French Provincial Dining Table Makeover – Raw Wood and Dark Blue

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That makeover was a real struggle, nearly threw in the towel on it…

I found a cherrywood table on the classifieds for €50 (less than $50), a great deal. It’s a French Provincial Dining Table with an outdated varnish but a nice shape. The table fits perfectly in our kitchen. The best part is that it has two extensions hidden underneath, so you can make it bigger easily.

Supplies and Tools Used for this Furniture Makeover

Furniture Prep

General condition of the table

This table is a quality piece of furniture made of solid wood and veneer. When I purchased it, the tabletop varnish was severely damaged, but the wood under was still in good condition and not stained. The overall structure of the piece was in pretty good shape. I had to re glue one leg, but no biggie. The tabletop can be easily disassembled, making both transport and makeover easier.

Stripping the Table

And that’s when the problems started… For this project, I decided to paint the legs blue and leave the tabletop wood exposed. I’m not sure you can see it in the picture below, but the tabletop is made of beautiful cherrywood marquetry. So, there was no way I wanted to cover it with paint!

First, I tried to sand the tabletop with my orbital sander and coarse-grit sandpaper (60 or 80, I can’t remember). I quickly realized that it would not work. The original finish was extremely resistant, and complete sanding would have been very laborious. And you remember, I told you the tabletop was veneered. This means I had to sand very carefully to avoid sanding through the veneer. So, I had to move on to another method.

In the pictures below, you can see that despite the poor condition of the varnish, the tabletop was still in good condition. Here is also a photo of the underside of the tabletop. As you can observe, the wood pattern on the top and bottom is not the same. In fact, they are not even the same wood species. This demonstrates that we are dealing with veneer. If you want to learn how to recognize veneered furniture, check out this article.

First, I tried to sand the tabletop with my orbital sander and coarse-grit sandpaper (60 or 80, I
can’t remember). I quickly realized that it would not work. The original finish was extremely resistant, and complete sanding would have been very laborious. And you remember, I told you the tabletop was veneered. This means I had to sand very carefully to avoid sanding through the veneer. So, I had to move on to another method.

I then grab my Bahco scraper and tried to remove the varnish. It worked reasonably well for the main tabletop because the original varnish was damaged. But for the finish on the two extensions, which was in very good condition, it was a real pain…

After more than half an hour of hard scraping, I was here. I hadn’t made much progress, and the result
was not satisfying.

I decided to apply a paint & varnish stripper to soften this thick varnish and make it easier to remove. This solution turned out to be the right one.

It took almost half an hour for the stripper to soften the varnish but it worked. I was able to remove it quite easily using my Bahco scraper without risking damaging the cherrywood veneer.

I then sanded the tabletops using my orbital sander and 120 grit sandpaper. Within a couple of minutes, I was able to say goodbye to all the scratches and the old honey-colored varnish! I can now enjoy this beautiful, smooth and clear wood grain.

To further lighten the wood color – cherrywood tends to be a bit pinkish – I applied some oxalic acid to the tabletop and the extensions. Oxalic acid is employed as a bleaching agent for wood and textiles. Oxalic acid is commercially available and can be purchased from various sources, including from Amazon. Oxalic acid is commonly sold in powder. I prepared this solution by dissolving oxalic acid powder in water according to the manufacturer instruction. I applied the solution with an old cloth.

The  before /after difference is not striking, but the oxalic acid helped remove one or two small stains and slightly lighten the veneered top.

Don’t forget to rinse the oxalic acid with with clean water to remove any residue of this solution or you will have troubles when applying the finish. I hadn’t rinsed well and I had troubles… When I applied the varnish, white marks appeared on the wood tops. I had no choice but to start the process over: removing the varnish, cleaning the tabletop and sanding again to get a smooth surface..

As for the legs, I just lightly sanded them to scratch the original varnish. This allows the paint to adhere well and avoids complete stripping.

I re-glued one of the table leg, where the leg fits into the base of the tabletop with wood glue. Nothing heavy-duty.

I also filled in some cracks with wood filler for a better finish.

Applying Paint and Sealer

I should rather say applying various paints and varnishes… In fact, things didn’t go as planned..

I began by applying a wood undercoat and two coats of paint to the legs, however, not everything went exactly as planned.

For the undercoat, I used an oil-based primer paint that prevents tannin bleed. I had already used it for my Carved Sideboard Makeover, and I was very satisfied with this primer. Since then, I’ve also used it on the oak woodwork in my living room, and once again, the result is very satisfying. The paint is easy to apply with a roller or brush and effectively prevent any bleed through.

I then applied two coats of regular acrylic blue paint I had on stock. This was a total disaster. The paint was too thick, and all brushstrokes were visible. Moreover, it’s a satin paint, and I did not like this shiny finish. I wasn’t thrilled with the color either… In short, it was all my fault, but nothing was going well.

I hesitated for a moment but decided to start over from the beginning. Again… I stripped the legs and base again all over again. I first removed the new paint with my Bahco scraper, then quickly sanded to get a smooth surface.

For my second attempt, I chose a sublime dark blue paint. Honestly, this color is fantastic. This paint is not specifically made for furniture painting, but it works perfectly, as you’ll see later.

Soon after applying the first coat, I didn’t regret stripping everything again. The result was far more better. After the second coat, the result was perfect.

I think the color and texture of the paint really highlight the curve of the legs of this French Provincial dining table. Look at the pictures below: just before painting on the left, after one layer of paint on the middle and after two layers of paint on the 3rd picture

Wow, this color is so pretty!

That lifted my spirits and gave me the courage to tackle the tabletop. But here too, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

My initial plan was to use the table without protecting it: no tablecloth, no placemat, nothing that would hide the beautiful wood grain… I wanted to enjoy this gorgeous cherrywood. I decided to use a wood hardener product I had on hand to strengthen and better protect the wood. This product is supposed to help seal wood from future damage. According to the label on the product, it can be applied before before sealing with wax or topcoat.

It just didn’t work for me. First of all, the product wasn’t really invisible. The wood got all yellow and shiny with that strong base. The wood yellowed with the application of this product. Not my cup of tea… Then, I put on the topcoat and it ended up with a ton of spots, not sure how that happened. I’m not sure if I’ll try this product again with a varnish finish. I might just stick with wax next time.

I had to start all over again by gently sanding the surface to get rid of the topcoat and wood hardener until the raw wood was exposed.

I finished this makeover by putting on two coats of clear matte topcoat. 

I was really impressed with the result. The varnish is colorless and matte, keeping the wood’s original color without making it shiny. You can still tell there’s a topcoat on it, but it’s very subtle.

There are some brush strokes visible on the wood, but you have to be close to notice, especially under light. The paint color looks perfect though.

I put varnish on the table legs to protect the paint. The final result looks great, and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it!

So, how’s this makeover holding up after a few months of use?

Pros: I still really like the color of the table legs. I’m thinking of painting the chairs the same color now. The paint is holding up great, even with all the hits the table legs get from my kids pushing their chairs.

Cons: The cherry wood tabletop is delicate and easily gets marks without a tablecloth or placemat. The topcoat does protect against stains, but it’s not as tough as the original varnish. It can’t handle everyday wear and tear, like cutlery and dishes being put down too roughly or kids playing on it. So, I had to start using tablecloths again after a few weeks.

So, that’s it – makeover complete! I hope my experience helps you out and inspires you. Do not hesitate to share your projects or drop any questions in the comments section below!

Happy Makeover!

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