In this blog post we walk you through how to give an antique drop leaf table a makeover with milk paint and basic supplies.
If you are new to this blog: Welcome! My name is Anna and I share information on collecting antique/vintage items, refurbishing furniture and making small crafts/projects. The purpose of this blog is to share with you how to use creativity and antiques to make a soulful life. In addition to information here on the blog, you can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest.
Truth be told, I have had this antique drop leaf table sitting in my basement for a couple of years. It was a Facebook Marketplace find several years ago and I already gave it one makeover. However, it didn’t turn out the way I was hoping so I became frustrated and down into the basement it went.
This table is undoubtedly an antique, it is made of solid oak, and has beautifully carved legs. Initially, I painted the base of the table using MMS milk paint in the color Boxwood, which is a warm earthy green. The top of table was left natural.
Things Didn’t Go According to Plan . . .
The only problem is, when I sealed the table top with a clear coat, the natural wood top developed an intensely orange hue. I quickly learned it was made out of red oak, which meant, when I sealed the natural wood top, a reddish/orange hue developed and was very prevalent. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am not a fan of furniture with red or orange undertones. The table ended up looking more like a tribute to pumpkins than something that could be incorporated into farmhouse and country decor.
Working extensively on a piece of furniture, only to find, when reaching the very last step in the refinishing process, that the piece is essentially ruined, can be disheartening. So, that’s why this piece remained in the basement for a number of years.
Fast forward to the fall of 2023 when I have embarked upon “Operation: Basement Organization”. I am trying to clear out and organize our basement. This table was directly between me and my goal of an organized basement.
So, with a sigh, I brought it upstairs again to give it another makeover. I gave myself a pep talk and decided that this time, the makeover would turn out better. In this post, I will walk you through all the steps I followed. I was happy with the end result of this most recent makeover.
Finding Antique Tables
Admittedly, I prefer antique furniture. It is generally better quality and was made to last for generations. As previously noted, I found this old drop leaf table on Facebook Market Place several years ago. I think I paid around $50 for it.
Having said this, other places you can find these tables include; a thrift store, an estate sale, yard sales and antique stores. The table legs of an antique table are generally carved and much heavier since they are made out of solid wood – usually oak. In general, I would say just keep an eye out for these tables. They will often pop up when you least expect it. I love drop leaf tables because they make such a great use of limited space.
Here is tip if you are thinking about purchasing a table for a makeover – make sure it doesn’t need repairs. It should be free of cracks, the legs should be solidly attached to the table frame and the table shouldn’t rock or wobble if you gently shake it with your hand. Repairing tables can be very time consuming and can require a whole other level of expertise. So, I would recommend you makeover a table that is structurally sound but perhaps isn’t that pretty. Be wary of tables that are on the side of the road, or that are being given away for “free” since they often need substantial repairs. Also, be wary of wooden tables with numerous small holes since they may be caused by Powder Post Beetles which can be difficult to eradicate.
Antique Drop Leaf Table Makeover
Due to the makeover process requiring multiple coats of primer, paint and sealer being applied, this table was completed over the course of several days. You can also apply this same process/technique to side tables, a coffee table or any small table you have in your home.
With the exception of milk paint, most of these supplies are available at big box hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowes. I have linked supplies to online sources when possible.
- Cleaning agent with degreaser such as Real Simple, Mr Clean, Krud Kutter.
- Shellac based primer such as Bulls Eye (only if the existing table is a dark color)
- Milk Paint – I used the color Carolina Dune
- Milk Mix EZ
- Milk Grip- bonding agent
- 220 grit sandpaper
- Polycrylic in matte
- 2 inch paint brush
- 1 inch paint brush
- Chip brush to use with primer
- Drop cloth
- Damp terry cloth rag
Prepare the Surface
Since I had previously painted the table base and stripped the top, it was in good condition. All I needed to do was sand it and give it a good cleaning. When prepping the surface for paint, I used 220 grit sandpaper. In addition to sanding the base of the table, I also sanded the top. (Or more accurately re-sanded the top)
Since the “natural wood” top was too orange toned for my liking, I decided it needed to be painted.
