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How to paint table tops

Listed under Annie Sloan, Blog, RSS only Posted Apr 16 2012

If you are painting pine furniture and tables in particular, it is worth having a think about how to paint table tops.

beech table varnished

Clear coating or paint on table tops?

I hand-paint a lot of kitchens and the “rule” is that high traffic worktops are not painted! Think super tough stone, laminate or timber tops, and eggshell painted doors. A good, practical combination. This approach is worth thinking about when hand-painting furniture, especially tables.

To gauge how much abuse your wooden table top currently gets, carefully check for dings. In natural timber, these dings aren’t immediately obvious. With paint, those same dings would not be quite so invisible. What is your tolerance / expectation for wear and tear? Then make your decision.

Eggshell paint on table tops

Painting dining table tops, kitchen table tops, dressers etc with oil-based or acrylic eggshell is feasible, but you have to consider how much use the top is going to get – and remember, remember – paint can only handle so much abuse! So it doesn’t really matter which brand of eggshell you use, if you repeatedly throw your keys down, accidentally scrape your ring across the top, drop your cutlery on it, or knock it with anything metal, in particular, the surface will end up with a grey mark or three.

You can obviously protect acrylic eggshell painted table tops with several coats of a sacrificial Polyvine clear decorators varnish. By sacrificial, I mean the varnish coating may mark, but to a certain degree, it should protect the paint beneath, reducing the visual damage.

Another way to protect eggshell painted tops is to get your local glass merchant to prepare a custom-sized thick piece of clear float glass with polished bevel edges. They can spec it for you. The glass will take the abuse and leave the paint perfectly protected beneath. One consideration is keeping the glass clean. Another is children around glass.

Table cloths or mats are another practical way to protect painted table tops in regular use.

Chalk paint on table tops

Annie Sloan chalk paint can be well protected with clear or tinted wax. Same applies to a vinyl emulsion paint or better still, acrylic matt emulsion – if the surface eg pine has been prepared correctly The more thin protective coats the better. As the wax starts to wear, just whip a quick coat over the surface, leave to dry and buff up with a clean rag or sheepskin cover.

Varnish finish for table tops

My preferred approach is to paint the base and legs of tables and leave the tops natural timber and protect them against wear and tear.

waxed beech table top and painted base

In order of durable to super tough, you can protect natural timber with clear wax, clear acrylic varnish, clear Diamond glaze or clear Patina. These all add lustre.

Acrylic coatings dry water clear.

Langlow Patina is the only one of the above I am aware of that is breathable, so tends not to ring mark when hot cups are plonked down on the surface.

My understanding of Diamond Glaze (floor lacquer) is that you always apply a gloss base first and then finish with top coats in the lustre you want (gloss, satin or matt). So this can be quite spendy as you cannot buy small cans.

Tinted varnish for table tops

Varnish, wax or Patina can be tinted with a compatible stain or paint to add some interest. So add chalk paint to wax, emulsion or acrylic artist colours to acrylic varnish, or oil paint or oil stainers to Patina.

Tips to prepare table tops

To sand varnish, polyurethane or water based, back to bare wood, I use a Mirka Ceros random orbital sander (plus vacuum extractor) with various grades of Abranet abrasive, finishing with a worn 180 grade. Then tack rag clean and apply clear coats.

To remove wax back to the bare wood, Krudkutter Original with a washing-up scourer does the trick in an eco and not unpleasant way. Apply liberally, leave a few minutes, and before it dries off completely, scrub off the wax.

Overall, when painting furniture, and table tops in particular, there are no rules really. As a professional TP furniture painter, I need to think in terms of durable and practical and aesthetically pleasing. But I have seen a DIY’er paint emulsion straight onto a new chest of drawers, scrub like crazy, and when dry, scrub in white emulsion to give a faux limed effect. No primer, no sealer, it looked smart and felt nice and smooth, just not very practical in the long term for a high traffic piece, without being ultra careful.

So, loads of viable options, and whatever you do, before buying new furniture, at least consider a well made second-hand piece that can be beautified again and again. Or as I have just done, I was employed to breathe new life into 13 pieces of tired pine furniture for the same price as a new cooky-cutter lifeless factory sprayed 2-door dresser from John Lewis.

recycle furniture with Annie Sloan chalk paint

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8 comments to “How to paint table tops”

  1. Liz

    I have a large solid pine kitchen table which was originally waxed. It is very marked and very little wax left on the top. I would like to rewax it or similar but how can I protect it from marks such as mug rings and general family wear and tear.

    What do you suggest. Someone told me to put floor varnish over the top but I am not sure.

    look forward to hearing from you

  2. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Hi Adam in Ireland has a lot of examples including this example of Tikkurila kiva lacquer. https://www.facebook.com/josephandson2010/posts/862820817080584


  3. sailormoon

    i asked a local carpenter to build a customized bed. however, they dont include painting services. i wanted my bed to be black and thought of painting it myself. it will be delivered sanded and bare (no varnish). all my eagerness of doing a DIY was blown when i see disastrous painting jobs on pinewood. any suggestions? i want it black and not to glossy but not too matte. thanks.

    . i wanted my bed to be black and thought of painting it on my own

  4. Sam

    I have painted my kitchen cabinets with a kitchen cupboard paint. It said on the tin that no varnish is required. That was 5 years ago and am noticing some of the paint coming off when I clean the cabinets. Could I just add a coat of varnish . Which is the best for durability? Or could I repaint the whole lot with chalk paint and use wax.

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