Learning how to refresh a table isn't just for experts like designers or woodworkers. You can do it yourself, even if you've never used sandpaper before.

Whether your table is from a flea market and a bit worn out, you can easily give it a new look in a few simple steps. If you're planning to paint instead of stain, you can even skip the sandpaper step.

It's a straightforward do-it-yourself project that anyone can tackle.

You might discover that fixing up furniture is something you enjoy. After learning how to revamp a wooden table, you can apply the same skills to fix up other items like an old dresser from Craigslist, a potentially fantastic end table, or a hand-me-down sideboard.

Also, the effectiveness of each step will depend upon the type of finish on your piece.

Have fun with it—here's a simple guide on how to refinish a table in just five steps.

Step by Step Guide To Refinish Your Dining Room Table

Before you give your dining table or any wooden furniture a new look, make sure you have all the required supplies. Here's what you'll need:

  • Use all-purpose cleaning spray with a cloth or paper towels.
  • Obtain 60-, 120-, and 360-grit sandpaper.
  • Choose either a block sander or an orbit sander.
  • Have a clean, dry tack cloth on hand.
  • Get stain (or primer and paint) for the finishing touch.
  • Use paint and varnish remover (stripper) as needed.
  • Keep a putty knife ready.
  • Use a paintbrush for application.

Step 1: Understand Your Wood Table

Furniture designer Andrew Hamm advises being careful about the intricacy of a piece before starting the refinishing process. He suggests avoiding super detailed furniture, especially if you're new to refinishing, as pieces with lots of hand-carved details, scrollwork, or tight corners can be tedious. 

So your first step is to strip down the existing finish to bring the table back to raw wood.

When choosing furniture to refinish, solid wood is a better option compared to veneer, which is usually thinner.

Refinishing laminate, which is plastic, won't work.

If you're unsure about the type of wood surface, Hamm suggests examining the grain of the wood.

If the grain repeats across the width, it's likely wood veneer because it's been sliced off a single log to make a sheet.

Step 2: Clean Your Wood Table

The second step to painting a piece of furniture is always cleaning.

The main error beginners often make when refinishing is not setting aside sufficient time to clean and prepare the surface.

Before removing the current finish, make sure to clean the entire table thoroughly to get rid of dirt, oil, or grease with a tack cloth.

If you skip this step, you'll end up grinding these particles into the wood as you sand. Use regular cleaning supplies, like an all-purpose cleaner.

Step 3: Strip The First Finish

When dealing with the old finish, you have some choices. You can use a chemical stripper to take off the initial layers of paint or stain, but be sure to follow the instructions on the product label.

It's essential to wear rubber gloves and long sleeves and work in a well-ventilated space. After the stripper makes the finish soft, use a wide putty knife, a plastic putty knife or a metal scraper along the wood grain to remove the first coat.

Then, sand the table with 80- to 120-grit sandpaper to make the surface as smooth as possible.

Instead, you can use rough sandpaper to take off the original top coat from the table.

Begin with the coarsest sandpaper (60-grit) and sand along the grain. You can do it by hand, but using a mechanical sander makes the task much easier.

Afterward, wipe down the table with a damp paper towel or tack cloth to remove any sanding dust. Then, sand the surface again, this time with 120-grit sandpaper, to give the wood a smooth finish.

Step 4: Apply Paint Or Stain—Or Nothing

"After stripping everything off and revealing the raw wood, I prefer using an oil," says Hamm. "Furniture oils penetrate and protect the wood beyond the surface.

They can be reapplied later to enhance the wood's rich colors without making it shiny."

For denser woods, consider using teak oil, or for a general finish, try or Danish or tung oil. Pure Tung oil can take two to three days to dry, but Tung oil finishes that are blendonly take 24 hours, sometimes less.

If you're not a fan of the wood's natural color, choose a stain you like. Hamm advises against taking shortcuts by spot-refinishing specific damage or a chipped area:

"No stain will match the way your grandmother's walnut table aged in the sun of her dining room for 60 years," he adds.

If you're planning to stain the wood, start by applying a wood conditioner to ensure an even finish by preparing the surface for the stain.

After wiping everything down, use a paintbrush to put on one layer of stain following the natural grain. Allow it to dry, then gently use the finest sandpaper (360-grit) to smooth out any bumps or lint, and wipe away dust.

Apply more coats depending on the color depth you want. For priming and painting, sand the primer coat once it's completely dry before moving on to painting.

However, keep in mind that paint may not be as durable as an oil treatment, especially for heavily used furniture like a dining table, warns Hamm.

Step 5: Finish

If you use oil to refinish a table, your work is finished. If you're staining or painting, Hamm suggests applying a clear coat of stain for durability or two coats of paint—choose polyurethane or polycrylic.

Sand between coats using fine-grit paper. Once your coffee table looks brand new, decorate it as you prefer.