Apply the Primer
Normally, when using milk paint, I don’t use a primer. However, in this situation, I wanted to be sure the orange toned wood and green paint would not bleed through the lighter sand color I was using. Here is a tip – if you are painting your furniture a lighter color than its current color it’s best to use primer.
This is especially true if you are painting a piece of furniture that has a red or orange wood tone – such as mahogany or red oak.
Here is another tip – when using a shellac based primer it’s easiest to use a chip brush or some other paint brush you can toss out when you are done.
Once the primer has dried, sand the entire piece using 220 grit sandpaper. Focus on sanding down drips or rough areas. When you are done, wipe down the piece of furniture with a damp terry cloth rag.
Apply Milk Paint
Now for the fun part! We get to paint. If you aren’t aware, milk paint comes in a powder form. I usually start by mixing powder to warm water using a 50/50 ratio. For this project, I mixed up a cup or powdered paint and a cup of warm water. I added a few drops of Milk Mix EZ and 8 ounces of Milk Grip, which is a bonding agent.
Unlike other pieces of furniture, the top of a table gets a lot of use and experiences a lot of wear and tear. I wanted to be sure the milk paint adhered to the wood and didn’t chip or flake. Using a bonding agent, like Milk Grip, helps to ensure there is good adhesion.
The Right Consistency
Once you mix up the paint, it should have the consistency of pancake batter. You may need to add a little bit more water or powdered paint to achieve the correct consistency. Here is another tip – once you mix your paint, let it sit for about 20 or 30 minutes before using it. This helps paint pigments to get fully integrated with the paint mixture and lets the paint “set up”. The paint tends tends to be a little thicker after setting for a bit. Give the paint one more mixing before you use it.
Getting Ready to Paint
Put a drop cloth or some type of protective covering on your work surface and then start applying your first coat of paint.
Here is another tip – I always apply paint to furniture turned upside down first. This helps to ensure I don’t inadvertently miss any areas. Then when the paint is dry, I turn the furniture right side up and finish applying the paint. When painting the table top, try to ensure your brush strokes follow the wood grain.
Let the paint dry for about 30 minutes between coats. Also, I found it helpful to lightly sand the table between paint applications. This table only required 2 coats of paint, because we had previously applied the primer. If we hadn’t used the primer, this table may have needed 4 or more coats of paint.
Once both coats of paint were completely dry, I lightly sanded the entire table using 220 grit sandpaper. There was some slight distressing and paint chipping that occurred but I didn’t mind since it gives a more authentic look and feel – something desirable since the table is at least 100 years old. Finally, after the light sanding and distressing, I wiped it down using a damp terry cloth rag.
Seal the Table with Clear Coat
As noted previously, table tops get more than their fair share of use. So, the paint needed to be sealed with a durable clear coat. I used Min Wax’s Polycrylic in a matte finish. Polycrylic is a water based sealer and won’t turn yellow over time. In my opinion, using a polycrylic sealer is the best way to protect a surface when using a lighter color paint.
Another bonus of using Min Wax’s Polycrylic is that it is easy to clean up. You can clean your brush using dish soap and warm water.
I like to apply 3 coats of sealer and lightly sand the table surface between coats. Again, make sure your brush strokes on the table surface follow the wood grain. Take your time applying the clear coat. Give each coat enough time to completely dry. It usually takes me 2-3 days to apply the clear coats. These clear coats will ensure that the surface of the table is water resistant and that it will be easy to wipe down.
About Using Wax
A quick note about using a coat of clear wax to seal the milk paint instead of polycrylic. First, I love using MMS milk paint’s clear wax on furniture. Especially if the piece of furniture has a raw wood finish. However, a clear wax isn’t durable enough for the day to day use a table receives. So, for this project, I would not recommend using wax to seal your paint.
The top of the table looks so much better now that it has been painted. That orange hue is gone and the entire drop-leaf table looks more cohesive painted one color.
Enjoy Your Table
Once your clear coat has completely dried, you can enjoy your table! Paint is such a cost effective way to update old furniture. I am much more pleased with the antique table painted in the color Carolina Dune. It looks so much more cheerful.
Drop-leaf tables are great to use when you have a small space. They expand into a large dining table when you need the extra space for company but can also be tucked away against a wall.
This means you can use a drop leaf table in your living room as a console and then it can be used as a kitchen table during the holidays.
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