Category: Furniture Before and After

Refinishing a Mid-Century Side Table

I found a vintage mid-century side table on Craigslist a few months ago.  It had great bones and a lovely wood grain, but unfortunately the tabletop was worn and deeply scratched. Since the rest of the piece was in good condition, I decided to buy the table and refinish the top. I will take you through the process, which can be applied to any simple refinishing project.


Here are some close-ups of the original damage. That middle scratch was about 6 inches long and a few millimeters deep. The top was also several shades lighter than the rest of the table from years of use and wear.


The Process


  1. The first step is to remove the original finish and sand down any visible scratches. I used an orbital sander to expedite the process, but you can certainly do this by hand. This table has a wood veneer, a thin decorative layer of higher quality wood that surrounds the central structure, so I had to be careful not to sand through the veneer.
  2. I used three grits of sandpaper with my orbital sander: 60, 100, then 150. You want to start with the roughest grit and move progressively finer.
  3. This is what the tabletop looked like after using the orbital sander. The old varnish and scratches were gone, but the surface felt rough to the touch.
  4. Next I hand sanded the table with 180-grit and finally 220-grit paper. I recommend a sanding block when working on a flat surface; it gives you a natural grip and helps prevent indentations from applying uneven pressure.
  5. The most critical step of refinishing wood is picking the correct stain color. If you don’t see the right color at the store, feel free to mix two stains together until you reach the right hue. I was lucky that Minwax’s English Chestnut matched the rest of my table perfectly. Apply stain with a soft rag in the direction of the grain. The stain will get darker with each coat, so start light and build the color slowly. Stain needs 7-8 hours to dry. I left mine overnight just to be safe.
  6. The last step is a protective topcoat. I used Arm-R-Seal topcoat in Satin. The rest of the table does not have a shiny finish, so I chose satin rather than glossy. The topcoat will be dry to the touch within a few hours, but it takes a few days to dry fully.

The whole process was quick and painless– and now this pretty table has a new lease on life! Here are some photos of the finished piece.

Final1 Final2 Final3

I found a vintage mid-century side table on Craigslist a few months ago.  It had great bones and a lovely wood grain, bu...

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Ebonized Cerused Oak Before & After


I have always loved the look of ebonized cerused, or limed, oak.  The overall finish is a deep black, while the wood grain is filled with white pigment.  The sharp contrast accentuates oak’s beautiful grain patterns and creates a high-end, glamorous look.  This finish can be achieved in any color combination, but the classic black and white is my personal favorite.

This technique was originally developed in the 16th century as a way to protect wood from insects.  Its popularity has ebbed and flowed over time, peaking in art deco and midcentury interiors.

IMG_7516_2 IMG_7531 TabletopCU

I followed Lynne Rutter’s wonderful tutorial over at The Ornamentalist.  My table had a cerused finish originally, so I had to take a few extra steps to prep the surface.

Two pieces of advice on this technique: Firstly, it is essential to create an absolutely clean surface to work with because aniline dye will not absorb through old varnish or residue.  Starting with an unfinished piece would be ideal.  Secondly, apply your shellac carefully.  A light coat of shellac will allow the wax to fill more nooks and crannies, creating a lower contrast finish.  More shellac will keep the wax strictly in the large veins of grain.  But be careful not to apply too much or your surface will not accept any wax.


Here are the steps

1)     Stripped the old varnish with Soy-Gel.

2)     Sanded with an electric orbital sander.

3)     The original piece had a cerused treatment, so I used mineral spirits to remove old wax in the grain.

4)     The Soy-Gel stripper left a sticky residue, which I removed with paint thinner.

5)     Sanded with finer grit sandpaper to get a smooth working surface.

6)     Used a brass brush to remove debris from the grain.

7)     Used a tack cloth to remove sawdust and other debris.

8)     Mixed an ebony aniline dye with water.  Aniline dye comes in both powder and liquid forms, and it can be mixed with either water or denatured alcohol. My first coat was a bit too watered down, so I added more dye for the second coat in order to get the deep ebony finish.

9)     Then I painted on two coats of shellac.  Shellac will make it much easier to remove excess wax in the next step.

10)  Used a rag to rub liming wax into the grain and then immediately removed any excess wax with a second, clean rag.

11)  Finally I sealed the piece with clear microcrystalline wax.


I have always loved the look of ebonized cerused, or limed, oak.  The overall finish is a deep black, while the wood gra...

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