How to Finish a Wood Table | Ask This Old House

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Wood-finishing expert Bruce Johnson shares his secrets for applying a professional-quality stain and varnish finish. (See below for a shopping list, tools, and steps.)
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Shopping List for How to Finish a Wood Table:
– 120-, 150-, and 180-grit sandpaper [], for smoothing the wood
– Oil-based wood conditioner , to pretreat the wood prior to staining
– Cloth, to apply wood conditioner []
– Oil-based wood stain [], for tinting the wood
– Oil-based polyurethane varnish [], applied as a protective topcoat finish
– Stir stick [], to stir polyurethane
– 220-grit sandpaper [], for sanding the polyurethane

Tools for How to Finish a Wood Table:
– Paintbrushes [], to apply wood conditioner, wood stain, and polyurethane varnish

Steps for How to Finish a Wood Table:
1. Lightly hand-sand the wood, always working in the direction of the grain.
2. Start sanding with 120-grit sandpaper and continue with progressively finer sandpaper up to 180 grit.
3. Brush a coat of wood conditioner onto the wood, which will allow the stain to soak in evenly without blotching.
4. After applying the conditioner, wait at least 15 minutes, but no more than 2 hours, before staining.
5. Liberally apply wood stain to the surface using a paintbrush or clean cotton cloth.
6. Allow the stain to soak into the wood for at least 10 minutes.
7. Wipe off all the excess stain with a dry cloth. Wait 8 hours or, if necessary, overnight for the stain to thoroughly dry.
8. Gently stir—never shake—a can of polyurethane varnish.
9. Use a paintbrush to apply an even coat of polyurethane onto the surface. Work the brush back and forth in the direction of the wood grain.
10. After applying the polyurethane, use the tips of the brush’s bristles to very lightly smooth out the finish.
11. Allow the polyurethane to dry overnight, then lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper.
12. Wipe off the sanding dust with a damp cloth, dry the surface, then brush on a second coat of polyurethane.

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Homeowners have a virtual truckload of questions for us on smaller projects, and we’re ready to answer. Ask This Old House solves the steady stream of home improvement problems faced by our viewers—and we make house calls! Ask This Old House features some familiar faces from This Old House, including Kevin O’Connor, general contractor Tom Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, and landscape contractor Roger Cook.

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How to Finish a Wood Table | Ask This Old House

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