Please help me Fill in Grooves of a Tabletop!

tarakinspaJuly 2, 2011

The look of the plank top farm table handpainted was an obsession I had prior to children and now that life is hectic the grooves in this beautiful piece of furniture have become the bane of my existence. This table has grooves which look exactly like panelling on walls from the 1970's and every crumb finds its way inside and becomes a gooey mess that I simply cannot keep clean. I want to polyurethane the top for easy clean up but have been told the grooves will not fill in and get me the smooth surface I am looking for. I am afraid to ruin the finish by trying wood filler but I thought this may be an option, please anyone have any suggestions


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I don't know that there is a good solution. Many of these are a true plank top and the joints are loose. This means the top does not move as one, but the grooves are there to allow each plank to expand and contract individually with moisture changes. If you try to just fill the cracks, the filler will pop out.

If your table is "faux planks" created by just grooving an engineered wood (plywood or veneer over MDF), then you don't have the expansion issues, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find something that looks good.

And finally, just "polyurethane the top" is likely to lead to a giant disaster. Poly doesn't adhere well to other things or dirty things and it's likely to start peeling like a bad sunburn in short order. Unless you've refinished it yourself or had it custom made by uncle Ed, there's nearly zero chance that the current coat is polyurethane.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 7:46AM
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Have you thought about covering the table with a piece of glass?

Or a table cloth? :)

We had a plank coffee table just like you described. Cleaning out those grooves with a butter knife got VERY old, VERY quickly!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 11:31AM
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Yes, only people who have had children should be allowed to design homes, furniture, and many other things!

Julie has some good options, though each comes with its own issues. I would certainly hesitate to ruin the table, and any filler will.

THe other way to look at this is that there is life after children. You could store the table for a few years if it is really important to you (taken apart, tables don't take up much room) and buy a used table that will see you through the sticky years. Or sell this one, and buy something more practical. Craigslist is your friend!


    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 12:06PM
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LOL KarinL that is so true. "Mommy design" is very different. I also do not want to sacrifice style for my kids, there should be a happy medium or just pad the walls and give up HAHA. The thought of glass did cross my mind but I am not crazy about the clinking etc. What if I poly now and repeat again every so often to avoid peeling? Primer anything? I am reaching here but I really appreciate the input guys

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 12:30PM
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Plain vinyl tablecloths will give you the cleanability you desire and you can simply take them off when company comes and feed the kids elsewhere. My SIL puts down newspaper where the kids eat and then just rolls it up and throws it away.

There are any number of solutions to the problem except the one you proposed. Putting wood filler in the grooves or coating the table with poly will ruin it and be even higher maintainence.

Kids are only small and messy for a relatively short period. They'll be larger soon, and if you beat them enough, they'll learn to be less messy! ;) Seriously, this is a temporary short term issue that you can live through with several work arounds that will let you be able to use your pretty table down the line without ruining it now.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 2:13PM
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You could use a router to widen and clean out the finish from the grooves, then cut some decorative banding/stringing from a contrasting-colored wood like holly, satinwood, purpleheart or boxwood, and inlay the strips. Then when you refinish the top, there are no more dirt-catchers.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 2:51PM
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Tried the vinyl, hate it! Tablecloths and pads just cover a table I want to be able to see. I am reading conflicting info that people have used oil based poly with no problems. I am getting more and more confused, not sure about whether I could handle doing inlays myself but if the poly worked I would be willing to deal with the grooves since i assume they wouldnt be as deep after the application

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 4:23PM
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Oh and to clarify, this is a "faux" panel table that was bought prefinished I just want to protect the top more than what the manufacturer put on it so I assume is has been sealed and primed before it was painted, this is not bare mdf, does this make a difference?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 9:55PM
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In the early 1980's there was a popular pour-on finish that was self leveling. It resulted in a thick but very smooth hard finish. Does anyone remember that? Would it work to keep the visual but fill in the groove to avoid stuff getting in there?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 11:50PM
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What you want is a bar top finish, here is a link top finish&searchmode=2

Here is a link that might be useful: bar top finish

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 8:49AM
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Had seen that in my research too, more expensive, very toxic and wasnt sure if again it needed to be on solid wood to adhere.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 9:03AM
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Well if you consider the table as throwaway and plan on getting a new one when the kids are older, then you can go ahead and try the bar finish. If it's a melamine surface though it won't stick to it for long and will create even more maintainence when big hunks of that start peeling off of the melamine. It would be the same with poly. It's not going to stick to melamine for long.

You can paint melamine though if you sand the surface thouroughly (in the grooves as well) prime it and then paint it. I suggest an epoxy paint. Sanding in the grooves would allow you to Bondo them (then sand smooth) and it would stick. It would be durable and smooth, especially after the 2 coats of primer and 2 finish coats.

But it's a heck of a lot more work than a simple tablecloth.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 1:53PM
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Epoxy resins, AKA "bar top finish" are the only products that will achieve the results you desire. A previously finished table should be scuff-sanded with 150 grit, and then test a small area for adhesion. 99% chance of favorable results, but the test is in case of that 1%.

Epoxy resins are not "highly toxic" compared to other wood coatings. It's just different stuff.

Ventilation, eye protection, and chemical gloves, are minimum PPE for working with any wood finish, including water based poly.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 2:11PM
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Another option that I might propose.

When my three kids were young, we had a kitchen counter shop make an overlay cover for our dining table. For everyday use it was great (we still use it 30 years later). Earlier this year, my daughter had one made or her table as her 2 year old twins were graduating to the table from high chairs.

While be both chose HPDL (e.g., Formica), you could really make it of anything - a quality flitch-cut plywood, tongue and groove (tight), butcher block, Corian, anything that would go on a countertop, etc. It gives the look and feel of a regular table top and your plank top is sitting underneath waiting for when you are ready to use it.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 10:08PM
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That sounds like a cool idea from Bob. I'd be wary of changing the height of the table much, so the formica sheet sounds perfect - you could edge it with a wood frame to keep it in place.

In fact, it allows you to easily change the colour of a table too... hmm, I might be able to use that!


    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 11:59AM
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I believe ours were made with 1/2" MDF with a solid wood edge that dropped down far enough to cover the existing table's edge. So it only raises the top 17/32" or so. When we had ours done, the cabinet shop knew exactly what do to and how to do it. The only problem was they didn't allow enough for expansion of my solid wood top, so I had to trim 1/8" off the inside of the edges. When my daughter went to order hers, they had no idea what she was talking about. Anyone who could make a countertop from scratch should be able to make one of these.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 6:34PM
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