refinishing a table

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Forum topic by metulburr posted 03-05-2018 02:53 PM 631 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 859 days

03-05-2018 02:53 PM

i bought a used dining room table at a sale that appears to be solid wood underneath, but most likely has veneer on top. I am not 100% sure. I dont think the top layer is sold wood as the wood has a somewhat intricate pattern of diamonds of grain going opposite directions. However the table top feels heavy enough that the core inside probably is solid wood.

The top of the table is painted on, has nail polish on it, and has a ton of scratch marks all over. My intention was to refinish the top. My problem is i have never done it before.

Before i sanded the top and did anything permanent…i wanted to double check on the process to make sure i didnt do any non-reversible damage.

The pictures of the table can be found here

Checking youtube videos, one person said to just sand it but not too deep, another said to put something on it and scrape the old stuff off before sanding. What would be the most simple apporach?

12 replies so far

View CaptainSkully's profile


1613 posts in 4335 days

#1 posted 03-05-2018 04:34 PM

I just listened to an old WoodTalk podcast episode about this. If you’re not a master at smooth planing, then the rest of us mere mortals should just sand down through the finish and expose fresh veneer for refinishing. That is definitely veneer and the substrate is most probably plywood, not solid wood. Or if it is solid wood, it’s probably not pretty enough to showcase on the table top. I wouldn’t start with anything more aggressive than say 120 grit and see how that works. If you go through the veneer, which is probably about 1/16” thick, it will show very clearly.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View LesB's profile


2558 posts in 4219 days

#2 posted 03-05-2018 04:59 PM

I have worked on similar situations and I removed the finish with a 2 1/2” Warner paint scraper (available at home depot). The scraper has a curves double sided blade that is easy to keep sharp on a bench grinder or with a fine file. A fine sharp burr on the blade does all the work so keep it sharp. You have good control of the depth of the cut and can easily change direction. Replacement blades are available. When I resharpen it I dull or curve up the corners so they don’t dig in. Then finish off with a card scraper or fine sand paper.
I have tried other scrapers including those with carbide blades and they just don’t work as well.

-- Les B, Oregon

View Lazyman's profile


5444 posts in 2164 days

#3 posted 03-05-2018 05:25 PM

I recently just stripped a mid century modern table that someone had painted. I used Citristrip Safer Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel (from Home Depot I think) and it worked very well. You can see before and after pictures here. The only problem I had was that because the veneer was walnut and had very deep pores, there was some very small amount of paint in some of the pores that I had only limited luck with dealing with. Since it is veneer, I could only sand it so much. I used a needle to pick out some of the worst of it but if you look really closely at the finish, there is definitely still some paint in some of the deeper small pores.

Edit: I used a plastic scraper to scrape away the finish after it was soften by the solvent and then used mineral spirits (originally said oil by mistake) to remove as much residue as I could before sanding with 100 grit and worked up to 220.

Note that I used the same stripper several years ago on a piece that had a poly finish on it and it did not work as well. Fortunately it was solid walnut so I just used some coarse sandpaper to get off what the stripper missed.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

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John Smith

2440 posts in 939 days

#4 posted 03-05-2018 06:24 PM

why don’t people recommend Homer Formby’s anymore ?

I used it back in the day when his TV show was popular
and it worked for my projects of this same nature.
(just wondering, that’s all).


-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

View johnstoneb's profile


3145 posts in 2949 days

#5 posted 03-05-2018 06:51 PM

The substrate is particle board. Which is just sawdust and glue mixed and compressed. An early form of MDF

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View Lazyman's profile


5444 posts in 2164 days

#6 posted 03-05-2018 11:28 PM

why don t people recommend Homer Formby s anymore ?

- John Smith

My assumption is that it doesn’t work with modern finishes. When it came out people were refinishing pieces made before 1950. Now, they are mostly refinishing stuff made after 1975.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View John Smith's profile

John Smith

2440 posts in 939 days

#7 posted 03-06-2018 12:31 AM

LM – that makes sense.

-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

View bilyo's profile


1112 posts in 1879 days

#8 posted 03-06-2018 04:02 PM

I take a opposite view to most of what has been said above. If you have never done stripping and refinishing before, this is not the piece to learn on. From your pictures, I have a very uncomfortable feeling about how the top is made. I might be a thin veneer. However, looking at your one corner picture, I think I see some “bubbling up” as if the particle board substrate has gotten wet and swollen. You didn’t say how old the table is. I’m wondering if the top could actually be a faux wood done with some kind of photographic process. If so, it will be paper thin. Zooming in on the picture you can see the damaged edge “flaking” off rather than chipping or splitting as you would expect to see if it were real veneer. In either case, until you have more information about it, I would not touch it with any kind of scraper, sandpaper, or stripper. I would carefully clean it as best you can and then put on a coat of paste floor wax and call it done. Maybe the nail polish can be gently scraped or lifted off with a good sharp razor blade; carefully.

View AxkMan's profile


65 posts in 903 days

#9 posted 03-07-2018 01:36 AM

That is laminate to my understanding. It is probably plywood or MDF with laminate. Any sanding will strip the thin wall paper like substance off. Sanding will make you lose the crosshatch designs and color.

If you do not want the laminate topping then why don’t you just make your own table like that?

Otherwise you should just buff as much as you can out.

View Lazyman's profile


5444 posts in 2164 days

#10 posted 03-07-2018 02:01 PM

If the veneer is not really wood, then none of the advice given will do you much good. It is just too hard to tell from the pictures. The way it looks in the close up of the corner looks like the way wood veneer chips off around the edge to me. The damage to the finish itself looks like a varnish to me too but it will take better pictures to know for sure. If it is not wood, you might be able to get the fingernail polish off using a fingernail polish remover but try it carefully. If it is wood veneer, it is very thin and you won’t’ be able to sand it much without sanding through so do not use a power sander at all.

Note that even if the underside of the top appears to be wood, it is very common for even relatively nice looking looking tables to have a particle board core with a wood veneer on the bottom to make it look like real wood. I found this out when a neighbor gave me some old table leaves to cannibalize for projects. The only part that was real wood were the aprons. The top had a parquet veneer and the bottom had a veneer of poplar. The edges had strips of poplar to hide the PB core. In hindsight I realized that they were way too heavy to be wood.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View dhazelton's profile


2839 posts in 3073 days

#11 posted 03-07-2018 02:34 PM

If you start stripping and scraping and power sanding you’ll kill what you have and that substrate is not all that solid. I would just use 0000 steel wool and a waterless hand cleaner (like Gojo without pumice) on the surface to smooth out what you have. Follow with something like Howard’s Restore-a-finish to protect. This is what people who restore antique wind up phonographs and old wooden radios do. It’s an older table and has had a life before you so embrace it.

View bilyo's profile


1112 posts in 1879 days

#12 posted 03-07-2018 03:47 PM

As you can see, there are varying opinions, based on your pictures, about how your table top is made. I strongly recommend that you find out for sure what it is before you start any restoration work. This will dictate what materials and methods you use. If we knew with certainty what the top material is, we could likely give you more consistent and definitive advice.

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