How to repair and refinish an oak table & chairs

Updated February 21, 2017

Restoring an oak dining table and chairs suite can be a satisfying project. You can often create a true heirloom from something seemingly worthless--or hopeless---with some good, old-fashioned elbow grease. Some antique or vintage oak tables and chairs in an unrestored condition are available for far less than finished sets and can be worth thousands of dollars after you work your restoration magic.

Retighten any screws or bolts holding the table legs to the tabletop. Apply fresh wood glue to any mortise-and-tenon joints on the table legs or the chairs. Clamp any newly glued parts together with furniture clamps or nylon roping. If the table and chairs were purchased in a fully disassembled state, dry-fit the parts together to make sure all the parts are present.

Apply the wood stripper and remove old paint, varnish, or stain from all surfaces of the wood, including the undersides of tabletops and chairs. Work in small sections, a little at a time. Avoiding using a paint scraper tool since this can damage the wood grain. Use steel wool and stripping pads instead.

Sand the table and chairs with fine-grit sand paper after stripping is complete. Don't use a power sander as this could damage the wood grain. Use a tackcloth to remove all traces of sawdust from your project.

Reassemble the table and chairs if necessary. Use wood glue to rejoin any mortise-and-tenon joints and apply furniture clamps to all pieces. Be sure to "catch" and remove any glue drips while the glue is still wet. If you don't have clamps available, use nylon ropes to bind the pieces together, very tightly. Let this glue dry for several days before releasing the clamps or the ropes.

Apply wood stain, using a soft rag or stain brush. Work with the direction of the wood grain, not across the grain. Apply the stain sparingly at first; you can always apply more stain, or let the stain come into contact with the wood longer, for a darker colour, but you can't reduce the darkness of stain once it has been absorbed by the wood. Apply one thin coat of stain, wiping away any excess stain with another clean, soft cloth. Let the stain dry completely.

Apply a finish coat such as a clear satin polyurethane product. Use a high-quality brush and watch for errant brush bristles left behind in the finish coat. Allow it to dry.


If there are markings on the undersides of tabletops or chairs that indicate the origins for an antique or vintage set, don't remove or stain over these markings. Such markings may increase the value of the refinished table and chairs substantially. Use a grease pencil and add your own "signature" to the work to preserve the historical record. Replace any missing parts, like chair back spindles or cross bracing members. Contact a local woodwright about having replacement parts fabricated for you. Provide the woodwright with a sample piece to use as a pattern. For some designs, it may be easier to strip the chairs in a disassembled form. Tear down the chairs very carefully, being sure not to crack or break any parts. Confer with a local woodwright for help in disassembling chairs safely. Take photographs of this tear-down process to refer to at reassembly time.


Some wood-stripping products are flammable and emit noxious fumes: use these only in a well-ventilated area well away from any natural gas devices that have a pilot light. Use rubber gloves to avoid chemical burns. Other wood strippers, particularly "organic" brands, are non-flammable and less noxious, but use rubber gloves regardless. Never leave used stripper or steel wool pads where children or pets can get to them. Dispose of these materials responsibly.

Things You'll Need

  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Wood glue
  • Furniture clamps
  • Nylon ropes (alternative)
  • Wood stripper
  • Rubber gloves
  • Natural-bristle brush
  • Steel wool
  • Wood-stripping pads
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Tackcloths
  • Wood stain
  • Soft cotton towels
  • Stain brush
  • Clear-coat finish
  • Clear-coat brush
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About the Author

A writer and entrepreneur for over 40 years, J.E. Myers has a broad and eclectic range of expertise in personal computer maintenance and design, home improvement and design, and visual and performing arts. Myers is a self-taught computer expert and owned a computer sales and service company for five years. She currently serves as Director of Elections for McLean County, Illinois government.