Can I repaint table for use in garden?

We recently wrote an article that looked at using garden tables inside and indoor tables outside. In response we received an email asking can I repaint table for use in garden?

So, I thought it would be nice to do a follow-up. A bit of DIY post that looks at how you can take an indoor table and chairs and make them fit for outdoor purpose… 

I recently inherited a beautiful 1970’s beech sofa-style seat and low table set that had seen better days. However, something about it just screamed outdoor to me, even though it was originally intended for inside the home. 

It had been in a conservatory for the last 15 years or so. And before that I don’t know. However, it just had this laid back modern-retro simplicity that I thought could look great on our patio. 

The cushions were beyond saving so I kept one set (back rest and seat pad) to use as a template and binned the rest. This job I didn’t tackle myself, and I got a professional upholsterer to make/recreate exactly what I needed.

The beech chairs themselves had seen better days in terms of finish but they were still in excellent condition, with no cracks or splitting. A few bits loose here and there but nothing some glue and filler wouldn’t take care of, and a finish that had seen better days.

One thing I was keen to do was retain the natural wood finish so they were going to need plenty of TLC to get them prepped. They had a lacquer/varnish on them that had yellowed and was flaking off in the high-touch areas, so first thought, sanding, and lots of it!

How I repainted an indoor table and chairs for use in the garden?

I started by giving the chairs and table a good clean with sugar soap and warm water. Just with a sponge, nothing too aggressive, the sugar soap was enough. I just wanted to remove any grease and years of built-up dirt.

The good thing about sugar soap is it helps to remove the grease, etc that builds up over the years (even furniture polish will leave residue over time). However, once it’s rinsed off, sugar soap won’t leave any residue behind that could effect any painting or varnish I intended to apply.

I then allowed the table and chairs to dry completely before moving to the next stage.

Using a combination of small handheld electric sander and sandpaper for the harder to reach parts, I removed the original finish. 

I needed to sand away the existing lacquer-style finish completely prior to applying a new finish that could stand up to the rigours of outdoor use. Mask and goggles are imperative here!

It is vital that any new paint or stain etc can adhere correctly. So, the smoother the sanding, the better the new finish will look. And as I wanted to try and achieve a natural look, I knew it needed to be perfect.

Make sure you get in-between any spindles/decorative elements as best you can too. I was lucky that the design, being 70’s, is relatively simple/retro-modern. I just needed to get sandpaper in and around where spindles met frame, etc.

When I was happy with the (hours and hours I may add) sanding, I gave it a hoover and another good wipe down with sugar soap and warm water. Rinsed it off, and again left it for a few days to fully dry.

What paints to use for outdoor wooden garden furniture

Depending on where you live, you may need a specific type of protection from the elements when it comes to re-painting. Choosing the right finish is key.

Some paints have ultraviolet protection for example, other are better suited at protecting from the cold and rain. On the other hand, if you're painting metal, I would consider using a paint that is rust inhibiting. Staining is also an option that holds up well to the elements when it comes to wood 

It is a case of doing simply doing a little research. Testing to see if you like the finish. Most of the leading paint companies have extensive guides on their websites that can help you decide.

There’s a finish for every type of outdoor upcycling project you can think off. No matter if it is brick, stone, metal or timber. 

A good outdoor stain or paint will provide some much needed protection to any surface that needs to stand up to the elements.

As we are dealing with wood for this project, my main options were as follows:

  • Outdoor Wood Paint
    If you want a pop of colour or to hide a poor surface then paint is the way to go. There’s a huge range of colours to choose from and they’re formulated to be weather-proof and quick drying. My advice is to go also go for a paint that’s resistant to cracking and blistering as in the UK we tend see a mixture of sun and rain, often in the same day.
  • Outdoor Wood Stain
    A good wood stain will let the natural wood grain show through while still giving hint of colour and that all important protection from the elements. They soak into the wood and are easy to apply. Stain was my first choice of finish. I recently wrote an article that look at why. However, it was changing the natural colour of the beech (even though I was using a beech stain) but I’ll go more onto the reasons why in a moment.
  • Outdoor Wood Oil
    I’m a big fan of outdoor wood oils, they’re easy to apply and will nourish the wood. They replace the natural oils that are lost through exposure to the elements and protect the finish. Whilst they give a great finish I find their best applied to decking as they stand up well to being walked on. I did test a few oils before deciding to go with a stain, but again, I’ll come to that below.
  • Outdoor Wood Varnish
    Finally, a good outdoor varnish will combine a high level of protection with a natural wood finish. A little more transparent than the other options, they allow the full grain of the wood to come through. Not as easy to apply but this option provided the finish I was looking for.


When it comes to deciding on which one is right for you, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I like the finished look and feel?
  • What are the special attributes of finish?
  • How can you apply it?
  • Are you comfortable with the method of application?
  • How easy is it to maintain?


As I say, after much testing, I decided to use a wood varnish over an oil or stain. And yes, I know I just published the article How to stain garden furniture where I looked at why I like to stain over the other options. However, I just couldn't get the look I wanted this time.

Varnish required a little more care, wasn't as easy to apply but it just did the job. Not just any varnish too, research led me to a marine varnish in particular.

I found the downside of oil was the time it took to dry. I’m sure their is quick drying options but I also didn’t like the feel of the ones I tested out. It is all personal which is why I say research and test. 

Again, with a wood stain it just changed the colour too much. I couldn’t find one that gave the matt natural finish I was looking for. 

Whilst varnish can be applied to a wood that has previously been varnished or stained, I’d recommend stripping previous coats for a better finish.

What drew me to marine varnish in particular is (as you’d expect) its ability to stand up to the elements, especially rain. I live at the coast, so I definitely needed the extra protection it should give.

I went for a matt clear varnish that not only protected the timber but kept the colour of the beech and didn’t add any sheen. However, with varnish there’s so many options in terms of colour and finish. My advice would be to start with the Owatrol range.

How I varnished my table and chairs for use in the garden

The next decision you have to make is how to apply, be it brush, roller, etc. Again, try a few, experiment. Find out which is both easy to apply, gives the best finish and creates the least amount of mess. 

The application you find most comfortable to work with the medium you choose.

I opted for a natural 1 inch soft bristle brush with an ergonomic grip to apply the marine varnish. I worked on a small area at a time, wiping it first with a tack cloth, and applied carefully to avoid any drips/streaking.

Taking my time, I applied a thin layer of the varnish. It’s also important that you work with the grain as this will give you a more consistent and natural looking finish.

It took me a while to do the table and chairs and when finished I left it to dry for 24 hours. I applied a second coat and left that for 48 hours so it could fully cure. 

A final light sanding and final coat was then carefully applied. This felt sufficient to give the wood the durability it needs to stand up to the elements but also the natural matt look I wanted to achieve.

I’m still waiting for the cushions to come back but once they do, I’ll be sure to add some pictures to this post, so please watch this space!