| | | |

How to Strip Furniture; How to Refinish an old Dining Table

I will show you how you can strip a dining room table with a veneer top and refinish it, with my step by step tutorial.  

As you may remember me discussing in some previous posts, last winter we ended up selling the lake cabin that we were living in while we built our new house. We eventually want to end up back out at the lake, after the boys are older and I’m not driving them each to multiple sports and activities every evening. For now living more centrally located in our small town suits our needs and lifestyle. The cabin was a great bridge for us, but when a piece of vacant land came for sale last Fall we jumped on it, which meant we needed to sell our cabin on the lake.

With the cabin, went most of the furniture and decor, as the new owners really loved the whole package. So… that left me without several key pieces of furniture, including a dining table.

How To Strip & Refinish An Old Oak Table graphic.

When I began to look for a new dining room table, I realized just how expensive dining tables can be. Especially solid wood ones that are quality built. I looked for weeks and weeks on end when we were getting ready to move into our new house and I could not find one that I loved for anywhere near a price I was willing to spend at the time.

Sometimes it is best to get what you really love and make a big investment in a quality piece of furniture (like a solid wood dining table) that you will love and use for many  years to come. But… this wasn’t one of those times for us.  Since our house build had definitely gone a bit over our original budget due to COVID price-jacks I was trying to be thrifty when it came to choosing the furniture we needed. I switched my search from stores to Facebook marketplace, and landed on this beauty… well, soon to be beauty it was at the time.

Here is how she looked before I started…

An old table with a veneer top.

The old wooden table with chairs.

I really chose it for the detailed lines of the legs as well as the two extension leaves; I really believed it had the potential to be beautiful once all of that old varnish was removed.

The table in the dining room with a gold light above it.

I purchased this table and the six chairs (not pictured) that would have originally been paired with it for a total of $150. I didn’t need the chairs because I had my wishbone chairs (above) in storage from our Forest House, so I sold the other chairs separately on Facebook Marketplace. That means that this table cost me $50! Well, plus the supplies required to strip and refinish it, many of which I had on hand but some of which I had to buy. Still, it was a pretty affordable way to land ourselves what turned out to be a pretty cute little dining table.

I have to admit that I thought the entire table was solid wood when I bought it. My Dad did some further investigating for me after we had moved in and told me that the top was veneered so I would have to be very careful with refinishing that part. The rest was solid and less precarious to strip and refinish.

To do this job, I used:

  • Circa 1850 Heavy Body Paint & Varnish Remover
  • a metal dish to pour the stripper into
  • natural bristle paint brushes to apply the stripper with
  • a scraper and putty knife
  • stripping gloves
  • steel wool
  • a palm sander and paper (not pictured)
  • Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner (pictured below in the tutorial)
  • Wood Stain – MinWax Weathered Oak (pictured further below)
  • Natural Paste Wax (pictured further below)

Varnish paint remover and tools on the table.

Step One: Prepare and Protect the Area

Make sure to read the instructions on your stripping chemical first. I put cardboard under the table and a big drop cloth on top of the cardboard to protect my flooring and rugs from the chemicals and mess. My husband was away when I tackled this job so I didn’t have the manpower to help me move it outdoors or into the garage, but since it was summer I just opened both the front and back doors and let the whole house air out. I actually found that, thankfully,  the brand of stripper that I used wasn’t too strongly odoured.

Step Two: Paint on the Stripper

I painted on the stripper fairly thickly and let it sit a few minutes. I could almost immediately see the varnish bubbling up off the surface of the table.

Varnish striper being painted onto the table.

Up close shot of the stripped table.

Step Three:

The directions said to wait ten minutes but I’m pretty impatient so I started to strip it off with my scraper after about 5 minutes. I found if the stripper gel dried out at all it didn’t work as well, and you had to re-wet the surface before using your scraper on it.

I bet you can image how incredibly satisfying it was to scrape that old varnish off in nice long sections like this…

Scraping off the varnish on the table.

