How to Sand and Refinish a Table
There’s nothing more satisfying than a little DIY timberwork. Sanding and polishing a timber table is a great DIY project that doesn’t require a high level of expertise or a lot of expensive professional tools. Whether you have an antique table that’s seen better days or you’ve found an op-shop treasure that needs a little restoration work, you don’t need to be a master carpenter to bring an old table back to life.
We’ve prepared a simple guide for a DIY table sanding and polishing job. We’ll run you through what tools you’ll need and the steps to take to return your table to its original glory.
Tools and Materials
- Orbital sander
- 80, 120, 180 and 240 grit sanding pads for the sander
- Soft brush and cloths
- Sanding block and fine grit sandpaper
- Paint brushes
- Clear or coloured varnish
It’s recommended that you use some basic safety gear while sanding including a dust mask, earmuffs and safety glasses.
Once you have everything you need, it’s time to get started.
- Prepare the table and the surrounding area.
Ideally, you’ll want to move the table out of the house either into the backyard or into the shed. Sanding back the table will give off a lot of very fine sawdust, which can be a major hassle to clean up.
If you have to do the job inside, use drop sheets to cover the nearby furniture and carpeting. It’s also worth keeping any doors closed so the sawdust is confined to a single room.
Once you have your working area set up, you can start preparing the table. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the table to remove any debris or excess particles. Any particles still on the table when you start sanding could end up scratching the timber.
- Sand the table
To remove the existing layer of varnish, you’ll need your orbital sander with the coarsest sanding pad you have (40-80 grit). The lower the grit number, the coarser the sandpaper.
Sand the top and sides of the table. Use a steady pressure and sand in line with the timber grain. Regularly check the sandpaper and replace it once it’s worn.
Be careful when sanding with a coarse sandpaper, especially when doing sides and corners. Coarse sandpaper can eat into the timber and if you’re not careful you can do damage to rounded edges and corners.
- Brush off the dust
While sanding, you should regularly stop to brush off the sawdust with a soft brush. Removing the sawdust will help you to clearly see how the sanding is going and how much more of the surface you need to sand off. More importantly, cleaning off the sawdust removes excess debris that can get caught between the sander and the table, scratching the timber surface.
- Continue sanding
Using the coarse grit sandpaper, continue sanding until you have reached the bare timber across the entire surface of the table. Remember to periodically stop to brush off the dust.
- Change to finer sandpaper
Change to a medium grit sandpaper (about 120-180), brush off the dust and re-sand the entire surface. Once this is done, you can change to the fine grit paper (about 220-240) and sand the surface once more. Make sure you are always sanding with the grain of the timber. This final sand with the fine grit paper should bring out a silky smooth finish in the timber. Thoroughly brush off the table when you’re done sanding.
- Wipe the table with turpentine
Using a rag, wipe the table with mineral turpentine. This will remove any excess dust, residue or contaminants prior to staining. Don’t worry about uneven colouring from the turps. It will evaporate very quickly leaving the timber bare and ready to stain.
- Apply the first coat of varnish
Once the turps has dried, you can start applying the first coat of varnish. It’s worth doing some research before this point to make sure you choose the right kind of varnish. A clear varnish will bring out the natural colour and grain of the timber. Darker varnishes, however, will give a richer, deeper colour but may hide the natural grain.
Stir the varnish thoroughly before you start to remove any lumps. Apply a little varnish to the brush and start spreading over the table. Use long smooth strokes in line with the timber grain. Aim for a thin even coating. Watch out for runs around edges and pooling in joins. Smooth these out as they occur.
Leave the first coat to completely dry. Check the instructions on the varnish to work out how long you will need for the first coat to dry.
- Sand the table by hand
Using the sanding block and fine grit sandpaper (220 to 240), lightly sand the table. Staining the wood can cause the timber fibres to swell. A light sanding after the first coat of varnish will flatten out the swollen fibres, ensuring a smooth finish.
- Apply subsequent coats of varnish
Apply the second coat of varnish. As before, use long smooth strokes in line with the grain. Let the second coat dry. Depending on the depth of colour or the intensity of the gloss you’re after, you can add additional coats of varnish.
- And you’re done!
Once the final coat of varnish is dry you should be left with a beautifully finished table you can be proud of.