refinish purchased table

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Forum topic by Doug posted 08-05-2010 02:48 AM 3801 views 1 time favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Doug's profile


10 posts in 3253 days

08-05-2010 02:48 AM

Topic tags/keywords: refinish kitchen table hole repair


I am looking for some advice on refinishing an oak table and filling in some holes.

Background: Perhaps against our better judgement we bought a round kitchen table more or less via the internet….unseen in orther words. Unfortunately, it came with “worm holes” and antiquing” which the description nor pictures didn’t indicate.

My wife and I envision the holes in a table being filled with bits of food, milk, mashed up peas, playdoh etc. We generally like the table other than this rather large negative, and being generally an overestimator of my skills and an underestimator of the time and work it takes to do other projects told my wife I could refinish it. The holes are about 1/16” diameter and about 1/4” deep and bunched in groups of 12 or so in 6-8 places around the 48” diameter table.

Closeup of holes

and another view
Closeup 2

My original thought was to simply try to figure out what kind of finish it was to determine whether I could fill in the holes, lightly sand, and apply another couple coats of a finish. Having had the table for a little while I have found that where one of our kids cereal bowls sat for a hour or so in the morning sun in a puddle of spilled milk, the finish came up in a little ring matching the bowl. So now I expect to have to take it down to bare wood sand start over.

I would lilke to beg some advice on the best methods to complete all this including a durable finish to handle lots of spills, banging of utensils (my kids are 3 and 1) and expected laziness for the inevitable not cleaning up the spills until the next morning.

I was planning on sanding the top surface using a random orbital sander and using some type of soft block to hand sand the contoured edges and skirt.

What is the best way to fill in the holes? (I have some red oak sawdust I saved from a previous project and have had heard that sawdust mixed with glue can fill holes quite well, and looks better than the putty’s but I’m not sure how it will take a finish.)

Is about 5 coats of a satin polyurethane the best finish for a kitchen table? What about a shellac? I will be going low tech here since I don’t have any spray equipment, I would like to maintain the slightly darker color since I have lighter oak floors and don’t want it to appear that I’m trying to get them to match but do not know yet if the table color is due to tinting or an oil stain or a gel. I guess I’ll find that out when I sand it down.

I would appreciate any advice anyone has.

-- Doug, WA

10 replies so far

View JimF's profile


144 posts in 3321 days

#1 posted 08-05-2010 08:36 PM

I’m not the best one to respond to this, but hoping my little comments will spur someone more qualified to chip in, here goes.

1. There are some people-friendly (read non-toxic) chemical strippers around. I’d research them, then start with that before sanding.
2. I’ve heard the same about filling holes with sawdust/glue. The type of glue should determine how well it takes to a stain. More research.
3. On a kitchen table, I would only use a polyurethane. I’s almost indestructable, or in other words almost kidproof. Shellac is more delicate.

-- Insert clever tag line here

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4246 days

#2 posted 08-05-2010 09:51 PM

It is hard to tell from the photo if the wood has a stain on it or just a clear finish. I would be tempted to just sand down the flat surface of the table top down to bare wood, leaving the finish intact around the curved edges and apron. Next, I’d go to HD or Lowes and buy some of the Elmer’s wood filler that comes in a tube in various colors. Choose the color that most closely matches the area where the holes are. slightly overfill each hole, then sand when the filler has dried to remove the excess. Sand the whole surface of the table down to 220 grit.

Now comes the tricky part.. If the table has a stain on it, which I suspect it does, you are going to have to pick a color that is close. Minwax, or similar, from the big box store will be fine. Apply it as per directions on the can. Finally, apply wipe-on polyurethane (probably about4 or 5 coats).

That’s just how I would approach it. There are always more ways than one to skin a cat.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View GregP's profile


154 posts in 2905 days

#3 posted 08-05-2010 10:31 PM

I’ll give you what I do to refinish, for what you described you’ll need several items.

1.) Stripper- I like Bix

2.) Wood filler- Charlie is spot on with the elmers recommendation Judging by the picture I’d go with “Golden oak”

3.) A stain that matches- If you have a piece of oak scrap kicking around that would make a good test piece. minwax makes lots of colors and they typically match factory colors pretty well although I prefer medium watco on oak.

