How To Restore Table Top Finish: A Table Top Makeover Techniques




As someone who loves personal space, it’s a place that I love to decorate and take care of. After a long day at work, the moment I entered my home, I forgot all the suffering.

I had no idea about home decor or DIY woodworking at first. So, I started looking for things online. 

Blogs, videos, online forums, communities, webinars, courses, and a bunch of different things.

I was so hooked on the DIY idea that I started fixing my furniture pieces and eventually restoring them. That’s how my restoration journey started.

Want to know how to restore table top finish? I would love to help you with that! 

How To Restore Table Top Finish

Restore Table Top Finish

Assess and then clean the entire table. Remove the old finish using a chemical stripper. Be patient with it because it can take some time. Sand the table. Now, apply the new finish following the instructions. You can avoid both sanding and stripping, but there are some conditions.

From my personal experiences of a decade, let me share a tip with you. The right way of performing the steps and the small details are the things that make the difference.

So, stay tuned!

An overview of the project-

Estimated CostEstimated DurationSkill Level
$30010 hours Beginner

Summery of the article is-

  • To make your tabletop finish durable and long-lasting, you must find a suitable finish for your table.
  • If you are using a chemical stripper to strip the old finish without sanding, it can take 30 minutes to even 24 hours depending on your stripper.
  • Varnish is made of natural ingredients like resins, oil, and other solvents.

The Signs That Your Table Top Finish Needs Restoration

Let’s start with the signs first. You might be wondering why I am talking about the signs instead of the actual process.

Well, from my personal experience of dealing with different wood furniture, one thing was common for all of them.

The Signs That Your Table Top Finish Needs Restoration

Nothing gets damaged overnight. It takes a lot of time, but do you know why we don’t notice them before they get severe? It is because we tend to overlook these small signs. 

This is why I am sharing this with you so you don’t make this mistake again. The signs are;


I know you are thinking, how can scratches be a sign for tabletop finish restoration? But, it is actually true just like fixing a cupped table top.

Scratches are common for any piece of furniture, and we don’t even realize it most of the time. 

However, after a certain period, it takes away the spotlight from the table itself.


If you have ever dealt with wood cracks, you most definitely know why it is a sign of restoration.

After you fix the cracks, there is always a discolored part as the wood filler or wood putty doesn’t match with the natural color of the table.

So, the only option is restoring or refinishing the table top.

Water Damage

If you are someone who doesn’t use any tablecloths, coasters, or placemats, you must have water rings, spots, or even a little warping. Then water damage can be a real headache if you are restoring copper table top.

Water damage is one of the most serious wood surface issues. These are really hard to fix. 

Water rings or spots are almost not possible to fix completely. And don’t even get me started on warping. This is a serious problem.

Wear And Tear

These are common for any table in use for some time, especially older ones. But these small wear and tear indicate that your tabletop finish needs restoration.

Rough Surface

Have You ever felt that the table surface is hard to clean? It is because the surface finish is damaged and worn out. It needs restoration.


I don’t know if you noticed, but it is also common for wooden furniture. Over time, the color of the finish fades or becomes discolored.  

However, it indicates that your table needs restoration.

After the restoration, if you find these signs, try to restore your tabletop finish

These things might look like small issues, but some of them can damage your tabletop, and some can affect the functionality of the table.

So, it is better to fix them before they get serious.

Types Of Table Top Finish

How to repair wood table top finish? Before we start, there is another thing you need to know. I know you are waiting for the process, but this is important too.

There are a lot of different options for tabletop finish. 

If you want to make your tabletop finish durable and long-lasting, you must choose the best finish for your table.

So, let’s begin!

Types Of Table Top Finish

Polyurethane Finish

If you are looking for a durable and protective finish that provides a glossy or satin sheen, a polyurethane finish is the one for you.

It is also resistant to water, heat, and chemicals so you don’t need to worry about your table getting damaged by those anytime soon.

Lacquer Finish

If you want a clear or colored finish that dries quickly and is durable, you need a lacquer finish. 

However, let me tell you a secret about this finish. Ready to hear it? Well, this finish can bring you a glossy finish look. Interesting, right?  Therefore as an expert, I must tell you one thing: this is the best option so fate for you to restore the vintage enamel top table finish.

Varnish Finish

From my long-time experience, I would like to tell you something, and that is, if you are somehow interested in getting a finish that can provide you with a protective layer and natural finish look, the varnish is waiting for you.

