Step 3: wet sanding/wax. Aaand done! I thought these would need five coats, but four ended up looking good. The final coat was allowed to dry for four days and then was lightly wet-sanded with 400 grit paper and soapy water, and finished with a coat of paste wax applied with 0000 steel wool.
As someone who hasn’t refinished a piece of furniture in decades, I’m really happy with how these turned out, even though they’re not perfect. Being inexperienced, I didn’t want to take the tables apart or get in to wood bleaches like oxalic acid. I regret both of those decisions, especially not treating with the acid. Each table had some staining and I was naive to think that sanding and a semi-opaque finish would be enough. The water ring on the coffee table—in particular—is going to bug me. I’m going to have to practice on some old boards so I know what I’m doing the next time I want to refinish a piece.
Fun project and the tables should now be able to stand abuse for another 30 years.