How to Paint a Dining Room Table

Hey kids, as you can probably tell from the title, this post is about painting a dining room table. Because I'm crazy like that.
 
 
I'm not talking about slapping on a coat of paint and calling it good. I'm talking about durability. About kid-friendly. About withstanding milk spills and spaghetti night. About not worrying whether or not the tabletop is going to survive its next Kids' Craft Hour.
 
If you get what I'm saying, nod your head.
If you're nodding your head, read on...
 
I've been wanting to swap our current counter-height dining set for a standard table height for some time now, just because our dining room space is so small. I felt like everything was disproportionate.
 
Fortuitously enough, we looted a dining table and four chairs from an unsuspecting and sweet neighbor who's moving. (By "looted," I mean we hauled away her table while she practically did a happy dance because it meant she wouldn't have to move it anywhere herself.)
 
 
It's in decent shape but not great. Hey, it was free - no complaints here.
 
 
I love wood, don't get me wrong, but as you can see from the photos above, this particular table is (a) not real wood, and (b) possessing a wood tone that is too dark for our small dining room. We needed a little more light-n-bright. Stat.
 
 
The chairs are in good condition, but not exactly what I'm after. That's another project for another day. Soon.
 
 
There are a million and three ways to paint a dining table (believe me, I've scoured the interwebs and have taken copious notes), but this is the way I went about it. If you're looking to embark on a similar project yourself, feel free to add my humble account here into your mix of research.
 
(Continue reading after the jump.)
First, I sanded the table. I know that oil-based primer (like this one, which I actually used a little later) is heralded as the step-saving mecca of all paint projects. But a dining table that survives at our house, with four young and exuberant-but-borderline-crazy children, is going to need all the help it can get. Simply priming over the shiny lacquer/varnish/whatever wasn't going to cut it here.
 
 
I didn't sand down to the wood/particle board everywhere, though. My finger in the photo below shows where I sanded down to - can you see how most, if not all, of the shine is gone, compared to the area below my finger? Not really? Oh. That's because my camera at noonday stinks. But trust me. The top is significantly less shiny than the lower part. And that's a good thing.
 
 
Working in small sections (for example, one leg), I brushed Zinsser primer into all the cracks of that section and then quickly rolled a 4" foam roller over the flat surfaces there. Primer dries fast, and it dries crazy-fast in the sun like this, so I had to be sure the entire section was completely smooth in a matter of half-minutes. Actually, I don't recommend painting in direct sunlight if you can avoid it. Tricky business, that.
 
(Note: Something to consider about painting a table is the underside. Often, if your table is anywhere near stairs, the underside will be seen as you come up the stairs. You need to decide if it's worth it to you to paint the underside. As for me, I did prime and paint under the outer lip but didn't do the entire underside of the table, even though I'll be able to see it coming up the stairs. Just not worth it to me.)
 
 
I used 220-grit sandpaper to sand between each coat of primer. I did two coats of primer on the legs and three on the tabletop. Probably overkill. But I was going from dark to light, so every little bit helped.
 
Next up: Paint. You may gasp and roll your eyes at my amateur-ity when you hear this, but I concocted my own paint color. Which was a mistake. (If this were a movie, you would hear music foreshadowing doom here. But it's not, so you won't. But feel free to hum something like the Death March tune, if you'd like.)

Here's the thing: I had this dining room inspiration photo in my head but had no specific color name to go along with it. I have a gazillion odds and ends of grey and blue and green paints (I happen to love those colors. As many of you know by now.), so I just started mixing until I found something that, to me, resembled the "duck egg blue" of the photo.
 
 
I painted on a little bit over the primer to see how it looked dry (below). I decided it was a touch too blue, too bold for what I was going for. So I added in some more white(ish) paint and I think a little green, and I ended up with a color I really really love.
 

Painted two coats on the legs and five (FIVE!) coats on the tabletop. Waited a full 24 hours between each coat, too, which deserves a gold star and a pat on ye ol' normally-impatient back.


