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How To Finish A Picnic Table


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Tabitha Spell



So, you have a beautiful picnic table that's seen better days. Whether it's been weathered by the elements or just needs a little sprucing up, giving it a fresh finish can breathe new life into your outdoor space. Not only does refinishing a picnic table protect it from the elements, but it also gives you the opportunity to express your personal style and creativity.


In this guide, we'll walk through the step-by-step process of refinishing a picnic table, from gathering the necessary materials and tools to applying the final touches. By the end, you'll have a stunning picnic table that's ready to host memorable gatherings for years to come.


Refinishing a picnic table is a rewarding project that allows you to unleash your DIY spirit while enhancing the functionality and aesthetics of your outdoor furniture. Whether you're a seasoned DIY enthusiast or a novice looking to embark on your first outdoor furniture project, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and confidence to tackle the task at hand.


So, roll up your sleeves, gather your supplies, and let's get ready to transform your weathered picnic table into a stunning centerpiece for outdoor gatherings. With a little effort and a touch of creativity, you'll soon be enjoying the fruits of your labor in the form of a beautifully finished picnic table that's ready to serve as the focal point of your outdoor space.


Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools

Before diving into the refinishing process, it’s essential to gather all the necessary materials and tools. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Safety Gear: Start by ensuring you have the appropriate safety gear, including gloves, safety goggles, and a dust mask. These will protect you from potential hazards during the refinishing process.
  • Cleaning Supplies: Depending on the condition of your picnic table, you may need a combination of soap, water, and a stiff-bristled brush or a pressure washer to thoroughly clean the surface and remove any dirt, grime, or old finish.
  • Sanding Materials: Sandpaper or a power sander will be essential for smoothing the surface of the table and preparing it for the new finish. Consider using varying grits of sandpaper for optimal results.
  • Finish: Select a finish that suits your preferences and the outdoor environment. Whether it’s a stain, paint, or clear sealant, ensure that the finish is suitable for outdoor use and provides the level of protection and aesthetic appeal you desire.
  • Paintbrushes or Sprayer: Depending on the type of finish you choose, gather the appropriate application tools, such as paintbrushes or a sprayer, to apply the finish evenly and efficiently.
  • Protective Coatings: If your chosen finish requires a protective topcoat, have it on hand to ensure the longevity of the refinished surface.
  • Drop Cloths or Tarps: Protect the surrounding area from drips and spills by laying down drop cloths or tarps to catch any stray finish or debris.
  • Stir Sticks and Containers: Have containers for mixing and applying the finish, along with stir sticks to ensure the finish is well-blended and ready for application.
  • Optional Accessories: Depending on your preferences, you may consider additional accessories such as decorative hardware, new fasteners, or table umbrellas to enhance the functionality and aesthetics of your picnic table.

By gathering these materials and tools, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on the journey of refinishing your picnic table. With everything at your fingertips, you can proceed with confidence, knowing that you have the essentials for a successful and satisfying refinishing experience.


Step 2: Prepare the Surface

Preparing the surface of your picnic table is a crucial step that sets the foundation for a flawless finish. Follow these steps to ensure that your table is primed and ready for the refinishing process:

  1. Clean the Surface: Begin by thoroughly cleaning the picnic table to remove any dirt, grime, or old finish. Use a mild detergent or specially formulated wood cleaner, along with a stiff-bristled brush or a pressure washer, to eliminate any buildup and prepare the surface for refinishing.
  2. Strip Old Finish (If Necessary): If your picnic table has an existing finish that’s worn or deteriorated, consider using a wood stripper to remove the old finish. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines when applying the stripper, and use a scraper or brush to remove the softened finish.
  3. Sand the Surface: Once the table is clean and free of old finish, use sandpaper or a power sander to smooth the surface. Start with a coarse grit to remove any imperfections or rough spots, then progress to finer grits to achieve a smooth and even surface. Pay special attention to any rough edges or areas with visible wear.
  4. Remove Dust: After sanding, it’s crucial to remove all dust and debris from the surface. Use a tack cloth or a damp cloth to wipe down the table, ensuring that the surface is clean and ready for the application of the new finish.
  5. Protect Surrounding Areas: If refinishing the table in place, use painter’s tape and drop cloths to protect the surrounding area from accidental drips or spills. This extra step will help maintain a clean and tidy workspace throughout the refinishing process.

By meticulously preparing the surface of your picnic table, you’ll create an ideal canvas for the application of the new finish. This attention to detail sets the stage for a professional-quality result and ensures that your refinished picnic table will stand the test of time in both durability and visual appeal.


