So you’ve found the vintage wooden coffee table of your dreams while ambling a flea market one warm day.
So you’ve found the vintage wooden coffee table of your dreams while ambling a flea market one warm day. It’s mid-century modern, as cheap as chips, and very well-loved by it’s past owner. Like,
really well-loved—it has tiger stripes of faded varnish and water rings of wear. You can physically see where someone relaxed and kicked up their heels.
Don’t walk away just yet. Here’s how to restore dignity to a great old piece and avoid filling your home with brand new (but cheaply made) junk.
This whole process is going to take you a couple hours, so bring the party outside to avoid breathing in fumes. We also recommend propping up the table on some wood or cement blocks to save your back—and throw on rubber gloves to save your hands.
Start off by wiping down the table with alcohol to remove any dirt or grease. After it dries, apply stripping gel, like Citristrip ($20, homedepot.com) to the table with an old rag.
Get it on thick, let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes, and then scrape it off with a paint scraper or metal scapula (in a pinch). Wipe down the table with mineral spirits to get off any excess, and then dry it with a towel.
Sand the entire table, going with the grain of the wood to avoid scratches. Sandpaper works fine for those who don’t own belt or orbital sanders. Dig in first with a higher grit sandpaper, then finish out the job with a finer one to smooth down the wood. Use steel wool to get any in-lay or molded bits.
Wipe down the table with mineral spirits to clean off dust and allow it to dry.
We like to prep the table by using a soft towel or an old tee to apply a pre-stain wood conditioner, like this one from Minwax ($5, walmart.com).
After that dries, apply the wood stain with a cloth or a foam brush against the grain to help it soak into the wood’s “pores.” Let it dry for a couple minutes, then wipe off excess in the direction of the wood grain. Apply a second coat if you’d like a darker finish and allow it to dry for a couple hours.
Apply the varnish with a foam brush down the length of the table. Let it dry, then lightly sand it with a super-fine sander. Wipe down the table and apply your second coat of varnish. Let it dry, go over it once more with sandpaper, and you’re done. Enjoy the newest addition to your home, and go make yourself a drink.