how to stain a table

22 November 2011

“Round or square, mahogany or oak, the table is the heart of every home, the nucleus of domestic life...” ~Doris Christopher


UPDATE: we re-finished it again, here is the updated post.

We got our table in 2003 from the classified ads in Boise, Idaho. Remember when we used to shp from the newspaper classifieds before Craigslist?? It was $450 and our first major furniture purchase. We started out using the table with our 2 oldest girls without any leaves. 3 children later and now we use both leaves. It has been such a good, solid table to us, but she really needed a facelift. Here we go:
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1. Completely sand down the existing finish on the table. This is a must so the stain will hold.  It is also a MAJOR pain in the wazoo. I hated every second. It took me about 3 hours (with plenty of interruptions) with an electric sander. It also made the decision for me not to sand the legs of the table. Down with anymore sanding! Make sure you get it bare and smooth.

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2. Apply wood conditioner, wait about 15 minutes and then wipe off the excess. Then the fun part begins!

3. Apply the stain with the grain. I used three different gel stains to get the color I wanted. Let your first coat dry, then apply additional coats until your color is achieved. Here is the difference in the stained table and the sanded leaf.

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It’s already looking so much better! Maybe all that blasted sanding was worth it?

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4. After your stain is dry, you’ll want to protect all of your hard work! I love this finish: Zip Guard Wood Finish.  It comes in satin, it’s water based and it is tough as nails. The guys at my local hardware store recommended it and said it was stronger than poly, and it has withstood everything my kids have dished out in the past 3 months. Time will tell, but right now it gets two thumbs up from me.

UPDATE 2016: Zip Guard was okay, but I now recommend a clear lacquer in a stain finish. It’s been almost indestructible with my 5 kids (except for some spilled nail polish remover!)

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Apply one coat at a time, again with the wood grain. I use a cheap brush that I can toss after the job.

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You’ll want to lightly sand between the coats of protectant~I use a very fine sanding block.

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Now, for our captains chairs and the bottom of the table. I decided to use the same color as our entryway: Glidden’s Olivewood.

First, you need to clean your nasty chairs.
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I called in my favorite 4 yr old assistant

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and we went to town with a toothbrush, some Dawn dish soap and warm water.

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Then we used our paint sprayer to spray the bottom of the table and the chairs.

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And here it is in the kitchen, bare and clean for just a second. The vintage blue chairs are from Craigslist and they bounce! and wipe down beautifully. and remind me of my Grandma’s.

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We have family coming to town to sit around this table with us…we can’t wait!

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving~do you know that this blog would be nothing without you? Thanks so much to each one of you that take a minute to read this crazy blog~you are a blessing to me.

Do you think the kitchen/dining table is the most important piece of furniture in your home?

*Kate also has a fantastic tutorial on staining her table…she gave me the courage to tackle mine!

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  1. melissa*320 sycamore1/7/14, 10:55 PM

    Hi Shawna,
    Sand where you can, and then I use liquid sandpaper in hard to get places. Then, I spray paint prime, then spray paint. I have also invested in one of those filtering masks for my face because I can't handle the fumes :) Good luck~

  2. I need to do this to my kitchen table-thanks for all the tips! 

  3. I have that table! It is currently in my garage half sanded. Yours looks beautiful and is just the motivation I need to get it finished!

  4. Love your table... I just refinished my kitchen table. I used the wood conditioner (based on your blog) and I wish I hadn't. It made my wood oily and made it so the stain didn't soak in evenly. It did the complete opposite of what I thought it was supposed to do. Once I resanded (to get the wood conditioner off) the table turned out great... I used to hate my kitchen table, now I LOVE it and walk thru the kitchen regularly just to see how it looks. :)

  5. This is exactly how I feel about my dining table

  6. Thank you for writing about this topic- it's been on my mind to do something about our table (and we have nasty chairs that need the toothbrush also!  Have to get my kiddos on that one!)  I love the color you did on the bottom and the end chairs in contrast to the stain - so pretty!  
    Hope you have a great Thanksgiving with your family Melissa!

  7. I love everything about that table!  It looks wonderful and those blue chairs are just too cool!  Have a great day tomorrow!

  8. melissa*320 sycamore1/8/14, 6:10 PM

    That was just beautiful.

