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How to Refinish a Damaged Veneer Table Top (Under $35!)

Our breakfast nook is such an eye sore and I desperately want to completely gut and remodel it… But with a million other projects going on, it’s just NOT in the budget. So, this week, I decided to do a little breakfast nook makeover starting with our very worn veneer kitchen table! In this post, I’ll tell you all about my experience refinishing a wood veneer table top. This project was lots of trial and error but I’m happy with how it turned out- all for about $35!

Our Breakfast Nook Makeover on a Budget:

*Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase*.

breakfast nook makeover

Our little breakfast nook is very farmhouse-style and has basically been untouched for the last 2 years. I felt ready to update this space just a bit since we plan on doing lots of kitchen updates next year! I wanted to make sure this whole project was very affordable (especially since we needed to replace our chairs because… Obviously, they don’t match.)

Of course, my first step was to scour FB Marketplace and my fave home furniture stores looking for the perfect table + chair set. I loved the look of the Kensington dining table from Arhaus… Which clocks in at over 3K!!!

arhaus kensington table

After thinking about it, I determined that the style of our current Pier 1 Imports table wasn’t all that different from the style of the Kensington table. I decided that refinishing a wood veneer table top with a little paint might allow us to squeeze a few more years out of this little table!

Veneer Top Vs. Laminate Top

The first thing to determine before refinishing a wood veneer table top is:

Is your tabletop actually veneer OR is it laminate?

  • Veneer is a very thin wood overlay that is applied in sheets on top of particle board or another cheap product.
  • Laminate furniture is not wood at all. It will not sand down and cannot be stained. It can be painted but it may require a different approach. 

Our table had a veneer overlay so that simplified the process somewhat. In a perfect world, you should be able to stain OR paint a well-sanded veneer surface.

This table is about 5 years old. Our kids eat here every single day, 3 meals a day, so this thing has taken a beating.

refinishing a wood veneer table top

Additionally, I bought it discounted from Pier 1 because it was a bit scratched to begin with and I love a deal… The original finish was much richer than you see here. It has basically been worn down to a bare wood finish on top. I could have been proactive and sealed the top a few times a year but since no one has time for that, there is damaged veneer on most of the seams. 

Now that I have you sold on how great this table is, WHY am I refinishing it?!

Really, I should probably just purchase a new table but YALL. Prices are insane right now. It doesn’t help that the table I love for this space is from Arhaus… So, it’s never going to happen. I really didn’t want to spend a lot on a new kitchen nook setup, so I determined to do this mini-makeover for under $500!

What You’ll Need to Refinish a Veneer Table:

For this project, I trial and error’ed a few products but ultimately I went with a mineral paint!

Refinishing a Wood Veneer Table Top – Step-by-Step

Let’s break down the nitty-gritty of refinishing a wood veneer table top:

Step 1: Sand Off Any Old Finish/Top Coat

To get started, it is important to give your table-top a good sand to remove any existing finish! 

DIY table top makeover

Here are the rules for sanding veneer:

  • Technically, you shouldn’t use an electric sander. The power is harder to control and if your veneer coating is VERY thin, it may splinter off or show “bald” spots of particle board.
  • It is recommended to use a fine-grit sandpaper and VERY gently scuff off your top layer of veneer coating to expose the porous wood beneath.
  • You REALLY don’t want to over-sand. The veneer coating is usually very thin and once you break through to that particle board, there is no going back! You’ll have a big ole bald spot!

That said, I am far too lazy to painstakingly hand-sand an entire table.

Our table had so much nasty build-up on it from toddlers that the first time I sanded it, it mostly just removed layers of gunk. (Gross, but if you have toddlers, you get it!) I did a very gentle second pass with the sander after removing all the build-up from the table. I did have a few small sections that splintered a bit but nothing major.

refinishing a wood veneer table top

NOTE: If you use Fusion mineral paint, it is not absolutely necessary to sand off all the finish on your table top, but it is recommended to sand any polyurethane coating off. If you plan to stain your table, you may need a more thorough sand to make sure the stain adheres.

I’ve seen several recommendations to use mineral spirits to help loosen/remove varnish or top coat. I didn’t do this myself because I didn’t have any on-hand but it’s worth a try!

