Refinishing an Antique Table

A few years back, I was lucky enough to stumble upon an incredible Craigslist deal – an antique mahogany drop leaf table with four matching chairs for under $100. Unfortunately, when I got the table home I realized it had more problems than the original owner had revealed. While the style was exactly what I wanted, the table top finish was in terrible shape. The original high-gloss shellac finish was now sticky, soft white puffy spots appeared at the presence of any condensation, and it was sentenced to life under a table cloth due to these problems. But the wood was beautiful, and I missed showing off the shapely legs. Here is how I restored the tabletop in under 4 hours and $50.





A lot of antiques have this very glossy, shellacked finish that used to be very in style, but has now fallen out of favor. Refinishing the table top is a great way to take advantage of a piece that is made from nice wood, in a stylish shape, but just doesn’t have the finish you are looking for.


  • 2 cans Fomby’s Antique Refinisher
  • 2 packages 1000 grade Super Fine Steel Wool (20+ pads)
  • Stripping gloves (regular thin latex gloves WILL NOT DO! buy a pair of the heavy duty kind)
  • 1 small can Minwax Red Mahogany Stain
  • 1 spray can fast drying Polyurethane finish


  1. Strip the original finish off the table. For our table, this was a shiny shellac. It required several hours of soaking steel wool with the furniture refinisher and scrubbing away the old shellac. My advice is to buy more than enough of the refinisher, and to replace your steel wool pad often. The steel wool looses its scrubbing power quickly, getting sticky with the old finish.
  2. Let the surface dry, then use a fresh steel wool pad to rub down the surface you are refinishing. Make sure than any sections that are still shiny are rubbed down well.
  3. Following the directions on your can of wood stain, stain the wood until it approximately matches the base of the table.
  4. Let the table dry overnight.
  5. Follow the directions on the clear coat that you choose. For our spray-on quick dry semi-gloss polyurethane, we did one even coat, which soaked in quickly. Then we did a heavier second coat, and waited a few minutes before buffing away the excess with a slightly damp cloth. This resulted in a nice finish that looked rich and moisturized, without looking too fake and glossy. If you want a more durable, glossy finish, you can wait a few hours and do a third coat.

All of this was done outside our apartment. It took about four hours total for hands-on time, and spanned about 2 days. We are so happy with our table now, and what used to be a dissapointing piece of furniture is now a source of pride. It was fairly easy and inexpensive to accomplish, and definitely worth it to attempt. I’d like to emphasize that you don’t have to go all out – in our case, the base of the table was not perfect, but good enough, so we left it alone. Focus your efforts on what will give you the most bang for the buck (and hour!).


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