Refinishing Antique Dining Tables

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Antique dining tables add a feeling of sophisticated elegance to any house. However, there comes a time when daily life is leaving the table a little dull. Or, you may find a solid investment online or elsewhere that needs a little love to restore its luster. Save your style and savings account by refinishing antique dining tables at home. 

What Makes a Dining Room Table "Antique"?

A dining room table should be at least 100 years old to qualify as an antique. If it is younger than that, let’s say a mid-century dining table your family acquired in the 1950s, it can still be worth a pretty penny as a vintage piece. Legacy pieces are not only a great investment because of the stories and value they hold. They are also often made from solid, real wood with craftsman techniques. Being so sturdy, they can stand the test of time, provided you give it the right TLC.

Refinishing Antique Dining Room Tables

Restore the majesty of antique tables by refinishing them. Knowing how to refinish furniture gives you an eye for the true beauty in repainted, dinged, and lived-in pieces. You can also gain an edge on bidding by seeing the simple solutions to painted pieces.

Remember to always refinish dining room tables in a well-ventilated space. If you have a lot of sanding ahead of you, wear a mask to protect your lungs.

Set up a Space for Refinishing

Because antique dining tables are valuable (and potentially heavy), you will want to minimize how often you move the table during your refinishing process. Lay down a tarp, preferably one that can be easily swept or vacuumed after sanding. Choose a well-ventilated space like a garage.

Stripping Paint and Varnish

Never paint, stain, or varnish over old paint or varnish. To ensure the best coverage, you’ll want to remove previous layers. A chemical stripper is the most effective first step.

Make sure when handling chemical strippers that you are following all handling instructions and protecting your breathing. The chemicals can be harsh, so gloves are a good protector.

You’ll need:

  • Chemical stripper
  • Brush (an old paint brush is perfect)
  • A scraper/sturdy sponge
  • A tray or old cookie sheet
  • Garbage bin (and safe disposal from pets and children)
  • Gloves
  • Breathing mask (optional)

Always follow the directions on a stripper. You will pour a thick layer of stripper onto the surfaces to be stripped. It will need to sit for a while, probably about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the stripper. The surface will look like it’s bubbling.

Scraping should be done with a dull stripper. If the stain, paint, or varnish comes off easily, a sturdy sponge may be enough. The wood is softened by the stripper, so you need to be gentle when removing the stripper and previous layers.

Use long strokes moving from one side of the table towards the next, catching the used stripper and gook in the tray.

Dispose of the waste safely, away from anywhere children or pets can get into it.

Clean off the table with a damp sponge or cloth and allow it to dry.


Depending on how damaged the wood is, you’ll need to sand to various degrees, but you’ll always:

  • Finish with a very fine sandpaper
  • Sand with the natural grain of the wood
  • Sand evenly across the surface instead of focusing on dings and damage

The following are tips on sanding antique dining tables:

Severely damaged wood surfaces: For severely damaged wood surfaces that have deep scratches or a lot of dings, you may want to use a mechanical sander. Use a coarser sandpaper but a delicate pressure. Work down to finer grain sandpaper. You can use wood putties and other fillers to fill deep cracks or dents after sanding (level off with a super-fine sandpaper) if you like. However, a few dings can lend character and authenticity to a piece.

Mildly damaged wood surfaces: Use a medium grain sandpaper and work to a super-fine grain.

Undamaged wood surfaces: Whenever possible, avoid sanding. It is unnecessary before treating your stripped wood. If you do need to sand, use a very fine sandpaper applied lightly by hand.
Clean up any dust that’s fallen onto the tarp below your table.


Before staining, painting, or varnishing be sure to use a microfiber or soft, shed-free cloth dampened to clean the surfaces of dust or particles. Be sure your surfaces are dry.

Staining, Painting, or Varnishing

After your surfaces are clean and dry, you can apply a stain or varnish. If you feel compelled to, you can also paint a table. However, many antique dining tables are designed to showcase the fine wood they’re made of. Once you’ve restored the wood to its best condition, oiling or varnish can bring out the natural glory of your piece.


It’s a dining room table regardless of when it came from. So, it will be subject to drinks, food, and the torments of diners. Protect your dining room table by sealing it with a final clear coat, like polyurethane.

Learn more about restoring antique dressers and creatively re-purposing everyday items.

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