How to Refinish a Coffee Table: A DIY Guide for Newbies
How to Refinish a Coffee Table: A DIY Guide for Newbies

How to Refinish a Coffee Table: A DIY Guide for Newbies

Is your coffee table beat-up and old, but not too old that you’d throw it away? How about trying your hands at refinishing it? Don’t worry; you don’t need a carpenter to do it; you can actually do it yourself, and this article will teach you how to refinish a coffee table.

How to Refinish a Coffee Table?

Since sanding a table creates a lot of dust, so make sure that you are not sanding it indoors or in your living room. The best place to sand and finish your furniture is outdoors, or places like a garage. In case you don’t have any other option except indoor options, choose a place with a lot of ventilation.

Also, make sure to keep a plastic drop cloth over the floor. This way you can collect the sanding dust and can throw it away easily. If you have a family, keep them out during the sanding process, especially young children who can inhale the dust.

Step 1 – Find the Supplies

Below is a short list of things you are going to need:

  • A cleaning spray as well as a piece of clean cloth or towels made of paper
  • Several pieces of 60-, 120-, and 360- grit coarse sandpapers
  • A mechanical sander or a block
  • A tack cloth that is clean and dry
  • A stain or paint and primer

Step 2 – Understand the Type of Furniture You Are Working With

Before you get started, it is important that you understand what you are working with. Applying a different method on different wood can destroy your furniture. Some methods work on one type of wood, while others work on other types of woods.

If you are doing it for the first time, make sure that you to start with inexpensive furniture before moving on to more expensive ones.

For example, it is better to refinish solid wood furniture compared to veneer furniture as it is thinner. However, in case you’re confused about the type of wood surface, try analyzing the grain pattern. For example, veneer normally features repeats across the width of the grain.

Step 3 – Scrub, Scrub, and Scrub!

One of the common mistakes that people commit doing it the first time is not spending enough time scrubbing the surface. This is important before you strip the current finish. How is it done?

Start with cleaning off all the oil, grease, or dirt as thoroughly as you can. You can use an all-purpose cleaner to clean the piece of furniture you are working on.

Step 4 – Strip the First Finish

To start with stripping, choose the roughest sandpaper, which is the 60-grit. You should sand the furniture following the grain. Make sure to get rid of everything when sanding—be it old paint, varnish, or anything else.

You can use a mechanical sander for this job as it is designed specifically for this purpose. Next, use the tack cloth to wipe down the table. Make sure it is dust-free before you start with finishing. Repeat the process, but this time, use different sandpaper that is 120-grit.

If you wish to strip the finish more evenly, and in minimal time, try using a chemical stripper like methylene chloride. All you need to do is apply the paste all over the table, and let it sit for 10 minutes. Once the paste wrinkles, peel it off with a scraper, and you will be done.

Step 5 – Apply Your Color or Stain

As you can find wood stains in a wide range of shades, you can easily find shades for darkening your furniture as you like. How is it done?

Start with wiping everything down. Make sure to do one coat and give it some time to dry before starting with another coat. After the first coat, use the finest sandpaper, which is the 360-grit, to wipe off any dust from the piece before starting with your second coat.

Start with your second coat and repeat the process. You can apply as many coats as you want depending on the final output you need and the depth of the color you intend for. You can use an inexpensive foam brush to do the job for you.

Try teak oil for denser woods, and tung or Danish oil for all-purpose finishing. Make sure that if you’re staining your wood, don’t try to replicate the color of what the piece used to be. This is because no stain can exactly match your table’s original shade.

Tips to Remember When Refinishing Your Coffee Table

Now that you’ve learned how to refinish a coffee table, here are some tips to remember while you are at it.

  • Use Natural Light

To start with, you cannot refinish your table in dark or a place where light is dim. Whenever you are starting with finishing any wood furniture, make sure to find a place with a lot of natural light or full light.

This is essential to see any drips, as well as missed spots. Not doing this in a well-lit setting might mean that you will have to re-do it.

  • Work in a Clean Workspace

You don’t want to choose a place that makes your furniture more dirty due to dirt around while you are refinishing it, do you? During the furniture refinishing process, make sure to keep the surrounding space clean. For example, as soon as you are done with sanding, use a vacuum to remove dust.

Keep in mind that dust particles can quickly attach to the surface of the wood and can lie below the topcoat. To avoid this, make sure to wipe down the wood using a damp cloth as soon as you are done with vacuuming the dust.

  • Stirring Is Good, but Shaking Is Not

Here is a common mistake that you should learn about before starting with finishing. You can’t shake the container of the finish. Instead, make sure you stir it. Shaking will settle the ingredients of the mixture at the bottom, while stirring disperses them evenly into the mixture.

  • Testing the Color of the Stain

Samples are not always the best way to test the stain color and to decide how it will look on your furniture. Make sure to apply the stain somewhere hidden on your furniture before applying it all over.

Check if this is the stain color that you are looking for. If yes, then proceed with staining the entire piece. In doing it this way, there will be no unwanted surprises once you are done with the job.


Refinishing a coffee table may sound like a very difficult job, but it’s not entirely impossible. Instead of spending a fair amount of dollars hiring a handyman, you can easily get the task done at home. Moreover, you also get to experiment with different stains and colors for your coffee table.

Lastly, just remember that before you start refinishing your coffee table, make sure you understand the nature of the wood you’re dealing with. This is because refinishing cannot be done over all types of wood. It is most preferred that your coffee table is made up of solid wood if you want to refinish it.

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