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Refinishing a Coffee Table

refinishing a coffee table

We have a nice solid wood (don’t ask me what type of wood, but it’s hard) coffee table in our living room that my wife and I brought early in our marriage and we both love.

Fast forward 12 years, 3 kids, 2 Great Danes later and our coffee table looks…well, let’s just say it needs some love. A couple corners have been chewed, the finish on the top is chipping and ugly, and even though the wood is solid it looks like a junk store find.

I finally decided I had had enough and it was time to try refinishing the coffee table. So, I turned to my friends at Minwax for help. Minwax sponsored this post, which honestly just gave me the excuse to fix something that had been driving me nuts for years. In this post, I’ll show you how to easily refinish a coffee table in just one day without being a master of wood finishes.

Refinishing a Coffee Table

The body of the table was in fine shape so my focus was just on the top of the table where the bulk of the wear and tear was. I’m a big believer in fixing the root of the issue, and with this table it was likely the nightly dinners my wife and I ate at the table.

The ugly before picture

Sliding the plates and silverware over the finish without placemats caused most of this damage so I needed a finish that would hold up to this kind of use, which was obviously different from the original finish whatever that was. If you need help determining what type of finish you have check out this post.

Step #1 Stripping

I chose to work outside because of the better ventilation since I knew I would be working with oil-based stains on this table. I set up a drop cloth to keep my back porch clean. And then the first thing to do was to strip the old finish off the coffee table with 80-grit sandpaper using a random orbit sander. A random orbit sander is my go to sander because it is fast and efficient at removing finishes and preparing surfaces.

I was going to need to do more sanding for a fine piece like this, but this step focused on removing the finish. After the finish was off all the surfaces I was ready to make some repairs.

Step #2 Repairs

Next was fixing the chewed up corners from when my great danes were puppies. There was one main corner that was damaged and since it was structural repair I needed to use a wood epoxy.

For smaller damage in the field I prefer Minwax’s Stainable Wood Filler. It works great for patching nails holes or gouges in the field of the wood and stains very nicely to match the surrounding wood, but it’s not recommended for repairing edges like this where you really need an epoxy to prevent breakaway.

Step #3 Sanding & Prep

Once the repairs had hardened I was ready for final sanding. Since this is a piece of fine furniture I started with 120-grit sandpaper and then worked up to 180-grit and finally 220-grit. 220-grit is a sufficiently smooth surface that is still open enough to accept stain. If you sand to too fine of a grit you may have trouble staining your project.

Sand to remove the old finish

There is a golden rule about sanding that says don’t skip more than one grit in your progression of sanding. Skipping more than one grit can create blotchy stain or sanding swirl marks. So in my case, I only skipped 150-grit which shouldn’t cause a problem.

Once I was sure everything was sanded I blew the sanding dust off and wiped the table down with a damp cotton rag to make sure the surface was completely dust free and to open up the pores of the wood to ensure more even stain uptake.

Step #4 Staining

Now it was time to do some color matching. I was totally happy with the original color, so I was on the hunt for that same look.

Wipe on one coat of Minwax oil-based stain

Working with Minwax I knew I had a wealth of color options in the classic yellow cans of oil-based stains that have been trusted by folks like me for decades. Using my Minwax color swatches I felt that Minwax Dark Walnut was almost a perfect match to my color.

Always stir your stain thoroughly before and during use to keep the pigments suspended otherwise you can get color differences. Using a clean cotton rag I wiped the stain on generously and let it soak in for about 5 minutes before wiping away any excess. I then let the stain dry for 8 hrs before the next step.

Step #5 Applying Finish

A lot of my projects are finished with a few coats of polyurethane, but I knew that this table would get an unusual type of wear and tear so I decided to try something different. Minwax Paste Finishing Wax.

Apply 1-2 coats Minwax Paste Finishing Wax

This wax protects and beautifies wood projects that don’t need a hard, film forming finish. My method here is a little unorthodox and not one of Minwax’s recommended techniques, but I have used it for years and find it to provide an excellent finish on bare wood. In general, always follow the instructions on the can.

I apply my wax using a pad of 0000 steel wool. Steel wool is graded from 3, which is the coarsest, to 0000 which is extremely fine. Using this extra fine grade of steel wool polishes the surface even more and, I find, it results in a buttery smooth finish that feels hand-rubbed.

Using steel wool on surfaces with an existing finish can scratch the finish so using a clean cotton cloth in those situations is a better option, but on bare wood it works quite well. I applied one even coat of wax and let it dry for 15 minutes before buffing it off with a clean cotton rag.

The finished product!

You may find that you want two coats, but one coat is usually sufficient. Unlike using a polyurethane my coffee table was ready for action immediately.

Final Thoughts

Refinishing a coffee table like this may be a little different than what most people do with film forming finishes, but this makes it very easy to renew the finish in the future. If the finish starts to feel or look dirty I can give it a good scrubbing with mineral spirits to remove a gooey or dirty wax finish and then reapply a new coat of wax without having to strip and sand the finish.

This gives me a lot of potential time savings and makes for easy care of our coffee table in the future. If you’ve got a furniture piece to refinish I’d encourage you to give this process a try because I think you’ll really like the results.

To learn more about the Minwax products I used in this process check here to see the options might work for your project. Minwax has a stain for just about color you can imagine as well as any product you might need to protect that final product.

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