What I Learned from Refinishing Our Kitchen Table Myself (Twice!)

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Rebecca Bond)

Our eat-in nook is in the shape of half a hexagon. And our “temporary” table was a hand-me-down Craigslist loaner from some friends — in the shape of an octagon. I should have known we were destined for each other. When I couldn’t find another table that expanded from 48″ to 81″ like this one did (split-pedestal round tables with these dimensions that aren’t several thousand-dollar Stickley tables are nonexistent, let me tell you), I knew the Craigslist one was meant for us. But it needed some love. The first round of refinishing looked almost like a Pinterest fail and I just couldn’t live with it. Thankfully the second time — finished over a year later — was the charm. Here’s what I learned in the process.

(Image credit: Shifrah Combiths)

Research first.

On the first go-around, I headed to Home Depot and “researched” by reading the backs of the cans of stain. It didn’t turn out so well. As tempting as it is to get right down to business, taking the time to research your project thoroughly, with enough time to mull over what you’re learning, will save you a lot of time and sweat later. Research includes knowing exactly what products and tools you need.

Don’t use two-in-one products.

With a project that involves refinishing wood, taking time is almost always going to serve you better. So if a product promises shortcuts, consider it inferior. For instance, use a separate stain and topcoat product (polyurethane in my case) rather than doing a rush job with a product that does two or more things but nothing very well. Same goes for spray paint. The primer-and-color combination I used for the pedestal chipped off within a few days. This time I opted for a primer, color, and a topcoat, all separate.

Use the right tools.

We sanded the whole tabletop by hand our first go-around. Bad idea. It took quite a while to sand out the scratches that were going every which way during the second go-around. Thankfully, I purchased a rotary sander, but between the not-as-it-should-have-been sanding job and the terrible stain-poly combo product that seeped deep into the wood (because we didn’t condition it!!!!), the sanding took foreeeeever. I’m talking hours upon hours.

Condition your wood.

Just do it. Do not skip this step. It’s quick and easy and it makes application of the stain drastically easier. In our case, I’d even say it makes applying the stain possible. The first time we applied the stain we had to fight with it to try to overlap strokes nicely as it was drying and it did not turn out pretty. But the stain slid onto the conditioned wood so smoothly and peacefully.

Refinishing wood is extremely hard work.

Between the sanding and the waiting and the attention that has to be paid to the tiniest of dust particles, refinishing wood is not for the faint of heart. I told my husband many times that it was “not my kind of DIY.” But you know what? Finishing it was extremely rewarding, and probably in large part because it was such a demanding job. Every day now we get to sit at a table that is ours for reasons so much deeper than that we obtained it. Mama’s hands have been over every inch of that table, and I like to imagine that love sank into the pores of the wood along with the stain. In any case, it sure makes us happy.