Before & After: Coffee Table Refinishing Project

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Using General Finishes' Java Gel Stain and Satin Gel Topcoat, I turned this back-alley (literally, I found it in a back alley) beat up piece of furniture into a beautiful coffee table!  Three coats of stain, two coats of urethane.  Allow it to dry 24 hours between each coat.  Make sure to wipe off extra urethane with a rag.  And get this... NO SANDING!!!  ||  Before and After Coffee Table Refinishing Project @ thelittledabbler (Kitchen Sink Edition)

Using General Finishes’ Java Gel Stain and Satin Gel Topcoat, I turned this back-alley (literally, I found it in a back alley) beat up piece of furniture into a beautiful coffee table!  Three coats of stain, two coats of urethane.  Allow it to dry 24 hours between each coat.  Make sure to wipe off extra urethane with a rag.  And get this… NO SANDING!!!  

Here’s a more detailed how-to…

I found this coffee table in a back alley near my old apartment building.

It was pretty scratched up, but still a very solid piece of furniture.  My fiancé snatched it up under cover of darkness and brought it home.  There it sat for almost two years, being mocked and trivialized by visitors who looked at it like the problem child.  “When are you going to get new furniture?  This looks like crap”

Unable to bear the insults of my visitors, the table begged me to finish it.  And so I did.

I found this blog post through Pinterest: “Staining Oak Cabinets an Espresso Color {DIY Tutorial}” by Monica Wants It.  This woman finished her bathroom vanity, turning it from oak to espresso.  That’s precisely what I wanted to do.  So, I read over her blog and the FAQs about the project and got to work.  Since I don’t want to rehash her tutorial, you can head over there and read it if you want to do this project.  I’ll just give my recommendations and tell you a few things I did differently below.

I also ordered General Finishes Java Gel Stain.  She does not recommend any other stain, and neither do I.  Why?  BECAUSE THIS STUFF IS AWESOME!  This was my first time finishing a piece of furniture and it turned out beautifully.  I know people who’ve been staining furniture for years with liquid stains, and it always turns out horrible.  This gel stain dries slowly and allows for even coverage before it seeps into the wood.  That’s perfect for a newbie!  So, if this is your first staining project, go with this brand or make sure it’s GEL STAIN and you’ll have no problem.  They have other colors available, too.

General Finishes Java Gel Stain

General Finishes Java Gel Stain

I used a different finish than Monica Wants It.  I used General Finishes Gel Topcoat Satin.  I got the quart size and was glad I did because I ended up using A LOT of it.

General Finishes Gel Topcoat Satin

General Finishes Gel Topcoat Satin

There is actually no real sanding needed for this project.  If your piece of furniture is super glossy, you might want to rough it up with sand paper so the gel stain stays on better, especially parts that are vertical so the gel doesn’t slide off.  But I didn’t have to sand it.  I only sanded the top a little because, as you can see from my pictures, there was some serious water damage to the table that caused the wood to ripple and splinter.  I sanded that for five minutes with 150 grit paper.  That’s it!  No more sanding.  The top was still VERY rough, but the multiple layers of stain and topcoat took care of that!

The biggest difference between Monica Wants It’s project and mine was the drying time.  She had a unique schedule she kept (go to her blog to see it).  This was how I did the staining and drying time…


1.) Apply one coat of gel stain liberally with a foam brush.  Make sure there are no globs.  It will look like crap at first and have parts where the original wood may show through.  But don’t worry, and don’t apply extra to compensate.  The other two coats will take care of it.

2.) Let dry for 24 hours.

3.) Apply a liberal second coat the same way as the first.  Get a small paint brush for any detailed work and cover that VERY well.

4.) Dry for 24 hours.

5.) Apply a third and final coat.  Make sure everything is covered the way you want it.

6.) Dry for 24 hours.

7.) Using a cotton sock (the same way Monica Wants It does) apply the topcoat.  This stuff is slippery!  But you will need a lot of it to get a nice solid finish.  So pour it on!  Don’t worry if the java color mixes with the topcoat and looks like one soupy chocolate pudding mess.  It WILL dry just fine.

8.) Use a scrap t-shirt to wipe the entire piece down and pick up glumpy excess topcoat.  DO NOT SCRUB.  Just lightly wipe once or twice in the same direction.  Go in the direction of the grain.  Or, if you aren’t sure of the grain, go length wise across the top, up and down on the legs, and side to side on the sides.

9.) Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8.

10.) Let dry for 48 hours.  Give your piece a dusting with some Pledge, and you’re done!!

The key is the dry time.  If you apply the next coat too soon, the tackiness of the stain may cause an uneven finish.  Notice, I waited 24 hours between every coat!

Here’s the final product:

I hope this tutorial helped.  If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!  If you want to tell me about your refinishing project, have any tips or tricks, or want to share pictures, I’d love to see it all!  Also, if you used this tutorial to finish your project, make sure you go over to Monica Wants It and leave her some love too because she was my inspiration!

Good luck and happy finishing!!

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