DIY Antique Dining Set Makeover

A few months ago, our in-laws gave us their old dining set.

Now, to be fair, it is truly an antique. The chairs are over 100 years old, and while the table was not built that long ago, it is made out of reclaimed wood from the same era.

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Now, while I very much appreciate being given a full dining set, this table and chairs does not match my vision for our home in the least. Also, even my mother-in-law agrees that the floral cushions have got to go.

I had already been hunting for a dining set, and when this one fell into our laps my first inclination was to pass it along to some other family members since it didn’t meet my ideals. However, Jordan really wanted to keep the set and was open to refinishing it, with some stipulations. Here were a few of the sets I had picked out on Pinterest:

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I really love the dark-topped farm tables with distressed white legs, but Jordan didn’t want me painting the table. So my goal was somewhere closer to the Pottery Barn version shown in the last inspiration photo.

Since I have never re-stained furniture before, I had to do some reading on what the best products and method would be. I found this blog pretty helpful.

Before I got started these were the products I assembled, all of which I was able to find at Home Depot.

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From left to right:

Varathane Stain & Poly in Kona
Wooster Pro 1.5″ angle brush for oils, paints, and polyurethanes
Varathane Polyurethane Spray in semi-gloss
Klean Strip Premium Stripper
Klean Strip Paint Stripper After Wash
Klean Strip VM&P Naphtha
HDX Tack Cloths
3M 320 grit sandpaper
3M 220 grit sandpaper

Not pictured:

Large canvas dropcloth
3M 180 grit sanding blocks
3M 220 grit sanding blocks
Steel wool
Chemical-resistant neoprene gloves
Plastic paint scraper

As a reminder, here were the chairs before I started. I flipped each chair over and unscrewed the seats so that they wouldn’t be affected by the stripping and staining process. I also put a canvas dropcloth down on the garage floor, since the stripper is really caustic and messy, and I didn’t want it all over my garage. Keep in mind that you will be using harsh chemicals, so chemical resistant gloves are very important. I also only worked with the garage doors open so that I could get tons of ventilation.

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The first step was to use the stripper to spray the entire chair. This part was super easy.

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Over the course of about 20 minutes you will see the finish start to lighten and bubble up. You don’t want to leave the stripper on too long (I learned this the hard way), as it becomes really difficult to scrape off. These chairs have enough edges and curves to them that by the time I got each surface coated with stripper, I only had to wait about 5 minutes before I could start scraping.

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After scraping the majority of the finish/stripper gunk off, you will be left with a sticky, gunky mess. At this point you will probably wonder if you have made a huge mistake, because your furniture will now look like a hot mess. Don’t worry, it’s going to be ok.

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This is where you pull out the stripper wash and some old rags. Liberally wipe down the chair with the stripper wash. This will take the rest of the gunk off. Keep in mind that if you are seeing shiny areas where the finish has not been completely removed, this is going to make your job harder later on. If need be you can repeat the stripping/washing step.

This is what your furniture should look like after stripping and washing.

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The next step is to sand down your furniture. In theory if you’ve done a good job stripping and washing you can skip this step, but everything I read said that sanding would yield better results. I started by sanding with a 180 grit sanding block, working my way through 220 and 320. If you did have any shiny areas where the previous finish was not removed, you will need to sand these down pretty well.

Here’s the finished sanded product:

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Now it’s time for your stain. It’s important that you invest in a high quality brush made for using with stains. The stain I used was Varathane Stain & Poly, which already had polyurethane mixed in. I mixed the stain with a wooden paint stirring stick, and then brushed it on. The first coat dries extremely quickly, so you have to be a bit speedy about your brushing so that you don’t end up with big drips on your corners and edges. If anything, less is more here.

Your first coat is going to look very splotchy… trust me, it will be ok.

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After about 30 minutes I was able to apply the second coat. Take a feel of the surface first, you may need to do a light sanding with the 320 grit sandpaper if the stain brings up the grain of the wood too much.

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And here we are after the third coat.

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Here’s a comparison between a completed chair (left) and the original finish (right).

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After completing the re-staining on all of the chairs, I got started on the table.

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You can see where I sprayed the stripper on the table. I sprayed the entire top, scraped, sprayed the sides and legs, and scraped. I was confused at how little of the finish I was able to remove with the stripper. What I didn’t realize was that the table has been waxed for years, which means that my chemical stripper did absolutely nothing to cut through it.

After some more reading, and a lot of nervous sweating now that I had 6 chairs that no longer matched their table, I was able to conclude that scrubbing with naphtha using steel wool was probably my best chance at removing the thick layer of wax.

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I scrubbed the table top for about 2 hours, pouring the naphtha in a metal dog dish, soaking my steel wool, scrubbing with the grain of the wood, and then wiping the wax and naphtha off with a shop towel before it could dry again. Naphtha is really volatile so you have to wipe it up pretty quickly or it will just dry and you won’t be able to take the wax off. I worked as hard as I could to get all of the wax up, and then had to hope it would be good enough to be able to stain the table. From the horror stories I read on the internet, if you don’t remove all of the wax the poly will not adhere. I didn’t use the naphtha on the legs because I assumed they had not been waxed like the table top. I then took my same sanding blocks and sand paper to sand the table top and legs. Make sure you go with the grain, especially on the table top, or your table will not look good. It took a lot of elbow grease but I finally got it finished.

While I was working on the table I also went ahead and worked on the two shelves that go in either side of the table.

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I removed the knobs, scrubbed, sanded and stained the fronts of the drawers, and replaced the knobs with silver cup pulls from Home Depot to get a more modern look.

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After I finished staining the top of the table I let it dry for several hours. Then I sprayed the table top with the polyurethane spray to give it a nice glossy top. I actually did two thin coats that I let dry for several hours in between.

Just a side note, I kept the garage shut when I sprayed the poly and while the poly dried. If there is any dust or hair floating around while your poly is wet, it will stick and become embedded in the surface of your furniture. Nobody wants a dog hair covered table, so be really careful not to let this happen. If anything does get stuck you can remove it with tweezers, gently sand that spot, and re-spray with polyurethane.

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After letting the table sit overnight to dry, we moved it back into the dining room.

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Next up was to recover the chair seats. I had the hardest time deciding on fabric for the chairs, but I eventually decided to go with this one from Fabricbubb.

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It’s canvas with a slightly metallic sheen to it. I love that from a distance it has a subtle zebra stripe effect.

The seat covers were really easy to do, I just used a pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the old staples and then stretched the new fabric over the old foam batting (it was still in good shape) and re-stapled it.

Here’s the finished piece!

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And here’s the set!

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I’m so excited to finally have our dining set done and ready to use! The next project I’m working on is our guest bedroom so that we can have friends stay over when they come visit. I’ll post an update soon!

If you have any questions about your own DIY furniture project feel free to leave them in the comments!

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