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How to polish and varnish a table after sanding

Updated February 21, 2017

Made from a combination of linseed oil and shellac resin, varnish creates a high-gloss finish. Varnish comes in long-, medium- and short-oil mixtures; terms that refer to the amount of oil mixed with the resin. Long- and medium-oil varnish works on floors, walls and exterior areas. For a table, use short-oil varnish for the highest quality finish and best gloss. Apply a layer of varnish to a table after sanding it to protect the surface. Once the varnish dries, polish the table to create a smooth finish.

Apply varnish in a well-ventilated area where the temperature is between 21.1 and 26.7 degrees Celsius. Place a dust sheet on the floor to protect the floor's surface.

Wipe the table clean with a dry rag to remove dust particles, sawdust and dirt. Pour the varnish into a glass or pottery container that has a wide-mouth opening. Use a 4- to 8-inch container; this size is large enough to fit a brush in but not so big you end up pouring out too much varnish.

Select a brush that has fine bristles. A 2-inch brush is ideal for small areas like trim, table legs and in the corners. For a larger area, like the tabletop, use a 4-inch brush.

Dip the brush bristles into the varnish. Dip the brush straight down so that the varnish covers the top two-thirds of the bristles. Brush the varnish onto the table in short strokes starting at one end and working towards the other. Overlap the strokes to create even coverage.

Dip the brush into the varnish every few strokes to keep it coated in varnish. Avoid applying too much as it will start to run and pool on the surface. Aim for a light, even coat.

Brush the entire surface once the varnish is applied to the whole area. Use the same brush and cover the tabletop with long even stokes to even out the varnish application. Allow the varnish to dry for four to six weeks.

Sand the varnished table surface lightly using a 350-grit sandpaper. Soak the sandpaper in water before sanding the varnished surface. Run the sandpaper over the table to even out the surface and knock down any dust particles.

Apply the second coat of varnish using the same short overlapping strokes followed by the long coverage strokes. Allow the table to dry for another four to six weeks. Sand the varnish with 600-grit sandpaper before applying the final coat. A good coat of varnish takes two to four coats.

Polish the table when the last coat of varnish dries completely. Use a soft cloth that is free of zippers, snaps or Velcro. Apply furniture polish to the cloth as directed on the label. Some polishes come in aerosol cans that can be spread directly onto the furniture surface.

Rub the furniture polish into the tables surface using circular strokes. Wipe off the excess using a second clean, soft rag.

Things You'll Need

  • Cloth
  • Glass or ceramic bowl
  • 2-inch fine-bristled brush
  • 4-inch fine-bristled brush
  • 350-grit sandpaper
  • 600-grit sandpaper
  • Soft rag
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About the Author

Eulalia Palomo has been a professional writer since 2009. Prior to taking up writing full time she has worked as a landscape artist and organic gardener. Palomo holds a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from Boston University. She travels widely and has spent over six years living abroad.