How to Strip and Refinish a Dining Table

Dining tables are often used for much more than just eating: from homework and crafts to board games and Legos, this surface can be one of the most important spots in your house! But with that extra use comes extra wear, and those scratches can distract from all of that activity. Knowing how to properly refinish a dining table will save you from buying a replacement, and it can also give you customized options if you're looking for a new aesthetic. Once you learn how to strip, sand, and stain your table — while maintaining the beauty of the wood — you can keep this furniture piece in the family for years to come.

Refinished oak table

Video of the Day

Things You\’ll Need

  • Drop cloths

  • Stripping gel (non-toxic)

  • Rubber gloves

  • Chip brush

  • Plastic wrap (optional)

  • Plastic scraper

  • Paper towels

  • Small nylon brush

  • Small wire brush

  • Mineral spirits

  • Cotton rags (3)

  • Orbital sander

  • Sandpaper (120-, 220-, and 400-grit)

  • Wood conditioner

  • Oil-based wood stain

  • Oil-based wipe-on satin polyurethane finish

Supplies needed to refinish table top

Step 1: Apply the Stripping Gel

Place canvas or plastic drop cloths around the edges of the table. Using the chip brush, apply a generous amount of stripping gel across the entire surface of the table to properly dissolve the existing top coat finish. Let the gel sit for at least 30 minutes. If you want to let it sit for longer (that's a good idea if the current varnish or polyurethane top coat is thick), then cover the surface with plastic wrap so that the gel doesn't dry out. The stripping gel remains active for up to 24 hours, if sealed so it doesn't dry out.

Applying stripping gel and plastic wrap to table

Step 2: Remove the Stripping Gel and Dissolved Finish

Remove the plastic wrap, if it was applied, and place it in a paper bag for disposal. Using the plastic scraper, remove the stripping gel from the table top, scraping in the direction of the grain. Periodically clean the residue off the scraper by wiping it on paper towels. For edges or areas that are recessed, use a small nylon brush to get remove the stripping gel and dissolved finish. Once most of the stripping gel is removed, use a small wire brush to completely remove the remaining residue.

Scraping stripping gel off of table

Step 3: Clean Residue With Mineral Spirits

Once all of the stripping gel has been removed, scrub the surface with mineral spirits and a cotton rag or scrubbing pad. Let the wood dry completely for a full 24 hours.


When all of the clear top coat is removed, the wood should have a grayish or a lighter hue across the entire surface, and feel dry and smooth. Some tables have a stubborn top coat or one with extra varnish. If so, steps 2 and 3 will need to be repeated.

Removing stripper residue with mineral spirits

Step 4: Sand the Wood

Place the table in a well-ventilated area, such as an open garage or outdoors. Start sanding the table top using 120-grit sand paper. Make sure to move in the direction of the wood grain, or the sandpaper will make small scratch marks that will only be visible when the new stain is applied.


If the sandpaper is gumming up quickly with a dark residue, the stripper is still on the wood surface and will need to be removed using a scraping tool (you can use a metal one) or extra sandpaper disks.

Sanding the table top

Move the sander back and forth over the surface until the previous stain is removed and the wood color is a lot lighter. Do not be too concerned about getting the table to a uniform light wood color, as it is common for some stain to remain in the crevices of the wood grain. The color will balance out when you apply new stain. Once most of the stain is removed, feel the wood and notice the rougher texture. Use 220-grit sandpaper and go over the table top, moving back and forth in the same direction as the wood grain, until the entire surface is smooth to the touch.


Make sure to be patient when removing the stain on the wood: don't apply too much pressure to the sander or use a courser grit sandpaper in order to go faster. This can result in sanding too far into the wood—which will expose the composite wood underneath of your table is built with a wood veneer.

Step 5: Apply a Stain

First, rub wood conditioner onto the surface with a cotton rag. The conditioner prevents splotchiness, which is especially visible with darker stains. Next, apply the wood stain generously, rubbing it into the wood in the same direction as the grain. Let the stain sit for 10 to 30 minutes, until the desired tone is achieved, and wipe off the excess with a clean rag. Let the stain dry completely in a well-ventilated area for 8 hours.

Staining table top

Step 6: Apply a Clear Top Coat

Using a lint-free cotton cloth, apply a clear satin polyurethane finish by pouring a generous amount onto the rag or directly onto the table. Rub it into the wood by working in circular motions at first. Then, do a final "smooth over" in the direction of the grain. Let the finish dry for 8 hours, and then sand the surface very lightly with 400-grit sandpaper. Wipe the tabletop clean, then apply another coat of wipe-on polyurethane and wait 8 hours for it to dry. Repeat this process once or twice more, sanding lightly and wiping clean between coats, to achieve a durable and lasting satin finish.

Step 7: Move Your Table Back Into Position

Once the surface is dry, move the table back into your dining room. It's ready for whatever activity you and your family have in store!

Before and after of refinished dining table

Related Stories


Caught in the Middle

Caught in the MiddleHelp for the Sandwich Generation- Twenty million American adults are caring for aging parents at the same time they\'re raising young children. Known as the Sandwich Generation, the

The Importance of Senior Fitness

The Importance of Senior Fitness- According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exercise and physical activity are some of the best things older adults can do to stay healthy. Even moderate ex

Grandparent Getaways

Grandparent GetawaysTrips to take with your grandchildren- \"No parents allowed.\" It\'s not a sign on a kid-only clubhouse, it\'s the first rule of travel for memory-making grandparent/grandchild vacatio

Comfortably Aging in Place

Comfortably Aging in PlaceHaving lived in the same ranch house for 55 years, John Heck’s grandparents wanted to make any and all necessary accommodations to allow them to peacefully age in place. Usin

Aging with Vitality, Grace and Confidence

Aging with Vitality, Grace and ConfidenceIt’s one of the great ironies of life: Your reward for surviving the tumultuous teen years, establishing a career and nurturing a family culminates in dry skin

3 Ways Seniors Can Control Prescription Costs

3 Ways Seniors Can Control Prescription CostsFor 55 million Americans enrolled in Medicare, the New Year means any new Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plans, or any changes to your existing pl

Popular Categories