Our dining table was a gift from my MIL when we got married. It’s of the blonde wood variety, what wood I have absolutely no idea. It’s sturdy and in good condition except for the slightly wonky one leg and the scratches and nicks that come along with years of love and good use.
Before we moved into this house with spaces that actually have their very own personal functions, this table was the hub of all our activities. Besides having our meals there, I did my writing, baking, sewing and even random crafting things there. I prepared goody bags for birthdays, watched my daughter do her ‘art’ and pretty much everything else on that table.
It was a good table but the blonde wood was not doing it for us anymore. In its new space, it looked like a fish out of water. Our dining area has aqua-ish walls. There’s a pine sideboard and a black metal rack with tempered glass shelves holding our random knick knacks. The table looked a little out of place.
Ideally we’d love to get a custom farm table because that’s the kind of look we like. But budget not permitting, we decided to try and breathe new life into the old table. Perhaps a new coat of paint and stain, we thought. Accepting the challenge to be frugal AND creative, I went online for inspirations.
I found these lovelies.
The table by Kentucky Sketches was almost the exact colour and the makeover was what we had in mind.
And the blue chairs.. don’t even let me begin or I won’t stop gushing about those drool-worthy blue chairs! They are just so gorgeous!
Excited as always with a new project, I got cracking. First stop, Ace Hardware. I bought the following supplies:
FOR THE TABLE
- Minwax Finish in Dark Walnut
- Minwax Fast Drying Polyutherane
- Paint brushes – I went through a lot because I suck at cleaning them
- Foam brushes – I used and disposed these
FOR THE CHAIRS
- Ace Hardware Primer in White (4 cans for 6 chairs)
- Ace Hardware Enamel Paint in Sage – I highly recommend this! (4 cans for 4 chairs)
- Krylon Enamel Paint in Katalina Mist (3 cans for 2 chairs – this is a must because the paint is fairly thin and 1 can left splotches)
Note: If you are keen on doing DIY, you have to know that you need to invest a fair bit for tools and supplies. And although it seems like you are spending a lot, remember that whatever amount is on that receipt, it is just a fraction of what you’d pay for a new item or for professional services. However, if you choose to buy or get a pro, by all means do so.
Table makeover PART 1
STEP 1 – SAND
In the beginning, I had tried to sand with normal sandpaper but I barely scratched the surface – it was that tough. So I went to the hardware store near my office and asked the staff if they sold sanders. I am a newbie. Have no clue about sanders so I solely relied on his ‘professional’ advise. He sold me this for RM192. Said it was on sale. I bought it and the following day tried it on the table top.
Then Disaster #1 struck.
I learnt such a valuable lesson that day. I never should have depended on his advise. I should have googled and researched before I set foot in that store or any store, for that matter.. because he sold me a cutter/grinder that was NOT for sanding tabletops. If it sanded, I’m pretty sure it was for metal or something like that. The tool caused my tabletop to become dented and scarred with this brownish mark which I’m not exactly sure what. Burn mark, perhaps? It’s so stubborn I can’t even sand it down again. I felt like I had ruined a precious gift from my MIL and felt so horrible, no words could describe it.
Inhale exhale then many moments later I thought to myself, this actually has that old antique wood look complete with the dings and nicks. I can live with it.
STEP 2 – STAIN
I was by then more accepting and the idea of having that antique look was becoming more appealing. I went on to stain the tabletop. I used the foam brush and followed what the can said which was to “wait 5-15 minutes before wiping off the residue”.
Disaster #2 reared its ugly head. The table looked terrible. Splotchy. Blotchy. Ugly. Some areas were super dark while others still had the yellow colour peeping out. I could then see that the table was not sanded properly and must’ve still had some finishing on which explains why the stain wouldn’t stick.
I didn’t want to buy a proper sander because I’d already spent money on the grinder, so went back to google and found out that some people use liquid sander to prep their furniture. Hmm. Liquid sandpaper sounded really good to me.
