Canadian Woodworking

Giving new life to an old table

Author: James Jackson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2023
beginners journey
beginners journey

After watching countless restoration videos online I decided to try fixing up an old vintage table myself.


  • Akfix

One of my guilty pleasures after the kids have gone to bed is to stay up watching restoration and repair vid­eos online. I don’t know why, but there’s something very satisfying about watching someone rescue a piece of furniture from the burn pile or the side of the road, stripping the old finish, repair­ing the broken pieces, and making it look like new again.

That’s what was partially going through my mind last April when I bought a beat-up old table at a farm auction for $12.50 when I was actually looking for a lawnmower. I wanted the challenge of bringing it back from the dead and giving it a new purpose.

Eventually I finally had a few days to sit down and get to work. The experts online make the entire process look a lot easier than it is.

My first challenge with the table, which is about 30″ tall with a 19-1/2″ × 27″ rectangular top, was erasing the decades of weather­ing that had transformed the wood into a dark grey mess.

I’m still not sure what species it is. The top is made up of strips that look like a mixture of maple and oak. The wood had changed colour after being exposed to the elements while sitting in the barn for decades, so I spent a few hours slowly going through the grits and sanding the piece from 60 up to about 240 to allow the natural wood grain underneath to shine through once again.

This task, I might add, is usually accomplished online in mere seconds thanks to handy time lapse montages.

The next task was to clean up the old bolts and the drawer pull that were caked in dust and corrosion. I tried soaking them in a jar full of warm, soapy water but after a few hours it didn’t really seem to do anything. My wife suggested using a scouring cleaner called Bar Keepers Friend, and after just a few minutes of scrubbing with an old toothbrush they came out looking pretty good.

Then I had to deal with the tabletop itself. It had a black stain about the size of a coffee mug in the corner and it smelled slightly of oil. The sanding didn’t erase the stain as much as I had hoped, leading me to think oil had dripped onto the top and soaked fairly deeply into the wood. The top was also slightly bowed upward at the edges.

I suggested to my wife that I put the tabletop on my CNC and use the router to flatten the top and (hopefully) deal with the black stain, but to my surprise she said not to bother – she liked the char­acter the imperfections added.

Before reassembling it all again I had to deal with the busted drawer. It still moved fine, but the bottom had broken and rot­ted out. I disassembled it entirely, made a new plywood bottom, glued it all back together, then tacked it with brad nails. It was the first time I’d ever tried anything like this, but it was something I’d watched repeatedly online and it was probably the smoothest part of the entire process.

I reattached the legs to the tabletop and sprayed it with two coats of polyurethane for added protection, then let it air out in the garage for a few days before bringing it inside.

While it wasn’t as easy as the experts make it look online, it was a fun weekend project and it’s earned a second life as a plant stand in my kitchen.

James Jackson - [email protected]

James is a woodworker, a freelance writer, a former newspaper reporter and father to two amazing girls.

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