The Miracle That Is Sanding & Refinishing A Table
This is the story of how not one, but two tables got a complete refresh thanks to a little elbow grease and, well, a lot of sanding. And it’s also a testament to how generally great secondhand finds can be (they literally can look like new – or even better than something new). It’s also a testament to how straightforward it can be to breathe new life into an old piece of furniture. Not all DIY projects are always straightforward, so let’s hear it for that adjective!
Since the duplex has two dining spaces (one on each side) we obviously needed two dining tables. For one side we planned to use our old dining table, which you’ve probably seen in this photo from our second book.
We replaced it over a year ago with a bigger table that we also scored secondhand – this time on Facebook Marketplace – and while some sleuths noticed the change on IG Stories or in a random social media photo, it wasn’t always easy to catch because it has pretty much been constantly covered in supplies waiting to be delivered to the duplex for the last six months. So if you saw it, you didn’t see much of it.
Anyway, the table shown above has been stored up in our attic for the last year or so, just waiting for eventual transport to the duplex. But first, it needed some love…
We actually got this table as part of a table swap with a friend. What, you haven’t heard of a table swap? Just kidding it’s not a thing, but it worked out well. She needed a big round table and the one we’d used in our second house was too wide for our current dining room, so we traded our big round one for her rectangular Crate & Barrel one. It fit our space MUCH better, but she warned us it was pretty scratched up and needed some refinishing. We’d always planned to sand & restain it at some point… it just took us nearly 5 years to do it!
We were a little anxious about taking a sander to a Crate & Barrel table, so we dipped our toes in slowly by first sanding the top of one of the legs. If it was a bust, no one would ever see the attempt. But fortunately, it worked. BEAUTIFULLY.
But before I show you more of this table, let me introduce you to the other secondhand table we refinished for the other side of the duplex.
My sister was replacing her old solid-wood dining table (which you can see in this old post from when we house crashed her in 2013) and we jumped at the chance to buy it before she listed it on Facebook. It too was pretty worn from years of use, but the size was perfect and we loved how solid and casual it was. I was less nervous about ruining this one, so I took my sander right to the top and went to town.
The battery-operated corner cat sander I already owned did a fine job, but it took a long time to get the finish off of this table completely. And even after an hour or so of work, it still wasn’t quite as stripped as I’d hoped. So I bought this $79 corded random orbital sander to see if a little bit more power (cue the Tim Taylor jokes) could get me a cleaner and faster result.
It. Was. So. Worth. It.
It immediately showed me how good it was for removing some of the more stubborn scratches and marks on this table (see the left photo above, which was taken before I used it, and the much cleaner and more stripped shot on the right, which was taken as I was going over it with the orbital sander).
It was also a lot faster, which helped immensely when it came to sanding off the thick factory finish on the Crate & Barrel table. Can you even believe how much wood grain was hiding under that dark red stain??
All in all it probably took us 2 to 3 hours to sand both tables, especially because of all of the legs and aprons we had to get too. But I was happy to have discovered the new heavier-duty sander and even MORE happy about the results.
We decided to transport them to the duplex like this and then stain and seal them in place, that way we could be sure we liked how the stain colors were looking in the space (and adjust them if they looked weird in the rooms). First we tested what it would look like if we just clear sealed both tables.
We loved the result on the table from my sister, since it deepened the color only slightly and didn’t disguise any of the wood grain. Sherry applied one coat of basic water-based sealer, and then for our second coat we tried this “Triple Thick” version to hopefully add extra protection and durability. It went on just as easily and we love the satin finish. Highly recommend it.
Here’s a reminder of what the top of this table looked like before:
And once we finished clear-sealing it, the lop looked like this:
Now the room has come a lot further (as well as that kitchen behind it), so this is the final result. We love how it ties into the wood door that you see peeking out of the mudroom next to the kitchen.
When it came to the Crate & Barrel table, our little test spot of the clear sealer just brought out the red undertones of the wood when it dried, which is NOT what we wanted. So we decided to stain it with a cooler brown color to downplay the red. Our first instinct was to use Special Walnut by Minwax, since that’s what we used on the duplex floors (you can see the before & afters of those here).
It was looking good as it was going on, but once it dried it looked redder than we wanted (it kinda felt like it was slowly creeping back to the dark red original color that we painstakingly sanded off). So we darted out to the hardware store and bought a gray stain instead (called Classic Gray) and wiped on a very light coat to see if it would cool off the red undertones.
It did just the thing we were looking for, so it was full steam ahead on this combination of stains. As for how we did this step, we wiped on a really light coat of the Classic Gray and then immediately wiped it off (the can usually tells you to wait, but we didn’t want things getting too gray).
In the end we’re so glad that you can still see the variation in the wood tones through those two layered stains, and after that quick Classic Gray coat dried, we did two coats of that same “Triple Thick” sealer we used on the other table and BINGO BANGO, both tables were done.
Oh and we only had to buy two of the gray dining chairs because four of them were the ones that we already had at the beach house (before we opted to replace four of them them with long benches). Sidenote: our dining table at the beach is ALSO a secondhand find! Yes, we own four dining tables, and none of them are new.
Let’s just glance back one more time at where the red duplex table started.
And here we are now, complete with our tiered capiz chandelier (in the gold finish) above that table.
On the other side we used our mixed-finish wire globe light (which also comes in white + brass, or all bronze) and added the white dining chairs from our furniture line. Sherry laughed about the fact that between the table, the chairs, and the backsplash in here, we’re repping something old, something new, and something blue. Maybe the duplex guests can count as “something borrowed” since they aren’t permanent? Might be a stretch.
In the end, neither of us really knew what to expect as the outcome of these refinishing escapades, but we’re extremely relieved that they worked out so well. And apart from the new sander, some sealer & stain, and the cheap family rate my sister gave us on her table (ha!) we didn’t have to spend anywhere close to the cost of two brand new tables. Which clearly is our favorite party trick because our other two dining tables are also secondhand. Just gotta get around to refinishing them sometime… maybe in five more years if we stick to our pattern.
P.S. For lots of other furniture makeovers & DIY projects, check out our Furniture Upgrades category.
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