DIY home improvement projects can instill a sense of accomplishment and pride — and let’s face it, they often save us money, too. When “Today’s Homeowner” TV co-host Chelsea Lipford Wolf realized her dining table looked rough, she imagined that refinishing it would be the perfect affordable DIY fix.

    Her plans were straightforward: She would sand off the tabletop’s paint, strip the stain, and apply a new wood stain for a refreshed, natural look. However, Chelsea soon realized something about DIY home improvement projects — they don’t always work out as expected. Keep reading to learn how Chelsea needed to troubleshoot when things didn’t go as planned during her dining table refinishing project. 

    The First Steps of Refinishing a Dining Room Table

    Chelsea started by sanding down the tabletop using an orbital sander. This step removed the top layer of paint and revealed the wood grain underneath. However, she quickly realized that simply sanding would not get down to the bare wood as she had hoped. Unfortunately, there were still patches of paint visible across the surface.

    At this point, Chelsea determined she would need to use a paint stripper to remove the remaining paint entirely. She applied a thick coat of stripper across the entire tabletop and let it sit for the recommended time. The paint stripper helped loosen more of the paint, but it didn’t get down to the raw wood. After repeating the process several times with limited success, Chelsea decided to switch gears and try a different approach.

    What To Do When Things Don’t Go As Planned

    Chelsea did some research to understand why the paint stripper wasn’t working effectively. She learned that not all paint strippers work equally well on all paint and finishes. Her dining table’s original finish or color must have been especially durable.

    During her research and trial and error process, she discovered some tips for improving paint stripper effectiveness:

    • Apply a thick and even coat of stripper across the entire surface. Uneven application can leave patches of finish behind.
    • Allow the stripper to sit for longer than the minimum recommended time. For particularly stubborn finishes, let it sit overnight and reapply as needed.
    • Use a plastic scraper to remove the softened paint and finish gently. Metal scrapers are too harsh and can damage the wood.
    • Mineral spirits can help remove any remaining sticky resin after scraping.

    Armed with these tips, Chelsea was ready to try again.

    Try Again

    For her second attempt at stripping the table, Chelsea used a heavy-duty chemical stripper recommended for tough finishes. She applied a generous coat across the tabletop and let it sit overnight.

    The next day, she began scraping off the gunky finish residue. She took her time, working in small sections and reapplying stripper as needed. After several hours, things were looking up — most of the tabletop was down to bare wood.

    There were just a few trouble spots with the remaining paint. For these, Chelsea used a detail sander and mineral spirits to remove the last of the finish. This step allowed her to get down to smooth, raw wood across the surface.

    Staining the Table

    Now that Chelsea had removed the existing paint and finish, it was finally time to apply a new stain. She selected a gel stain that would allow her to control the color saturation and achieve a natural look.

    Chelsea worked the gel stain into the wood using a foam applicator, wiping away any excess. She applied two coats, allowing each to dry before adding the next. 

    The result was a beautifully refreshed dining table with dimension and warmth from the woodgrain shining through. The project was completed after she sealed the tabletop with a protective polyurethane coat.

    So, Is Refinishing Furniture Worth the Effort?

    Refinishing furniture yourself can be rewarding but requires patience and troubleshooting skills. As Chelsea learned, the existing paint or finish might not always strip as easily as expected.

    However, with the right products, techniques, and elbow grease, you can successfully refinish even furniture with the most stubborn finishes. As a bonus, taking the DIY route rather than hiring a professional refinisher can save hundreds of dollars.

    FAQs About Refinishing Furniture

    What supplies do I need to refinish furniture?

    Basic supplies include sandpaper, chemical paint stripper, plastic scraping tools, rags, stain, stain brushes or applicators, foam brushes, and polyurethane. You may also need mineral spirits for cleaning.

    How long does it take to refinish a table?

    It depends on the size of the table and how difficult the existing finish is to remove. It can take you anywhere from two days to a week to refinish a table.

    Can I stain over an existing finish?

    No, the stain will not penetrate a clear finish or paint properly. Always remove the existing coating first.

    What safety precautions should I take?

    Work in a well-ventilated area, wear gloves and eye protection, and be careful not to get chemical strippers on your skin or eyes. Follow all manufacturer safety directions.

    What if there are damaged areas in the wood?

    Fill small cracks, gouges, or holes with wood filler before sanding and applying a new stain. In my experience, you may need to use wood reinforcement patches for larger damaged areas.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Amy DeYoung

    Amy DeYoung


    Amy DeYoung has a passion for educating and motivating homeowners to improve their lives through home improvement projects and preventative measures. She is a content writer and editor specializing in pest control, moving, window, and lawn/gardening content for Today’s Homeowner. Amy utilizes her own experience within the pest control and real estate industry to educate readers. She studied business, communications, and writing at Arizona State University.

    Learn More

    photo of Lori Zaino

    Lori Zaino

    Lori Zaino is a freelance writer and editor based in Madrid, Spain. With nearly two decades of editorial experience, she’s written and edited for publications like Forbes, CNN, Insider, NBC, Newsweek, The Points Guy, The Infatuation, and many others. Having just completed her first home renovation, she’s more interested in home improvements than ever, dedicated to bringing you fresh and accurate content to help you update your living spaces.

    Learn More