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Staining and Finishing Tabletops

May 14, 2013 |
posted by Ana White
Staining and Finishing Tabletops
Author Notes

I made a big ole mistake about a year ago. 

When I built this space saving and super functional dining table, white was the answer for us. I reasoned white would make the space appear larger and brighter. And it did. I love the white.

But here’s the big problem. I’ve never had a white tabletop before. I’ve always had wood tabletops.

Have you had a white tabletop?

Maybe you are a better housekeeper than me.

Because that white tabletop shows the tiniest mess. The most miniscule crumbs from the kid’s snacks, even the teeniest speck of pepper becomes a very visible eyesore against the white tabletop.

Now that I have a white tabletop, I know first-hand how forgiving a wood grain is. It’s like having a wood floor versus a white floor – you’ll be a slave to a white floor, panicking over a speck of dirt, chasing guests around with a broom and dustpan.  But a wood floor?  Much more forgiving.

So when my sister, a very busy mother of three, asked me to make a table for her, I insisted on a wood tabletop. Not that she’s messy – she’s certainly not – but I’m a big fan of making things as easy as possible when it comes to housework.

So wood it is, but we also wanted to make sure that the wood tabletop stands up to years of use and is beautiful. The end results of this finish are amazing. Everyone who comes over, comments on how beautiful this table is. And I know with the finish we put on it, this table will be beautiful and durable for many years to come!

For this post, I partnered up with the awesome folks over at Minwax to create a finish that is beautiful, durable and easy for you to replicate at home for your own family.  Thanks Minwax for bringing us this finishing tutorial!

Plans Used in Finish

What You Will Need

Shopping List: 

Supplies I Used

Minwax® Wood Conditioner

Minwax® Wood Finish™ in Early American

Minwax® Gel Stain in Red Elm

Natural Bristle Brush

Synthetic Bristle Brush 

Minwax® Water Based Helmsman® Spar Urethane

Staining Rags

Sandpaper in Medium and Fine Grits

Step 1

Prepare the Project

Believe it or not, this project starts out brand new! I wanted the top to be super flat, so a plate would rest on top without rocking. So I spent quite a bit of time sanding the top with a random orbital sander, in the direction of the wood grain, using medium grit sandpaper. You have to be super careful because it will leave scars if you go against the grain. 

I followed the power sanding with quite a bit of sanding in the direction of the wood grain with a hand sanding block, starting with medium grit to match the sandpaper in the orbital sander, and then working my way down to fine.

Sanding dust is the enemy, so I brushed the project off with a soft bristled brush, then vacuumed the entire area. And then I followed up with a quick wipe down with a barely damp cloth. 

The table is now ready for staining!

Step 2

Stain Application

Because the tabletop will not be painted over, I want the stain to go on super smooth and even. So I applied Minwax® PreStain Wood Conditioner to the wood. I used my natural bristle brush, but you can also use a foam brush here.

For Minwax® PreStain Wood Conditioner, I give the wood conditioner about 15 minutes to soak in before starting stain application. 

Yes, I do have a thing for Minwax® Wood Finish™ in Early American – hence the giant can!!! I had my sister help me out as we’ve got quite a bit of table to stain (and it’s her table). 

We brushed the stain on with a natural bristle brush.

And then let the stain sit for a few minutes before wiping off. The stain went on really smooth and even because of the wood conditioner underneath.  Isn’t she pretty?

But my sister has dark espresso kitchen cabinets, and we wanted the tabletop to be a darker wood. 

That’s one of the really cool things about stain. If you want to deepen the color, you can! I love that about stain - you have so much control over the outcome of your project!

Once the first coat of stain was dry, we applied a layer of gel stain over top in one of my favorite colors - Red Elm.  Gosh, I just love that stuff!

 Now that’s the color we were looking for!

We let the stain dry for a day. 

Now how to keep that beautiful stain color, even with years of use?

Next, we’ll add the protective top coat.

