Dining Table Before & After: How to Refinish A Wood Table

After 15+ hours of sanding, staining, priming and painting, my dining room table makeover is complete!  Let me tell you, this was one labor of love.  My DIY skills and patience were really put to the test with this one.  If you remember my desk makeover, I swore up and down I would never try to refinish a piece of furniture again.  Well, much like childbirth, time made me forget all about the pain and I decided to give it another try! 

This dining table belonged to my Great Grandmother, and was passed down to me when I got married.  It is at least 60 years old.  I love that it has a drop leaf, making it so convenient when we need to open it up to make room for more guests at dinnertime or for parties.  There is also a leaf in the middle that you can use to make it even bigger.  It is so versatile, which seems harder to come by in the dining tables they are producing today.  Since the moment I gained possession of this table 9 years ago, I knew one day I would love to refinish it, as the tabletop was very scratched up and had water rings after many years of use.  I never had the guts to try it though, so just continued to cover up the beautiful table with a table cloth, which always bothered me.  Fast forward to two weeks ago when I just decided to go for it already!

Here is the table before:

(This is actually without the middle leaf in, you can see it in the background on the left)

 Here you can really see the damage that the top had, but also how beautiful the wood grain is.

And here is where I managed to scratch into the table with one of those spirograph things when I was little! Remember those?  Ahh memories.  I was a little sad to sand this part down!

Now I was ready to get going!

Step One

I moved the table outside to begin the sanding process.  I sanded the entire top of the table-including the removable leaf with 80 grit sandpaper.  Let me back up though, and tell you about how I first made the mistake of starting with 220 grit, which was WAY too fine a grit for the job, as it took me four hours just to get this done:

I thought, hmm, maybe I need a power sander, so I borrowed my Mother-In-Law's and got back to work.  Unfortunately that didn't make the sanding go any faster either, and was obscenely loud and made my arm jiggle in the most annoying way.  So I decided to turn to what always, without fail, makes everything better:

And while the wine didn't make the sanding go any faster, it did make it more enjoyable!
After that I decided to called it a day.  I would get back to sanding in the morning.

The next morning with new-found gumption I headed down to my local OSH and said "What am I doing wrong?"  The answer was "Duh lady, you are using the wrong grit sandpaper for the job!"  Oopsie.  A purchase of 80 grit sandpaper later and all was well in the world.  The rest of the sanding went so much easier and faster!  So don't make the same mistake I did, and go for a much rougher grit if you are trying to remove a finish from a table.  I had read online on various websites that a 220 was the way to go, but in reality that is only used to complete your sanding job by smoothing it down, NOT for actually removing a finish.  There are products out there for removing a finish first before sanding, but they sounded like more trouble than I wanted to deal with so I bypassed them.

A few last tips:

This is your best friend while sanding:

It picks up all the dust created by sanding perfectly.  And don't forget to wear a mask too! After removing all the finish and stain, go over it one last time with the 220 grit paper to smooth it all out.  And remember, when sanding always go with the grain of the wood, not against it.  This ensures a smooth finish with no noticeable scratches.  

Step Two

After totally killing my arm and wrist from sanding for hours, I decided there was no way in hades I was going to sand the legs as well.  They were a bit banged up, but since they are low to the ground, and are sure to get banged up more I figured there was no need to try and sand out the imperfections.  Instead, I decided to paint the legs white and bought the primer that can be used over already finished surfaces. I used Zinsser Cover Stain Primer:

This stuff was a lifesaver!  It seriously saved me hours of sanding time.  Of course, putting on two coats of this primer was no walk in the park, as the legs have lots of nooks and crannies, and took 1 1/2 hours for each coat (I did two).  I was just glad to be doing something different!  I finished the legs off with two coats of white paint, which I had leftover from my desk makeover.  The legs were officially done!  And surprisingly, the white paint hid all the imperfections fairly well.  You can hardly notice the little indentations here and there.

Look at those sexy white legs!  I wish I could say the same for me.

Step Three

For the top of the table I decided I wanted to let some of the wood grain show through because it was just so beautiful.  Therefore I opted for a stain instead of paint.  I purchased a gray stain from Home Depot. You have to take it to the paint counter to be mixed-there are loads of color options!  Did you know that? You don't just have to do a wood color stain!  I was pretty stoked to find that out.  The staining was seriously effortless.   It glides on super smooth and easily, leaving not a brush stroke in sight, which is my main problem with painting furniture.  All I want to do is stain stuff now.  I didn't take any pictures because it is such a quick process, but here is what I used:

Minwax Wood Stain Clear Tint Base is what you will find on the shelf.  There will be a color chart  hanging somewhere near it so you can pick a color, then take it over to the paint counter for them to mix.  You can view the complete color chart online here.  I chose the color "Slate".  Keep in mind that you can do more than one coat of stain depending on how much wood grain you want to show through.  My table almost looks like a solid gray paint, with a few faint spots where I wiped more of the stain off to let more of the grain show through.  I was going for a modern antique look.  Here is a close-up of the finish (with the clear protective coat I describe in step four below):

Step Four

Once the stain dried, I started with the clear top coat for a protective finish.  I used Minwax Polycrylic in semi-gloss:

Three coats are recommended and that is what I did.  Make sure you use a high quality brush for this, so it goes on nice and even.  Between each coat after it has dried you give it a light sand with 220 grit paper.  It was time consuming, yet easy and a very necessary step so that you are able to wipe down the table after meals.  I was afraid to do so at first, but after the first wipe-down I saw how the water beaded up on top, so it really does protect it well.

