Restaurant Table Refinishing

A beginner gets advice on stripping and refinishing some restaurant table tops. July 29, 2007

I have a friend who owns a small Italian restaurant and has 15 red oak, butcher block style tables that are in dire need of refinishing (currently have a mahogany-colored finish with some kind of poly topcoat).

I have agreed to help him out, even though it's a little out of my realm. I started sanding the bottom of one this morning (with a random orbit and 60 grit), and I obviously need to be using a stripping agent, and/or belt sander/planer?

Getting them stripped down is one issue, but I'm more concerned with applying a durable finish. One idea was to use the same General Finishes Salad Bowl finish that I use on my cutting boards... only more coats to give it a sheen. I wipe this on, thinned 50% with mineral spirits.

I have had great success on my porch swings with 3 coats of Sikkens Cetol 1, but that takes weeks to cure and I need to be able to turn these around once a week if possible. Would I be better off with re-staining and then building the finish with a high quality (if there is such a thing) waterborne poly, or a wipe-on varnish? Of course, the finish needs to be very durable.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor K:
Strip or preferably plane the tops. Apply two coats Waterlox sealer, then lightly sand (400g). Spray two coats Waterlox satin. Very lightly get rid of nubs with white scotchbrite or 800g paper

From contributor B:
Sounds like a disaster in the making. Hire someone who knows what they are doing.

From the original questioner:
Thanks - I contacted Waterlox and they were quite informative. They recommended 4 coats of Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish. If staining is required, to either stain before hand, or mix the stain with their product. I'm not set up to spray, but they said the preferred application method with the Sealer/Finish is to brush it on.

As for stripping the tops, would a portable, electric planer, or 4" belt sander work better?

As for contributor B's response, no offense, but if we don't explore new territories,
we will never grow.

From contributor T:
Go for it.

Sanding off finishes is death on sanding belts and a 4" belt is going to leave you with more divots than an amateur barber. If they're table tops, stripper is a messy but probably effective method to remove the old finish. Apply the stripper, cover it with saran wrap and let it soak. Otherwise I'd try a sharp cabinette scraper.

The easiest way I've found to apply Waterlox is to thin it with naphtha and wipe it on. Takes more coats to get a build, but you don't have nearly the trouble with bubbles.

As for tinting Waterlox: I read a recent post that said it can't be tinted. It can be tinted with Japan Colors, dry pigment powders, Artist's oil pigment thinned with MS, or a UTC. You can also tint it with dyes - either an NGR or oil based dye will do the job.

From contributor D:
Are you sure that the finish isn't a poured resin? How thick is it? If it is resin, you could lightly sand with fine and re-pour. Shiny glossy all over again.

From the original questioner:
Thank you! I tested the bottom of one table (since it's solid oak). Took about an hour to sand off what must have been a poured resin finish. Sanded with 80/150 grits on a random orbit sander. Will use stripper on the rest!

Applied 3 stain color samples and wiped on 3 coats of General Finishes urethane. The sample area looked great! The customer loved the walnut and quality of the finish (although would do the actual table tops with the Waterlox Sealer/Finish as suggested).

Hopefully, the poured resin will strip well with chemical. $185 per table (30x48) x 15 tables... Hey, it pays for another piece of equipment!

From contributor K:
Do not sand past 120; you want to leave the grain open. Apply the Waterlox with a foam brush or a paint roller cover wrapped in tee-shirt cotton (eliminates bubbles). Apply first coat at the rate of .7 oz per square foot and subsequent coats at .4 oz. You want to get good penetration with the first sealer coat and then build.