How to restore an oak table

Written by kate eglan-garton
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How to restore an oak table
Oak finish. (Getty Thinkstock)

Restore an oak table to add life and beauty to a piece of furniture that was meant to last for decades. Oak is a hardwood that is strong and resilient when treated right. Stripping and refinishing an oak table is very time consuming and tedious. However, by removing all of the old finish and starting over with the wood's natural state, you can protect an oak table and keep it looking lustrous for many years to come.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 2 litres liquid stripper containing methylene chloride
  • 1 litre sand sealer
  • 1 litres polyurethane
  • 1 package 120-grit sandpaper
  • 1 package 220-grit sandpaper
  • 1 package 360-grit sandpaper
  • 1 box #2 steel wool pads
  • 2 paintbrushes, 5 cm (2-inch)
  • 1 old paintbrush
  • 1 scraper, 5 to 7 cm (2- to 3-inch)
  • 2 large old metal coffee cans
  • 1 dust sheet
  • 1 dozen cotton rags
  • 1 pair rubber gloves

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  1. 1

    Prepare your table by placing the dust sheet under the legs. Put on your rubber gloves. Pour the stripper into one of the metal cans and use the old paint brush to layer a thick coat of stripper on a section of wood approximately 20 square cm (2 square feet). Allow the solvent to work for 15 to 20 minutes. Use your scraper and remove the old finish, placing the excess in the second coffee can. Remove leftover traces of the old finish with steel wool, always following the grain of the wood. Wipe off excess finish with a rag often. Repeat this process until the entire table has been stripped.

    How to restore an oak table
    Strip wood (cracked paint 1 image by Sergey Kolesnikov from
  2. 2

    Sand the table with 120-grit sandpaper. After all bad areas have been smoothed and all traces of the old finish are gone, sand the table with the 220-grit sandpaper, always following the grain of the wood. Wipe off all dust with the rags.

    How to restore an oak table
    Sander (Schleifmaschine image by Volker Gerstenberg from
  3. 3

    Use a new brush to apply a thick coat of sand sealer and allow it to soak into the wood grain for a couple of minutes. Remove the leftover sand sealer from the surface by wiping with a rag and allow to dry completely. Sand the entire piece with 360-grit sandpaper. Wipe off any dust with a rag.

    How to restore an oak table
    Oak table (table image by Dmitry Nikolaev from
  4. 4

    Apply the polyurethane finish with your third brush using very thin, overlapping strokes. Allow each coat to thoroughly dry and sand again with 360-grit sand paper. Wipe off dust. Repeat this process for as many coats of polyurethane finish as you want.

Tips and warnings

  • Plenty of fresh air needs to be available when working around strong chemicals. Filtered face masks should be used to prevent strong chemical fumes from entering your nose and mouth.
  • Wear long sleeves to prevent any chemicals from splashing onto your arms.

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