5 Things to NOT do When Refinishing a Table

March 04, 2018

About a month ago, we transformed our dining room table into the blue beauty it is today. Was it easy? No. We had never done a project like this before. Was it worth it? Yes! It looks great. Along the way, we hit many speed bumps. When we began the project, we didn't even plan to paint the table. We wanted to stain it. We even started over at one point.

Read on to hear of the heartbreak and tragedy that surrounded this DIY. Then, head our warnings while doing your own dining table reno.

Don't get crazy with the power sander

We got this table from my aunt, who got it from another relative before her. It's old and well-loved. The table top had a burn mark on it from a hot iron, and we did our best to cover it with runners and placemats for years. Eventually, enough was enough. We had to redo this table. 

My husband volunteered to sand off the old finish so that we could start fresh. We carried the table into the garage, and he got to work with a palm sander and a belt sander. He sanded and sanded and sanded. And when the dust cleared, he took a good look at the table. 

The table top, which we thought was made up of three separate, solid pieces of wood, was really covered in a veneer. What is a veneer? A thin layer of wood applied to a table top to give the illusion of solid wood. And Joe had sanded right through that veneer in several spots. In his defense, the veneer was in bad shape to begin with. Remember the hot iron? The damage we saw from that was veneer damage. When Joe started to sand, the veneer in that area turned to sawdust before he even knew what happened. 

After our veneer (and our hopes and dreams) disintegrated, the following conversation ensued.

Joe: I don't think we can stain the table. You'll be able to see the spots where the veneer is gone.

Meghan: Okay, so we have to paint it. Should we do a color or a neutral? Our whole house is neutral, so...

Joe: So we should do a color.

Meghan: Wait, what? I thought you would want to paint it gray. So it matches everything else.

Joe: I don't know. I thought you were saying we should paint it a color because everything is gray.

And so, we settled on blue. 

Do your research before you hit the hardware store

At the advice of the man working in the paint section of our local hardware store, we bought blue Dutch Boy latex paint and Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane polyurethane. He assured us that the result would be a high quality, durable finish. We painted the table with two coats of the blue paint, and when it was dry we began our multi-coat process of applying the polyurethane. We used a brush, and we were frustrated to find that our brush strokes were very visible even after each coat dried. 

 It looked awful. We bought a foam roller and used that for our next coat. It was still bad. Upon further research, we discovered that the polyurethane we bought does not work well with latex paint. Oops. Our only solution was to strip the table and start over.

Goodbye streaky blue mess!

Put your hair up

Before we realized that the polyurethane we were using wasn't a good match, we realized we had another problem. While carefully bending over the table, applying coats of the poly, I had evidently shed some of my long, blonde hair. Right into the wet finish. Yikes. Luckily, we were able to use tweezers to carefully collect the hairs, but it was a tedious process that I do not wish on my worst enemy. Pull your hair back, people.

Keep durability in mind

After stripping the table, we began our second attempt at beautifying it. We had a ton of blue latex paint left, so we decided to stick with that and change the product we were using for our top coat. Having a bad taste in our mouths from our streaky brush stroke experience, we opted to use a spray-on polycrylic by Minwax. The polycrylic spray went on beautifully. We were so pleased with the result. After several coats with plenty of time to dry in between, we carried our beloved, blue table back into our dining room. We were so proud.

The first night we ate at our "new" table, we gushed about how happy we were it was finally perfect. But when we went to clear away the dishes, we saw it. A ring. On the table top. Under our plates. 

As luck would have it (or more lack of research), the polycrylic spray we used did not stand up well to even a tiny bit of heat. Oops. 

Be realistic with your expectations

Did we strip the table and start over for a third time? No. We bought new placemats at Target. We're still proud of our table project, but we know it's not perfect. We'll probably buy a new table in a couple of years, but until then we are enjoying the pop of color this table brings to our home. We can laugh about our mistakes and talk about how we will do better next time. Joe says there will never be a next time. We are done refinishing tables. I say we'll see. ;)

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