Step 3: Apply the Finish

With the surface of your picnic table meticulously prepared, it’s time to apply the chosen finish. Whether you opt for a stain, paint, or clear sealant, the application process requires precision and care to achieve a stunning result. Follow these steps to expertly apply the finish to your picnic table:

  1. Choose the Right Conditions: Select a day with moderate temperature and low humidity to ensure optimal conditions for applying the finish. Avoid windy days to prevent debris from affecting the finish as it dries.
  2. Stir and Mix the Finish: If using a liquid finish such as a stain or paint, thoroughly stir and mix the product according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This ensures that the finish is well-blended and ready for application.
  3. Apply the Finish Evenly: Use a high-quality paintbrush or a sprayer to apply the finish evenly across the surface of the picnic table. Work in the direction of the wood grain for a professional and uniform appearance. Take care to maintain a consistent application rate to avoid drips or uneven coverage.
  4. Work in Sections: If your picnic table is large, consider working in manageable sections to ensure that the finish is applied smoothly and without interruption. This approach allows you to maintain control over the application process and achieve a cohesive finish across the entire table.
  5. Follow Drying Guidelines: After applying the finish, allow the picnic table to dry according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. This typically involves allowing sufficient time for the first coat to dry before applying additional coats or a protective topcoat, if necessary.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to expertly apply the chosen finish to your picnic table, transforming its appearance and providing essential protection against the elements. The application process is a critical stage in the refinishing journey, and by approaching it with patience and attention to detail, you’ll achieve a stunning result that enhances the beauty and longevity of your picnic table.


Step 4: Allow the Finish to Dry

After applying the finish to your picnic table, it’s crucial to allow ample time for the finish to dry and cure properly. This phase is essential for achieving a durable and long-lasting result. Follow these guidelines to ensure that the finish dries effectively:

  1. Follow Manufacturer’s Recommendations: Refer to the instructions provided by the manufacturer of the finish for specific guidelines on drying times. Different finishes may require varying durations to dry fully, so it’s important to adhere to these recommendations for optimal results.
  2. Choose a Suitable Drying Location: Select a well-ventilated and dry location for the picnic table to dry. If possible, protect the table from direct sunlight, as prolonged exposure to intense sunlight can affect the drying process and the quality of the finish.
  3. Avoid Disturbance: While the finish is drying, minimize any activities or conditions that may disturb the surface, such as dust, debris, or contact with objects. This will help maintain the integrity of the finish as it cures.
  4. Assess Dryness Before Further Use: Once the recommended drying time has elapsed, carefully assess the dryness of the finish before using the picnic table. A properly dried finish will be smooth to the touch and free from tackiness. If additional coats or a protective topcoat are required, follow the same drying guidelines for each subsequent application.

By allowing the finish to dry thoroughly, you’ll ensure that your picnic table is equipped with a resilient and visually appealing surface. This phase of the refinishing process is essential for maximizing the longevity and performance of the finish, ultimately contributing to the enduring beauty and functionality of your picnic table.


Step 5: Final Touches and Enjoying Your Picnic Table

As the finish on your picnic table dries to perfection, it’s time to add the final touches that will elevate its appearance and prepare it for enjoyment. Follow these steps to put the finishing flourish on your newly refinished picnic table:

  1. Inspect the Surface: Once the finish has fully dried, inspect the surface of the picnic table to ensure that the finish is smooth, even, and free from imperfections. Address any areas that may require touch-ups or additional attention to achieve the desired result.
  2. Apply Protective Coatings (If Needed): If your chosen finish requires a protective topcoat for added durability and weather resistance, carefully apply the topcoat according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This extra layer of protection will safeguard the finish and prolong the life of your picnic table.
  3. Reassemble and Enhance: If you disassembled any components of the picnic table during the refinishing process, reassemble them carefully, ensuring that all fasteners and hardware are secure. Consider adding decorative touches, such as new hardware or accessories, to further enhance the aesthetic appeal of the picnic table.
  4. Prepare for Enjoyment: With the final touches in place, your refinished picnic table is now ready to take its place as a centerpiece of outdoor enjoyment. Set up seating, add complementary decor, and prepare to enjoy memorable gatherings and leisurely moments around your revitalized picnic table.

By completing these final touches, you’ll put the perfect finishing stamp on your refinished picnic table, elevating its visual appeal and ensuring that it’s ready to serve as a focal point for outdoor activities and relaxation. With your attention to detail and dedication to the refinishing process, you’ve transformed your picnic table into a stunning and functional asset for your outdoor space.