Sooooo, this is the stripper I used. It's called Circa 1850 and it's awesome stuff. I actually bought it years and years ago, recently found it in the back of the paint closet, and it still worked perfectly.
The paint came off of one table easier than the other. I think it was because that one had varnish on it, so the white paint wasn't able to soak into the wood the same way it did on the raw pine table. Look at those diamonds just peeling away.
After I had stripped off as much paint and varnish as I could, I used the palm sander and took it down to the bare wood - a clean slate if you will.
I wanted the finished table to be a dark shade, but one with a hint of colour. I started with a layer of Minwax's Jacobean, wiped on with a cloth. I like applying stain with a cloth rather than with a paint brush as you get even coverage and you can build up the layers until you get the depth that you want.
Once the stain was dry, I applied a coat of watered down paint, again using a cloth. I've used this method many times - you can see it on this dresser, these nightstands, and this sofa table. The walls in my craft room are a greenish-grey, so I dug through my bin of sample paints and came up with Behr's Toasted Walnut. I know it doesn't sound very green, but trust me, it was. This definitely isn't an exact science - you just pour some paint into an old dish and add water until you get the desired consistency. You can make the paint as sheer or as opaque as you like.
Once the paint was dry, I gave the entire table two coats of Minwax furniture wax and buffed it with a clean cloth. The final step is to scrub it all down with steel wool. This may sound crazy, like you're going to scrape everything off, but all it does is give you a silky smooth finish. It's like using high grit sandpaper, but you don't lose any of the colour or the wax finish.
Here she is back in her home. The room looks a little sparse with only one table, but I think it was crowded before. I'm debating whether or not to cut the other table in half lengthwise and make two smaller tables that can be mounted to the wall. We'll see.
And a panoramic view of the entire room (I've been practising with my phone). The different dark wood tones are low, with the white accents keeping it light above. You can see that the storage bench hasn't made it out yet either. Where's that going to go?
And finally, a quick review of the steps to go from painted and grubby to stained and polished.