  9. Bruce Johnson1/8/14, 6:15 PM

    Great wood staining tutorial, Melissa. The table looks fantastic! -Bruce

  10. the_shaw_shack1/8/14, 6:29 PM

    Hi Melissa!  I  am a little late commenting on this post, but I found your blog about a month ago and if you have noticed a rise in page views, it's probably because of me!  I have spent hours looking through all of your projects, being inspired by so many things and pinning away! haha!  I have a couple of questions and didn't see an email, so I thought I would comment hoping you would see it!  Okay---1.  I noticed on some of your gel staining projects that you used a wood conditiong/pre-soak and some you did not--is this a necessity?  2.  Do you recommend a poly top coat or a water-based urethane like in this post?  I am also doing my kitchen table.  And 3.  This has nothing to do with wood staining.  :)  I noticed in another post that you used the sticky tack (like teacher's used to use) to hang your pictures on your wall art/gallery wall.  Did you do this to all the frames?  And it has held up?  So no nails in the wall?  If so, that is genius!  I plan on doing something like that in the future, and my husband will be floored if he finds out he doesn't have to nail every single one of them!!  
    Sorry this is so long!  Thanks Melissa!  You rock!

  11. Very nice styling of the table and the chairs are also suited to occupy least space as well accommodate as many as possible.I like round and oval tables because more people can join in when there is a need.

  12. No flipping idea how you manage to get so much done.  Floored. Table looks great.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  13. My grandfather made me a new table top for ours with walnut stain and out of old fence posts that he planned and put together i love it and will be painting the base and chairs white this spring when it stops snow :)

    i have one question though after you cleaned the chairs how did you prep them for the paint? did you go through and rough sand all of the finish so that the paint would stick to it or did you do a liquid sandpaper or did you just go straight into painting? i just worry with kids that if i just paint them with out sanding first the paint will eventually flake off....... Thanks!

  14. Wonderful!  Your table looks great.  I've always loved a table with a painted bottom and stained top.  It's a great look.  And the dinette chairs--I'll bet the kids have fun with those!!  

    So glad you have company coming for Thanksgiving.  I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day.  Preston will be in the hospital at least until Friday or Saturday, but I'm hoping we can cook our turkey this weekend.  :)

  15. Melissa - your posts are always so timely!  We have a Craigslist-purchased farm table that I love.  It is solid, extremely heavy and hand-crafted (not a mass-produced product).  When I went to see it, it was not pretty.  The Windsor-style chairs were Kelly green with natural wood seats and the table itself was stained a natural wood color.  Not my style.  But I loved the table and chair style so i knew there was potential.   I pretty quickly tackled the chairs and sprayed them a deep chocolate brown - - they show black, but a smidge softer.  The table, however is another story.  I dread doing it.  First off it weighs a ton so my husband will need help getting it outside to sand/stain.  I cannot lift this beast!  Of course now we'll have to wait for spring or summer to do it.  But it was  always the farm legs that were throwing me off.  I knew they would be impossible to sand.  Well, now I see your painted legs and am loving the look.  I'm just not sure how chocolate brown legs would look?  Or do I not have to paint them the same as the chairs?  What other colors might look nice?  Or do you like black?  Here is what it would look like black I guess (although my table is larger).  So sorry for the long post, Melissa.  Enjoy your THanksgiving and thanks again for another great post!

  16. Melissa it looks like you had a professional come in and do it....your thinking right! It looks wonderful and now every time you look at it and sit down you can take pride in such a great job you did. Our kitchen table takes a beating too and I need to do the same thing. Thanks for the inspiration and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  17. Love your table and the timing of your blog!  I am tackling my table this weekend, since Friday my husband will be home (free labor!) What stain colors did you use on your table top? I have to admit I don't mind the work and the sanding, etc... it's picking the stain color that has me worried. That's been the barrier to this long overdue project.

  18. melissa*320 sycamore1/16/14, 10:51 PM

    I think it was a mix of special walnut, dark walnut, and provincial..about a third of each. I just practiced on a scrap piece of wood until I got it about right :) Good luck!

  19. Melissa it turned out gorgeous!  Love that you painted the base.  My Mom has the same table and has been wanting it refinished so this will help visualize!  

  20. Great job! The table looks great, just in time for Thanksgiving :)


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