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2 Easy Steps to Cover a Damaged Tabletop

This ugly table was so unwanted that it was left in one of the barns when the previous owners sold Hawk Hill. With a cracked, greenish speckled formica tabletop and rusty vomit-brown legs, it was not easy to love. It was my dad who pointed out the form of the legs had a schoolhouse look and might be worth saving to attach to a new tabletop. From his suggestion, I got the idea that a makeover might be all this table needed!

A step by step explanation of how I converted an ugly, damaged, and rusty table into a industrial schoolhouse style table.

This was a quick project, I just needed to build a very long, wide, and shallow box to place over the existing table. Because just placing one surface on top of another would leave the edges of ugly surface exposed, I had to create an edge that would conceal the formica surface and frame the tabletop.

I chose to use the natural wood staining method created by combining vinegar and steel wool and letting the mixture sit for a few weeks to create a stain. I LOVE the finish this creates on wood, and although I’ve never had two batches turn out the same, I’m always thrilled with the result. For this tabletop, I diluted the stain I had on hand with a quart of strong Earl Grey Tea, the tannin’s in Earl Grey tea make the stain even darker.

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Since I knew this table would be somewhat exposed to the elements, sitting on the porch of one of the outbuildings at Hawk Hill, I chose to take an extra step to protect the surface. I added two coats of Minwax Antique Oil Finish to bring out the grain and make the wood look more vibrant.

Between coats of stain and finish of the tabletop, I worked on the metal legs in three steps:

 Restoring Rusty Metal Table Legs

1. Clean

Step 1 for repainting any old metal is cleaning. I used a bucket of vinegar and water and a steel brush to remove the worst of the surface rust, then rinsed the bits of rust away with a garden hose and lef the surface dry completely.

Old Library table with Metal legs pre-refinishing

2. Prime.

Because this surface already had rust, I wanted to apply a good rust-retarding primer. I used  Rust-Oleum Rust-Stop Primer and gave it a full 24 hours to dry. (Always read the instructions on  spray paint when prepping, priming, and top-coating a surface, as different brands and types of paints adhere better in certain conditions, or when applied within a certain timeframe relative to the application of the primer.)


4. Paint.

Once I had a perfectly primed surface, I added  Oil Rubbed Bronze Spray Paint as a topcoat. I felt that with the dark wood top, the Oil Rubbed Bronze would create a kind of vintage schoolhouse look.


 Covering an Old Tabletop with New Lumber

1. Plan Use of Lumber for Tabletop

First, I created a plan for my tabletop. I like to make a rough sketch of almost all my wood projects in SketchUp first, just so I can be sure and waste as little wood as possible and foresee any major problems I might run into. This basic diagram helped me determine necessary measurements and how to cut my wood:


2. Cut and Stain the Tabletop

Next, I cut, sanded, and stained my pieces first so I would not end up with unstained portions in the crevices and gaps of my tabletop.  I stained my wood with my homemade earl grey tea wood stain.

Before and after- wet wood after being treated with vinegar, steel wool, and earl grey tea homemade stain

3. Assembly

Though I could have constructed the tabletop as a box on my workbench, and placed it over my table, I chose to construction on the table, attaching each board to the original tabletop.  I quickly found that the hardest part of this project was nailing into a hard surface like formica, and determined that I needed to predrill my nail holes with a tiny drill bit, and then secure boards to the tabletop using paneling nails (which have a ribbed surface to grip a dense material like formica)

library table surface before
old surface before new tabletop

Once the wide boards were added, adding trim around the edges took just a few minutes and I could step back and enjoy my “new” table! It’s a totally different look for this old table, and one that feels much more at home here at Hawk Hill.

Vintage table with new solid wood tabletop DIY

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