Thursday, May 30, 2013

Refinishing the dining room mortem.

The before picture...we are obviously in need of some new finish on the dining room table.  What was left of the old finish was awfully sticky.

I started with a card scraper and that quickly escalated to several hand planes.  The table top needed to be flattened a bit so I wasn't too worried about removing material.  Unfortunately the top is made from a variety of small boards that were glued up with the grain going every which way. I got some pretty bad tear-out in a few pieces and had to resort to the belt sander to get the remainder of the finish and clean up the tear-out.

After the belt sander I broke out the new ROS.  Luckily I used a higher grit belt than I started with on the ROS...not out of any brilliant planning, I was just too lazy to change it.  The ROS is a lot less agressive than the belt sander so being able to step down to an even lower grit (60 I think, had an 80 on the belt sander) for the first couple passes helped speed things up.

Once the belt sander marks were gone I started working on the edge.  A goose-neck scraper got the bulk of the old finish off.  I found that the ROS pads worked really well for sanding the curved edge as the thickness helped spread out the pressure a bit.  Getting the edge all cleaned up was a bit tedious but once that was done it was back to the ROS to take the top up to 320.

A raking light helped identify areas that needed a bit more attention, but a final wipe down with mineral spirits still found a few more scratches that I had to go back and deal with. I have taken to making a light pencil mark on the scratch while it is wetted so I can find it once the surface dries, usually once the pencil mark is gone I'm good to go.

Then on to finishing.  I was originally planning on filling the pores in the top to get a nice smooth surface. After sanding two coats of oil/varnish blend into the top and still having a long way to go I bagged that idea and decided to just not go for as much of a build with the final coats of poly.  Once the oil/varnish mess dried (This took several days before the oil stopped seeping out of the pores) I started wipping on coats of thinned poly..5 in total I think.

I sanded between every other coat with 400 grit silicon carbide paper lubed up with mineral spirits. After the last coat dried I went over it with some 1000 grit (I think) paper, aslo lubricated.

All in all I am pleased with the results. I have decided that I really don't enjoy working with red oak very much.  

Things I learned:
  1. I really don't like red oak.. dont like cutting it, dont like planing it, dont like sanding it and dont like finishing it.
  2. A belt sander can cure many sins with a hand plane...but it can also take quite a bite out of a surface if you aren't careful.
  3. Pore filling by sanding oil/varnish blend into the surface takes way more time than I am willing to give it, at least for red oak.
What I would do differently:
  1. Start with the belt sander and work up through a couple grits to something pretty fine. I think this would be a lot faster than trying to sand out the scratches from an 80 grit belt with a 60 grit ROS pad.
  2. Work someplace with more space so I can get more than a foot away from the piece to looks for defects on the top.
  3. Skip the oil/varnish and go straight for wiping poly.  


  1. I have a similar table and have already finished it once. Time for another refinish. Last time, I just used my palm sander and brushed on some satin poly due to me wanting it to have a durable and thicker coat. I'll try some wipe-on next time. :)

    1. Using the wipe on varnish takes a few more coats but if its warm you can do a coat every hour or so. I will typically do three coats and then let it cure overnight before sanding. I like the extra control you get by working with the cloth and thinned poly.