Pet Project – Restoring a Wooden Picnic Table

There’s no reason to go and buy new furniture when restoring perfectly good old furniture is more cost-effective and fun. You may already own an old wooden picnic table, or else you can pick one up at a flea market or antique store. Though it might not look like much to begin with, with a good cleaning and some new finish, the results may just surprise you.

Pick a good workspace

When working on outdoor furniture you want a place that is open, well-ventilated and preferably outdoors. Yards, garages and decks tend to work best. When working on flooring, like a wooden deck, that can get stained or damaged by cleaners and solvents, spray the floor down with some water as well. This will dilute runoff from the cleaning solution.


To start, you will need to wet your wooden picnic table and remove loose debris. Begin by spraying the table down with a hose to get off dust, dirt and cobwebs. By saturating the table, it will also take more evenly to the cleaning solution. Plus, it will keep the table from drying out too quickly, which will get stained with buildup if cleaner is left on it.

Once all big matter has been hosed away you can move on to your cleaning solution. Wood-specific cleaners and wood deck cleaners both work well to remove dirt and discoloration while restoring some of the original color to furniture. If you have some extra stubborn spots you can work in a concentrated solvent solution of either chlorine or bleach mixed with water, but use caution when working with caustic substances. Whatever you use, apply the solution all over using a hose or rag and allow it to set for a few minutes. Then, use two stiff brushes, one big, one small to scrub all flat surfaces and also get down into the cracks of your wooden picnic table.

When your wooden picnic table is as clean as you want it to be, rinse off any leftovers traces of cleaner. You should be able to tell that the wood looks both brighter and cleaner by now. Next, let the table dry completely before proceeding to the next step.


One byproduct of cleaning a wooden picnic table is that the grain of the wood will tend to rise as a result. You can correct this by using a light grade sandpaper but be careful not to over-sand as this will not only damage the wood but will hinder the table from best absorbing a new coating of finish.


Once you have stripped away all of the bad you can start the rebuilding process. The first step is choosing whether or not you wish to apply a wood stain. Stains not only serve to brighten up dull, grayish woods but it also serves as a measure of protection to the wood itself. A gel stain works especially for a wooden picnic table, because it will not drip in between the slats. Using a paintbrush or applicator pad, apply a thin and even layer of stain.

Another choice you have to make is whether to varnish your wooden picnic table. Leaving outdoor wood furniture unfinished will cause it to weather naturally over time and acquire a gray patina coloration. Oil-based finishes are good on most kinds of patio lumber and provides a glossy sheen while protecting the heartwood from cracking, warping and rotting. After you apply the finish, if it looks hazy you can buff it using steel wool.