DIY Before & Afters

Side Table Makeover — From A Dark Factory Finish To Light And Natural

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Yesterday, I took some time to refinish the side table in our sitting room. After looking and looking for a side table to go between the chairs in this room, and having absolutely no success, my mom gave me this table that she was no longer using.

side table before 2

It’s an Ethan Allen table that had a very thick and dark factory finish on it. And those old, dark factory finishes are just not my thing. I had thought about painting it, but this room already has lots of painted wood, and it doesn’t have any natural wood other than the window shades.

side table before 1

So I decided to refinish the table instead of painting it. Actually, all I did was strip off all of the old finish and leave the wood natural. The wood underneath all of that heavy, dark finish was actually quite pretty on its own.

side table before and after

It doesn’t actually have any kind of finish on it right now. It’s just bare wood. My plan right now is to use my favorite water-based clear coat — General Finishes High Performance Topcoat in a flat finish.

side table after 1

But I’m going to wait for the new rug to arrive before I make any definite decisions. In my mind’s eye, I think this table will look great on the new rug, but I want to see it with my actual eyes before I decide for sure.

side table after 3

Stripping this table was harder than I expected. Yesterday was an incredibly humid day, and much to my surprise, the stripper would dry almost as fast as I could brush it onto the table. I’ve never had that experience before, and I was using the exact same stripper I always use (Klean Strip Premium Stripper). So I think it must have been the weather. I would have expected humidity to keep it wet and workable longer, but the very opposite happened.

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So in the amount of time it usually takes for the stripper to eat through the finish, it had dried to a crispy finish that wasn’t so easy to scrape off.

side table makeover 1

So I eventually gave up on that and decided to go straight to the sander. I had tried to avoid that because I wasn’t sure if this table had veneer, and it’s so easy to sand through veneer when dealing with these thick factory finishes. But I had to take that chance, because the stripper option just wasn’t going to work at all.

Since the table is pretty small, and there’s no way my 5-inch sander would get into all of the areas I needed to sand, I ended up taking it apart. Fortunately, the table was so old that all of the wood glue had given way by now, and the table was just being held together with about 15 screws. But having all of the pieces separated made the sanding process very quick and easy.

side table makeover 3

To get the finish out of the little fluted areas on the legs, I used this scraper. This tool is a must if you’re refinishing hardwood floors (to get the finish out of the corners), but I had never used it on furniture before.

side table makeover 4

But it has these sharp corners on it that make it easy to get down into the fluted details.

side table makeover 5

So I put the corner down into the groove, and scraped about three times in slightly different angles.

side table makeover 6

And then I switched to the other side and repeated that process. I was quite surprised at how quickly this went. It was a much easier and cleaner process than trying to use paint stripper in these fluted details.

side table makeover 7

You can see here how well it worked. The groove on the right took about two minutes to clean the original finish out. You can see how great it looks compared to the one on the left that still needs to be scraped.

side table makeover 8

So after some sanding, scraping, and then finish sanding by hand with 220-grit sandpaper (that process goes pretty quickly and is not labor intensive at all), I was left with this pile of parts and a little mound of screws that needed to be turned back into a side table. This time I used wood glue to put it back together, so it’s much sturdier now than it was before.

side table makeover 9

I really love it just as it is, so I’m hoping it’ll work perfectly with the new rug. If it does, it’ll just need about two coats of the topcoat, with a quick sanding using 220-grit sandpaper between coats. Easy peasy.

side table after 7

I’m not one of those people who can recognize different wood species, so I have no idea what this is. All I know for sure is that it’s NOT oak, pine, or walnut. Those are really the only three I know. 😀

side table after 5

It’s quite red, and I could swear that it’s a soft wood, but I could be wrong about that. And it’s an Ethan Allen table that’s probably several decades old, if that gives any hints. What do you think? Cherry? Although I’m pretty sure cherry is a hard wood. Well, whatever it is, I think it’s very pretty now that it’s been freed from that old, thick, dark finish.

side table after 4

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  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Linda M
    June 4, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Wondering if it is beech. We had beech floors that were reddish and a softer wood that dented slightly less than pine.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 11:11 am

    I have that same exact table from Ethan Allen and it is about 50 years old. Most Ethan Allen furniture from that era is cherry-I know my is cherry wood.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      June 4, 2021 at 12:46 pm

      I had a table from that era, but not EA, that was pecan. I do tend to lean towards thinking it’s cherry though. There’s a wood-database website out there if ya want to do a deep dive though. 🙂 Looks beautiful and I definitely like it natural vs painted. 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 11:11 am

    I love the simple style of the table and the quality is likely much better than one that you’d buy new. You did a great job stripping it.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Catherine Banks
      June 4, 2021 at 3:16 pm

      This table was originally purchased by my parents and I also believe it to be cherry

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        June 5, 2021 at 9:53 am

        Kristi, this table is DEVINE! I’m a fan of Ethan Allen furniture. It is quality furniture. It looks perfect between your chairs and I’m all for the natural finish. I believe it is cherry wood, but that doesn’t matter.. it’s gorgeous!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Beverly H Franklin
    June 4, 2021 at 11:12 am

    Turned out gorgeous!!! What a great idea! Hard work pays off. Thanks for sharing all your ideas and tips.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 11:16 am


  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 11:28 am

    If it is cherry, it will probably darken and get redder as it’s exposed to light

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Carmen Torres
    June 4, 2021 at 11:33 am

