How To Do A Terrible Job Refinishing Furniture

The first time I decided to write about taking on a home improvement project around the house I chronicled the natural disaster that was attempting to fix a leaking sink drain in a post entitled I Suck at Home Repairs.

Never one to admit defeat after being resoundingly ineffective at man-type handy work, I recently took up my latest project: Refinishing a piece of furniture. The reason I am refinishing this table certainly has an explanation; And that explanation is some whole thing about furniture having to match the color scheme of our den instead of looking like we plucked a random assortment of home furnishings out of a dumpster and then put them inside for lamps and stuff to go on. However, I think we can all agree that nobody gives a shit about that and we just want to get to the part where I do a really bad job on a table and take pictures of it.

Bottom line, I have a table, and I want that table to be a different color than the color that it currently is so I am going to do a bunch of stuff and make it the color I want.

*This is literally my favorite joke in the entire post

*This is literally my favorite joke in the entire post


What makes me think I can take on and successfully complete a task of this nature having never attempted it before and generally ruining everything I put my hands on around the house? Two things. One: I read a blog by a lady who said it was super easy and I believe everything I read on internet blogs. Two: Since the last time I attempted and failed miserably at a home project I have grown a beard.

Having a beard adds a skill modifier of at least +4 to all of my manliness rolls, which means I should easily be able to tackle this project despite the fact that I just made a Dungeons and Dragons reference like an enormous nerd.

*mANLINESS GREATLY EXAGGERATED FOR EFFECT, Actual Moustache Fanciness may Vary. Manliness aLSO oFFSET BY wIZARD rOBE.

*mANLINESS GREATLY EXAGGERATED FOR EFFECT, Actual Moustache Fanciness may Vary. Manliness aLSO oFFSET BY wIZARD rOBE.

Anyway, what is always the first step on any burgeoning home improvement project in my household? TO LOWE'S!

Phase One Prep


The second step is of course getting to Lowe's and realizing I don't have any idea what materials I need for this project and desperately googling "How to refinish furniture" on my phone in the paint aisle like an asshole.

I had dragged Emily with me on the quest for stuff to science a table into a different colored table, so after a considerable amount of arguing about what stuff I would need I left with the following in hand:

  • 1qt- Paint (Some kind of olive green-ish color that probably has a specific name which I don't care to learn.)
  • 1 container Wipe on Polyurethane
  • 1 baby size roller
  • 1 paintbrush
  • 1 roll blue tape
  • 1 package of dust masks (which I know I'm not going to wear but bought anyway)
  • 150 grit and 80 grit sandpaper (as if I understand what the difference will be) 

With all of my treasures acquired we headed home and I lugged the thing out into the garage to start working.

Approximately 1 hour later I had accomplished an amount of sanding so negligible that I didn't even bother to take a picture of it, worked up a gross amount of sweat for how little progress I made, and decided that I was going to purchase an orbital sander and power tool this b!%$h. 

One day, one trip to Lowe's, and $39.98 later, my new sander and I were ready to sand us a table.   


After spending an hour making the paint on one square inch of table leg a slightly lighter shade of blue when I was trying sand the table by hand I expected I would come home with my orbital sander, and melt the paint off the table with the precision and expertise of a master craftsman; paint vaporizing instantly beneath every pass of my sander leaving clean, bare wood exposed beneath. This was not the case. Twenty minutes later and:


I succeeded in making a slightly shittier blue table.  Positive I was either doing it wrong, using the wrong grit of sandpaper or some other novice mistake, and concerned by the fact that even through it was technically working I was going through a sheet of sandpaper every five minutes I did the only thing that made sense. I Got stubborn and kept going. 


The process was a giant pain in the ass, but it was starting to come along. I sanded until I was really sick of sanding and then called it a day, deciding to come back and finish it off later so that I could get it painted.

That was the last time I touched that table for two entire months. There were a number of reasons I didn't get back to it: Later that initial week my wife and I went out of town for a few days while she went to visit vet schools for interviews, then there was a big snow-storm and the cars were in the garage, then there was a long period of time where it was cold and I didn't feel like it. Then I got the flu. Then there was some more time when I didn't feel like it.

Some of you might be asking, 'Hey, what have you been doing for a table all this time that you've had this one out in the garage not working on it?' 

Good question, friend. I'll tell you. We've been using a sweet red and green plastic tub full of the Christmas ornaments as a table.


Classy as f#@k. The candle really complements accents of the red and green plastic tub and it just goes so well with the crooked lamp shade. Someone get a hold of  Martha Stewart's people, I think I'm really on to something here.

Anyway, the guilt and shame of having left this project half finished for so long finally caught up to me and I decided it was time to get down to business. 

Full disclosure; It still took me two weeks between the "Its time to get down to business" motivational decision and actually doing anything with the table.

