.  I love when projects are this simple!

Blow-by-quick-blow, here’s how I refurbished our table:

First I sanded off the old varnish with a 160 grit sandpaper.  I didn’t have any holes to patch.  But if I did, this is when the wood putty would have could into play.

electric sander

Second I sanded with a 240 grit sandpaper for fine details. Attaching a shop vac to the sander every time I sanded meant no sawdust blowing all over the house.


Third I wiped the surface with a tamp towel.  When it dried, I sanded it again.  Why?  It’s not because I’m a sanding junkie.  It’s this:  you know how wood is porous?  Applying the damp cloth makes the wood feel kind of lumpy as different areas expand and shrink.  If I skipped this step, the wood would get all bumpy from the wet varnish, which wouldn’t look cool at all.  An ounce of prevention and all that…

Fourth came the varnish. We chose a natural varnish, so if anyone wants to lick our table, I guess it would be okay.

kitchen table varnish

Fifth was the sander with 240 grit sandpaper again. (Now you’re catching on as to why our kitchen remodel took So Long, huh?)  Sanding after the varnish has dried removes all of my brush strokes.  Sure, the strokes are going in the same direction as the wood grain, but it’s still pretty easy to tell the difference between wood grain and brush strokes.

Sixth came another coat of varnish, and another sanding job, and another varnish, and another… since I was working with a tabletop, it made sense to be generous with a thick layer of varnish.  It got a grand total of three coats (our cabinets got two).

So in the end, the table still looks exactly the same.  Of course, now we can use it without panicking about coasters.  Life is good again.

Up for more?  Scope out our step-by-steps to lowering your utilities or restoring really old, dinged up furniture for a little inspiration.

(Images by Making This Home)