How to refinish & chalk-paint your kitchen table & chairs

My kitchen table has long needed a make-over. So I finally took the time to learn how to chalk paint and strip/refinish a stained table top. Here’s sneak peak of the finished product.

First, a quick history of my kitchen furniture:

  1. I bought a farm table & 6 chairs about 12 years ago, cream with a stained top; a removable center leaf converts the small rectangular table into a big square table to seat 8 (I love a square table for company!)
  2. After a few years, the cream paint began chipping, revealing white primer underneath. No cool distressed look. Just factory primer over who-knows-what molded wooden legs.
  3. So I painted the cream parts with black high-gloss latex. (Black furniture was all the craze then.)
  4.  A few years later: black paint began chipping, revealing old cream paint underneath. Not a good look.
  5. Then the poly-urethane finish on table top started coming off, creating a gummy, sticky residue.
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    my table top, worn and sticky in spots

    Scrubbing it off had taken the finish down to the raw wood. The table top looked spotty and dirty all the time.

  6. I needed to either refinish or buy a new set. I decided to refinish the top and chalk-paint the  rest of the table. It would be my first attempt at chalk-painting.
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Valspar chalky finish paint

I read several good blogs about refinishing and chalk-painting before I began. Being a bit tight-fisted, I bought all my supplies at Lowes. At $24.99/quart for Valspar chalk paint (in 40 colors), it cost a little less than Annie Sloan paint. The waxes were also cheaper at about $16 per can. I noticed some negative online reviews about the Valspar sealing wax, but I wonder if the users applied it incorrectly. I didn’t have any problems.

You can follow these simple steps below to refinish and chalk-paint your own table. If you are going to strip or sand the top, please verify first that your table top is solid wood, not a veneer or a synthetic veneer. You cannot sand down a veneer; you’d have to paint it. But that’s the beauty of chalk paint–you can paint over anything without priming first.

  1. Move your table outside and borrow a hand sander.
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    sanding with an electric hand sander

    (Sanding makes a lot of dust.) My sanding was hard work because of the gummy residue on my table top, which formed gumballs on the sandpaper, making it inefficient. I had to pick off the gumballs and regularly change out the sandpaper to keep it sanding smoothly. Since my table is an extension table, I separated it at the center and refinished the leaf separately. Be sure to sand the outside edges of your table top, but not the inside edges (you don’t want build-up where the table pieces fit together). Sand until you’ve sanded away the old poly-urethane and stain, right down to the raw wood. Wipe away all the sawdust.

  2. Apply the stain with a rag or brush. I chose a rub-on stain and applied it with a rag (old t-shirt), swiping with the wood grain. I gave the table top 2 coats.
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    first coat of wipe-on stain

    I used a dark chestnut stain, which was darker than the table’s original natural-pine-colored finish. This accomplished 3 things: hid blemishes in the wood; gave the table an old farm look, instead of a clean butcher-block look; & provided a more dramatic contrast to the cream paint I was about to paint on the legs. Be sure the stain dries thoroughly between applications. You can tell by touching it–it will feel cool to the touch, without leaving residue on your fingers.

  3. Next, prepare the legs for painting.
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    deglosser and rag

    Since I had used a glossy paint the last time, I swiped down the legs with de-glosser on a rag, to make the chalk paint apply more smoothly. Then I gave the table apron and legs 2 coats, applying with a paintbrush, catching drips and stroking evenly. I used the color called “Her Dainties.”

  4. In between paint coats, I used a new acrylic paint brush and applied poly-urethane to the table top. Apply with the grain, stroking on the sealer and working your way from one end of the table to the other. After the poly dries completely, lightly sand the top with fine sandpaper (by hand) and dust off. Then apply another poly-urethane coat. This eliminates bubbles and drips, making the finish smooth. I did this 4 times, and my table is still not too shiny-looking.
  5. When the chalk paint is done, you have a few choices for finishing.  All of them end with applying sealing wax, which is the equivalent to a poly-urethane finish. Here are your 3 finishing choices (all including sealing wax as the final step):
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stain and paint is done; applying poly-urethane to top and sealing wax to rest of table

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Valspar sealing wax; some reviews said it pulled up their paint

  • Plain chalky look:  apply the sealing wax with a brush and let it dry. (1-step process: brush on). One caveat: the paint gets thicker at the bottom of the can. Stir regularly, or you will need to add water later to keep the paint smooth. Having not done this, mine was too thick near the bottom, which made the distressing go poorly–stain wouldn’t rub on and off easily over thick paint.
  • Distressed look (the wood under the paint shows through in places, giving the furniture a worn look):  sand edges and corners until you achieve the look you want BEFORE you apply sealing wax. (2-step process: sand & brush on) This works great on a piece that’s stained underneath the chalk paint.

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    antiquing wax on table

  • Antiqued look (darker stained finish in the corners and/or covering the paint: after the sealing wax has dried, rub on antiquing wax. You can rub it all over, which will make the whole piece darker and older-looking OR you can lightly brush it on in places, giving the paint some depth and character, but not age. In either case, brush it on and wipe it off with a rag as you go. Then after the antiquing wax dries, apply the sealing wax again over the whole table. This is the most tedious option because it requires more steps. (3-step process: brush on, wipe off, & brush on)

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    Valspar antiquing wax

  1. I experimented with all of them on one table leg and re-painted over the effects I didn’t like. I chose antiquing because the plain chalky look seemed too bright, and the distressed look didn’t work–when I sanded off the edges, I didn’t like how the black paint showed through the cream paint; it made the table look dirty. It may have been just because the black paint underneath was glossy, so the sanding wasn’t super effective. Next, I tried the all-over antiqued look, but the look was too dark, so I opted for brushing on the antique wax lightly and wiping it right off. I was happy with the finished product.

the finished table and chairs

I took me a couple months to get the chairs done. Tedious work, and I had to move slowly. I was happy with the chairs painted cream–much brighter and airier than the black chairs. I painted the seats cream, also, so I wouldn’t have to worry about staining 6 different surfaces the same shade. I bought new cushions, too.

Enjoy what I call painting therapy.