How to refinish a cherry dinning room table

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Blog entry by CatiaMan posted 10-22-2012 02:11 AM 7766 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hello to all and thank you for reading this post,

This blog is to ask if you can identify what the factory finish is on a table I just purchased from a work college for $35 (no chairs). His young children used it while growing up and the finish has many scratches but nothing a bit of sanding won’t take care of. I plan to use my new Mirka jet-air sander (MJVS5) with Abranet sanding disks. The table comes with two leafs, which are still in excellent condition (lower half of 2nd picture) and represent my refinishing goal for the rest of the table. Are you able to tell what the finish is from the pictures? I am fairly inexperienced with finish, I have done some nice work on oak with pumice and boiled linseed oil but this table finish is new to me which is why I’m writing and why I bought the table, perfect to practice on. So the finish is very smooth (light reflecting off it shows the surface is very uniform and smooth) but I would not say it is a high gloss, in my opinion it’s a satin fnish. Here’s my stab at it, the final coat is either varnish or lacquer but some kind of additive was used to create a satin finish. Or the high gloss was knocked off with some 3M scotch pads (or steel wool?). Well as you can see I’m not very finish savvy.

Here is my plan for refinishing:
(1) Sand through existing finish until wood is silky smooth (raise grain with water at some point)
(2) A paste filler fills the open coat,
(3) Apply stain. Try to get as close as possible to the existing color BUT since I am sanding the entire table, including legs, there is no need for a perfect match.
(4) Varnish or lacquer is applied. Since the grain is closed (step 2) even the first coat will provide a very nice smooth finish. Since I am after a satin finish, either rub the gloss off with 3M scotch pads or add something (?) to the finish to take the gloss away.

Let’s say I decide to leave the legs and table skirt as is and try to match the stain/finish of the table top to this, is is ok to practice on the top (after sanding)? Is this impracticle because too much sanding is required to remove the test patches that did not work? Maybe I should sand the underside of the table (or leafs) for color matching the stain?

Looking forward to your comments and thank you for your time and advice.

7 comments so far

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3452 days

#1 posted 10-22-2012 04:33 AM

I have been able to get a finish that looks like that by buffing laquer with fine steel wool.

Minus the scratches, of course.

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2966 days

#2 posted 10-22-2012 04:07 PM

A note about Step 1 – Whether or not you use chemical strippers, you can remove existing finish with a card scraper MUCH faster than you can with sandpaper. It’s cleaner, too. More curls, less dust.

-- Brian Timmons -

View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

267 posts in 3670 days

#3 posted 10-22-2012 04:59 PM

Removing the entire old finish may be overkill. I’ve been successful just sanding the existing finish and then putting down finish on top of the old finish. If the scratches don’t reach the wood, this should be doable—and will save you a lot of work and/or heartache trying to match the stain/color of the existing finish. At the very least, you could try this in a small section and see if it works for you—not much lost if it doesn’t.

View CatiaMan's profile


19 posts in 3709 days

#4 posted 10-22-2012 06:55 PM

Brian, great idea to use a scraper or chemical strip, followed by a light sand. I’ll go that way if Scott’s suggestion does not pan out. Scott, the scratches are not deep at all (1/64th or so) but there are so many I may have missed some deeper one’s, which puts me back to sanding rather than scraping/chem stripping since I can control the amount of finish removed more closely. Scott, I hear what you are saying about overkill. The top is gonig to need much more attention then the skirt and legs, maybe removing all the finsih is overkill. And since the legs are french style (lots of compound curvature) it makes sense to reduce the amount of sanding in this area but then it will require more attention to color matching (legs to new table top finsih). Wow, this finishing business is full of trade offs. I think I’ll start by doing a controlled top sanding, just enought to remove the deepest scratch and see how much color remains then go from there. I’ll post a new picture when I get that far. Thanks everyone for your comments.

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3375 posts in 4194 days

#5 posted 10-24-2012 04:19 AM

There’s a Formsby product that just cuts through the varnish and doesn’t affect the stain color. Have you considered that possibility?


-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View RogerM's profile


800 posts in 2880 days

#6 posted 10-24-2012 05:33 PM

Cherry is not an open grain wood and does not need a paste wood filler. I think that I would omit the paste wood filler step.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View pintodeluxe's profile


5975 posts in 3294 days

#7 posted 10-24-2012 05:45 PM

Strip finish down to bare wood. Sand at 120, 150, and if desired 180. Apply a washcoat of Zinssners bullseye (thinned 3 parts denatured alcohol : 1part bullseye). Sand washcoat lightly with fine sanding sponge.
The washcoat prevents cherry from looking blotchy.

Stain to desired color with oil based stain. I like Rodda and Varathane brands.

Spray two coats pre-catylized lacquer in a satin sheen. I like a gravity feed hvlp gun that runs off your compressor. They are $30 at Woodcraft.
Sand the lacquer with the fine sanding sponge between coats.

The last step is optional: buff out tabletop with #0000 steel wool and Howard’s walnut wax.
Roger is correct, no grain filler is needed for cherry.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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