The incredible star inlay on this cool ’60s table sucked me right in, but it needed a restoration of its beautiful veneer. Here’s how to refinish timber veneer on a beautiful secondhand find that might need a little polishing. The finished result was perfect for an earthy, cozy environment where warm timbers would fit right in.
Structurally, this table was in good shape, but the lacquer finish was busted. The legs and base were fine, if in need of a polish, but the top had a heavy lacquer coating that was bubbling and peeling everywhere.
Before stripping and working with a veneered surface, you’ll want to assess how thick it is. I took a close look at the top and saw that it was a couple of millimeters thick. It was very thin, so I had to be careful, but it wasn’t so paper-thin that it’d be impossible to work with.
Restoration supplies and cost:
- Old table
- Bottle of paint stripper and latex gloves
- Cheap scraper
- Sander and pads (120/240)
- Varnish of choice: mine was matte poly + an oil topcoat.
My plan: Paint stripper and a light sand.
I’ve tried to sand through lacquer before, and I don’t recommend it. The lacquer gums up the sandpaper, it takes forever and it gets messy. All that dust isn’t very nice either. Paint stripper is worth it for dissolving heavy coatings, and it works fast.
Non-toxic citrus stripper is great for indoors, but otherwise I don’t mind using regular paint stripper outdoors in a well-ventilated space. Wear gloves!
You start scraping off the paint stripper when it bubbles the varnished surface – usually within minutes. This is what the table looked like after the first round. Not bad, but there were still plenty of shiny patches.
Sometimes, you might need a second coat of paint stripper to get the rest. Applying a second coat of paint stripper worked well here – you can see that now it’s properly stripped of all coatings.
After using the paint stripper – and cleaning the residue with methylated spirits – it was time to sand the surface. With such a thin veneer, I didn’t want to sand this table too hard.
One pass with 120 grit paper, and my table was transformed. I was so excited to see the veneer! The grain of the perfectly-aligned pieces became apparent.
I gave the top another sand at 240 and applied one coat of a light brown stain, in order to lessen the contrast between the top and the already-stained legs. After that was the varnish: one coat matte poly for protection, one coat fine buffing oil for shine. The oil topcoat can be touched up without having to strip it all over again.
Here’s the finished table, ready for use and looking amazing.
I love how this little table turned out. It’s got a fun retro style that fits with my woolly rugs and blankets, and the star inlay is gorgeous. You never know what you’ll find secondhand – one person’s trash can be a fine treasure indeed.