The Farmhouse Table: Stain and Finish

Admittedly, the finish on the farmhouse table – which will ultimately be used as my studio desk – took much longer than anticipated. A handful of road bumps (oh, we’ll get to that!), working around the contractors and shuffling the table from room to room (it was a total guessing game: where will be the least dusty place of them all?) all played a role in making our small (funny!) project turn into a week long adventure.

But, it’s done! When we last left off, we had deconstructed the table only to reconstruct it, this time with extended aprons. After sanding (and sanding and sanding), it looked like this:

Now, the table has a medium-toned, slightly weathered wood finish:

To get the look, we applied two different stains in layers (our first time doing so, and put it on the record that we will be doing this more often!), using this tutorial – for the most part – as our inspiration.

MATERIALS USED:
Behr Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner in clear
Minwax Wood Finish in Special Walnut
Minwax Wood Finish in Weathered Oak
Minwax Polycrylic in clear satin (water-based)

TOOLS USED:
Disposable latex gloves
Stir sticks (we used shims)
Rags for applying the stain
2″ brush, good quality
Extra fine sanding block (220 grit)

WHAT WE DID:

ONE. Using the brush, I applied the pre-stain conditioner before laying down any color, which helps to give an overall even base for the stains. This dries relatively fast, and you can get staining right away (our can’s instructions had us wait 10 minutes).

TWO. After stirring the first stain (which you’ll want to do every couple of minutes throughout the process), Special Walnut, I put on my gloves and used a rag to apply the color.

THREE. I waited 5 minutes then wiped off any residue, waited 20 more minutes, then applied a coat of Weathered Oak. Below, you can see that the Special Walnut brought out a medium wood hue, and the Weathered Oak helped to bring down any red/orange undertones. So far, so good.

The good part only lasted so long, as I start noticing a lot of unevenness in the finish. Naturally, I panicked, called in Scott to assess my damage, and we both agreed to ask our contractor, Mike, the next day if he had any suggestions. (Mike has been restoring his hundred year old house for the last several decades, so we figured that he had to have run into a similar problem somewhere along the way!)

The following morning, I showed Mike the lighter spots, asking him, what did I do wrong? He admitted that he actually didn’t mind the look, as it shows vintage character in the table itself – but he could tell that’s not exactly the sort of patina I was going for. He continued to explain that wood as old as this – because remember, this table was made in the 1800s! – has probably soaked in all the past varnishes, even more so past the point of a weekend sanding.

He offered me two solutions: I could sand the table again (to which I laughed hysterically!), and after doing so, I could degrease it using TSP (trisodium phosphate cleaner). The TSP would lift out the lingering oils, providing a much more even finish, and I could then again start from square one (the pre-stain conditioner). While this would likely yield the best results, my tired sanding arms couldn’t even fathom doing so – however, he told me to remember that tip in the future. TSP, my friends.

Solution two: Paint the lighter spots back in. Using a small brush, I could apply stain only to the very lightest spots with the Special Walnut. Now this was more feasible, so I did so very carefully, buffing the outer edges with my rag. Mike also said to refrain from wiping the stain up – let it dry overnight, then continue with any further layering we wanted to complete. For good measure, I also applied one more layer of Special Walnut to the aprons, helping them better blend in with the table overall.

The next day (we were going on day three of the staining marathon by now), you could see a shinier sheen where I had painted in my darker stain, but my goodness. It worked! It wasn’t perfect, but the difference was night and day.

Liking the way things were going, I continued by applying 2 more coats of Weathered Oak, giving the table it’s final color:

After a handful of hours, I started with the final step: Polycrylic. By far, this is my favorite step – not only because it means we could see the finish line, but because it pulls the whole look together. Using my brush again, I applied the poly in quick, even coats, being mindful to not over brush (too much fussing will result in streaks) while working in the same direction.

The next few steps are a big time suck, but so necessary for the longevity of the desk: Wait 2 hours, then lightly sand with the extra fine sanding block. Wipe clean, then apply another coat of Polycrylic. Wait 2 hours, sand again, wipe clean again, then apply the third and final coat of the protective finish.

After the final coat of Polycrylic has been applied, it’s always good to wait at least 24 hours before handling and 3 days before putting the furniture to use. (That’s probably the hardest part of the whole process; especially for a very impatient girl like myself!)

Let me just say that I wish I could’ve photographed the end result in a different light, so to speak. The endless dust and grime covering our floors is an indication that drywall has started!, but it also means that any furniture we have out (which is very, very little) is pushed against walls and covered in dropped cloths. (After these photos were snapped, the table was ushered back to safety behind a curtain of plastic, mocking me.)

Regardless of our messy, messy floors, we couldn’t be happier with the results. There’s still a fair share of age that shines through the finish, but it’s the good kind:

The small cracks and dents were purposely left as-is (rather than sanding and filling), as we think it really shows off the history of the table. (Anyone want to give it a back story?)

You might notice that we skipped the white-wash step from the tutorial (which is why ours is still a little darker than our inspiration), but we still really love the way it turned out. We’re counting down the days remaining for the contractors’ work to wrap up (for many reasons, of course!), but once we can lift the sheets of plastic and spread out, this table’ll be the first thing to set up. Oh, yes.

And since we’ve just discovered the joys of layering stains (dork alert), we’re wondering if anyone else has been been experimenting, too? What’s your favorite combination? (Photos, please!)

