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A Step-by-Step Guide To Refinish A Kitchen Table

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Inside: Instead of buying a new table, why not refinish it? I’m sharing instructions on how to refinish a kitchen table and all the tips and tricks we picked up along the way! 

One of the best deals I’ve gotten over the years has been our kitchen table.

I found it on clearance for $300!

It’s a beautiful solid wood table that extends to 8 feet.

But once it started chipping and getting beat up by our kids, I started to seriously question whether it was worth holding onto.

A scratched table that need to be refinished.
A scratched kitchen table that needs to be refinished
A scratched dining table that needs to be refinished

I looked into buying a new table, but similar styles were just so expensive, so I started researching articles on how to refinish a kitchen table.

It seemed like something I could tackle but it took so long for me to actually get to the project.

Mostly because I had never done a project this big and was afraid of messing up our table! But it turned out to be really easy to refinish a kitchen table and I wish I had done it sooner!

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All of the supplies you need to refinish a table.

Materials Needed

How To Refinish A Kitchen Table

1. Take the table apart

This was actually one of the most difficult parts because our tabletop is dang heavy!

Once we got the top off, we carried it out to our garage, set up the legs on the tarp, and placed the top back on.

If you have a couple of saw horses or a work table to place the top on, I would suggest using that instead. You’ll protect the legs

Refinishing a table with an orbital sander
Refinishing a table with an orbital sander
Refinishing a table with an orbital sander

2. Sand using 120 grit paper

This was the most satisfying part!

I was super worried to make the first pass with the sander, but once I saw the old finish start to come off, I got really excited!

We made small circles with the sander across the table until all of the original finish was off. The motion was similar to how you would wax and buff a car.

A lot of people want tutorials for how to refinish a table without sanding, but it’s wasn’t hard at all. The sander did all the work!

3. Wipe the table with tack cloth

After we got the original finish off, we wiped the whole table down with the tack cloth.

I’ve never used tack cloth before, so I didn’t know what to expect.

It’s super sticky but very effective at getting all of the dust particles off of the table. You want to have a clean slate before you apply your stain.

4. Apply the stain

Next, we used the paintbrushes to apply the stain, using small strokes in the direction of the wood grain and wiping off the excess with an old rag before it pooled and dried.

Here is where I would have done things differently if I were refinishing a table again.

I really wanted a super light look for our table. I researched which stain to get for weeks, however, the way the table looked after we took the original finish off was perfect. I would NOT have applied the stain if I knew it was going to be so dark.

You can lighten up the stain with paint thinner before you apply it if you find that the stain is too dark.

Staining a kitchen table for refinishing.

5. Apply the finish

Once the table is stained the color you want, you’ll apply the finish with the paintbrush.

I went with a matte polyurethane because I wanted the table to look modern.

The directions on the can said to apply one coat of the finish, wait 2 hours, sand it down, and wipe it with the tack cloth.

You’ll follow that process three times.

Sanding down a kitchen table in between coats of finish.

What I would have done differently

Once I realized the stain was too dark, I decided to sand down the table again to try and lift the stain.

It worked…kind of.

I was never able to get the table as light as it was after we sanded it the first time, but it looked a lot better than it did right after we stained it.

I wish I would have just left the table the natural wood color and skipped the stain.

Once I had sanded the table for what felt like the 50th time, we took it back inside and re-assembled it and I thought the project was done . . . 

Boy was I wrong!

Having it inside, I started noticing all of the little imperfections I couldn’t see in the garage.

Being a perfectionist by nature, I had to get rid of them ASAP!

I used the sandpaper discs to sand down any bumpy finish that I saw to try and give the table an even surface.

I think the products we chose were great for refinishing a table, but because we have a light tabletop with a matte finish it does show fingerprints pretty easily.

They show up any time my kids put their greasy hands on the table, which is like 100 times a day.

Sanding them out made them faint, but I could still see them.  

How to refinish a kitchen table final product

What I do now is apply some wood polish all over the table to get rid of all of the grease marks and to make it easier for me to wipe down.

The table does look darker after I apply the oil and it does fade after a while so I like to reapply it about every two weeks. 

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Tips and Tricks

Easy refinishing wood furniture

1. DO NOT attempt this project inside.

It’s just not practical to refinish a kitchen table indoors.

There is so much sawdust involved that you do not want all over your kitchen. I highly recommend using your garage.

2. Do put a tarp down before moving your table outside.

Refinishing a table over tarp saves time sweeping and saves your garage floor from any drips or spills.

3. Do test your stain on a small section of the table before you apply it liberally to all of the wood.

Make sure you know what you’re committing to.

Kitchen table makeover final product

4. Do wait to sand your table until after your stain has dried.

I tried to sand the stain off right after we applied it and just gunked up the paper discs. The longer I waited, the less residue got on the discs.

5. Do responsibly dispose of your tools after refinishing a table.

Let the rags you used to wipe the stain down dry before disposing of them.

There was barely any stain on the rags I used because I didn’t apply very much, but if they are heavily saturated, you can put them in a bucket of water and contact your local waste management department to see how they suggest disposing of them.

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Want More?

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Your Turn

A refinished dining table top

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Refinishing a table can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be! Check out my beginner's guide to refinish your own kitchen table this weekend!


Thursday 15th of October 2020

A re you saying that if I choose to not stain and only apply the poly top coat finger prints will show up? Other than applying furniture oil all the time, do you have a better option? I want to leave the natural oak wood look?

Jessica Ashcroft

Thursday 15th of October 2020

It probably depends on what kind of a topcoat you use and how much you put on. I did a matte topcoat and put on very little, so you can see fingerprints from time to time. If you went with a glossier finish and put a nice layer, they should wipe off with a cloth.


Tuesday 11th of August 2020

I just stripped my solid oak kitchen table and chairs down. The natural wood is so pretty. I was going to stain super dark and now I think I want the natural look. Would you suggest just a matte pol over it?

Jessica Ashcroft

Tuesday 11th of August 2020

Yes! Matte, satin, or glossy depending on the finish you want. Personally I'd choose matte :)

June Overton

Friday 10th of July 2020

Your table looks wonderful! Great detailed instructions. I have my mom's 70 year old dining room suite - table w/leaf, buffet and china cabinet. I would really love to redo the table, but I'm scared! LOL I would hate to ruin it! Any suggestions?

Jessica Ashcroft

Sunday 12th of July 2020

Hi June! I was scared to ruin my table as well, so I just had to go for it! If you want to start small, I would sand an unnoticable section of the tabletop (possibly the side or underside) just in case it doesn't turn out. But sanding really shouldn't ruin it ;)