Monday, August 13, 2012

Kitchen Table Makeover - Stripping and Refinishing Wood Furniture. Or, Why Minwax Polyshades Sucks.

What do you do when you have a high-quality piece of vintage hardwood furniture that doesn't really match your decor, but any cool looking replacement you might buy would be a wobbly piece of garbage? That was my dilemma. My Heywood-Wakefield kitchen table is built like a tank. But the light finish didn't match my furniture, and those turned legs aren't my style. I prefer cleaner lines.

Still, I'm fond of the table. My mother found it at Southern Thrift in 2007, disassembled and looking pathetic with its legs painted red (!). Mom saw the Hey-Wake stamp on the underside and said quietly through her teeth so our competitors the other shoppers wouldn't hear, "You. Want. This." I bought it and spent hours restoring the tabletop and painted the legs black, hoping the dark paint would make them disappear.
Black is supposed to be slimming, right? Black pants are supposed to make thick thighs look less prominent. But black paint doesn't make table legs disappear... especially not against a very pale gray background. Oops! After I painted my walls, it was time to do something about the table. I'd love to replace it with a Saarinen Tulip Table, but hahaha, yeah right. That's not gonna happen! IKEA and CB2 make affordable Tulip Table knockoffs, but the reviews aren't great, and a wobbly table would drive me crazy. So I spent last week making over my table. Inspired by this and this, I set out to paint the legs white and put a dark finish on the tabletop.

For a step-by-step guide to the refinishing process, along with advice about which products to use and which to avoid, keep reading...

I feel like the caption should say INGERDIENTS FOR CANCER RECIPE. This stuff was pretty nasty.
Day One: I used Citristrip paint stripping gel to remove the original finish. Citristrip claims to smell like oranges. For two minutes, it smelled like nuclear-strength Tang. After that, it smelled like paint stripper mixed with sewer gas. But it worked! Thirty minutes after I applied Citristrip, the original finish scraped off easily with a plastic putty knife.
This project required me to say ridiculous things like, "Where's the stripper?
 I could've sworn I left the stripper on the floor!"
But in all seriousness, this stuff worked much better than expected.
Day Two:  I removed residue left from the stripping gel with a rag dipped in mineral spirits. Then I applied one coat of Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to ensure a uniform finish. Half an hour later, I applied a very thin coat of Minwax Polyshades Stain & Polyurethane in One in American Chestnut. This is where the project went downhill. I will never use this product again! When I was shopping for stain, I thought Oh, how nice. They included a polyurethane protectant. Wasn't that sweet?

Not really! I wanted a stain that would allow the natural wood grain to show. This is actually a very thick paint, not a stain.  If you read the fine print, it's a product for lazy people who don't want to strip their furniture first; it can be applied over an existing finish. This mess was as thick as maple syrup, and it was impossible to apply a thin coat smoothly. After one coat it looked bumpy and gross, but I hoped the second coat would smooth things out.

Naked, conditioned wood. Ready for stain!
Day Three: I applied a second coat of Polyshades, and the mess got worse. The more I brushed and tried to blend it, the rougher and nastier it became! I used a thicker coat on the right side of the table, and that looked better. Check out the picture below. You think you're seeing wood grain in that pic? NO. You're seeing brush marks and paint glop. I resolved to start over tomorrow. Than I went to bed cursing Minwax.

Left side: I used a thin coat, worked hard to smooth the finish, and made a huge mess of it.
Right side: I used a thick coat, obscured the natural wood grain, and it was alright.
But I really really hate this stuff, and I'll NEVER use it again. 
Day Four: I grabbed an apron and a face mask and used a random orbital sander to remove the previous night's work. Using power tools while Keith made dinner made me feel like Rosie the Riveter--major fun! I used a coarser 150 grit first, followed by a finer 220. I cleaned the dust off, then applied a slightly thicker coat of Polyshades. A thicker application was easier to blend. Even though it obscured any hint of natural wood, it looked better than the previous night's work.

Hellooooo, table. Nice legs you've got there, Meeeee-OW! Rustoleum High-Gloss Enamel is my FAVORITE.
Day Five: I applied a second coat of Polyshades and painted the legs white with an oil-based, high-gloss Rustoleum enamel. I absolutely LOVE high-gloss Rustoleum. The legs look like porcelain.

Day Six: I applied a second coat of Rustoleum to the legs and did a happydance. Yay! Finished! I still don't like the finish on the tabletop. It looks like I painted my table with pudding. But I do like the colors. The tabletop matches the chairs, the apron and legs match the trim, and everything looks much cleaner and more cohesive. Success. Ish.

Why YES, we DID go all Lady & the Tramp and enjoy
Italian accordion music with our spaghetti. Thanks for asking.
P.S. Since we didn't have a usable kitchen table, we had adorable dinner picnics all week. This part was awesome.


  1. OK, here's a thought. SInce you like the all white Saarinen table, why not paint the top white?

  2. Another idea: since you plan to cover the chairs, cover them with something with white in it. I think that might pull the whole set together.

    1. Hi, Mom. *grin*

      That's EXACTLY what I want to do: A pop art floral with the jewel tones from the living rug on a white background. The problem? It's such a precise vision, I can't find it anywhere! :(

  3. It sucks but you used it anyways ? I've never had a problem with polyshades, but then I know how to prepare wood for it's use and you obviously missed that class. Why blame the product when you did such a crappy job of prepping the wood ?
    You would have had the same problem even if you changed to a different brand of stain lol !

  4. Your first question made me laugh out loud. I wouldn't have used it if I knew it Sucked. Ha ha! I did a lot of research on prepping the wood for staining, and followed the instructions I found on the most credible sources. Part of me thinks I shouldn't feed the trolls, but if I made any mistakes, I'd like to learn from them. Can you offer any constructive feedback and not just insults? I would honestly like to learn more.

  5. I've refinished wood furniture all my life and just had a piece go wrong. It happens. Anonymous has issues. That's why HE is anonymous. You did a great job of making the best of a difficult situation. You likely won't hear from Anonymous because he has nothing to add.

  6. Back in the day I used polyshades and was happy with it, last night I finished a clock I made, now I am wondering how to remove the junk so I can start over, I have no idea what minwax did to change it but I will never use polyshades again!

  7. I also just had the same type mess with Polyshades (and have been staining for years) and DID prepare painstakingly!! So whoever anonymous is, he/she is just a non helpful person who thinks he knows it all. And obviously does not. I used Minwax Antique Refinisher with super fine steel wool pads to take the mess off and start over. Will use straight stain and put on with a cloth! Then use a good brush to coat with polyurethane.

  8. I just found a lovely Henredon dining table. Love the style, not the finish. I might refinish and/or paint it. Thanks for the pointers!


What do you think? Your comments always make my day.

P.S. All trolls will be fed to the bookworms.