Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The story of a refinished table (part 1 - prep)

This is the story of a table with a lovely walnut colored top.
See? Pretty! But let's take a closer look.
(If you click on the image you can see it bigger, and get full appreciation for my screw ups) I got drippy poly down the sides because I was working in an area that didn't have very good light...so I missed them.

Then, you have to keep in mind that this is a truely handmade table top. It is smooth and fabulous, but it is not 100% flat. When we went to lightly sand after the first coat of polycrylic, one little spot did "something weird". It cut through the single layer of poly on one tiny high spot (even though we were very gentle with it and it was set plenty long) and took off the stain. It was a hard spot, so the stain hadn't gone deep. I figured I'd just re-stain that spot, but I went to hit it and it was like it had pulled the stain off *below* the poly because it would not take stain on that spot again...like I said...weird! Anyway, we wanted pictures of the table for advertising and stuff, so we decided at that point, to fix it, we'd have to strip it anyway, so I finished a few more coats of poly hoping that it wouldn't look as bad in the morning...But it did.

So, due to one little weird spot, you get to take the ride with me as we refinish this table and I'll share what I've learned and what I used on this project.

Step 1....sand the table.
I know that I only had a couple little mistake spots. And I tried to spot fix them, but since we were going from such light wood to such a dark stain, I quickly found it was not possible to do to my satisfaction. (well, the drips could have been an easy fix since I could have just re-done the end with drips, but the top could not easily be fixed). Mr. Duck was in charge of the sanding. His weapon of choice for this is a belt sander. It is MUCH faster then a palm or random orbit sander, and helps give a flatter surface, cutting though stuff more evenly...but I think it must take a skill I don't have because I feel like I always cut through the wood too fast and take off more then I want to. I would have used a palm sander for this and taken a day and a half, where it took him about 2 hours. Start with course grit and work your way to finer grits. He used 40, 80, 120, then 220 on the belts. 40 cuts through VERY fast so it's only used with extreme caution, and he only put it on when he found the 80 was having a hard time getting though the finish. Mr. Duck's tips on using a belt sander - "hold the sander in a 'neutral' hand position...not tipping it front to back or sided to side because that will leave gouges. Let it sit flat on your surface and only use your grip to slide it around."

Follow up with a sanding block and 220 grit paper. Pay special attention to the end grain as it will absorb stain faster...the smoother it is, the better it is to work with.
This is a good time to take a break and see what is growing in the garden, and see how cute Katie is :)
Step 2 - Set up your work space and gather supplies
Put your table somewhere with good, even lighting (to avoid drips the second time around....) and gather your supplies. I like to work with water based products whenever possible...they are less smelly, dry quickly and don't require special attention when disposing of rags and brushes. Plus, the water based stain comes in TONS of colors. Yes, that is water in a spray bottle, I'll get to that in a moment. For rags right now, I'm using an old baby blanket, But t-shirts work very nicely too.

Step 3 - pre-raise the grain
Because I'm working with water based stain, I want to pre-raise the grain. When you put water on wood, it will absorb the water and the grain will lift up giving a bumpy surface. Minwax makes a wood conditioner that will do this too, but I've found this method to work just as well on hardwood. On a soft wood, I'd use the wood conditioner. To raise the grain, give the whole top a liberal misting of water. I have read that some hard water will leave spots and to use distilled water...I use filtered water and find it to work fine. Let this sit for about 1 hour then hand sand with 220 grit.

This is the end of part one (as I'm blogging while eating lunch and waiting for my hour to be up to sand....) At this point, you are pretty much at the end of the "prep" phase of refinishing a stained table. Next up, we'll actually get some color on that top!


  1. Nice tutorial Heidi! When I refinished my first coffee table, I had some of the same problems with the stain.

    Spraying the table with the water, to raise it... I learned something new. I have always just used the wood conditioner.

    I have been sanding and priming my front door - huge mess and lots of works. Have gone through 60 grit sandpaper like it is going out of style! The door is wide open as I type, trying to allow the primer to dry.

    On a side note, your daughter is super cute! Can't believe you have crookneck squash already!

  2. I've had those same frustrations with poly and a table top. It drove me crazy! Finally, after my third attempt at perfection, I just had to tell myself that the little imperfections just showed that it was done by hand and added to it's character.

    About the tray---I used Rust-oleum Universal Silver Hammered and then gave it a light dusting of Krylon Aluminum to give it a little more shine and depth.
    I highly recommend using the Universal paint for a project like this because it's meant to stick to all kinds of surfaces including plastic. Once you have that as a base coat you can layer any kind of spray paint.

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