How to Refinish an Oak Tabletop

Updated February 21, 2017

Oak tabletops can fade or bleach out when exposed to years of sunlight. The lacquer wears off and the top can sustain marks from knives and other table utensils or get burnt. Oak tabletops can be either plywood veneer or solid oak. The technique to refinish either of them is the same. To properly refinish a treasured tabletop, you will get the best results with hand blocks, sandpaper and hand-rubbed stain.

Place 80-grit sandpaper on the hand block. Sand the old finish off the tabletop using short strokes with the block, always sanding with the grain of the wood. Work your way across the top, sanding down to the bare wood. When your sandpaper begins to slide instead of scrape, change the paper, or change it every 10 minutes.

Place 100-grit sandpaper on the block and resand the tabletop, blending the colour and texture of the top until it is consistent. Change your paper when it's worn, or every 10 minutes, and keep sanding until the top is uniform and smooth.

Place 180-grit sandpaper on the block and sand one more time until the top has a velvety-smooth feel to the palm of your hand.

Pour a 3-inch puddle of stain out on the tabletop. Using a soft cloth, wipe the stain into the wood, using concentric circles that keep getting bigger. When you run out of stain, pour out some more and rub it in until you have covered the entire surface. Wipe off any excess stain with the grain. Let the stain dry according to the directions on the can.

Spray the tabletop with one light coat of lacquer. Use table-length strokes with the grain, overlapping each previous stroke by 1 inch until the top looks wet. Let the lacquer dry for 30 minutes.

Sand the tabletop with 180-grit sandpaper in the palm of your hand. Sand until the surface of the tabletop has a fine whiter powder all over it; don't wipe the powder off.

Spray the top again with lacquer. Use table-length strokes with the grain, heavier this time, overlapping each previous stroke by 1 inch. When the top looks wet and reflects light evenly, stop spraying. Let the lacquer dry overnight.


You can add up to two more coats of lacquer if you want.


Always wear breathing and eye protection when sanding or working with lacquer and finishing products. Work in a well-ventilated room.

Things You'll Need

  • Sandpaper, 80 grit
  • Hand sanding block
  • Sandpaper, 100 grit
  • Sandpaper, 180 grit
  • Stain
  • Cloth
  • Aerosol lacquer
  • Dust mask
  • Goggles
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About the Author

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.