Refinishing a Coffee Table

Refinishing a Coffee Table

Because my husband and I are both teachers, we tend to let jobs around the house build up and we save them for the summer. We are so busy during the year, especially during May and June, that I normally have a huge list by the beginning of July! However, we started the first day of our vacation this summer with the air conditioner breaking down, so the unexpected cost of replacing the whole system has eaten into our summer plans a little. I have been trying to focus on getting little jobs done rather than taking a sledge hammer to the fireplace, or ripping out the vanity in the bathroom (which have both taken a lot of willpower to not do, on my part, by the way)

One of the jobs on my list is to look at our furniture in the house. What pieces do we need, what pieces could use some updating? I have had my eye on buying a new coffee table for a while now, but I haven’t been able to find one I liked for a price that I liked. This was the sort of look that I was going for… but the price of almost $550 didn’t really work for me.

So, when I saw this coffee table on Kijiji last week, I thought the design was perfect. The only problem was that it needed a little fixing up. As you can see in the photos below, the table top was in pretty rough shape. a lot of paint and scratches and wear. They were asking $50, but I ended up paying them $40….score!



I started by sanding the top. I used a rough grain sandpaper to start with my sander. The rough sandpaper removes most of the varnish. I tried to only sand in the direction of the grain, everything you read about sanding and staining wood always emphasizes to go with the grain.
Then, to smooth out the surface, I used a finer grade sandpaper (220 grit). I made sure that I sanded all of the varnish off. If you get a clean dry cloth and wipe it every few minutes, you can see where there is still varnish left.

To sand the table top, I sanded until I removed all of the varnish right down to the wood surface, because my plan was to stain the top. But, because I only planned to paint the bottom, I gave the bottom half a quick sanding with the mouse sander to remove the shine off the top layer, and scratch off the surface, not to go right to the wood.

Then, I started staining the top, I used a stain with a varnish built it, so no varnishing needed after… (or so I thought) It started out really well, I carefully brushed the stain on in the direction of the woodgrain. It looked pretty good, but then on the second coat, it went really downhill. It looked really uneven and the brush started wiping off all of the stain. Where my brush overlapped, the stain was too dark, and in other areas it wasn’t dark enough. Maybe I didn’t wait long enough for the first coat to dry, or maybe each coat was too thick, but to make a long story short, I ended up scraping the whole top down, re sanding, and starting again. The second time I used a rag to apply the stain so i applied it a lot thinner, and wiped all of the excess off.

As you can see, I did a quarter at a time and worked with the grain.
I did two thin coats like this, and i was really pleased with the way it looked. The only issue was that because I had applied it so thin, I thought it needed more protection. Knowing my family, I can only assume that this poor table top will be subjected to a variety of elements including dirt, water, milk, jam, cookie crumbs, sand, etc. So, I decided to add a couple coats of clear varnish. I used a satin finish varnish because I didn’t want it to be too shiny.

When I was waiting for the stain and varnish to dry, I painted the base white. I used a water based paint by Behr (my favourite brand, wouldn’t use anything else) and picked a shade called, “Cottage white” The thing I love about this paint, is that it has the primer and paint in one. It does need a couple coats, but because it is water based, it’s easy to clean up.

I let everything dry for a day, then applied another coat of varnish, and decided to antique the base to make it look more aged. Here is what the side of the table looked like before:

I dipped a small brush in the same stain I used for the top and painted all of the cracks and seams.

Then, I used a clean rag to wipe the excess stain off. I did one area at a time, and sometimes had to reapply and wipe off a couple times until I got the look I wanted, but I was really pleased with the result!

I even tried using a tooth brush to add some splatters…

But, then John came along to admire my handiwork, and pointed out a couple places where I had dripped paint….which made me rethink the visual appeal of my splattering technique, so I ended up wiping off the splatters.
I finished adding the stain to the whole table, then added the new drawer pulls. I was so pleased with the finished product!



As a matter of fact, I liked it so much, I walked around the house looking for other stuff to repaint. I found this old coffee table (I think John and I bought this cheap table when we first moved in together …15 years ago…) Here is the table before:

20140712-202153.jpg … which I sanded and refinished.. And, I started painting the headboard and bedside table from the spare room too! I’ll update with new photos when I am done… Here is the coffee table now, I just have to add the drawer pull.




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