Clean the table with a mild dish-washing detergent and warm water. Use a nylon scrub pad to remove any dirt, oil or wax buildup. Thoroughly dry the table after you have cleaned it with a soft, clean cloth.
Feel the wood after you have cleaned it. If you can feel the grain of the wood, you won't need to sand it. However, if the wood feels smooth to the touch, you will need to sand it down.
Clear a space outdoors or in a well-ventilated garage to do the work. Put a drop cloth down and then place the table on top of the cloth.
Sand the entire surface you wish to paint until it has a dull finish. A 120-grit sandpaper will get most of the finish off. Finish sanding with 150-grit and then 180-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish.
Vacuum up the dust from sanding. The remaining dust can be picked up with a clean cloth dampened with mineral spirits. Get in any grooves or corners.
Prime the wood with an oil-based primer for an outdoor table or a tinted shellac for an indoor table. Use a good-quality synthetic bristle brush or lambswool roller to apply the primer.
Dry the primer according to the primer's directions.
Paint your table with a coat of latex or acrylic paint for an indoor table or an oil-based paint for an outside table. Let the paint dry for about eight hours.
Sand the first coat with 180-grit sandpaper.
Apply a second coat of paint. Allow it to dry thoroughly.
Apply an oil-based varnish over oil-based paint, or an acrylic varnish over water-based paint, if you want a more finished look and a longer-lasting tabletop. However, if the table will need to be washed frequently, this step may not be necessary.