4.) An oil based polyurethane, I’d stay away from the minwax if you can manage I think it’s quite soft, I prefer varathane but I know there are others that are good as well.

5.) a belt sander or random orbit- short of dipping it in lye there’s no way around a little sanding unfortunately.

Smear the stripper on the table top, let it sit for a few minutes and scrape it up with a paint scraper (the big flat spatula kind)

repeat until most of the finish is removed and sand off the rest

be careful here a lot of oak furniture isn’t oak but something like MDF or pine with oak veneer so make sure if it’s that kind of table to be very light with your sanding or you’ll grind right through it.

Next fill in your holes and any damage with the wood filler and sand in the way charlie said to.

After that apply the stain assuming the color is correct, followed by several coats of the poly, I prefer to brush poly with an ox hair brush.

Just my $.02

-- Greg P, Washington State,

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3011 days

#4 posted 08-05-2010 10:42 PM

Doug, It sounds like me estimating my skills which tend to leave me in a hard spot. Those holes are just little character spots. You just need to make that character fit your needs. I’d rather build a new one as refinish an old one. Having been there and done this before, here’s what I would do and save yourself a lot of time and headache. Lightly sand the finish to remove the gloss (don’t sand to bare wood) and fill the holes with a epoxy filler. This stuff dries clear leaving the character of the holes in tact but filled and level with the top. Lightly sand epoxied holes flush. Then use a wipe on polyurethane to finish. Wipe on will dry quicker in between coats. This will save you from a lot of sanding and trying to match stain color.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Doug's profile


10 posts in 3253 days

#5 posted 08-05-2010 11:26 PM

Thanks guys for all your advice. I really appreciate that there are so many knowledgeable people willing to help little old me on this site. You’ve given me some good ideas to research and look into.

Gregn, Does polyurethane stick to just about any other finish? not knowing what the manufacturer used, but i’ll assume a spray of some type, I’m all for saving myself a lot of time, but I just want to be sure I don’t have to do this later on again if they don’t stick. I remember reading somewhere that certain finishes can be used on top of others but not vice versa, but don’t remember if that was polyurethane. But it sounds like you’ve tried this and it worked for you.

CharlieM, does that Elmers wood filler dry hard, or is it a putty that stays kinda soft forever? If it gets hard, that’s great. Knowing how I was as a kid, I’m expecting that as my boys grow the filled in holes will still look different and be a target for the fork prongs when mom or dad isn’t looking.

-- Doug, WA

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3011 days

#6 posted 08-06-2010 12:27 AM

Haven’t had a problem yet. If the finish comes off using alcohol or lacquer thinner then you may want to use shellac or lacquer instead.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4246 days

#7 posted 08-06-2010 03:36 AM

Doug, the filler dries hard.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View KB1's profile


28 posts in 3181 days

#8 posted 08-14-2010 07:51 AM

These boys have given you great advice. My opinion the worst part of the table is the black water marks near and around the holes. Hey it’s a family table, your kids will add lots of character to it in the future. Now test the finish with alcohol. If it softens then you have shellac. There is no stain on your table, it’s just a sealer coat of shellac. It has been used for MM’s of years. Shellac is wonderful, you can over coat it with anything. If it is not shellac you should do this—clean the top with “Superclean” available at Wal-mart in the automotive section. Dilute 6 to 1 with water. Scrub it down several times, rinse several times. Fill holes with the putty mentioned before. Let dry and sand with 220 grit all over. If you are in doubt as to the original finish and compatibility with your chosen topcoat get a product call Sealcoat shellac and rag on a couple of barrier coats. Dilute with alcohol. Now apply whatever ureathane you wish. I like to spray water base. It dries fast.

-- KB1KnoB

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4950 posts in 3988 days

#9 posted 08-14-2010 05:08 PM

A mixture of dried peas and Playdough will eventually fill the holes. Rub out with a piece of 4 week old bologna, then buff with a biscuit (Pillsbury). You will then have a $4000.00 antique.
(Well, you asked….....)


View abie's profile


875 posts in 3799 days

#10 posted 08-15-2010 05:31 PM

Fill the holes with Coffee grounds and CA glue.
works for me

-- Bruce. a mind is like a book it is only useful when open.

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