One thing that makes me happy is a great second hand find and the opportunity to revamp the new treasure. Today I’m sharing the basic steps for how to paint furniture.
This makeover project was for a good friend of mine who recently had a baby girl. She’s been a little preoccupied with her little one, so her hub and I conspired to makeover this piece for her nursery, currently a work in progress, but sure to beautiful when the space is finished.
I’ve been looking for the perfect dresser for her for a while and finally scored this one at a local thrift store last week, I was so excited! I brought it home so I could paint it for her as a surprise.
With all the pieces I’ve painted over the years, I realized I should write up a full step by step for how to paint furniture, and repainting an old treasure like this one is easy. Here are the steps on how to paint furniture, including cosmetic repair, priming and painting.
Supplies to Have Before You Start: Power screwdriver (+ drill bits if replacing hardware), medium (80 – 120 grit) sanding wedge, primer, latex paint color of choice, Floetrol, 2” angled quality paintbrush, water based polyurethane protectant.
How to Paint Furniture:
(July 2017 Update, I still follow these steps!)
Necessary to Sand? If your piece is in pretty good condition, you can skip the sanding step or the use of a power sander and go straight to priming. Bonding primers don’t require sanding, even if your piece is heavily varnished, but I do find giving the furniture a good scuffing with a medium (80 grit) sanding wedge not only helps clean off any debris, but gives your primer a great surface to cling too. There is no need to sand away all the varnish and get down to the raw wood, just give it a good 5 to 10 minute scuffing with a sanding wedge, then wipe away any debris with a soft cloth.
Repairing Scratches, Dents & Holes. I bought this particular piece because of its classic lines and solid wood construction, but many would pass it up due to the surface damage. On the top of this dresser, there were deep scratches and a sticky residue, so the first thing I did was sand the scratches on the top with my power orbital sander to smooth out the surface.
There was also a deep unsightly welt in the front corner.
No worries, this is a cosmetic problem easily addressed with wood filler, which allows you to repair scratches, dents, welts and fill holes in your wood furniture before you go about painting it. I’ve tried other products, but to date Elmer’s is the best I’ve found. It’s moist and moldable and washes off your fingers and tools easily, dries quickly, and is also sandable and paintable.
Gently sanding the top with my power sander combined with the proper use of wood filler (two applications for the deepest welt), led to this perfectly smooth surface.
Filling Holes for New Knobs or Pulls. If you’ve opted for new knobs, often they will fit right in the old holes, but many modern pulls are sized differently than the old hardware. Wood filler is also your best bet for starting over.
These glass pulls can be found at Restoration Hardware, but you can find similar ones at a hardware store like Home Depot.
Do You Really Need to Prime? With wood furniture, the answer is yes and no. Yes, if you want a smooth even finish and a paint job that will last for years. No if you want a distressed look and don’t care about the paint peeling off over time, if you’re using chalk paint, or if you are using oil based spray paints, which I have found often work really well without primer.
Nevertheless, I always advise if you’re seeking a straight up smooth evenly painted piece and a paint job that will last, using a good bonding primer is key. If you’re going to take the time and energy to paint a piece, take the time to prime it too.
My go to favorite has always been Zinsser. You can use the water based formula with the blue label but it takes several days to fully cure and I haven’t the patience. I prefer to use either the spray or brush on oil based Zinsser Cover Stain with the brown label, it has yet to fail me. For this dresser, I used spray on Zinsser for the drawers for a super smooth finish – it goes on quickly and dries in about 20 minutes. (If using the spray version, be sure to work in a well ventilated area and dispose of your cans according to your local waste regulations.)
For the top I brushed on a thicker coat of Zinsser because it will get the most wear and tear. It’s a personal preference to use the brush on formula, but for tabletops, desktops or other surfaces which will have lots o’ stuff sliding back and forth, a thick coat (even two!) of brush on Zinsser is a miracle worker, plus you can sand it smooth once it dries (in less than an hour per coat) making it easy to get really good bonding coverage in an afternoon. (You can also use a sponge roller to apply it, see other projects below where I’ve done that.) In my opinion, this is the very best primer for laminate surfaces as well.
