Painting a Kitchen Table

March 1, 2012

Hello everyone, I’m so excited to share today’s DIY project with you, it’s all about how to paint a kitchen table. Y’all know I’ve been painting furniture and cabinets for years, but this time I tackled the painting of a kitchen table. A kitchen table is the one surface that will get the most traffic of any piece of furniture in your home, and since it gets the most abuse it must be extremely durable.

To paint an old wood table with success you need three things working together – a primer that blocks stains and also sticks like super glue, an extremely durable paint with a hard finish that can withstand the banging of bowls and plates, and finally, a layer of protectant.

how to paint a kitchen table cg


Let’s get started.

First, take a look at this pedestal table before the paint treatment – worn out oak coated with plenty of ick and yuck.  Not pretty.

table before 2

Where did I find this thing?  I’ll give you four choices:  A) thrift store B) thrift store C) thrift store D) Craigslist.  If you guessed A, B or C you were right, oooh you’re smart!  It was $45 for this solid wood classically shaped pedestal.  My friend needed a table for her new home’s breakfast nook so I spotted this one and then decided to refinish it for her.

What you’ll need to paint your own wood kitchen table: orbital sander, medium grit sanding discs, foam roller, high quality angled paintbrush, medium grade sanding wedge, respirator, bonding/stain blocking primer, enamel based paint, cotton rags, clear paste wax.

First things first, you want to sand off any debris and some of the varnish and that’s why an orbital comes in very handy – use medium grit discs.  Doing it by hand is possible, but better to let this tool do most of the work for you.

You don’t need to get rid of all the varnish, the primer (next step) will cling to the surface, varnish or not. You simply want it to be smoooooooooth. Use your hand and closed eyes as your guide, if you can run your hand over the surface and it feels smooth to the touch, you’re good.

sand tabletop

Next, wipe it all down and start the priming phase.  There are several kinds of primers on the market and a lot of them state they work on glossy surfaces.  Not all of them are stain blockers though so carefully read the label.  The one that has always worked best for me is Zinsser – I’ve used it for years – their Cover Stain sticks like super glue and blocks any wood stain from coming through, and also dries in an hour. It’s oil based, and not available in some States, but in my opinion it’s the best.

zinsser cover stain

On most furniture the spray version is just fine, but on high traffic horizontal surfaces like tabletops, coffee tables, or bookshelves, I recommend the roll on/brush on formula – it’s thicker and more durable for that reason.  Roll on two yes two coats for the tabletop (allowing to fully dry in between coats).

roll on primer

Roll on one coat to the remaining surfaces, wherever the roller can easily reach.

priming pedestal table

Follow up with the spray version to quickly fill in the crevices.

spray in crevices

Allow the primer to fully dry for a full day.  Next, use the medium grit sanding wedge to knock down any unevenness from the roller on the primed surface.  (The orbital is a little too strong even with a fine grit disc for this phase and doing this by hand doesn’t take long.)

sanding wedge

But be sure to wear one of these while you do it.


Once you’ve wiped down your primed tabletop, again run your hand over it to make sure you have a completely smooth surface.  Now it’s time to paint!  This is where it’s important to buy the right paint – over the past several months I’ve used enamel paints by Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams (Pro Classic) for furniture and both have really fantastic water based enamel alkyd formulas – they will give you a very hard finish like you’d get with oil based paints.

For this table, I’m using the Ben Moore Advance water based enamel alkyd in ‘Swiss Coffee’.  Also a Purdy brush, they’re the best!

ben moore advance formula

I prefer to work with paint in temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees, not too hot or too cold, I find it helps with the open time, giving you sufficient time to apply the paint without any drag.  Apply two thin coats, just enough to cover, allowing to dry between coats (usually 24 hours).  If you choose a dark colored paint (say black, navy, or dark gray) you’ll likely need three thin coats of the enamel paint.

Now here’s the hard part – it takes 3 to 5 days for the paint to cure so that it’s sufficiently hard, so after your final coat of paint do what it says and wait wait wait!  This is a tabletop and you need it to be fully cured before you use it to prevent damage to all of your hard work.

After a few days it’s time to protect it and you have several options.  I like the Brush on and Wipe On water based Varathane, and you can also use Minwax Polycrylic  (I mention that method here) but for white painted furniture, I’m really loving waxes.  They will give you a soft hand rubbed finish and won’t change the color of your white paint.

