Refurbishing a Wooden Tray

Refurbish a wood tray

Jami Delia

Wooden trays are versatile items to have around the home. You can use them to decorate tables or organize items in the bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen. If you've picked up a used wooden tray at a thrift store or yard sale (or already have one on hand), refurbish it to give it a fresh new look.

To re-stain a wooden tray, you will need the following supplies:

  • Cleaning solution
  • High-grit sandpaper
  • Liquid sandpaper/deglosser
  • Pre-stain conditioner
  • Stain
  • Polyurethane (or other desired protectant)
  • Foam brushes
  • Rags
  • Gloves

Before you begin prepping and staining your wood tray, set up a workspace in a well-ventilated area. Since the liquid sandpaper/deglosser, pre-stain conditioner, and stain can emit fumes, make sure you work in an area with proper airflow, such as a patio or porch area. To protect your work area, lay down newspapers or a drop cloth; to protect your skin, wear gloves.

Clean the Tray

Before you begin refurbishing the tray, remove any dirt, dust, and residue from the wooden surface.

  1. Spray the tray with a simple household cleanser, such as a window cleaner, or a solution of water and vinegar. Do not spray with anything that creates foam or suds. You do not want to run water over or the tray or submerge it in a sink full of water.
  2. Wipe off the cleanser with a damp rag or paper towels.
  3. Let the tray completely dry.
Clean the tray
Jami Delia

Sand the Tray

After you clean the tray, gently sand the surface with high grit sandpaper. You can use liquid sandpaper/deglosser to help remove any gloss or shine from the wood finish. A combination of sandpaper and the liquid sandpaper/deglosser preps the surface more evenly than just sandpaper.

After hand sanding the tray, wipe off the entire tray with a damp rag to remove any sanding dust. Then, apply the liquid sandpaper/deglosser with a separate rag and let completely dry.

Sand the Ttay
Jami Delia

Apply Pre-Stain Conditioner

Before applying a new coat of stain, use a pre-stain conditioner to prep the wood.

  1. Apply the pre-stain conditioner with a foam brush to the entire surface of the tray.
  2. Let the pre-stain conditioner dry for 10 to 15 minutes (or however long it says on the label).
  3. Wipe off the excess conditioner with a clean rag.

The tray is now ready to stain.

Apply pre-stain conditioner
The Spruce / Jami Delia

Apply Stain and Polyurethane

Before applying the stain to the surface of the tray, read the instructions on the container.

  1. Depending on the stain, apply with a foam brush in the direction of the wood grain.
  2. After you cover the entire surface of the tray, let the stain sit for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on how dark you want the stain).
  3. Wipe off the excess stain with a clean rag. For the best coverage and results, wipe in the direction of the wood grain.

If the color of the stain is not to your liking, apply another coat of stain and let sit for another 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how much darker you want the stain.

After you remove all of the excess stains, and you are happy with the color, let the stain completely dry. This can take up to eight hours or more, depending on the humidity. Always follow the directions on the stain label to be sure. 

After the stain dries, apply a protectant such as polyurethane to protect your stain finish.

Apply stain and polyurethane
The Spruce / Jami Delia