The next day I went to Ace Hardware and got the Klean Strip sander/deglosser.
It says to wipe with a cloth but I used a steel wool which I had already. With gloves on, I drenched the steel wool and rubbed on the table in small circular movements. Soon the stain began coming out. It immediately started to look better.
This was the result. TADAA! Doesn’t that look like it’d been a part of a boat shipwrecked somewhere?
It was gorgeoussss but I decided that since our overall design is modern, we couldn’t have the table looking too weathered, so I applied another coat of stain and waited for it to dry.
STEP 3 – FINISH WITH POLYURETHANE
It was then time for the polyurethane coat! Woohoo! I bought Minwax fast drying polyurethane in Satin and was excited to see the outcome. Using a new brush, I covered the table in its first coat of poly.. and it looked gorgeous.
Shiny and smooth. Just really nice. We were so excited! I didn’t want to jinx the good streak so I waited two whole days before I touched it again.
Every tutorial on the net says to sand between coats and I did just that. Disaster #3. I don’t know where I went wrong but the poly wasn’t completely dry and clogged my sandpaper! But the first coat went on two days ago how was it still tacky?! I didn’t understand.. I told myself “it’s ok, inhale exhale, it’s not the end of the world. Just clear up the gluey gloop and wait for it to dry so that we can put a 2nd coat. And all will be good, trust me”.
Another two days later I excitedly touched the table. Still tacky. Hmm.. maybe this is how it should be..? Maybe it’ll look much better after the 2nd coat. Warning bells blaring in my head, red lights and all, but I stubbornly ignored them and took out the poly and put on the 2nd layer.
Disaster #4. Worst ever mistake in my entire life. The moment my paintbrush touched the table, it created millions of tiny bubbles, drag marks with every stroke and upon lifting the brush there were tiny rolls of the poly all over my table. Why all over? Because I proceeded to stubbornly coat the entire length of the table like the desperate person I was.
It looked so bad I just wanted to throw the brush and cry behind my fridge or somewhere equally yucky. As yucky as my table. Boohoo.
The next day I calmed down and googled some more and you want to know why all the disasters? Because I didn’t sand to the bare wood!
There were areas with old finish and that:
a) made the stain not dry and remain tacky (it was on top of old finishing, remember)
b) which made it impossible for the 1stcoat of poly to dry
c) which subsequently created an unfavourable surface for the 2ndcoat of poly
“But, but.. you used the Klean Strip Sander Deglosser!”, you say..?
There’s only one reason why the Sander Deglosser didn’t work:
It’s not meant to strip stain/paint/poly/varnish. Period.
Sooo.. how come it created that weathered wood look? That would mean it stripped the new poly and got to the stain too, right? *Scratching head*
Well, I am no expert but I’m just taking an educated guess that because the original finish didn’t allow the coats of stain and poly to dry, I was technically just wiping them off with the help of the chemicals in the Sander Deglosser. And as its name implies, the stain still, well, stained.
For the benefit of others like me, the sander deglosser acts as a deglosser ONLY. I guess I was mislead by the ‘sander’ in the name. It does not sand, people. Well, not the dust flying through the air kind of sand, at least. But what it does is, it microscopically scratches and dulls existing finishing so that new PAINT will adhere better to the furniture. Which is exactly the result we expect from a conventional sandpaper when we sand before we repaint old furniture. So technically, yes, it did ‘sand’. It prepped furniture for latex painting but not staining or finishing.
Are you still with me? Confusing, I know.
Now, to remove stain and finish we need to either use a stripper OR sand down to the bare wood with a tool – palm, random orbital or belt sander. I painstakingly tried with paper and sponge sandpaper, there’s no way that we can do that manually (remember why I bought the grinder/sander in the first place). If you can, then my hats off to you, sir.
I knew what needed to be done – sand the table properly. I found myself back at square one.
