Dining Table Before-And-After (Plus Tutorial!)

I’m excited to finally be able to share the before-and-after of our dining table, plus a step by step tutorial so you can do this too, because I found that painting and refinishing is not hard – it just takes a bit of time.

So, remember me telling you about this dining table I found on Craigslist for $50?

Well, what I neglected to say is that I’ve never actually refinished anything before. I’ve finished new wood and painted finishes. I’ve even lightly sanded and refinished a surface without fully taking the first finish off (this vanity top). But I’ve never attempted to try to completely remove the previous finish and start anew.

So this was a challenge for me. I could’ve just painted the whole thing, but I wanted the look and easy care of a wood top (plus, no more tablecloths...). I do like painted bases, though, so I was only challenged by the top, which turned out to be not that hard.

So, without further ado… here’s the table after:

Dining Table After
I LOVE how it turned out. I like the darker wood top and the contrast with the creamy white base. I also like how the plain design of the pedestals look in our cottage, which was of course is purely happenstance when looking on Craigslist!

However, I am having to “embrace imperfection” here, big time. There are little white flecks in the finish and even a small fiber of some sort. I thought I wiped and cleaned before each coat of polyurethane, but I did it in the garage and there must’ve been stuff floating in the air.

But what I’m really embracing is the fact that no one will probably notice these flaws but me. Whew. (Update: I even have stopped seeing these ‘flaws’ and only remembered them when reading back through this post a couple years later!)

Now that you’ve seen the finished product, I just know you’re waiting on pins and needles for me to take you through the step-by-step process so you can find your own table to redo, so here are the details:

I didn’t get a shot of removing the finish on the table top because it’s a messy job and my hands were encased in gloves. It wasn’t hard, though- paint the varnish remover on, wait the specified time, and strip it off with a putty knife.

I then washed it with mineral spirits and steel wool and then sanded it, which is the stage at which the above picture was taken.

Since I was just painting the legs, I only sanded them, and not that much, either- ugh, they were full of crevices and bumps and hard to reach. So glad paint covers a multitude of sins.

I had read a number of blog posts about refinishing prior to this project and one said they wished they had painted before finishing the top, so that’s the order I chose.

I taped off the top with plastic so I could spray paint the bottom. I thought it would give a smoother finish and be a lot easier.

And guess what? It’s true!

It’s not as frugal as painting with a brush, but, oh the time it saves. I was seriously wondering why I had never done this before.

I started with a flat finish primer all over the bottom (one can covered).

Then I sprayed on a paint I had been reading about on all those blogs, too, Rust-oleum’s “Heirloom White.” It really is a great color- just the creamy white color I like.

The table base took one full can to coat and I did two coats. A can is about $3.50 each, so again, not the most frugal, but I think it took a quarter (or less!) of the time versus brush painting. And since I think the smoother finish is nice, this is one area where it makes sense to pay a bit more.

After letting it sit for about three weeks, *uh-hem* I removed the plastic covering the top and gave it another light sanding.

Gee, I’m glad being covered in plastic that long didn’t hurt the wood- that would’ve been a bummer.

The leaf is a different color because it was a darker color when I got it from not being used as much as the main table. Removing the varnish did not even out the color, and I don’t know how long I would’ve needed to sand to get down to the wood, but I decided it wasn’t worth worrying about, and I will just use a tablecloth whenever we use the leaf.

I decided to follow another suggestion I read about and bought this pre-stain to help the darker stain I wanted to apply go on more evenly. Since I don’t know what it would’ve looked like without it, I can’t tell you if it was needed, but this was a large surface and I wanted to get it right, so I didn’t take any chances.

After applying the pre-stain according to the directions, I stained it using “American Walnut.” I put two coats (over a period of a couple days…) on the leaf and three on the table to get the look I wanted.

When that was dry (again, weeks later…sometimes I’m just amazed at how long these things take me!), I started applying the coats of water-based polyurethane. I learned two things applying this:

  1. Always use a wide foam applicator instead of a brush. I had brush strokes in the middle of the table in the first coat that I spent the next four coats trying to minimize.
  2. Do long strokes from one side of the table to the other (with the grain), not from one side to the middle and start in the middle of the table and work towards me (yes, I have a shirt with poly on the bottom of it now…).

Oh, wait, that was really three, wasn’t it? Darn.

Do you think I left that plastic bag in the above picture by accident? It’s really to remind me to tell you that I did these five coats of polyurethane over a period of about a week (yes, I know it only takes two hours to dry between coats, but apparently this is how my life rolls right now…) and I was able to keep using the same foam applicator by keeping it in this bag between coats.

Seriously, for a week and it never dried out. Not even on a corner.

Dining Table

So, there you have it- all the steps I took to bring this table from Craigslist throw-out to a dining room beauty (at least in my eyes!).

I didn’t keep exact records, but all the materials probably amounted to about $25. So for a total of $75 dollars, I’ve got a great looking table that fits our needs and most importantly doesn’t need a tablecloth. Whoo-hoo!

What do you think- did I get a deal or do you think I went to far too much trouble?


This is linked to:
Favorite Tutorials 2010
Transformation Thursday
Frugalicious Friday
Show and Tell Friday
Show Me How (It’s a Blog Party)

Frugal Friday @ Shabby Nest


  1. says

    You did a great job. I love it. Your tutorial couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I have a table that I’m wanting to do about the same thing to this weekend. Thanks for you hints. I was going to brush paint the bottom, but now think I will definately try the spray paint. Seems like it’s worth a little extra cost for the great results.

  2. says

    wow. this is amazing. great job! inspires me to refinish my 1981 kitchen table. i don’t think a thing has been done to it in the last 30 years!

