Refinish an old table but DON’T make these mistakes! Find out the correct products to use and the secret to beautiful finishes in this tutorial.
Spoiler alert! Here’s the happy ending to the story. Isn’t it pretty?
True confession time. I had an epic Pinterest fail. I thought it would be so simple, but noooooo. Not for this DIY wannabe. Avoid these pitfalls and get specific great tips for professional looking results!
I saw all the wonderful Pinterest pictures of furniture that was coated with gel stain. It’s supposed to go right over stained wood to give it a like-new finish, and it offers a quick and easy short cut. No stripping? It goes right over the existing finish? How could I go wrong? (obvious foreshadowing here) I thought that this short cut would be so easy, but I failed miserably. Twice! Here’s my cautionary tale.
There once was a shiny new table with plenty of life. It was well-loved and became very useful to its first owner.
It went on many adventures, had many owners, and was eventually dumped in my basement island of misfit furniture.
Sadly, it was forgotten in the basement for a very long time. It had missing hardware, water marks, dents, and scratches, but this DIY wannabe wanted to help. Lexi wanted to play ball, but DIY wannabe lady would not be deterred from her plan.
So the DIY wannabe lady read a few Pinterest posts and decided to give gel stain a try. She lightly sanded the top with a fine grain sanding block and removed the dust with a wet sponge.
She applied a couple of coats of gel stain, but the finish was uneven and sanding marks were still visible.
Sanding Marks Still Visible
More coats of gel stain didn’t help, and the beautiful wood grain had disappeared the many coats of stain. She decided to start all over again and removed all the layers with Citristrip and a scraper.
She consulted “experts” on Pinterest again to see what might have gone wrong.This she time sanded the raw wood with steel wool, wiped it with a wet sponge, and used a Minwax stain with a built-in polyurethane (’cause ya’ll know she wanted to take ANOTHER shortcut), and added a few coats. It looked great at first, but as it dried, she could see that the finish was uneven, and there were tiny little bumps on the surface.
“Oh, no!” she gasped. “Tiny pieces of fine steel wool are still there! I have to start all over again!”
This time, she checked with the experts at This Old House to see what went wrong. They recommended following these steps:
- Strip the old finish.
- Wipe with denatured alcohol.
- Apply wood conditioner.
- Wipe on stain. (I used two coats of Minwax walnut.)
- Seal with urethane. (I used three coats of Water Based Gel Urethane Top Coat by General Finishes.)
These easy, extra steps gave her a gorgeous, smooth, and professional finish on the table top and drawer front.
While the top and drawer cured for a few days, she used a sponge stick to apply General Finishes Milk Paint in Seagull Grey to the base (three coats).
This poor table was missing a knob, so she dug out some old brass knobs and spray painted them in an oil rubbed bronze finish. All the cool kids on Pinterest were doing it! But did it work? NOOOOOO!
It bubbled. It crackled. It flaked right off. She was having a no good, very bad day and gnashed her teeth in frustration.
Deflated, but not defeated, she grabbed the denatured alcohol and removed the paint. She soaked the knobs for a bit in the alcohol, rubbed them dry, and spray painted them again.
Thankfully, the second coat of spray paint went on smoothly and the old knobs looked new again. (OK, there were two more trips to the hardware store to find the right screws, but it still saved $20 to reuse old knobs. Worth it!)
In the end, she did her happy dance and took pretty pictures of the finished table. Her husband was glad to see her smiling face again, Lexi got to play ball, and the table was ready for a new home.
BEFORE: No good, very bad shape.
AFTER: All good, very happy day.
And the moral of the story is, say it with me, “Don’t take shortcut!” This former teacher has learned her lesson, but this family piece has found a new home and is ready for a third generation.
P. S. The author wants to thank the experts at This Old House for advice on refinishing old furniture. Trust the experts! This story is true, and the DIY wannabe is a real person. She wishes to remain anonymous, but oh well.