I’ve always loved taking hand-me-down, “junk” furniture and turning it into something new and cool. Many of my earliest DIY projects (if that’s what they were called in the 90s), involved taking old dressers or tables or nightstands and painting them in fun and unique ways so that they had a second life. This is how I ended up with a pretty cool room as a teenager. I did homework in my room on a restored and repainted kitchen table, which is still in use at my parents’ house and in fact was used to hold pies this Thanksgiving. It’s also how I ended up with my cousin’s dresser and makeup table, which now are in my daughter’s bedroom and my own bedroom, respectively. I’ve redone benches for friends, tables for friends, and countless projects for my mother. 😆
So when I say that this table seemed almost beyond redemption, you know it was pretty bad. My mom bought it somewhere for cheap (I’m quite sure), and she asked if I could fix it up to use at her house for her grandkids. Since her grandkids coincidentally are my kids, they teamed up with Grammy to insist I give it a go.
There was no way a simple sand-and-paint job was going to be enough. The general structure of the table was fortunately ok, but the tabletop and legs were stained from years of use. It appeared that liquids of indeterminate origins had soaked into the wood as well. There were also a lot of really deep scratches and cracks. I could have worked really hard to sand all this smooth and putty the scratches and cracks before painting over it, but I was pretty sure I’d have to go quite deep to find smooth and clean wood again. I don’t have that kind of time or patience. And I wasn’t entirely sure the table was up for it either.
So how did I decide to fix the damage? I burned it all! 😆 But with control, and on purpose, to make the table look cool again.
If you don’t have the skill or the tools or the patience to repair ugly furniture the “right” way, this is a relatively easy, inexpensive, and unique way to do it! You could do this to a dresser, headboard, or really any wooden furniture piece. Obviously I’m showing you how I did this table, but the same general steps will apply.
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- sandpaper and sander
- spray paint
- kitchen torch
- semi-gloss polyurethane
Step 1: Disassemble and clean. To make things easier, I took off the table legs so I could fix them separate from the main tabletop. I wanted to be able to put the tabletop on my lazy Susan to spin easily as I worked, and this wouldn’t have worked with the legs on either. With the legs off, I’d also have an easier time sanding to the edges of my pieces.
To give myself an even easier time sanding, I wiped down the whole table and scraped off some gunk stuck to the wood.
Step 2: Sand. I used 60-grit sandpaper because this table needed tough love. If your furniture doesn’t have layers of stain or paint and is generally not in terrible shape, you could use a higher grit sandpaper so it’s not too rough on your wood. But mine needed 60.
I started with the legs and went all over them with my little sander (a birthday present yet to be named) to get rid of the slime-y feel on the existing stain. To save time and make this project easier on myself, I’d decided to just spray paint the legs since they weren’t too banged up. So, I only sanded the legs enough to give the spray paint a “rough” surface to adhere to.
Then came the tabletop. This took a while. There appeared to be a few layers of wood stain. And then there were damaged areas where liquid had soaked into the wood. And of course those scratches were nearly impossible to smooth out without sanding so far down that it left dips in the surface. I ended up going over the whole surface about 3 times to get off as much as I could.
With the top done, I flipped it over and sanded down the surrounding side parts/supports around the underside of the tabletop. These weren’t too bad, but I sanded them down pretty well since I wanted these sides to match the top.
Once I was sure it was as good as I was going to get it, I wiped off the whole tabletop to get rid of any dust.
Step 3: Spray paint the legs. Like I said, it seemed like a lot of effort to do anything complicated with the legs. Since they weren’t in bad shape, I decided to just spray paint them black and call it good. I used a glossy paint to add some shine, and I sprayed on 2 coats to make sure they were good and covered.
If you have a part of your furniture that would be difficult to burn evenly or would take a lot of time to do, spray painting these parts is a good alternative to torching. It also can help to highlight the cooler, burned sections.
Step 4: Torch the wood. Using my kitchen torch (which at this point is covered in epoxy and I need a new one for my actual kitchen), I set it to a medium flame and began at the edges of my tabletop. I went over these edges with the flame and burned them quite a bit without worrying about grain lines just yet. Then I started from one side’s edge and began to go over the top surface with the flame to burn long lines across the tabletop.
I like to tilt my torch and blow the flame forward over the surface I’m burning rather than aiming the torch straight down at the wood. This makes straighter, less dotted lines as you move across the wood, plus it doesn’t get your hand as hot!
If you have natural wood grain lines to guide your burn lines, this looks great and makes it easier. However, my wood was a mess and I had to make my own fake “grain lines” by burning them into the wood. This takes time and is a little more effort, but it’s not that difficult.
If you’re worried about starting a fire, it helps to keep a wet cloth or sponge nearby. If you feel like your burned wood is too hot, use the wet cloth to pat the hot parts and cool them down. But despite using, you know, fire for this project, it really does char the wood nicely without catching anything aflame.
If you feel like your lines are too blotchy, I found that I could really, really burn a bigger area and that looked fine too, surrounded by smaller lines.
Once I was done with the tabletop, I also burned the surrounding bottom sides that attach to the legs. You could do this part first and the tabletop second. I just wanted to make sure it worked on the worst part – the top – before bothering with the sides if it didn’t work.
Step 5: Seal with polyurethane. Once the wood was cool to the touch, I grabbed a can of semigloss polyurethane. (You could use high gloss or matte, depending on the shine you want.) Using a brush to really get it into the wood, I brushed the poly on over the tabletop surface. I gave it a good coat, including over the edges. Then I did the surrounding bottom sides as well.
While the first coat was drying, I could already see I would need a second coat because it soaked in so much where the wood was most burnt. But the poly doesn’t take long to dry, so I applied a second coat over the first, and this really helped to make the top surface shiny and smooth.
Step 6: Reattach the legs. With the table dry, I spread out a towel and lay the tabletop upside-down to reattach the legs. These went on easily with the original hardware, and then I flipped the whole table to stand.
Ta-da! This “junk” table went from a total mess to now a really cool little piece of furniture. My mom is happy; my kids are happy. Mission accomplished.