    Kristy, the table looks beautiful like that with your finish coat. Also I’m a fanatic of your work, like everything you do and always look pretty. Your house every day you finished a room looks better and fantastic. Congratulations, I’m imagined when you finish all and the addition part of the house.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Mary Ellen
    June 4, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    You did a great job on this table! Love that it’s solid wood!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 12:46 pm

    I love the table! Real cherry wood is much lighter than people think. It does “age” a bit darker over the years. I had a custom cabinet made 34 years ago and the color of that cabinet was like your table is now. Over the last 34 years it’s gotten a bit darker, but nothing like the “cherry” finishes in the furniture stores that people see. That is super dark. When my cabinet was made I opted for just the clear coat finish and to let it age naturally. It is still one of my favorite pieces. Can’t wait to see the table with the new rug. Really love seeing all the gorgeous things you do in your home.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    That is just gorgeous! Love it. I need to do that to a few old pieces I have.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    Straight legs, castors AND a drawer = perfect!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Mary E Renn
      June 4, 2021 at 9:22 pm

      The Ethan Allen table is quality, it should have some stain on it, more like the blinds. It needs to stand out next to those beautiful chairs. It’s too beautiful to leave it like it is now. I have one almost like it that I plan to refinish, was passed down from a relative. I feel fortunate to own such a beautiful piece as you must feel about yours.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    The end table turned out great. I can picture it with new blue agate hardware. I have seen several on Etsy.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    “About 15 screws” gave me a chuckle. 😂

    And THAT SCRAPER TOOL!! I need one, like, 5 years ago!! People kept telling me I had to just fold the sand paper and get ready for some hard labor and it NEVER worked. Adding this to my cart right now. You’re a lifesaver!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marjorie H Ellison
    June 4, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    That looks like American Cherry! I have a bedroom suite with natural finish and it’s that color.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      June 5, 2021 at 1:35 pm

      Could be maple..

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        June 5, 2021 at 2:24 pm

        That’s what I was thinking. Maple was very common in those days. I have a maple kitchen table that is 64 years old and still in use. Lovely refinish, though. I acquired a very old table with lots of detail but really dark wood. I’m trying to figure out what type wood it is. Very, very dark. Any suggestions are welcome.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Nancy in Lake Stevens
    June 4, 2021 at 3:12 pm

    Kristi, I wish I had seen your post before I ditched my MIL’s EA tables. They were so well built but dark. Your table has great looking wood.

    On another note, would the General Finishes High Performance Topcoat in a flat finish. work on a painted finish? Our bathroom cabinet doors are chipping slightly. I want to repair them and then put on a topcoat to further protect them. TIA

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 3:30 pm


  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    This turned out beautifully. I love painted wood, but leaving this unpainted will give the eye a nice place to rest. Well done.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marianne in Mo.
    June 4, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    It does remind me of cherry wood, but also, some panels in the top seemed like maple wood before you stripped it. I honestly am just guessing! It should turn out great, no matter what it is! I have a queen anne end table from EA that my mother in law bought us it 1976, and it is similar on the top. (I’ve stripped it, restained it, painted it, stripped it, over and over all these years! )

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    I put plastic wrap over my stripper if it seems to be drying to quickly. Works like a charm.
    I love the bare wood look.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      June 5, 2021 at 8:52 pm

      Thanks for that tip…..hopefully I’ll remember it the next time I need it! LOL

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    The table is really pretty – taking it to bare wood was a great idea.

    Do you have any info on the blog about your chairs? Love your color-coordinated cat. 😉


  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rebecca Neustel
    June 4, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    If the wood has a red tint, I would imagine it’s mahogany. The mahogany would fit with Ethan Allen and the age of the piece, too.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rebecca Neustel
    June 4, 2021 at 9:47 pm

    My above comment should say cherry, not mahogany. Sorry.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 4, 2021 at 10:49 pm

    The size and height appear perfect between the chairs. Love it!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 5, 2021 at 9:26 am

    The table is a beautiful, classic, timeless style. I agree that a natural wood finish is better than a painted finish in this location. Amazing that you accomplished that much work in one day!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 5, 2021 at 10:29 am

    Definitely looks like cherry and a natural finish will look great!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 5, 2021 at 10:51 am

    The table looks lovely now that it is stripped. It is quite a lovely little table.

    Often those dark finishes are masking a bunch of different woods and you get the odd piece that is significantly different from the others on the flat surfaces like the table top.

    I once stripped an old kitchen sideboard and to my surprise found the top, doors and the turned legs were bird’s eye maple. There is a part of me that has always regretted selling it – but I had a store at the time and couldn’t keep everything. LOL.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 5, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    What an incredible job! You have much more patience than I. 🙂 The natural wood color is beautiful!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Monica Geistwhite
    June 5, 2021 at 4:30 pm

    I wish I would have seen this before I painted mine! (Just a few months back). I bought it at an antique store years ago and still love it but ruined the top with a leaky planter. It seems like too much work to sand the whole thing. I’m guessing it’s cherry.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 5, 2021 at 5:03 pm

    Yes, mahogany seems like a good guess…or maybe maple?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 5, 2021 at 6:24 pm

    Love it! Gorgeous regardless of the wood.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 5, 2021 at 8:54 pm

    That turned out lovely! I might have to try that on some of my pieces. Can’t wait to see the new rug!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 7, 2021 at 8:29 am

    If it’s cherry, be prepared for any top coat to turn it red instantly.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rebecca B.
    June 7, 2021 at 9:52 pm

    Isn’t mahogany a soft wood? Maybe it’s mahogany.
    PS love that Felicity in the pictures.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sue Rood
    June 14, 2021 at 2:08 pm

    Beautiful job on the little table. It looks beautiful and should serve your purpose between those recliners.