How to Refinish Antique Wood Tables

An antique table can look wonderful refinished with simple beeswax polish. It gives off a soft glow that no varnish can emulate. Beeswax polished furniture will give your house a homey feel and aroma. Before you refinish an old table, be sure it is not a valuable antique, as you could damage its value by stripping off the original finish. However, it is worthwhile restoring a table if the original finish has been painted over or damaged. You can use commercial beeswax polish to finish your table or you can make your own.

Wear the safety goggles, mask and gloves at all times while handling chemical stripper and furniture refinishing solution. Tip a small amount of stripper into a metal container. Apply to the top surface of the table, following the manufacturer's directions. Wait until the varnish softens and bubbles.

Scrape the stripper and varnish off the table and onto newspaper. If some of the finish remains you can either apply another coat of chemical stripper or switch to a proprietary furniture refinisher or lacquer remover and fine grade steel wool.

Rub the table top all over with extra fine grade wire wool and mineral spirit to remove remaining chemical stripper or refinisher. Use cloths to wipe away any residue. Allow to dry overnight.

Repeat previous steps on tabletop sides and legs. Use a wire brush, if necessary, to remove old varnish from crevices and difficult to reach areas. It may be a good idea to turn the table upside down on newspaper or a decorator's throw sheet.

Warm the linseed oil to blood temperature in a double boiler. Warm oil penetrates wood more easily than cold. Watch the oil at all times and don't let it get too hot. Apply to the table with a cloth or soft brush. Leave the table for two days in a dry place for the oil to sink in.

Shave the beeswax into a glass jar with a heavy knife. Add half as much turpentine as beeswax. Leave in a warm place for the wax to melt. A sunny windowsill is ideal. Check the consistency; if it's thicker than average engine oil, add a little more turpentine.

Apply the polish to the table with a brush and let the table stand until the polish hardens. Use cardstock to scrape the excess polish from the table. Return the polish to the jar for future use. Polish the table with clean cloths. You will need to use plenty of effort to achieve a satin-like finish. Repeat the polishing every six months to maintain the finish. Wipe clean with a damp cloth in between polishing.


If unsure whether you should attempt to restore an antique, seek the advice of an expert. Mix the removed varnish and chemical stripper with wood shavings or kitty litter. Place into one of the metal containers and leave it in the open air so the solvents can evaporate. Contact your local waste management service for advice regarding disposal. You may need to take it to a hazardous waste site. Apply linseed oil with an old, clean paintbrush -- trim the bristles short with scissors to make them stiffer.


Methylene Chloride (MC), often a component of paint stripper, is toxic and should never be used by anyone with a heart condition. Ensure you take adequate safety precautions. Never attempt to strip furniture using chemicals in an enclosed space. Out of doors on a dry day is best. All debris produced by furniture stripping can be toxic and flammable. Linseed oil-soaked cloths can spontaneously combust; dispose of carefully.

Things You'll Need

  • Protective face mask
  • Safety goggles
  • Protective gloves
  • Chemical paint and varnish remover
  • 2 metal containers with wide necks
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint scrapers
  • Newspapers
  • Furniture refinisher or lacquer thinner
  • Steel wool, fine and extra fine grade
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Mineral spirit
  • Wire brush
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Double boiler
  • Soft brush
  • 1lb beeswax
  • Heavy knife
  • Turpentine
  • Wide-mouthed glass jar
  • Cardstock
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About the Author

Beverley Gee began her freelance writing career in 1982. She earned a National Diploma in information technology and business studies at Coleg Glan Hafren, Cardiff, U.K. She has written for several U.K. publications including the "South Wales Echo" and her local newspaper, "The Diary." She is also a qualified reflexologist.