How to Finish an Oak Table

Written by myra smith
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How to Finish an Oak Table
A beautiflly finished oak table (table image by Diana Anachkova from

Finishing an oak table requires diligence and patience, but the reward of a beautiful piece of furniture is worth the effort. Oak is an open-grained wood that may require the use of fillers to achieve a finish that feels smooth when you rub your hand across the grain. Whether you choose to create a mirror smooth finish or leave the grain exposed is a matter of personal preference.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Sandpaper
  • Tack rag
  • Paint thinner
  • Filler paste
  • Clear finish
  • Paintbrush
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Burlap
  • Cheese cloth
  • Stain

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  1. 1

    Sand the oak table with progressively finer grits of sandpaper, sanding with the grain of the wood. The final sanding is done with 220-grit. Wipe the table with a tack rag to remove all traces of sanding dust. Any dust remaining on the table will mar the coats of finish. Wipe any remaining dust off the table with a rag dampened with paint thinner or white spirit. Do not soak the surface of the table; it will darken the colour of the wood.

  2. 2

    Apply a wash coat of finish to the table before using the filling paste--if you are leaving the table in its natural colour (not stained). Mix the finish in equal parts of finish and thinner. Check the container to determine the proper thinner for the finish. Apply one coat of the thinned finish and allow drying. Do not sand, this seals the wood and prevents colour change when the filling paste is applied in Step 3.

  3. 3

    Brush on a coat of grain filling paste if you desire a smooth mirror finish on the oak table. Oak has an open grain that you can feel when you rub your hand over the surface of the wood and the grain must be filled before the piece is stained.

  4. 4

    Brush on the filler paste with a stiff paintbrush or pour the filling paste onto a section of the table and spread with a plastic putty knife or use an expired credit card. The filling paste dries quickly, apply to small sections. Work the filler paste into the grain of the wood and allow it to dry until it forms a haze. Use a rough cloth such as burlap to wipe excess filler paste off the surface. Wipe across the grain of the wood. Wipe the table with cheesecloth, wiping with the grain to remove any remaining traces of the filler.

  5. 5

    Allow the filler paste to dry overnight, and then inspect the surface with a bright light to find any remaining filler. Sand any filler paste that the light detects with 320-grit sandpaper, use a light touch on the sandpaper, and work with the grain of the wood. Apply stain in desired colour after the filler paste has dried.

  6. 6

    Match the stain to the type of topcoat you are planning to use. Use a water- base stain if you will be doing the finish coats with water- base urethane or use oil- base stain to be top coated with an oil-base urethane. Wipe the stain onto the oak table and allow to sit for 20 minutes, then wipe off excess with a cloth. Wipe with the grain of the wood. Allow the stained surface to dry overnight before applying the clear finish to avoid bubbles in the finish coat.

  7. 7

    Apply three to five coats of clear finish, allowing drying between coats. Allow a few days for the clear finish to harden before subjecting the table to daily use.

Tips and warnings

  • Decide whether you will use grain filler paste before attempting to finish the table, as your choice will affect the wood finishing process.

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