You may think that slapping on a fresh, new coat of paint is quick and easy. The truth is painting furniture can be a tedious and frustrating experience unless you know the best techniques for getting it right. In this guide, you’ll learn how to transform your old, beat-up wooden furniture into a bespoke new piece, to simply adore.
Here is an example of a tired-looking, old desk that you could find yourself starting with.
Step 1. Pre-Prep
Tools and Materials Checklist:
- Drop cloth or old blankets
- Plastic sheeting
- Tack cloth
- Clean, dry rags or an old towel
- Plastic wrap (cling film)
- Cleaner (mineral spirits, white vinegar, or a degreaser (Simple Green))
- Screwdriver (to remove hardware)
- Wood filler or caulk
- Putty knife
- Orbital sander or sanding block
- Fine and medium grit sandpaper (see sandpaper grit chart)
- Dust mask (with filter)
- Paint brush (1.5 – 2″ angled, natural bristle brush)
- Wood primer
- Wood paint (choose the most suitable choice):
- Chalk paint: for a flat finish with the flexibility to give an aged or weathered look to the furniture.
- Mineral paint: for a smooth, satin sheen finish, giving the same look as chalk paint.
- Alkyd or urethane acrylic paint (water-based): offers the most durable paint finish.
- Small foam (or microfiber) roller with paint tray (for large, smooth areas)
- Polycrylic protective finish (water-based)
- Chemical resistant gloves (for painting)
Step 2. Prep
The secret to success is in the prep. This is a crucial step most people choose to skip. But it’s essential to get that all important, beautiful-looking finish, worthy of showing off.
Cover Floor to Protect from Paint
Before you begin working on your wood furniture, you can protect your floor from sawdust and paint, with for example, old blankets or a drop cloth. Add an extra layer of protection by placing plastic sheeting on top of the fabric.
As flat surfaces are much easier to paint, if possible, take your furniture apart. So, if your project has doors, drawer fronts or hardware (for example, brass drawer handles or hinges), remove them. They’ll be much easier to paint separately, and you’ll get much better results. Tape any items that you don’t want painted.
We now need to remove any dirt, grease and stains. There are several ways that you can clean it. You can use mineral spirits, a water and white vinegar mix, or a degreaser (like Simple Green or Krud Kutter). If using a degreaser, just spray it on. Otherwise, apply the cleaner using a damp cloth or sponge. Let it soak for 15 minutes to really cut that grease. Make sure you wash all the parts of the wood furniture. If you have drawers, wash the inside of the drawers. Rinse off with cold, clear water and dry with a dry rag or towel.
Fill any Holes
If you need to fill any gaps or holes on the wooden furnishing, for example nail or screw holes, you can use a paintable wood filler or caulk. Have a wet paper towel handy. For a crack or groove, you could use a caulk gun. start at the top with a bead of caulk. Then use a wet rag to smooth it out. For a screw or nail hole, press the wood filler into the holes using a putty knife, and set aside to dry. Wipe off any excess with the paper towel.
Some paints contain chemicals (volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) that can cause eye, throat, and lung irritation, which result in headaches and dizziness. So, it’s important to have proper ventilation. If you’re painting indoors, it’s recommended to keep windows wide-open, to avoid unwanted vapor (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
Step 3. Sanding
The key to a successful paint finish is by properly preparing the surface. As most wooden furniture already has a finish or stain on it, we have to scuff it up, before painting it, for better adhesion. You don’t need to completely take all the finish off your wood piece, just roughen it up. If you have drawers or you filled the holes with wood filler, also sand them. Wear a dust mask, so as not to breathe in the wood dust. Always make sure you sand in the direction of the wood grain.
Here’s a couple of different ways you can sand:
Use a 100 grit or a medium grit sandpaper with a sanding block for the flat part. If you have curved parts, sand it using a little piece of 100 grit sandpaper. Bear in mind, it takes a lot of sanding (and patience) to remove old paint, if doing it by hand.