Yup. I bought a sander.
I got this Skil Sander 7333 for RM116. Cheap and hopefully effective because I really want to finish this table before Raya.. And so I began. Again.
Table makeover PART 2
STEP 1 – SAND
To tell you the truth, I was a bit scared because it was my first time, but the palm sander is so easy to manoeuvre. I started with 60 grit then 80 grit then 100 grit. I went through a lot because:
a) the palm sander is not as powerful as the random orbital or belt sander
b) the table still had a layer of old finish AND stain mixed with poly that clogged up the sandpaper fairly quickly.
I didn’t want to go round in circles and the palm sander was obviously nowhere as strong as I’d hoped (it’s still a good tool to have just not to sand through poly), so I used paint thinner.
With a clean rag I rubbed a little thinner on areas that were still shiny with finish. And hey, they came out! Soon my table began to have that dull look that I was so yearning for. NOW I could sand without clogging my sandpaper.
There’s an article here that I find particularly useful. How To: Remove Varnish and Other Wood Finishes by Bob Vila Option one (sanding) didn’t work so I moved on to option two (use thinner/spirits etc) which proved the most successful.
Once I was convinced I was done I sanded again to get a smooth finish. I did not manage to sand to bare wood — as I said, perhaps the palm sander was not powerful enough or maybe the stain had penetrated deep down — so even though the stain was lighter in colour but the dents and nicks were still very obvious. But I didn’t mind at all.
STEP 2 – STAIN
I decided it was enough sanding and applied stain. I used a clean rag to dip in the tin and rub into the wood without allowing any residue to sit on the wood. I did this because, like I said, the wood was already stained so I didn’t want to end up with a too dark table.
Surprisingly, even though I didn’t sand to the bare wood, the stain went on smoothly and was a lot more even. There were still patches but acceptable ones that gave the tabletop character. When I ran my hand across the table it felt very smooth which made me realise that the initial surface was much too rough to accept anything. No wonder my plan fell apart from the start.
Note: Best part about DIY is the amazing new knowledge you walk away with.
STEP 3 – FINISH WITH POLYURETHANE
I let the table dry for more than 24 hours. Then I cracked open the Poly can. This time I stirred and stirred and stirred with a wooden chopstick. I think I counted till 100 before I stopped. Using a new foam brush, I carefully brushed on a thin layer going with the grain. So far it looked good. Actually it looked awesome. Once I’d covered the entire top, I let it dry.
The next day, all I could think about was my table. Was it dry? Did the sander work? Did I waste money again? At work, I was itching to go home, I couldn’t stop myself from checking the clock. The moment I got back, after plonking my kids in front of the Disney Junior channel, I rushed to the table and breathlessly touched the finish.
It was dry. Did you hear that world? It’s dry!
My goodness, what a difference thorough sanding did for the table! Not only was the coat smooth, but it was a hard shell that was the exact opposite of my first gummy attempt! Of course, upon closer inspection I could see a few teeny tiny bubbles but it wasn’t so noticeable since the entire look was ‘distressed and weathered’ anyway. Wasn’t gonna let those bubbles pop mine!
On to the next step, I got out my 220 grit sandpaper and cautiously hand sanded, remembering what happened before. And you wouldn’t believe how happy I was when I sanded dust and not gummy goo! I was almost dancing! THIS is how it’s supposed to be. Dust dust beautiful dust.
One final poly coat and two ‘dry-time’ days later, my table was done. Beautiful. Smooth. Antique-looking. Just gorgeous!
Here it is with the newly painted chairs. If you want to see that tutorial just click here.
I’m so very happy with the result, I seriously get choked up. The colour of the table is uneven, but somehow, after going through good sanding, the effect is actually quite pretty. That is the power of thorough sanding with a proper tool.
This was among the hardest DIY I’d ever done but the most educational. One thing’s for sure, I’ve come out a much wiser person DIY-wise.
Hugs & Kisses