Wednesday, 2 January 2013

DIY Coffee Table

5 Steps to a New Coffee Table

Coffee Table Before and After

I LOVE anything with a story or a history. I think that's probably why we decided to purchase a century home. I strongly believe most things made years ago were made with more care and pride. Resulting in products that have higher quality and more character. 

Since buying our house I have needed more furniture to furnish our home, since this house is twice the size of our starter home. However, I am Dutch and super cheap so I refuse to spend full price on furniture. Looking around our house I don't think I can think of one item we paid full price for. I have started refinishing furniture my friends are throwing out or cheap pieces from a second hand store that just need some TLC. 

I always try and make sure I find pieces that are in rough shape before (scratches, scuffs, chipped etc) but still have strong and solid structure to them. It's best to look for pieces that are made of REAL wood (this is actually key). 

So now I'll start taking you step by step into how I refinished this coffee table. It cost me next to nothing except TIME...lots of time. So be prepared, it's not a project you'll most likely finish in a couple hours or even a day. But in my opinion it's totally worth it, I love the feeling of making something not so nice into something you are very proud of. 

Table Before

This was the table before. It cost me 0$ because my cousin was getting rid of it and I asked her if I could have it. It was actually made in Canada which made me pretty happy (think about how much a Canadian made coffee table would cost now a days). It is made of solid wood and had great detail in the legs! I knew it would look great! 

I decided I wanted to paint the legs white and stain the top a dark stain, to match our fire place which is white with a dark stained mantel. 

Materials Needed 
Materials Needed: 
  • Paint & Varnish Remover. I used Circa 1850, it is a thick liquid so drips less.  It was $10 and could probably do a couple projects. 
  • Paint brushes (one for remover, paint, stain and varnish). 
  • Dark Stain (I used Ebony purchased from Canadian Tire for $13). 
  • Rag (for spreading the stain). 
  • Sandpaper, multiple grades (I used 100, 150, 220). 
  • Palm Sander 
  • White Paint 
  • Paint Scraper (Large and small)

Step 1: Strip the Table of EVERYTHING! 

This could be paint or varnish. In this case it was varnish. This is a Very important step PLEASE Don't skip over this step. If you just paint over it you'll see imperfections. I will admit this is the most annoying and MESSY step. It is also VERY time consuming.  

Materials needed for Stripping the Varnish
Close up of the Varnish used. I bought it from Walmart a couple months back for another project. It cost approximately $10

I applied the varnish remover with a big thick paint brush. I was very generous when applying. Also be careful, the remover burns the skin, so wear gloves and long sleeves. The more you apply, the easier it is. If you don't add enough it does not work that great. I let this sit for about 10-15 minutes (or until you start to see the finish start to bubble). 

Next is the fun part! Take your big paint scraper and scrape off the finish/remover. This step is extremely messy (Probably best to do outside). That is why you'll see a tarp under the table you do NOT want the remover touching your floor, it will take off the finish off almost anything (it was too cold out so my living room became my workshop).  I then used the small scraper to get in all the small details.

I start with the top usually, then flip the table and do the bottom. I usually do the sides last. But that's just a personal preference. 

Stripping the Bottom of the Table
Step 2: Sanding 

This is also another critical part. The more time you spend sanding, the better your project will turn out. In the long run it pays to spend the extra time. I have had projects in the past where I rushed the sanding process and I've had to go back and re-do steps. So just do it right the first time :) 

Sanding Materials

This was my first time using my new Palm Sander. Wow, it's 100xs better than my old sander. A good sander makes a big difference and saves a lot of time. 


Sanding the Top with a Palm Sander 
I start with the palm sander. I used 100 grade for this process, to make sure I got any excess debris off. After I hand sanded with 150 grade paper, this can take a long time if you have a project with a lot of detail.  Make sure you get between all the nooks and crannies. Dust will often accumulate in the cracks, you may need to use a small scraper to get it out, if you don't your paint will look lumpy. 

I know I've already said this, but spend a LOT of time of the sanding step! It's crucial. 

After you finish sanding wipe the project down with a wet cloth so it is completely clean and smooth of all dust.

Step 3: Staining  

 Pick a stain colour of your choice. I chose Ebony because I wanted it to be dark and to match the mantel of my fireplace. 

Ebony Stain purchased for $13 at Canadian Tire 
I started with applying the stain with a paint brush and using the paint brush to spread the stain. However, I found it did not apply very evenly. So I actually sanded it back down and started over. This time I applied the stain with the paint brush but used a rag to spread the stain. This method worked MUCH better. I wanted my stain to be dark so I added 3 coats (let the stain dry between coats). Make sure to spread evenly. 

Table after one coat of Stain (it was still wet) 
Step 4: Painting

I chose to paint the legs white (I can't remember the actual name paint name, it was leftover paint from another project). 

White Paint (leftover from another project)

I applied about 4 coats of white to the legs. It did not cover that well at first. So if I were to do it again I probably would have primed it. But it worked out in the end. Originally I was going to distress the paint, however I tried one side of the table and decided I didn't like it. I liked the polished look without the distress. (I'm normally a HUGE fan of distress but it just wasn't right for this project). 

Legs now Painted White (like our tractor?) 

Step 5: Varnish (Polyurethan) 

If you look at the picture below you'll see that the top of the table had a very dull finish. This finish would likely scratch easily or damaged (especially with young kiddos). So a clear finish is necessary for protection. You can choose different finishes such as Satin or Glossy. I chose Satin, however it still has a pretty glossy finish. The more coats you add the more gloss you get.  

Table without Varnish (Dull Finish) 
I borrowed some Polyurethan from my father in-law. It was technically for floors, but I figured if it could protect a floor it would add extra protection for the table. 

I applied the varnish with a paint brush. This varnish was oil based, so I could not clean the paint brush after (so it was a one time paint brush use). I applied the varnish and it took several hours to dry. You'll notice that the texture becomes rough after the first couple coats. So once dry I sanded it using 220 grade sandpaper (sand by hand). Then applied another coat of varnish...let it sit a couple hours...lightly sanded again then added one last coat of varnish. The more coats you add the more protection you'll have and the better/smoother it looks. After each coat you'll notice the surface becomes smoother.

You are done! 

Finished Product 
5 Steps and you'll have a lovely piece you can be proud of. This project cost me next to nothing but was quite time consuming, however mostly due to waiting for stain/varnish to dry so you can do other things between the drying. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. Message me if you have any questions! 


  1. Looks great Janine! I am hoping to do the same for an old bed frame I have for Zahra. :) hmm maybe I might get ambitious and do this to my dining room table.
    keep up the good work with the blog.

  2. Thanks Bobbie-Jo! Ya I think a dinning room table would be really cute done this way. I just don't have the heart to do it to ours because Mark's grandfather made it for us, so I should probably just leave it oak. If you do anything send me a pic! :)

  3. Janine, this looks awesome! And your house is adorable! Not only is it full of classy/interesting decor, you've got a great way of pulling everything together nicely. (Saw your previous post with the sock-monkey birthday theme:)

    I've got an antique desk I plan to finish re-finishing in the summer (I stripped the old stain off with lye but the project's been sitting for a year or two since and I couldn't remember the ins and outs of what's next), so thank you! Great little tutorial.

  4. I love how this table turned out! I am going to use your tips for a few projects I am working on (a side table, rocking chair and a single dining chair) - the way you described each of the steps is super helpful as these are my first attempts at refinishing anything :)