How To Blend Stain To Achieve A Natural Look

Mid Century Coffee Table Refinish

My dad knew what was up in 1959.

He was 16 years old at the time, and he built this mid century modern coffee table in his high school shop class.

(Briefly, I forgot that 1959 was actually mid century, and to him this was just a coffee table. No need to name the style era.)

Anyway, my grandmother kept the table all these years and long story short, this is my latest before and after project tutorial.

coffee table before and after refinish

I wanted to use stain to create something amazing like Bethany at Sawdust and Embryos does with stain, but once I sanded the old finish off I noticed a variation in the wood’s color and decided just to enhance that.

Getting Started…

First thing’s first, there was a loose edge piece that miraculously stayed with the table through years of storage in my grandparents shed, and reattaching it was easy.

mid century coffee table repair

I glued/clamped/nailed it back on, and reinforced a second edge.

small coffee table

Next, I used wood filler on the corners that needed it…

wood filler antique coffee table

…then when it was dry, I started sanding off the old finish.

orbital sander coffee table

The old finish came off really quickly with 80 grit sandpaper.  (I sanded the legs by hand because they are round and all.)

I went over it all again with 150 then 220 grit to make it smooth.

remove old finish

After I was done sanding, I wiped it down with mineral spirits to remove the dust.  To prep the wood to take the stain evenly, I applied Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner.  (You can see the natural color variation in the wood that I talked about earlier.)

natural wood coffee table

I decided to enhance the natural streak of color that was in the wood, by layering, shading, and blending with some Minwax Dark Walnut stain.

blending stain

I followed the lines of the grain in case I couldn’t blend it that well.  (The grain lines would hide any stain lines.)  I waited a few minutes and then spread the stain over the dry parts, making it appear more like a gradual fade.  (For more details on this and more detailed tricks with stain, see Bethany’s tutorial.)

shading and blending stain

To make things more interesting and add depth, I blended some Minwax Classic Gray along the edges.

blending shading fading stain

I used mineral spirits on a paper towel to clean up my mistakes.  (I make a lot of mistakes.)

blending oil based stain

Then when that wasn’t enough, I got out the very fine steel wool.  That worked better.

shading with stain

I went back a few times, touching up with some gray and walnut until I was satisfied.

After about 30 minutes of messing with the stain, steel wool, and mineral spirits, I suddenly dropped what I was holding and backed away slowly.  (It’s hard to know when to stop.)

When it was safe to approach again (a few hours later), I applied some polyurethane to seal the deal.

I did 3 coats, so that part basically took me a day.  (Drying time between coats is always painful.)

clear coat polyurethane

And there it is.  An actual mid century coffee table built by my dad when he was 16,  and refinished by his daughter- 56 years later.

mid century modern coffee table

Oh, and here’s a cool bonus:  the original receipt for the lumber, signed by my dad’s shop teacher.

lumber reciept

Thanks for reading!


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