Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table & Gel Stain
Build | Fixing Furniture

Refinishing an Old Telephone Table

With the warm weather, Ash and I have been working on so many projects – a built-in bookshelf in our sitting room, a planter box for our garden, painting an old thrift store desk, transforming a kitchen desk area into a cabinet, and refinishing an old telephone table.

How to Refinish Wooden Furniture

Today I’m sharing how Ash and I refinished our old telephone table. I found it for $20 at my favorite flea market years ago and fell in love with its charm. I’d been wanting to stain it dark for years, but it fits in pretty nicely at our old house.

However, in our new house, our family room is much more modern looking, and this old telephone table stood out like a sore thumb!

Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table Before Picture

Preparing The Telephone Table

I was excited to finally have a chance to redo this old telephone table.

My plan was to use wood stain, as we redid my nanny’s coffee table years ago with wood stain. It turned out beautiful.

The first thing I did was wipe it down really well, getting rid of any dust. Then I started to sand down the table.

Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table & Gel Stain

Here’s where I made my mistake. I didn’t sand it down to bare wood. I just did a light sanding, enough to give the stain something to stick to.

Mistakenly, I then moved on to staining the piece, and it was turning out horribly. Since I didn’t sand this old, weathered piece down to bare, there were lots of little knicks and grooves in the surfaces. The stain was filling these in, turning them almost black. So, the surfaces were looking spotty and uneven.

I figured that I now had three choices: I could switch gears and use gel stain as I did on the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, I could paint the table, or I could start over again and sand it down to bare wood.

I decided to sand it down to bare wood and start again. Here’s where Ash helped me. We decided to leave the rungs as is – they looked fine with the first coat of stain, and we were hoping they would blend in well with the second application of stain.

To begin the sanding, Ash started with the random orbital sander and 80 grit paper. However, the existing finish on the table proved to be very challenging to remove. The sander was doing its job but very slowly and burning through lots of paper.

After some experimentation with different tools, Ash found the best one to be the oscillating multi-tool.

Using a flush-cut saw blade, running the blade against the surface at the right angle scraped off the thick, difficult finish. It did leave behind a very ragged surface due to the oscillating action of the blade, but he sanded it down smoothly after with the orbital sander.

One caution about using the oscillating multi-tool is that Ash had to be careful to pull the blade versus pushing it through.

When he pushed the tool, it would sometimes snag a groove and start cutting deeply into the wood. The pulling action worked out best.

Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table Redo

I made sure to wipe off all of the sawdust – using a combination of a cheesecloth and Ash’s Shop-Vac. ​

Staining The Telephone Table

Next, I re-gathered my materials for staining:

  • Dark Walnut Wood Stain – Minwax
  • Polyurethane – Minwax
  • Pre-stain – Minwax
  • Four rags (two per coat)
  • Foam brushes
  • Gloves

I prefer to stain wood using rags because the stain rubs into the wood better. You have less excess and build-up; however, I keep the foam brush around for hard to get to places.

Also, I grabbed our can of pre-stain since the wood was now bare. I used the pre-stain first, brushing it on with a foam brush and waiting about 20 minutes before starting to stain.

Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table Update

I used the first rag to rub on a nice coat of stain. Then, I started with the seat and worked my way around.

Since I was working in the hot sun, the wood was absorbing the stain faster than usual. So, I needed to wipe off the excess before I finished the whole piece. I used the second rag for this, lightly brushing it along the surface. Don’t skip this step – or you will end up with globs.

Also, make sure to do a good job removing the excess around tight areas – like where the rungs meet the table. Otherwise, you will end up with ugly, globby lumps.

Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table Update

Even though I used the rag for most of the staining, I took out the foam brush to get the really tight corners or spaces. Be careful with the foam brush because it holds a lot of stain and drips easily and messily.

After I was done staining and removing the excess, I did a quick scan to make sure I didn’t miss any drips. I let it dry until it wasn’t tacky anymore.

Then, I put on another coat.

Sealing The Stain With Polyurethane

After I was done with the two coats, I was pleased with the results. So, Ash put on a coat of polyurethane.

He used a foam brush, going along with the grain of the wood, and carefully making sure there were no lingering air bubbles on the table’s surfaces.

He let that dry overnight and then did another coat. The refinished telephone table was almost done.

Completing The Refinished Telephone Table

The last step was choosing a new knob at Home Depot and screwing it into the drawer.

We let the refinished telephone table air out for a few days. Then, we moved it back into our family room.

Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table Update
Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table Update

Here’s a before and after picture of my charming newly refinished telephone table. ​

Refinishing Furniture - Telephone Table Update

Since we had all of the wood staining materials in our garage, the cost of refinishing the telephone table was $2. Just the cost of the knob. 🙂

The time of project spanned about a week or so, due to the dry time between coats and the couple of days we let it air out. While the refinished telephone table was drying, Ash and I had other projects we were working on – like a desk update.

Overall, the telephone table update was quite an improvement. The dark stain modernized the old table perfectly. I’ll be on the lookout for my next flea market find 🙂


  1. Brenda Young says:

    Beautiful finish, sometimes ya just gotta roll up your sleeves, hunker down and get to the raw wood. But so worth it in the end! Another wonderful project guys, thanks for sharing it at Fridays Furniture Fix

    1. Eileen @ Just Measuring Up says:

      Thanks, Brenda! Agreed!! 🙂

  2. Kathleen Rupp says:

    Great project! I love the stain you picked… Looks great! I would imagine after sanding down to the bare wood, you were exhausted. ha. Well worth it though!

    1. Thanks Kathleen! Yes sanding always exhausts me! Staining and painting are much more fun:)

  3. Wow!! What a great transformation. Love the table/bench.

    1. Thanks Carrie! It was a well-needed change:)

  4. These old tables are often forgotten. We just don’t use them as we did years ago when there was one central place to keep the one telephone in the house. It is nice to see that it will have a purpose again.

  5. Great job! But I’m afraid Ash’s multitool technique is too advanced for the likes of me – no telling what would happen if I tried that! 😀 I love the way you give all the details on your projects, so that DIYers can really do it.

  6. Jann Olson says:

    Super cute redo! I have been helping with my friends late Aunt’s estate. She had one of these. I loved it, but had absolutely no place to put it. Thanks for sharing with SYC.

    1. Thanks so much! Haha we might still have a landline 🙂

    1. Thanks Sue! I hope you feel inspired lol 🙂 Have a lovely week!

  7. Love the darker color. Steps were easy to follow.

  8. So pretty! I love the color you ended up with. Thanks so much for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!

    1. Thanks Leslie! It was definitely time for an upgrade 🙂

  9. Wow this looks wonderful. I appreciate all your cautions. I am about to start redoing our table and chairs and will make sure to get the gel stain. Thanks for the tip. Pinning.

    1. Thanks Leanna! Good luck with your redo 🙂

  10. The table looks fantastic now and I love your clear instructions. We used to have one of these tables in my parents house

    1. Thanks, Amber! I love them – they have so much charm 🙂

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