I continued the same process all the way around the entire table, including on the legs and base. I used steel wool to help me scrape off the varnish in any areas that were curved, like around the legs and base. It was admittedly a bit of a messy job, and it took me a good few hours of labour, but it was so satisfying to see it without all that dark shiny varnish!

First look at the stripped off varnish on the table.

I made sure to remove the leaves and get the edges of those sections as well (it was by looking at these that my Dad was able to tell that the top was a veneer and not solid oak, by the way).

Taking the table apart.

Step Four:

After it was all stripped down, I used a palm sander and went over the whole top very gently as I didn’t want to go through the thin wood veneer. Since I had cleaned up the base and legs with the steel wool, I didn’t really need to sand them.

Using a palm sander on the table.

Step Five:

I toyed with the idea of not adding any colour at all to the table, since the natural wood looked so lovely. But to help tie it in better with all the other brownish wood tones in our living and dining room I decided I would use a nice weathered oak stain to add a bit more of a grey/brown tone to the oak. Before doing so, I used the same Pre-Stain wood conditioner by MinWax as I had used on our old farmhouse dining table, just so that the stain I wanted to use would be more even. Even though it’s an extra step, this wood conditional really does help and make a difference to the finished stain quality of your project.

Miniwax wood finish.

I used a tack cloth to make sure the table was completely clean and free of dust, and then applied the pre-stain wood conditioner with a clean brush.

A paintbrush beside the miniwax.

After it was dry, I applied the weathered oak stain with a brush, and wiped it off with a soft dry cloth (following the instructions on the package). I did two coats on the table top and on the base and legs.

The wooden table.

Even though there was a lot of grey in the stain as it went on wet (above) you can see that it dried and came out with a warm weathered finish rather than looking really grey. I love the colour it came out!

The table on a drop sheet with a glove on the ground.

Step Seven:

Since I was going for a more natural (read: non-shiny) finish on this beauty of a  table, I really didn’t want to use any kind of sealer with a sheen to it. Instead, I used the same MinWax Paste Finishing Wax as I used on our kitchen stools (another thrifty furniture project you can read about here). I just followed the instructions, using a soft cloth to wipe it on, let it absorb, and then buffed it off. I only did a wax finish on the top of the table as I felt it needed a bit more protection from water and use than the legs require.

Applying miniwax to the stools.

Done and drying!

The table drying.

I had some friends who were major doubters about this one… they didn’t believe this table could be redeemed. But I think I proved them wrong?!

I love the mix of old and new in this dining room space – I wrote a whole post here about mixing new and vintage finds to create a look you love and that is unique to you.

The dining room table with an area rug underneath it.

I still love the lines of these legs and couldn’t be happier with how they turned out…

Up close look at the table.

The chairs around the table.

The dining room table and chairs.

Even the top turned out super well, considering I was refinishing a piece with a veneer top!

There are plates on the table.

Overall, this table definitely suits our needs. When we have both extension leaves in we can easily seat 8 and could probably squeeze in ten if we use benches instead of the chairs. It’s not an enormous table, but it’s about as big as we could fit in our dining room space. Most of the time we keep just one extension leaf in and it can seat 6-8 with just the one leaf.

The table in the dining room with the gold light fixture.

There are yellow throw pillows on the chair.

Done! There you go… for a few hours of labour and a few days of a messy dining room, we managed to get a pretty cute little vintage table that looks updated and fresh in our eclectic dining room space. I just ordered some new end chairs, and can’t wait to show you this space all cozied up for Christmas this year.

Any questions? Leave me a comment below!

Want to remember this? PIN it for later!

How To Strip and Refinish An Old Oak Table poster.


Other DIYs you might like…

Similar Posts


  1. The step-by-step tutorial on refinishing an old dining table is exceptional. The dining table is looking newly purchased. I bet you that people are going to try these ideas too. Excellent work, Krista!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.