Once I -did- start, I was not going to be stopped, that table was going to get sanded until there was no more blue paint to be found! NOTHING WOULD STAND IN MY WAY! Except that I used up my last piece of  sand paper about fifteen minutes in and had to stop.

Two days later I found myself once more in Lowe's looking for some more sandpaper. This time however, I made a discovery that would prove critical.

Apparently THIS:

Is not intended to strip paint off of wood. It's only supposed to be used on drywall. This certainly explains why I was going through a sheet every ten minutes and used an entire pack while only managing to sand a third of the table. You know what though? How was I supposed to know it was the wrong stuff? I mean, sure it was in the section with the drywall stuff, and sure it says 'DRYWALL' on the package in all capital bold letters right at the top but anyone could have made that mistake. 

So, not wanting to repeat my mistake, I went on over to the section with the power tools and on the wall literally two feet away from where I bought the sander was the heavy duty stuff actually intended for the job I was trying to do:

You can tell it's the right stuff because of the picture of those rugged man hands sanding a deck or whatever.

Now equipped with my power sander and proper bits of sandpaper it was go-time for real.

 It was glorious. The paint came off like... paint being sanded off by a sander. After spending hours laboriously attacking this table, gnashing my teeth and cursing every time I ruined another sheet of that drywall sandpaper to get jack-all done this was like heaven. 

I sanded, and sanded some more. I may have gone a little power mad for a bit, swept up in the ecstasy of conquering the shit out of that piece of furniture. I was like "Yeah, coarse grit for paint removal!" as I buzzed away the blue paint which had been taunting me for months. Then I was all "Whammo! Medium finishing grit! Fine finishing Grit! Suck it table, I'm the human here! My opposable thumbs and not being an inanimate object make me the goddamn boss!"

I sanded until I was happy with the result and then I sanded a little bit more because I was kind of into using the sander and I got carried away.

After three months I had finally succeeded in turning that table from blue to not blue.

I was pretty pleased with myself at this point. Sanding was done, so all that was left to do was to scuff, prime, scuff again, paint three coats scuffing between each, stain the top, stain drawers and cabinets, apply the polyurethane finish put all the hardware back on and then reassemble everything. Piece of cake.

Phase 2: Prime and Paint

After a refresher Google search for how to refinish furniture I learned that if I wanted my coats of primer and paint to go on nicely without a bunch of crap stuck to the table I needed to get tack cloth to wipe everything down between sandings.

I didn't know what tack cloth was, though I guess I really should have put two and two together based on the name. It's basically just a piece of cheese cloth that is sort of sticky that you wipe over the furniture to pull off any stray dust or hairs or whatever.

Off to Lowe's again I guess.


Tack cloth acquired, I went home wiped everything down, taped off the parts I didn't want painted and applied a coat of primer.

Next day, on went the first Coat of Paint.


Then a second coat of Paint.


The thing I read said to do three coats of paint but... meh. Close enough. ON TO PHASE THREE!

Phase 3: Stain and Protect

Almost done now. The end is in sight. Just gotta sand down those cabinets and drawers, re-stain it all and put on the polyurethane I got to finish it all off.

Looks like I get to go to town with my sander again.

(note: I somehow lost the photo I took of the sanded down cabinets, so please enjoy this stock photo of a grapefruit instead


After I finished the sanding I realized two things. First, two of the knobs from the drawers and cabinets were wrecked up, so I was going to have to replace them. Second, I have no idea what I did with the wood stain I bought three months ago and was going to have to go buy more.

Guess where I had to go, again?


Determined that this would be my last visit to Lowe's for this god-forsaken table, I made sure I got everything I needed.


Apparently reading the labels on stuff helps when you don't know what you are doing. I left the store with my stain, something called pre-stain which I suspected might be a scam to make me spend an additional 8 bucks on a product that doesn't actually do anything, some rags, a bunch of foam brushes and four new knobs for the drawers. 

I went home, followed the instructions on my various wood treating products, and got down to business. First was the pre-stain and then stain fifteen minutes later.

Then after another fifteen minutes or so the polyurethane went on. Two coats with a few hours apart to let it dry as recommended by the good people at Minwax.

I let it air dry for a day, put all the doors and cabinets back in place and hauled my completed table outside to admire my manly achievement.

Besides one of the cabinet doors being weirdly darker than everything else and there being a few spots where you can see I did a shitty job with the sander if you look close enough it all turned out passable. In the end, we no longer have to use the Christmas ornament box in the den and that is what really matters.

Five tips to Lowe's and three months to complete, but I have conquered this table. I am the manliest of men.


Griff photobombing my first attempt at taking that last picture

Also P.S.

As promised. The dust masks that I didn't use.


I'm probably going to die of breathing in lead paint dust.