Step 3

Protective Top Coat

I really love working with Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane and Minwax® Polycrylic®  Protective Finish, but decide to use Minwax® Water Based Helmsman® Spar Urethane for the tabletop. The main reason is Helmsman® has superior durability for surfaces that are subject to dampness. It stays flexible and holds up well in exterior elements, and is great for countertops and tables.

But what surprised me the most was how easy it is to apply and how beautiful the it made the wood!

First up, I gave the can a good stirring. And then I started by applying a very thin coat of the Minwax® Water Based Helmsman® Spar Urethane, this time with a synthetic brush. If you use a natural bristle brush, the water will swell the bristles and you’ll ruin your brush. If you don’t want to switch out brushes, Minwax also makes an oil-based version too.

I let the first coat dry for a couple of hours, and then gave it a very light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper. And then added a second coat.

I was very impressed with how easy the Minwax® Helmsman® Spar Urethane went on – like really good nail polish! It was so easy, we even let our kindergartner help and she did a great job

NOTE: If you let your kids help, always go back and do a neat brush coat over top.

Then that coat dried for a couple more hours and I snuck out in my PJs and did a quick sanding (again with fine grit sanding block) and added another coat.

And then that dried, and we repeated one final time.

Now comes the really really really tough part.

For normal top coats, 24 hours is recommended before use. But with a tabletop, 72 hours is advised. The table was just so beautiful, I wanted to bring it over to my sister’s house right away and give it to them! 

It was tough, but we let the tabletop dry for the full 72 hours. What’s three days when they can enjoy the table for many many years to come?

Thanks Minwax for sponsoring this finishing tutorial and for making awesome products that make our furniture look so good and stand up to this kind of use!!! 

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Is this table built from the

Is this table built from the turned leg farmhouse table plan? The legs on your table seem chunkier. I LOVE, love this table and the finish it is absolutely perfect. My husband already built the farmhouse table, but it might be time for a new table!

posted by ckmikichi | on Tue, 2013-05-14 16:53
birdsandsoap's picture

Love that Early American

Love that Early American stain!

posted by birdsandsoap | on Tue, 2013-05-14 17:34
harpo1856's picture

Does the urethane fill in the

Does the urethane fill in the space between the planks?, making a smooth top or are there gaps between the planks?

posted by harpo1856 | on Wed, 2013-05-15 15:18
Ana White's picture

My sister really wanted a

My sister really wanted a planked look - like boards are just resting on top - but functionality at the same time. So we choose not to use tongue and groove, but did Kreg Jig all the boards together. There were a few boards that were not as cooperative as I'd have liked, so I did fill any open gaps with clear silicone before applying the top coat (but after the stain). The top coat then really filled all the gaps so it's easy to wipe clean.

Hope this helps!

posted by Ana White | on Wed, 2013-05-15 16:39


what kind of clear silicone did you use on the table?

posted by churst | on Mon, 2013-09-30 11:57
Binda B's picture

How would you clean a table

How would you clean a table finished like this? Are you able to use household cleaner, or would that ruin the finish over time?


posted by Binda B | on Wed, 2013-05-15 20:25

Spar Urethane

Just fyi, a super nice matte finish can be had by wet sanding the spar urethane, this will also fill in the woodgrain a bit more. Thin the urethane with 1/3 mineral spirits, and use 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper, pour the urethane onto your working surface and sand sand sand, then wipe off excess urethane when done. I usually do a second thin coat, non-sanded, on top for maximum durability. This is a very messy process, you'll want a box of shop rags :)

posted by AleksClark | on Thu, 2013-05-16 09:38


LOVE this table! Can you please tell me the steps for how you did the legs of the table? Thank you!

posted by Jennifer Hanshew | on Wed, 2013-05-22 13:32

I also love this table and

I also love this table and will be attempting it as soon as the legs arrive! I ws just curious as to how you achieved the finish on the base of the table.

posted by Jmae31 | on Fri, 2013-06-21 11:07

WOW! I love the color that

WOW! I love the color that you choose to paint on your tables, chairs, etc. because white represents of very native.