YOU MIGHT LIKE THIS, TOO:

  • Karen June - October 29, 2013 - 7:55 AM

    LOVE how your table turned out … definitely worth all of the bumps in the road. Can’t wait to see it in its final place :)ReplyCancel

  • Jimmy - October 29, 2013 - 8:39 AM

    Love. It.ReplyCancel

  • Jodi - October 29, 2013 - 9:35 AM

    oooh! it looks great!!ReplyCancel

  • Laura at RatherSquare.com - October 29, 2013 - 10:32 AM

    Once again, great tutorial and story of your experience with this!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - October 29, 2013 - 2:59 PM

    It looks absolutely amazing! I’m in awe of your perseverance :)ReplyCancel

  • Kati from so happy home - October 29, 2013 - 4:41 PM

    When we had our old kitchen’s original fir floors refinished, we also had a portion of the flooring custom milled to match so that we could extend the flooring into a portion of the kitchen that had been an addition at one point. The old flooring and the new flooring took the stain differently, and at one point I was on my hands and knees with a tiny round tipped artist paint brush just trying to get it to look more even. After about 8″ of one board I realized it was a losing battle. We embraced the unevenness and called it patina. (If you really want to go back and see pictures, you can look at my early blogging days post on that here: http://dev.sohappyhome.com/2010/08/if-a-problem-comes-along-you-must-whip-it/ , from a time when I took pictures of every step because it was so fascinating. And life disrupting.

    Do take care to protect your camera around drywall dust. The ‘dust’ is actually fine stone powder and can ruin equipment like salty beach air.

    I can tell you guys are at maximum with your stress levels. Kudos for hanging in there. I know it’s tough. I’m pretty sure I gained 15lbs during our renovation due to stress eating/drinking daily. Beer does help, but probably so would a long run. ;) xoxoReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 29, 2013 - 5:16 PM

    Hi Kati,

    For some reason, I’m being asked to use a name and password to see the link – is there another way?

    Thanks for the words of encouragement. It has been beyond stressful, and we’re trying to hang in there. XO.ReplyCancel

  • Kati from so happy home - October 29, 2013 - 8:38 PM

    I’m so sorry, I gave you the wrong link! I just finished redesigning my website (ok, my husband did it) and I accidentally used the wrong url. Try this: http://www.sohappyhome.com/2010/08/if-a-problem-comes-along-you-must-whip-it/

    I went through a four month long renovation and I recorded it all. It was incredibly hard, but incredibly exciting, too. Anyway, if you’re having trouble sleeping, or you just want to see what it was like for us, feel free to investigate July 2010 through about October of that year. I understand about being both grateful for your contractors, and at the same time frustrated by the nature of the business. Yoga helps. But beer is faster. ;) You can do it! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 30, 2013 - 1:30 PM

    Kati, well, you are obviously THAT much stronger for surviving it! Funny that we thought we’d be finished with contract work in a couple of weeks. The thought alone makes me literally LOL.

    But yes, you hit the nail on the head. We’re so grateful that they’re here and that we’re able to do the work now. And yet, there’s a lot of little things that cause an immense amount of stress… we’re so close though. So close!

    I think I’m already getting a little belly from my drinking, ha.ReplyCancel

  • Jill - October 30, 2013 - 1:58 PM

    Looks beautiful so far! xoReplyCancel

  • Margaret - November 1, 2013 - 2:51 PM

    I LOVE this table!! It has so much charactor and feels totally homey and warm :) Great job!ReplyCancel

  • Abby - July 30, 2014 - 1:57 PM

    We recently built a dining table using pine and followed your stain “recipe.” I am now looking around for tips on how to clean real wood…do you have any advice? Since my husband and I just combined all of our fake-wood-or-other-materials furniture from college when we recently got married, this is our first piece of real wood furniture. Thanks for any insight you may be able to provide!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 30, 2014 - 2:24 PM

      Hi Abby! Did you seal your dining table with Polycrylic after you applied the stain? We use Polycrylic on everything we stain or paint, and we use a mild cleaner such as Mrs. Meyers or JR Watkins (both can be picked up at Target) to wipe down surfaces. In fact, I accidentally spilled a DIFFERENT stain on our dining table while working on a project, and the project stain literally wiped right up! Our table was completely safe underneath!ReplyCancel

  • Pamela Farris - May 22, 2016 - 10:31 PM

    Hi! Found your blog while doing battle with my bathroom cabinets. I had applied (and sanded all the previous paint the year before) Rustoleum Driftwood Wood stain. I loved it! But I couldn’t remember where I bought it! I thought Home Depot, because I wanted to touch up a few spots. There is a Minwax Driftwood Water based stain I was led to, but it was entirely wrong. So far my touch up has turned into a sanding event again. At Home Depot they suggested Weathered Oak. After one coat I’m not ecstatic. My bathroom is a mess, and my desired look is only more sanding away. Your table looks great, and I love your tips. I’ve been doing this a long time…and I think its scary because not alot of people I know take on kitchen or bathroom cabinets. I’ve lived and remodeled in many places, and every home I’ve owned I have undertaken stripping the kitchen and or bathroom cabinets. One home I didn’t, as I WAS married to a man who had sufficient funds to order custom made Alder kitchen and bath cabinets. Back to the drawing board and I’ll enjoy your posts later!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 23, 2016 - 7:54 AM

      Hi Pamela – happy you found us, but that sounds like a sad staining experience! Have you tried searching for the stain online so that you could get the exact match? Best of luck as you work on your own remodel. We know it take a LOT of patience, but the results – when persistent – are always worth it.ReplyCancel

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