To be honest, natural ingredients like resins, oil, and other solvents are actually used to make varnishes. However, it can bring you a matte, satin, and glossy look for your tabletop.

Well, buddy, if you are thinking about restoring an old wooden table after the tabletop, this could be a good option for you.

Shellac Finish

Like varnish, shellac is taken from natural sources like lac beetle. It provides a warm, amber tone to the wood surface.

It also dries quickly. The problem is that it offers moderate protection.

Oil Finish

Do you want a finish that penetrates the surface and enhances its natural grain and color? Choose the oil finish.

It provides a low sheen and keeps the wood well-nourished and protected.

Wax Finish

Wondering which finish can bring you a soft, low-luster finish that also enhances the natural beauty of your tabletop? Wanna hear from an expert? Well, I would definitely say to pick the wax finish.

These are the finishes that I recommend using for your tabletop. Here’s a quick recap to help you choose the best one for you;

PolyurethaneDurable, protective, glossy or satin finish, water, heat, and chemical resistant.
LacquerClear or colored finish, dries quickly, durable, glossy appearance.
VarnishHard and protective finish, enhances the natural beauty, made of resin, oil, and other solvents, matte, satin, and glossy finish.
ShellacDerived from lac beetle, warm, amber tone, dries quickly, moderate protection.
Oil Deep penetration, enhanced natural grain and color, low sheen, nourishing and protective.
WaxSoft, low-luster finish, enhances natural beauty, and regular reapplication.

This chart will guide you to find the best finish for your tabletop. Just go through the characteristics and you will find the suitable one for you.

However, before you learn how to repair table top finish pick the right finish for the perfect result.

How To Restore Table Top Finish? [ Step By Step]

Here’s what you have been waiting for the entire time. The step-by-step process to restore your tabletop finish. 

How do you refinish a table for beginners? I’ll discuss all the small details so you don’t need to do other things. 

How To Restore Table Top Finish

I’ll also try to answer all the related questions so you can get all your answers.

Are you ready? Let’s begin!

  • Assess The Table
  • Clean The Surface
  • Remove The old finish
  • Sand The Surface
  • Apply New Finish

Assess The Table

Carefully assess the entire table to understand the condition of the table. Make sure to go through the table legs too.

Can you refinish just the top of a table? I suggest fixing the table legs while you are fixing the tabletop or the table legs won’t match with the rest of the table and your table will lose its appearance.

Clean The Surface

The next thing you should do is clean the entire table. It will remove the dust, and debris, and provide a clean surface to work on.

Use a soft cloth to wipe the table surface. You can use mild cleaners or even better mineral spirits.

Remove The old finish

After cleaning the table, now it’s time to remove the old finish. How to strip and refinish a table? You can use a chemical stripper or sandpaper.

If you are using a chemical stripper, it can take 30 minutes to even 24 hours depending on your stripper. So, be patient with it.

Once the stripper starts to come off, use a scrapper or putty knife to scrape off the old finish completely off the table surface.

It is better to use a wire brush for solid wood. 

Unlike raw wood, solid wood is porous. Using a wire brush to scrape off the old finish, will help you to remove the finish better.

Make sure to always work on the direction of the wood grain. Also, don’t be too rough. Strip as much as you can and the rest will be removed when you sand the wood table.

How do you restore a table top without stripping it? If the old is not too damaged, you can apply finish over it.

Sand The Surface

How to sand and varnish a table? Let’s talk about sanding first. You can sand the table by hand or using an electric sander.

How to sand a table by hand? Use grit sandpaper and rub it on the table surface and also the table legs

If you struggle to find the right grip, wrap the sandpaper around a block of wood and work with that. 

How to sand a table with an electric sander? It’s easy. Start sanding and slowly move the sander along the table surface. 

You can try light sanding first and then gradually increase the speed.

You should never put any pressure on the sander. This way, it slows down the sanding and also leads to uneven sanding.

Apply New Finish

Before we start with the application process, let me tell you one thing. You must choose a suitable finish to apply on your tabletop. 

As we have already talked about the different types of finish and their characteristics, you can just go through them and find the best finish for your tabletop.

Before you apply the finish, I would suggest applying a wood conditioner to nourish your tabletop. Now, let’s talk about the finishing process.

