Top Job: Refinishing a damaged top when the base is fine.

Side table overall

Have you ever had a piece of furniture that was nearly perfect except for the top? Instead of completely refinishing an item, you can just do the top while matching the base perfectly… if you’re careful.

I will be working with a side table that has significant water damage.

Side table top

The first step is to tape off the area that you do not want to damage during the repairs. Here I have used masking tape to tape off the top, and then added a waxed paper to cover and protect the base of the piece. Care still needs to be taken while stripping even though the stripper will not saturate the tape or paper.

Side Table Taped

Make sure to completely strip the finish off by first using a strong gel stripper, and then wash that off with a liquid like lacquer thinner which will evaporate completely. You will then see which area of the top needs the most attention. This top has a mahogany veneer that is very grainy. Notice the grain that has mildewed from the moisture. The mildew has been trapped in the grain, but this can be remedied with bleach.

Side Table Stripped

After applying some bleach and letting it set for a few minutes, the mildew begins to disappear. After the wood has completely dried, the sanding can begin. Start with 100 grit, and finish sand with 150  or 180 grit.

End Table Bleached

After sanding, apply the correct color of stain. I prefer a saturating stain such as Minwax. Since this piece has a reddish color, I chose to use a cherry stain mixed with a little chestnut stain. You can add another coat to get it deeper, or wash it with lacquer thinner to lighten it if it is darker than the base. Get the color right before applying the clear finish! I Always favor keeping the color on the light side rather than trying to darken it up all the way at the beginning. There are many easy ways to make the color darker, but is is impossible to make the color lighter once you have sprayed or brushed the top coats of finish.

Side Table Top Stained

Blend the stain and feather the color on the surface. From here you can seal the top with sealer or lacquer and begin to add the distress with a grease pencil or stain. You can also add color by sprayed a tinted toner lacquer that has a transparent color like cherry red or mahogany to deepen the color or further blend in inconsistencies. After this step, I will add the distress and seal it with clear lacquer. Lastly, I’ll tone the entire top slightly by adding a cherry dye to the lacquer to even the color and match the base.

I will provide finished photos after placing the item in the home.


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