How to Restore the Finish on an Antique Table

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

You know, I really like antique furniture and the other day, I was driving down the road when I noticed on the porch of this consignment shop, several interesting pieces. So I stopped, took a look and I found this solid wood table and it really appealed to me. So I bought it, put it in the truck and brought it back here to the shop.
Now this is a fairly old piece, probably made in the late 1800s, maybe 1860 to 1880. It's handmade. I can tell that by the hand-cut dovetail joints on the side of the drawer here, and it's solid wood.

Now overall, the table is in pretty good condition, but the finish is scuffed, scratched in places and dull. So I think this is a good candidate for a facelift. I'm going to start by pouring a small amount of mineral spirits or paint thinner into a container.

I dip a clean cotton cloth into the solvent and begin wiping the table in the direction of the wood-grain. Look at this — like most, this table has an accumulation of oils, waxes and dirt on the surface that I want to remove.

This is very fine steel wool. By saturating one of these pads in the mineral spirits and gently rubbing, I should be able to remove this white paint. The next step is to use denatured alcohol to remove any residue left by the mineral spirits. Again, I apply this in long strokes, moving with the grain.
Now for the squeaky-clean test. These furniture touchup pens can make scratches and gouges practically disappear. But this table has larger areas of scuffs and small scratches that call for a different approach — an application of wood stain.

It's important to stir stains thoroughly because the color pigments can settle to the bottom. I'm pouring the can into a larger container to make sure that it's thoroughly mixed. Usually I prefer to apply stain with a brush, working the material well into the surface.

Long strokes in the same direction as the grain, work best. I put on the stain, a section at a time, and while it's still wet, wipe off the excess, using a clean dry terry cloth rag. I buy these by the bag in the home improvement center.

I use the same procedure for the table legs and apron. It's best to let the stain dry overnight. Then, using a tack cloth, I remove any dust that may have settled on the surface. With the color work done, it's time to put on a protective top coat.

For this project, I'm using an oil-based wipe-on polyurethane. The product is very easy to apply and produces a sort of hand-rub look that appeals to me, especially on an older piece like this.
After a couple of hours, we're ready to recoat. I'm using two 20 grit finishing paper that I cut into quarter sheets and then fold into thirds. I keep the sandpaper flat on the surface and use only light pressure, again making sure to move in the same direction as the grain.

By refolding the sandpaper and exposing a fresh leaf, I can make full use of the entire sheet. The tack cloth's job is to now pick up any residue or dust that's on the surface before we apply the final top coat.

A top coat like this wipe-on urethane locks in the color layer underneath, offers protection from spills and abrasion, provides an attractive sheen and gives the wood a sense of depth and character. From consignment shop find to family treasure, I pronounce this table as good as new or as I really like to say, as good as old.

Learn how to restore rather than refinish an antique table with a scratched and lifeless finish

A drop-leaf table at a consignment shop offered possibilities despite a finish that was scuffed, scratched, and dull. We purchased the table and brought it to the workshop as a candidate for a restoration project. It was an old piece that was probably hand-made in the late 1800s, as evidenced by the handmade dovetailed joints on the drawer. Additionally, it was solid wood.