People have strong feelings about painting wood furniture. You might assume, since we run a furniture painting business, we are pro paint. You’re not wrong! A fresh coat of paint can completely transform a piece and give it a whole new life. BUT, we also love the look of natural wood. If we have a piece with beautiful wood grain, we will always try our best to restore it and keep it part of the finished piece. Today we will share with you how to stain old furniture. Whether you want to know how to stain unfinished wood or re-stain a previously stained piece, these tips and tricks will help you get a beautiful stained finish!
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How to stain a table
We were asked to refinish this deep, red-toned dining table for a client. I was a little skeptical that we’d be able to completely eliminate the reddish tone, but we were up for the challenge!
Step 1 – clean old furniture
This step might seem unnecessary, since you will be sanding or stripping your wood furniture piece anyways, but you should never skip cleaning!
Part of learning how to stain old furniture is appreciating that your piece has already lived a long life and accumulated, not only some bumps and scratches along the way, but layers of oils and dirt you can’t even see. If you start by sanding, you will grind all that nastiness into your wood grain and it can compromise the durability of your finish.
We use TSP but you can use an alternative product like this, or any cleaner that also acts as a degreaser.
Make sure you use a clean, wet cloth to remove all residue of the cleaning agent before you move on to sanding.
Step 2 – sand/strip to remove old finish from wood furniture
Depending on the size of your table top, you can either sand by hand or with a palm sander. We like to use this brand. We do not recommend using an orbital sander unless you have a lot of experience with it, as it tends to leave circle patterns in the grain that will show after you apply your stain.
It’s best to use a medium grit sandpaper, between 80 and 100 grit. If your sandpaper is too fine, you likely won’t remove all of the previous coat or open up the wood pores enough to accept the stain properly. However, if your sandpaper is too rough, the wood pores will be too large and the finish will be blotchy and have visible “scratches”.
Pro tip: WEAR A MASK!!! You may be tempted to just dive in and sand away, but when staining old furniture you must protect your lungs from toxic particles from the old finish.
Do you need to strip your wood furniture before staining? In our experience, not usually. However, if you start sanding and your sandpaper is getting all gummed up, you may want to consider stripping the piece first to get off most of the old finish before you sand.
Once you have your surface completely sanded, use a damp cloth followed by tack cloth to remove all the dust. We buy our tack cloth from Amazon because it seems to be the most economical – and we go through a lot!
If this seems like too much work already, you can read about our technique for changing the color of wood stain, without sanding, here!
Step 3 – apply stain to unfinished wood
There are so many beautiful shades of stain to choose from. For this particular table, we used alternating layers of Fusion’s Stain & Finishing Oil in Driftwood and Cappuccino.
Stir your stain to mix it up. Do not shake the stain in the can as it will create air bubbles that can carry through onto your furniture.
To apply the stain to a table top, or any other old furniture, you can use a chip brush, sponge or lint free rag. We usually use a cheap chip brush so we can dispose of it after the project.
After applying the stain, wipe it off with a lint free rag. Work in small sections so the stain doesn’t sit to long before you wipe it back. The longer the stain sits on the wood, the darker you finish will be. It is better to do multiple thin layers than to apply too thick a coat to start with.
Pro tip: old, cut up t-shirts make the perfect lint free rags!
Note: if you refinishing a raw wood top that will repeatedly be exposed to water, like a vanity top, you will need to use a clear epoxy finish to prevent water damage.
Step 4 – protect your finish (especially important for staining a table)
The only extra challenge with how to stain a table, as opposed to any other piece of wood furniture, is that a table will most certainly see a lot of wear and tear on its surface.
In order to protect your newly stained table surface you will need to make sure you are using either a stain with a built in top coat or you apply a few coats of polyurethane.
Fusion’s Stain & Finishing Oil has a built in top coat so we didn’t apply anything else on top for this project.
However, when we use a stain without a top coat, we like to use this water based poly to protect the finish.
What about wood conditioner? We don’t use it. However, if you are staining a soft wood that is prone to blotchiness, such as pine, you may want to use it to help achieve a more uniform look.
The Result – freshly stained wood table
So you never really know how a particular wood will accept stain – that’s part of the fun of staining old furniture! We were thrilled this table turned out so pretty! The mix of grey and brown tones really nailed that beachy look that is so popular right now.
We hope you learned some new tips and tricks on how to stain a table or other old furniture. If you’ve tried to stain unfinished wood before, we’d love to hear how it went in the comments below!