  3. says

    The table looks wonderful, Jami! I’ve had a farmhouse table for several years that I finally, FINALLY refinished last month. The legs and base were already painted a creamy white and were distressed, so no work was needed there, though I recently used Heirloom White to paint a dresser-cum-bathroom vanity and was very pleased with the finished piece. Anyway, I refinished the top of the farm table by using an orbital sander, which of course made a big mess on my porch, so next time I need to remove a finish, I’ll try a varnish remover like you did. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and thanks for writing this blog. I’ve been reading it for a few months but this is the first time I’ve commented. I always look forward to receiving the email updates that you’ve written a new post!

  4. Dan says

    The top looks great with the stain. We like the Heirloom White, too. It seems like projects always take three times longer than you think they should. I think it’s one of those “laws”. Good Job!

  5. says

    Great Job! I did my own table too, but got mine from an unfinished wood furniture store. Did this on purpose so that I can refinish in the future after my kids mess it all up with dings and dangs. Looks AWESOME!

  6. says

    Sorry- about the double post! I think your table came out amazing and you got a great deal on it!! I love the finishes you chose!! Enjoy that beauty- Well done! I host a decorating inspiration party at my blog on the weekends if you would like to join sometime. :)

  7. Jami @An Oregon Cottage says

    Anon- I just taped the brass feet before spraying, but I did see little nail-like things, so I bet people “in the know” take them off.

    Me? I just tape. :-)

  8. jen says

    GORGEOUS! Well worth the work and a great deal! It will be loved by your family for years…a “new” heirloom! Love it!

  9. says

    Oh my goodness, Jami, this is BEEEEEEEEAUUUUUUUTIFUL! Wow! And WOW again!

    It’s just a total transformation. Incredible. Did I mention WOW?!

    And also, that was a really good tutorial.

    Thanks so much for your lovely comments about our bedoom linens.


  10. says

    Beautiful! I have come to know that some of those involved jobs to make a house a home, bring the most joy. You will enjoy meals at this table, visit around this table, it is a central point in the room. No, not too involved. Great job on breaking it down into workable steps that fit your needs.

  11. diXymiss says

    Nicely done! I eXpect whenever you sit down to dine it will be with a big smile of satisfaction on your face ~ but without a table cloth! ThanX for the inspiration and great tutorial.

  12. Marsha Neal Studio (Marsha's Garden Blog, Marsha Minutella) says

    Looks wonderful! Love seeing your projects (especially because you eventually get around to actually finishing them!) Thanks for sharing with us all…

  13. Vicki says

    Absolutely gorgeous! Worth a few hundreds if you ask me so well worth the $75, you`ve inspired me to get mine done, thank you!

  14. Billie says

    I am about to do this to my kitchen table & I love your tutorial. Thank you so much! My only concern is about protecting the painted part of the table (& I’d like to paint our chairs white). Did you use poly on those? If so, what kind? And did it yellow the paint? I can’t wait to get this project started and over with! Thanks!

    • says

      I didn’t apply any type of coating to the paint, Billie. I’m okay with the distressed look (as most painted surfaces achieve that look eventually in our house anyway, lol). But spraying the paint (either with spray paint like I did the base or with a hand-held paint sprayer like I did the chairs) seems to make the paint adhere better than brushing – not sure why, but that’s been my experience. The chairs have very little distressing 2 years later and the table only at the legs where people’s feet rest on them. I could easily touch that up if I cared, ha. Which is another reason not to coat the paint – it would be harder to touch up. Have fun with your project!

      • Billie says

        Thanks so much for your reply! I saw your post about the chairs. I am currently searching for a paint sprayer to borrow. (FYI – I’ve just discovered your website & have pinned several items. :) )

  15. C. says

    Did you move the table legs to the center? Our table has same legs at either end. After moving the legs were put on backwards & the chairs would not fit snugly to table. Finally we unscrewed them, spun them around & chairs fit perfectly. However, I like the idea of center legs to give floor “airier” , spacious look. Do all your chairs fit easily? We have 6 chairs.
    I’m so tempted to paint my table but have the buffet, china hutch & secretary & don’t know if they will all turn out as nicely.

    • says

      We didn’t move the legs – they get wider when he extension is put in. Our chairs fit fine, I just make sure to set them on the sides of the table legs. Yowsa, not sure I would want to paint that many things, either. :) But you could paint just part of the table and the top would still coordinate with the other items, maybe?

    • C. says

      The table top is actually pristine from custom pads & tablecloths. I was waiting til kids got older to remove the padding! Lol It is time to enjoy fully it’s beauty. Table was a hand me down from a beloved friends mom so I wanted to take good care of it, sort of to honor them.
      We are renovating our “new” 70’s decor ranch recently purchased. We have painted out all the dark wood moldings, doors, paneling, bookcases, the list goes on. It all looks so clean, I think I’m ready to tackle the secretary & table legs/chairs. Thanks for the advice & quick answer.

  16. Alex says

    I absolutely love this! A good friend of ours gave us this same exact table when he moved out of his house and I was trying to decide how I wanted to refinish it, thanks to your post.. I have decided! Walnut is my favorite wood so as soon as I saw this I knew it was the one. May I ask what brand you used for the American walnut stain? Is there anything specific about it? I’ve never stained anything in my life lol.

    • says

      I guess that was the can I didn’t show, right? It was Minwax brand, I believe Alex. I usually use their stains. I hope you end up enjoying your table as much as we have. :)

      • Alex says

        Thank you for the reply! Right after I posted I noticed there was a picture under the wood conditioner picture and I could see a little bit of the word “wood” on the front so I thought you might say that, glad to have for sure on that though! I did the varnish remover tonight, I think I’ll have to do it one more time though. Thanks again for the awesome instructions, I’d be lost without it! :)

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