How to Varnish a Wood Table

Wood stain can enhance the appearance of a wood table. Unfortunately, it cannot protect the table from spills and abrasion scars. To prolong the life of the wood, finish the table with a clear polyurethane varnish. Employ the proper application technique, or you’re likely to end up with a sagging finish marred with unsightly runs.

Essential Items 

  • Canvas drop cloths
  • Tack cloths
  • Solvent-based polyurethane varnish
  • Wooden stirring stick
  • 3-inch natural-bristled paintbrush
  • 300-grit sandpaper

Step 1 

Set the table on top of a thick canvas drop cloth. Don’t use a cheap polypropylene plastic drop cloth.

Step 2 

Wipe the table with sticky tack cloths to prevent dust particles from interfering with varnish adhesion.

Step 3 

Open the can of solvent-based polyurethane varnish and stir the contents for at least three minutes.

Step 4 

Apply varnish to the table, using a 3-inch natural-bristled paintbrush. Apply only a thin coat and apply very light pressure with the brush, or the finish will likely dry flawed.

Step 5 

Let the table dry for at least three hours. Lightly sand the wood with a very fine, 300-grit sandpaper.

Step 6 

Wipe the table with tack cloths. Add a second coat of varnish. Let the finished table dry for at least three hours.


Don’t use a water-based polyurethane on a stained table, or flaking may result. You may use a water-based polyurethane varnish on bare wood tables.

When amateurs try to varnish a wood table, sagging tends to result. For best results, apply two thins coats rather than a single, thick coat.


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