2) An Electric Orbital Sander
Start with 80 grit sandpaper (especially if sanding off existing varnish) and work up all the way up to 150 grit. After removing most of the old paint or stain, switch to a 150 grit or higher, to remove the rest, and smooth out the surface. Slowly move the sander across the surface, at about one inch per second. Most people move the sander way too fast. Neither moving a sander faster, pressing harder or skipping grits will save you time. Remember as you move to the next fine-grit sandpaper, your goal here is to remove the last grit’s scratches.
Remove any Dust
After all the sanding, you’ll have a lot of dust left on the wood. Use a tack cloth to wipe down the surface.
Step 4. Painting Primer
Now for the fun part! (The prepping is kind of boring). With the sanding done, you’re ready to apply your first coat of primer onto the raw wood. In most cases, stain blocking primer is essential, because it keeps sap pockets and knots from bleeding through. A primer coat can also make for a better bond with your top coat.
Apply 1st Coat of Primer on Detailed Areas
The first step to priming the wooden furnishing is to use a small brush on the curved parts, getting into all the grooves. Pour the paint in a small roller paint tray. Dip your brush in and shake any excess drips off. Then apply a very thin first layer of paint along the grooved parts of your furniture piece. You’ll be reapplying more coats of primer on top. If the primer does not flow well, add a small amount of the solvent (water). Apply a smooth, even coat of the primer across the entire surface, including the front and back of your furniture piece. As the paint is drying, clean your paintbrush. Once you’ve finished the first layer, you can keep the paintbrush from drying out, using a piece of plastic wrap (or cling film). Now, you can use it for the second and third coats of paint, when the first layer dries out. Check the paint instructions for drying times.
Apply 1st Coat of Primer with Roller
Now you’re ready to paint all the flat surfaces. You can use a four-inch microfiber roller. It works best when it’s slightly damp before you start painting. Dip the roller in the paint tray and roll out the excess paint. Apply the paint to the flat parts of the furniture, as evenly and smoothly as possible. Now the first coat of paint is done, use plastic wrap around your roller, so it doesn’t dry out in between painting coats of paint. Also, stretching a piece of plastic wrap over the top of your paint tray will keep it from drying out.
Sanding Between Coats
After the first coat of paint has dried, run your hands over it to check for a smooth paint finish. If there are any rough spots, drips or residue, use a 220-grit sandpaper to lightly sand it. Then use your tack cloth to clean the dust off. You may notice your paint surface may not look particularly good right now. That’s because we only have one coat of paint on. Once we have our second and third coats of paint on, it will have the great looking professional finish you’ll just love.
Apply 2nd Coat of Primer
You can apply the second coat in exactly the same way you did the first. Don’t forget to plastic wrap up the roller, brush and tray too. You’ll see the second coat will cover the wood a lot better. Then wait two hours to apply the third coat.
Step 5. Painting: Top Coat
Now you’re ready for your top coat, which will typically be a milk or chalk paint. We’ll be using the same techniques as for the first coat of primer, like prepping, loading and painting with the brush and the roller. Even with this amount of preparation, you may need a second coat of paint to be fully satisfied.
Step 6. Painting: Protection
Finally, if you want to protect the surface, apply three coats of polycrylic protective finish, using a small foam roller. This is a water-based paint with a clear finish that will not yellow over time. Allow 72 hours (about 3 days) for it to dry.
The Finished Piece
Here is an example of what the finished piece looks like now. Quite a transformation. I can’t believe how fast this make-over was.
In summary, sand well, clean dust off thoroughly, prime and paint using several thin coats, and you’ll be rewarded with a lovely piece of furniture having a smooth, durable finish. This painting project is ideal for anybody who wants a quick furniture makeover, from a beginner DIY’er to someone more experienced. It doesn’t need lots of tools and this guide removes a lot of the guesswork for getting a great finish. Happy painting!