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posted by yamato | on Wed, 2013-07-10 12:43

WOW! I love the color that

WOW! I love the color that you choose to paint on your tables, chairs, etc. because white represents of very native.

buy facebook followers

posted by yamato | on Wed, 2013-07-10 12:44
Mrswhetstone's picture

Could gaps be filled in with

Could gaps be filled in with clear resin after staining?


posted by Mrswhetstone | on Sun, 2013-09-15 23:31

Dining table

I love this look! I have a very similar style dining table that is currently all stained. I'd love to give it this makeover, it won't be moving o the new house with us as it is! Can you please provide detail on how to do the white base and legs? Thank you!

posted by Toni and Brad | on Sat, 2013-11-09 04:03

Distressed Laminate, anyone?

So I have a similar laminate table I would love to refinish it and give it a vintage rustic vibe. Currently, it has a brown top with black legs but I would like it to look like this one. I have found out that it can't be stained has to be sanded then primed before painted. Any suggestions on how I can make the laminate look distressed without destroying it?

Morgan Mc.

posted by moku87 | on Mon, 2013-12-23 11:06
Cindylee's picture

Hi Ana whit, Please can you

Hi Ana whit, Please can you help me , what did you use to paint the rustic x console I want the same color is like a Gray. Thank you!

posted by Cindylee | on Fri, 2014-04-04 19:14

What were the procedure for

What were the procedure for the legs on this table?

posted by louisa99 | on Sat, 2014-05-31 13:32

Wow!! that table looks really

Wow!! that table looks really awesome I would also like to have one like that in my living room. I recently wanted to make a cool bedroom furniture for kids so these tips are very useful for me.

posted by happymeal | on Sun, 2014-06-01 06:45

Well, that table needed lots

Well, that table needed lots of cleaning, I'm sure you used lots of cleaning supplies. I also have some old furniture and this article gave me some ideas.

posted by happymeal | on Mon, 2014-06-02 05:27

Great article, I'm

Great article, I'm redecorating my house and I believe a table like that would look great. I also need some air conditioning but I think I will find that at

posted by milkyways | on Fri, 2014-06-06 04:43

Wow, that table looks

Wow, that table looks awesome, I am looking for something like that for months. I found one similar at Morris Home Furnishings but I'm waiting for my salary to buy it.

posted by milkyways | on Fri, 2014-06-06 04:47

very creative, how to make it

very creative, how to make it also very simple. could be a small dining table to hang out with family

Ace Maxs

posted by tombolo | on Tue, 2014-06-10 03:30

very beautiful, looks more

very beautiful, looks more neat and classic shades. I love it


posted by Lawlet | on Tue, 2014-06-10 23:29

Just what I want

That table looks amazing - I've been looking for a lovely old table to work with, but now I know I can just buy a new one like this and make it look old ! You've inspired me !

posted by MargaretB | on Mon, 2014-06-16 17:57

Ready to get started!

I LOVE this table! I've been mentally preparing myself for weeks to get started on this great table (by far my biggest project yet!) And i was just wondering what you recommend for steps are far as staining goes. Do you build the entire table first before you sand and stain? Or did you assemble the base and the tabletop and stain both before attaching them? Im at a loss where to start!

Thanks for the help and this awesome site!!

posted by kasimmon | on Fri, 2014-06-27 08:17

How to clean this type of table?

Just built and stained a farmhouse table, but I'm not sure what type of cleaner to use on the table top...any advice would be appreciated!

posted by avineyard13 | on Wed, 2014-07-09 23:30

The polyurethane process

I need so help, or rather advice! I am redoing our kitchen table and chairs and I am going for the primitive, rustic look. I am painting all the chairs black and the bottom of the table black but the top of the table I plan to stain a darker brown. My issue is with the chairs and bottom of the table. I am going to put polyurethane on the table top, however, I am worried about doing it on the chairs. I do NOT want that shiny gloss look, but I also want to protect them. Also, is the spray on polyuthane any good? Please help.

posted by kaylalsimmons | on Thu, 2014-07-17 14:46

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