Step 2: Patch Imperfections with Wood Filler or Wood Glue

refinishing a wood veneer table top

After sanding, I wiped the table down with a damp cloth to remove sanding dust and then examined it for any areas of splintering. As I said, my table already had several areas where water had damaged the veneer.

There is no fixing those spots at this point. However, there were a few spots where the veneer coating was lifting up and splintering. Those areas I covered in wood glue and then gently blended with a cloth.

Let the wood glue dry for a bit OR just start painting on a different part of the table. 

Step 3: Begin Applying Paint or Stain

This step was a trial-and-error process for me. I originally wanted to use a black oil-based wood stain to really accentuate the wood grain of the tabletop.

Unfortunately, the black stain did not adhere well to the tabletop. This could be for a number of reasons…

  • I might not have sanded deeply enough. (However, the tabletop was so beat up that if I had sanded much more I would have unearthed the particle board.)
  • My veneer may not be a blend of wood that works for restaining. I am certain it is veneer and not laminate, BUT it didn’t seem to be porous enough to be restained.
refinishing a wood veneer table top

Ultimately I am so glad I went with paint. I had too many areas on my table that were damaged and a stain wouldn’t disguise these spots very well. Painting over the warped and chipped areas really helped to disguise them and they look much less noticeable now.

I used Fusion mineral paint which I am a huge fan of!

Fusion mineral paint goes on so easily, you only need 1-2 coats for most projects, it dries quickly and doesn’t need a lot of prep work! Win-Win!

Another thing I am a huge fan of about this paint is that it doesn’t have a chalky finish. It has a really smooth satin finish even without a top coat! Amazing.

painting with mineral paint

I ended up doing 3 full coats. I had great coverage after 2 but I wasn’t happy with my brush lines in a couple places so I did another coat. The base of the table only needed 2 coats.

NOTE: I actually didn’t sand the base of the table at all… and it looks perfectly fine. I’m telling you, this paint is awesome!

After the third coat, I let the table dry for several hours.

FUNNY STORY:

I shared on my Instagram stories that just as I began painting this bad boy, my daughter sprayed me and the tabletop with the hose… So how’s that for real life? I like to share because that is how 99% of my house projects go… Can you relate?!

refinishing a wood veneer table top

Best Tips for Painting with Mineral Paint

Mineral paint is SO easy to work with but it does have a little bit of a learning curve. Here are my best tips for using mineral paint:

  • Always follow the direction of the wood grain so your brush strokes are less noticeable. As you can see in the pictures above, the wood grain of the different table panels ran in various directions. I was careful to paint in the correct direction to avoid a streaky finish.
  • After the first coat, allow the table to dry for a full 2 hours before applying a second coat. This paint dries to the touch SO quickly so it can be tempting to jump on that second coat. Try to wait the full two hours because otherwise it can get tacky and make the brush strokes more pronounced!

Step 4: Apply a Clear Matte Finish

The last step is to apply a clear matte top coat! If you want your paint to last for a long time, it is a good idea to apply a top coat. I also plan to reapply this top coat a few times a year to try to keep this finish looking great!

I applied top-coat to only my table top but you could apply it to the whole thing if you prefer. The matte finish of this polyurethane matched the satin finish of the mineral paint perfectly so I didn’t think it was necessary to do the base and table legs. This finish can be applied with a paintbrush or a clean rag. Always rub/paint in the direction of the grain.

Enjoy Your New-Old Dining Table!

It brings me so much joy to bring a little bit of life back into an old or beat-up furniture piece. It brings me even more joy to save money and not have to worry about buying a new kitchen table after a summer of massive outdoor renovations. 

While I dream of someday having a good quality (likely antique) solid wood table, this little cheapo veneer-coated table has been the table my toddlers have munched snacks at for five years now and I’m happy to breathe a little new life back into it’s gunky old self. 

Check out this before and after! I’m loving it!!

Have you ever tried refinishing veneer?! Tell me all about it in the comments section! I’m no expert but I’m happy to answer any questions you have below!

Want More DIY?! Check Out These Posts

DIY is my love language and I love to share what we’ve been up to here at The Craftsman! Check out these other DIY projects and as always ask any questions you may have!

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