How to Varnish a Wood Table

Written by lisa chinn Google
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How to Varnish a Wood Table
Varnish provides a strong protective topcoat for wood tables. (pinceaux image by Philf from

Varnish provides strong protection for wooden furniture. It provides a clear protective topcoat for furniture that goes on over stain, if desired. According to Lowe's, the main downside to varnish is that the furniture can start absorbing moisture if the topcoat of varnish cracks. Wood table owners can apply a topcoat of varnish with relative ease with just a few simple supplies and steps.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • 120 grit sandpaper
  • 220 grit sandpaper
  • Wood filler (optional)
  • Putty knife (optional)
  • Paintbrush
  • Wood sealer (optional)
  • Wood stain (optional)

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Prepare the wood for finishing by smoothing it with sandpaper. Lowe's recommends sanding any rough spots on the furniture with 120 grit sandpaper and then sanding the entire piece with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it.

    How to Varnish a Wood Table
    Sand the table before varnishing it to help the varnish go on smoothly. (sandpapier image by Thomas Aumann from
  2. 2

    Apply any wood filler, sealers or stains before applying varnish. Apply a wood filler to the table with a putty knife to fill in any open wood grain or fill in any scratches, if desired. Lowe's recommends applying a sealer before staining a piece of furniture to help the stain go on evenly. Individuals who want to change the colour of the table need to do so with a stain before applying varnish.

    How to Varnish a Wood Table
    Stains will soak into the wood and alter its colour before varnish is applied. (wood texture image by PaulPaladin from
  3. 3

    Choose a type of varnish for the table. Local home improvement stores and online stores sell a variety of varnishes. Keep in mind that varnishes come with different levels of glossiness and that different types of varnishes are made out of different chemicals. A study done at Gazi University determined that synthetic and polyurethane varnishes provide more scratch resistance than cellulosic (plant cellulose-derived) or water-based varnishes. However, synthetic varnishes may cost more and emit more unhealthy fumes when wet than water-based or cellulosic varnishes.

    How to Varnish a Wood Table
    Choose a varnish type from a home improvement store. (grocery store image by robert mobley from
  4. 4

    Paint the varnish on the table. In general, most types of varnish are simply painted onto the furniture with a paintbrush. Spraying the varnish onto the table may also be an option. However, check the instructions that come with the specific type of varnish being used for any special directions. The Gazi University study also found that three coats of varnish provided significantly more scratch resistance than just one coat of varnish, so consider applying more than one layer. Allow the varnish to dry completely before painting each additional layer.

    How to Varnish a Wood Table
    Varnish provides strong protection for dining tables and outdoor tables. (strawberry cheesecake image by Xavier MARCHANT from

Tips and warnings

  • If an old table already has a layer of scratched or cracked varnish, a new coat of varnish may help repair the table, according to Utah State University. To touch up an old coat of varnish, rub the entire table with paint thinner to remove any polishes, dirt and waxes, allow the table to dry thoroughly and then repaint it with a new layer of varnish.
  • Varnishes often have strong unhealthy fumes and are very toxic when ingested. Therefore, use them in well-ventilated areas and keep them away from young children who may accidentally eat them.

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