There are various paste waxes on the market, you want one that’s clear, here are three I commonly use but you can also use Fiddes & Sons, Minwax, and Hannant’s as well.  With this table, I used the clear Briwax.

various paste waxes

Apply a small amount and rub in circles with a clean soft cotton cloth for a thin even coating and allow it to dry for at least an hour.  Buff (wipe repeatedly with clean cotton cloth in circles) to a shine, then repeat this step two more times over the course of a day.  Make sure to buff it completely so your wax isn’t sticky, and you get a nice matte finish.

wax on

You want your surface to repel liquids and stains, so a few layers of wax will help do that. After you’ve buffed your final coat, your table is safe for use.  Still I advise you to take it easy for the first few days using it, the paint and wax are mostly cured but will be much more solid after another week has passed.

Here’s the tabletop up close before and after the makeover.  From dirty and spotty to fresh and fabulous!

tabletop before and after

So those are the steps to take to get a beautiful result that will last for years to come.

painted white surface of table


Before:  table before 2


painted kitchen table how to

It looks so  fantastic!  Amazing what paint can do, right?



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314 Responses to “Painting a Kitchen Table”

  1. Lacey says:

    Hi! I am in the process of using your instructions for a cool table I found on CL. I am almost ready to paint the top but feel uncomfortable using a brush (I’m worried about brush strokes), can I use a roller or is a paint brush the best bet? If I use a paint brush, should I load the brush pretty thick and make long strokes end to end? What’s the best technique to avoid brush strokes?


  2. Lisa says:

    Hi, I just found your site! I love the repainted table. I have a kitchen table that I would like to refinish or paint to be used outside as a patio table? Would you recommend the same process?

  3. Jenn says:

    CG: I am in Canada and desperately searching for a clear wax. I bought Minwax (as mentioned in your post) but have since opened it and consulted with the company by phone who says NOT to use this product on white furniture (it contains oil according to Minwax and will give anything white an amber hue). The only other product I can find is the SC Johnson Paste Wax (as shown in your photo). Have you used this wax successfully on white? I’m a little nervous about ordering it online. Also, it seems way cheaper than anything else you receommended (which I can’t order to Canada anyway). Let me know about the SC J product! Thanks in advance! Jenn

  4. Vicki says:

    Hi Kate!
    I love your table! I just bought an old drop leaf table & it’s got a laminate top so I was wondering what your advise would be to make sure the paint adheres to the laminate finish?

  5. Caroline says:

    Hi Katie, I just found your blog and it seems to be great! I was wondering, I am in the process of making an artist desk and need a surface that will not stick to fine paper, does the wax cause things (paper) to stick to it after a few hours of laying on the surface? This seems like a considerably better option than having to buy glass to fit on top of a neat desk! Hope this would work! Thanks, Caroline

  6. Diana says:

    Hi Kate,

    I loved your blog and all your tips.
    I already start my project and just found your blog now.

    My questions are:
    I sand my table just a little and I used a water base primer (Benjamin Moore Multi-Purpose Latex Primer). Do you think this primer will hold the paint?
    Can I use an oil base paint (Sherwin Williams All Surface Enamel Oil Base) on top of this primer?
    What is the best way to apply the paint? Brush or roller?
    Thank You so much!!!

  7. Wendi says:

    How do you clean your paint brushes after using an oil based paint or primer? I find I have to throw mine away after every use. Even if I soak it in a mineral spirits or something similar.

  8. Centsational Girl says:

    I clean mine with mineral spirits Wendi but I try to avoid using fancy brushes with oil based products, I use disposable foam rollers and brushes instead.

  9. Centsational Girl says:

    Hi Diana, I don’t advise using oil based paint over a latex primer underneath, but you can do the opposite, you can layer latex over an oil based primer. Foam rollers work great for me for even paint distribution, also Purdy brushes

  10. Centsational Girl says:

    Once you buff the wax Caroline there is a matte finish, after a week or so there shouldn’t be any stick, in fact you should be able to wipe it clean with a cleanser and cloth.

  11. Centsational Girl says:

    Vicki you can paint laminate just be sure to prime it first, look for a primer that adheres to that surface, it will say so on the label, I like Zinsser’s Cover Stain product for laminate surfaces.

  12. Centsational Girl says:

    The SJC product should be just fine Jenn!

  13. Centsational Girl says:

    Yes Lisa but only if it’s covered, also is there a dramatic change in the elements by season? That could certainly affect the paint job over time.

  14. Centsational Girl says:

    Foam rollers work well Lacey, you’ll need a few coats though, and don’t worry if the first one looks a little textured, with two or three coats a good leveling paint will fill it in. I use foam rollers more and more for flat surfaces these days then I do brushes.

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