Finally she was all done!
Now here she is in all her glory:

Ready for our family of four.

Here she is with the end leaf up.

I love how the legs of the table now perfectly match to the legs of the chairs.

Here she is at full capacity, with the middle leaf installed and both ends up.  Seats 8!

Proud mom here, showing way too many photos of her baby.

I used items I already had on hand to style the table.  I'm not sure it will stay like this, but for now it works.  And you can see the rug I recently purchased in these photos as well.

I wanted to share the step-by-step in hopes that it will give one of you that were in the same boat as me the confidence to go ahead and try refinishing a piece of furniture.  It's time consuming, yet completely doable and so worth it.  Every time I look at the table I am so proud of myself and know that my Great Grandma is happy that I breathed new life into our family heirloom.  I will gladly answer any additional questions you may have regarding the whole process, so feel free to leave them in the comments or email me.  Thanks for following along!  


  1. gorgeous Jackie! What a fabulous job... that does look VERY time consuming, but totally worth it!

  2. Jackie, this looks amazing! I Love it with a capital L. :)

  3. Wow! What a beautiful job you did. Now I'm motivated! And yes, I agree, everything is easier, better and happier with a glass of wine!

  4. you can tell you that you didnt do a half ass job, it is BEAUTIFUL! you should be proud :)

  5. Yay! Jackie!!! It looks wonderful!
    So excited for you.


  6. The table looks so awesome! It's so much work to refinish wood furniture-isn't sanding a bitch?? I love the way the grey looks, very chic!

  7. Wow! Looks gorgeous!! So proud of you for seeing your vision through! I'm inspired, but it take a whole bottle of wine before I'd commit :)

  8. Fantastic job and thanks for sharing your tips!

  9. Wow Jackie! I love it! The gray and white together is fabulous. Did the chairs come with the table? They are beautiful. Love the design. I bought a table over the winter and my husband and I refinished it. It was A LOT of work for sure but we love it.


  10. Wow! Looks great, and I love the succulent. :)

  11. Nicole- The chairs did not come with it. I purchased them at Cost Plus World Market in January. Unfortunately I don't think they have them anymore.

  12. Wow the gray stain is beautiful and it is perfect with the whole set-up of your dining table and chairs. I will remember the gray stain idea! Love everything about your dining room :)

  13. Oh Jackie, how fantabulous is this makeover?!? I've been dying to see it since you sneak peeked it on Instagram, pesky classes have kept me away. First thing I wanted to do this morning was check in on your progress. Wow wow wow!! It really is wonderful and totally suits your style. Love the table with those chairs, great job!

  14. I have this EXACT same table. I refinished mine about 5 years ago. I just re-stained mine (I think yours looks much better). Great job!

  15. Jackie,
    It looks beautiful! Job well done!

  16. I am so glad I found this post! I have a similar table that was my Grandmother's and due to the sentimental nature of it I've been afraid to refinish it, but seriously....it's in terrible shape. And I know I'll love it THAT much more if I make it look more modern and amazing. You've inspired me!! I'm going out to buy paint this weekend! :)

  17. Found your blog on pinterest; I LOVE what you did with the table. I want to refinish an old vanity I have, but reading your blog made me realize that it will take a lot more work than I thought. Thanks for the tips!

  18. Thank you for the inspiration to refinish my kitchen set. I'm changing it from a blond wood and white mixmatch of chairs and a table to a mahogony and black set. I'm almost to the gloss finish stage and it already looks fantastic. I'll admit I used your "wine method" as well :-)

  19. How many coats of stain did you end up doing? We had the same vision for a table of our and I just came across you blog. We bought the original gray stain from minwax and with only 2 coats you can still see a lot of the natural wood. Also, what do you think of using a foam brush for the poly. I bought the exact same stuff and the pair guys recommended foam brush/roller.

  20. How many coats of stain did you end up doing? We had the same vision for a table of our and I just came across you blog. We bought the original gray stain from minwax and with only 2 coats you can still see a lot of the natural wood. Also, what do you think of using a foam brush for the poly. I bought the exact same stuff and the pair guys recommended foam brush/roller.

  21. This is so nice I just bought this table for a still at this yard sale. It has a few bumps & bruises shoo now I'm ready for a DIY protect I'm excited now Thanks so much

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