It may come as a surprise to some of you, knowing how I usually take the lazy way out, but I actually sanded (220 grit) in between each coat because my paint was NOT drying smoothly. Yet, after each sanding, I thought to myself, "This coat will be different. THIS one'll end up smooth."

Nope. Didn't happen. Here's what I battled on the tabletop, pretty much after every coat of paint:


Whatever. So frustrating. I finally threw in the towel, took my new paint concoction to the paint store, and had the professionals match it...but with fresh, non-lumpy, un-aged paint. After just one coat of the new stuff, it is waaaay better. Smoother, easier to paint. Just better.

I think the lessons we can all take away are: (1) don't mix your own paint, and (2) don't use old paint. And if you don't want to remember both of those, remember this one: don't mix your own old paint. Ever. Even if the color is something you love.

So. Three coats of the new paint on the tabletop using a 4" foam roller (the legs actually turned out fine with the original paint, for some reason), lightly sanding between each coat. Let it dry thoroughly.


I then brushed on five (FIVE! Overkill, for sure, but my kids are hard on furniture. So five it is.) coats of Minwax Polycrylic. (Found at Walmart, <$20 for a quart.) I also sanded between most coats of this stuff, but not the last coat.

One tip: As you're brushing on polycrylic, you want to get enough on your brush that you're not dragging dry patches through. I mean, everyone gets so fired up about doing THIN coats when painting, which is good, but if you overcompensate and approach the surface with a brush that is too wiped-dry, brush marks will be increased. Lay it on thin, yes, but make sure you have enough on the brush to lay it on smoothly. Then try not to go back over your work, the polycrylic will even itself out as a rule.

Ahhhhhh. So smooth. So shiny. So protected.


Let it dry thoroughly for several days. I've read online that it can take up to five weeks for polycrylic to fully cure, so we'll be taking it easy on the table in the interim.


So far, so good. It's withstood everything the kids have thrown at it over the last couple of weeks. Except fingernail polish. Which, in the hands of a trying-to-be-careful-but-still-only-5-year-old, just might be the bane of my existence...

Now I want to paint my walls white. Which, frankly, isn't going to happen anytime soon. But a girl can dream. I'm also working on the chair situation and am excited to share the end results. But until then, happy dining room table painting, friends!

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23 comments:

  1. I am totally with you on overkill for the painting/finishing coats. Those are the only things standing between kids and a ruined table! Nice work Brittney!

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  2. Good tips! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I am very impressed. You did a great job on the table. Great tips too. Thanks for sharing at DIYbyDesign.

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  4. Great tutorial! I'm featuring it in this week's Power of Paint Party.

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  5. What a great job! I really like the two tone design. I wish I was that creative! I wonder do you think I could find some dining room furniture in Vermont to fix up like this?

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  6. i truly enlightened after learning how to paint
    , while keeping these simple tips in my mind, i painted really well and it added much to my creativity.

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  7. You guys done a very nice job...!!!
    Superb..!! Thomas the Tank Engine Beds

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  10. Wow, what a difference that paint job makes! That new paint job makes it look like a totally new table! Fortunately for us, we don't have a real table yet, so we can go for this right off the bat. Here's to new dining room furnitiure! Thiago | http://www.ncfurniture.com/DiningRoom.inc

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  11. It looks great. I'm redoing my table right now and looking for inspiration. :-)

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  12. holy moly there has to be an easier way . ??

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  13. Provided blogs and articles looking very supportive for us.Dinning Sets

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  14. I'm following your directions to a T! Thank you so much. I have my primer on my kitchen table. I plan to paint the top brown and the legs ivory and then put a black glaze over both for antique look. Do you have any recommendations for a Brown color for the table top -- preferable Behr? I'm at a total loss as to which brown will look most realistic for wood.

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  15. You did quiet a good job on wooden dining tables. It was never easy to paint them especially for me but now i am confident enough to repaint my table.Thank you for sharing the information.

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  17. I am really impressed by this blog! You have done a wonderful job on wood dining tables. keep posting the same informations like this always.

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  19. Thank you for the detailed how-to. Very approachable.

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  20. What exact primer and paint did you use?

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  21. Just wondering, how is the table holding up?

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