We have four kids. So, I thought I had a pretty kid friendly space. I was wrong. For roughly oooh, forever, Mike and I had a crappy table. I’d paint right on top of it – no protection needed. Sew – sure, right on top of it, draw – you name it I did it right on that table top. I knew if I ever wanted to “fix” it, I’d have to sand the whole thing down and paint or stain it. The thing is, I had zero intentions of ever fixing that table because it had four legs and we have a built in banquet. What I wanted was to replace it with a pedestal base table. It took me a long time to find the “perfect” table and when I did – I bought that thing. I brought it home and I threw that old table outside. Then I started protecting it when I painted/sewed/drew/did crafts with the kids.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure I taught my kids some bad habits when we had the old table. Because while I was patting myself on the back for coming up with a great indoor activity, E was spilling nail polish all over my table. Then she was rubbing it in with a paper towel. There were tears shed and apologies made and a trip to the big blue box store in all under an hour. Me and my four satellites. I had lived so long with a crappy table I just wanted my pretty table back.

sanding tabletop

Step 1: Sand the mess out
I used 220 grit sand paper on my random orbital sander. Just a quick run over it, enough to remove the finish and a bit of the surrounding finish so your stain will be able to touch bare wood. FYI – this table is covered in a veneer in case you are wondering if this will only work on solid wood. As long as you don’t overdo it with the sander you can fix veneered surfaces.

I wish I had a picture of the table before I sanded out the mess. However, nail polish has acetone in it soooo….yeah. I think you can imagine what it looked like.

Step 2: Gather up your arsenal
fixing table top2

  • Steel wool grade #0000
  • Oil based stain(s) – color to match the finish
  • Staining rags – old shirts will work
  • Chip brushes
  • Minwax finishing paste or polyurethane/laquer/whatever
  • Microfiber towel or similar lint free towel
  • Paper towels

staining tabletop

Step 3: Apply the stain
To get a richer color I often use more than one stain when I am finishing furniture. Today I mixed Minwax ebony with Rustoleum dark walnut. Usually I mix ebony with kona and I use Rustoleum brand. However today the store was out of my favorites so I went with the closest match. Rustoleum can be re-applied after an hour – Minwax is 4-6 hours between coats. I applied the dark walnut first. I use cheap chip brushes to apply stain working with the grain. They work really well and I can throw them away when I’m done. After a 15 minute dwell time I wiped the excess stain off with a rag. After an hour I repeated this process with the Minwax ebony. When I wiped the excess I knew I needed another coat of ebony to get a better color match so I let it sit over night (it was bedtime). In the morning I applied one more coat, waited, wiped, then waited until the kids went to bed to apply the finish. If you are happy with the final color move on to the next step.

minwax paste

Step 4: Apply the finish
If you ever plan on painting the surface of what you are fixing you can just use wipe on poly or your favorite clear finish to go on the surface. Make sure you use something that has the same sheen as what you are matching up – or plan to coat the whole thing. If you are like me and do not plan on ever changing your table – because it is perfect just the way it was is, then use Minwax finishing paste. The beauty of paste is it protects the surface from spills and it doesn’t leave brush marks. But, like wax it resists a new finish – so if you want to ever paint the surface you will need to sand it off. It’s fairly easy to apply, leaves a sheen based on how much you buff it and – get this – the finish is so smooth it will match whatever factory finish your table already has.

steel wool minwax

Dip your steel wool into the paste and then start rubbing it onto the entire surface of the table.

table top applying minwax paste

I like to rub it in with the grain and I always do the edges of the table first – this way I know I covered them when I’m covering the center and not paying attention to my strokes. Some people rub it in with a buffing/circular motion – it’s a sanding tool so I follow sanding rules. If anyone has a reason why it’s better to do circular let me know!

table top with minwax paste

It’ll begin to dry and when it does it’ll look like crap. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes on the surface then start buffing it out. Do not let it sit longer – more is not better. It’ll get too hard to buff and you’ll have to sand it off.

finishing tabletop4

I used a microfiber towel for my first round of buffing. Then I finished with a combination of a paper and microfiber towel until I got to my desired sheen. You want to remove all of the excess paste. If you aren’t sure if it’s off just press your finger on the surface – like your making a fingerprint and if it leaves an imprint you’re not done.

When you’re done, it’s going to look like it did before – maybe just cleaner : ) Here’s some close ups of the finished tabletop and I swear I didn’t touch them up in Photoshop.

finished tabletop finished tabletop2


The first photo was taken when I got the table. The sheen is the same. I only refinished half of the table and the other side matches.

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