The refinishing process is simple. I’ll guide you through the entire process;

  • Apply a small amount of finish on the wood surface at a time. 
  • Use a piece of soft cloth or a paintbrush to apply the finish.
  • The rule of application is applying at least a few coats of finish. It helps to get the perfect finish. 
  • Always let the previous coat completely dry before applying the next coat.
  • Sand between the coats. It will help you to get a smooth coat finish, 
  • You can apply a wood stain before the finish. It depends on you.
  • How to refinish a table with paint? Whether you use a finish or paint, the finishing process same for both processes. 
  • You can use any type of paint. However, you must apply a primer before you paint your tabletop.
  • How do you refinish a table that is not real wood? It doesn’t matter whether the wood is real wood or not. The process is the same for both.

That’s it! See? I told you it was pretty simple. So, stop overthinking and just go for it. One thing you need to keep in mind is to always follow the safety precautions.

For any difficulty you face during the process, look for the answers in the online forums and communities. They are really helpful. Wondering how to restore dining table top finish? The process is the same.

However, I must tell you one thing that can be profitable for you, if your table is wobbling, this is a good chance for you to fix the wobbly table.

Some Paint To Restore Table Top Finish

If you want to paint your tabletop instead of using a finish, the process is the same. As we talked about earlier, you just need to apply a primer before the paint.

I have already mentioned some finishes to help you with the finishing process.

But if you want to consider painting, I can also suggest some paints to choose the suitable one for you.

Curious to learn about them? Here you go;

Types Of PaintsCharacteristics
Acrylic PaintWater-based paint is durable, strong, and long-lasting.
Chalk PaintProvides a matte finish, and a sanded look, great for an antique piece or if you want to go for a vintage look.
Milk PaintMade of natural ingredients, has a thin texture, provides a matte, antiquated finish, and dries quickly.
Oil-based PaintA durable and smooth finish, available in many colors, offers good protection and a classic look.
Polyurethane Paintis Durable and protective, provides a glossy or satin finish, resistant to water, heat, and chemicals.

I suggest considering all of these characteristics carefully before making any decision. Only this way you can choose the most suitable paint for your favorite tabletop.

Tips To Keep Table Top Finish Long-Lasting

Finally, let’s end this discussion with some tips. These tips will help you to make your finish durable and last for a long time. Want to know? Let’s go!

Tips To Keep Table Top Finish Long-Lasting
  • Always use tablecloths, coasters, and placemats. These will protect your tabletop finish from water, heat, or any other elements that can cause damage.
  • Do not let your table get directly exposed to sunlight. If the table is around the window, use curtains or blinds to shield the table.
  • Make sure to keep your table clean and maintained. Use a soft, damp cloth to remove dust, dirt, and spills regularly, and wipe the entire table with a mild cleaner every week.
  • Keep the temperature around the table in control.
  • Also, keep the table in a well-ventilated area so that heat doesn’t get stuck.
  • Regularly inspect your table. Fix any damage before it gets severe.
  • Do not use any sharp or harsh objects on the table. It will result in scratches or any other damage to the finish.

If you manage to follow all these tips, I can assure you that your finish will be long-lasting just like my tabletop finish does.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Can You Sand And Restain Fake Wood?

Yes! However, you need to be careful. If you follow the right process, it is completely possible.

Can You Refinish A Table Without Sanding?

It is possible to refinish a table without sanding. 

Can You Stain Over Varnished Wood Without Sanding?

Yes! You can. In that case, instead of a regular stain, use a gel stain.

Should I Strip Or Sand My Table?

If the current condition of your tabletop finish is somewhat good, you can apply the new finish without sanding or stripping.

How To Restore Wood Table Finish Without Stripping?

The restoration process for wood table finish is the same for both with or without striping. Just skip the previous finish removing part.

Final Thoughts

How to restore table top finish? The restoration process goes like this-

You need to assess and clean the entire table. Assessing will help you understand the current condition of the tabletop finish and cleaning will ensure a better work surface.

Next is removing the old finish. You can either strip off the finish or you can choose to keep it like it is.

If you found your tabletop in good condition while assessing it, you can skip stripping. Otherwise, it is better for you if you strip.

Then, sand the entire table. Here’s an option to skip it too. But only if the condition of your tabletop finish is good enough.

Now, you can apply the actual finish and make sure to sand between the coats. You can apply a wood stain before applying a finish if you want.

If you are interested in learning more about restoring a table, stay with- Restore Journey.

Richard Journey

Written by

Richard Journey

Meet Richard Journey, the Antique Furniture Maestro. With a Fine Arts degree in Furniture Restoration and Conservation, he’s a guardian of historical craftsmanship. His accolades include the Golden Chisel Award, and he’s your guide to discovering and restoring antique treasures.

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