Always Two Coats of Paint. Once you’re primer is fully dry, sand any drips, brush marks, or paint residue and wipe down with a soft cloth. I never skimp with just one coat, two is always best for uniformity and even coverage, allowing 4 to 6 hours of drying time between coats. There are two tools I won’t paint without.
1) Floetrol. This product in the orange bottle is a paint conditioner exclusively for latex paint (use Penetrol for oil based paints). It’s a product I have used time and again to extend the wet edge (or slow down the drying time) and also to minimize roller marks and brush strokes. The most frustrating part about applying paint to furniture by hand is the drag that occurs when paint starts to dry too quickly, so the Floetrol helps avoid that drag. I follow the directions on the back of the bottle, but I also let the paint’s workability act as a guide as to how much Floetrol is necessary.
Floetrol is not a paint thinner, it’s a conditioner sold at all the specialty paint stores, and it won’t change the color of your paint. It was recommended to me by a professional years ago, and ever since I’ve always used it. Floetrol is great investment if you’re also painting trim or doors around your house, it’s not expensive ($7 to $10 per bottle) and a little goes a long way.
2) A high quality angled paint brush is essential. If you don’t have the luxury of a sprayer, you’ll be using a paintbrush. The last thing you want to be doing is picking loose paintbrush hairs out of your paint, which happens with cheaper brushes so don’t bother with them. You can apply your paint quicker with a foam roller, but you still will end up with edge marks, so I always follow up a roller with a brush. An angled brush also helps get into grooves and crevices better, plus with a steady hand it cuts in straight lines extremely well. If you take good care of it, a good angled brush like Purdy will last you for years.
This dresser got two tones of paint for subtle but beautiful contrast. The drawers are painted with Benjamin Moore’s ‘Prescott Green’ and the top, sides, and frame are painted with ‘Prescott Green’ cut in half with white paint.
This dresser is for a baby girl’s nursery and soft green is the favorite color choice for the space, which is why I chose this particular shade for her.
Should You Paint the Inside the Furniture? I typically don’t because layers of paint can cause stickiness or prevent your drawers from sliding in and out, but it depends on the piece. In this case, I painted just inside the frame, and nothing more. With doors I usually paint the back too so there is uniform color when doors are opened, but that is a personal preference.
Adding New Hardware. If you’ve filled holes from your old hardware and are drilling new ones, here are the steps I follow. Precisely measure the location of your new hardware, then use the proper size drill bit to create new holes for your screws. I do this before the protective coat, just in case there are any slip ups or mistakes that need to be patched or painted over.
A Note on Paint Sheen. You can choose anything from flat to semi gloss to refinish your furniture, I typically go with eggshell or satin. But it is the final protectant you use that determines the ultimate sheen.
Protecting Your Paint Job. These are the two brands I use: Minwax and Varathane, both in water based formulas.
You also have the option of using glazes and/or paste waxes for a more matte finish. See below for links to other projects using paste waxes.
Both Minwax and Varathane’s formulas are available in either satin or gloss clear finishes. When your paint has dried for at least 24 hours, apply a water based polyurethane to protect your surface. Do not use an oil based polyurethane, it will amber or yellow over time.
Minwax Polycrylic comes in both a spray or brush on formula. Varathane in spray, brush on, or my latest discovery, a rub on formula in a tube. This version is quick, easy, and dries the fastest.
Once the protectant is dry, you are free to bring the piece inside your home and make it work for your space!
There you have it, my step by step for how to paint furniture and a paint job that will last. These same steps also apply to wood cabinetry or laminate pieces as well.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this step by step on how to paint furniture. It may seem time consuming but remember a quick spray primer and a rub on protectant are the fastest steps, it’s the repair and painting processes that take the most time. With a little patience, you’ll achieve a perfectly painted piece with smooth even coverage that will last for years to come.
More recent step-by-step projects featuring how to paint furniture:
- White and Wood Chest (working with paint & stain, using paste wax protectant)
- Turquoise Campaign Dresser (using chalk paint)
- Blue Dresser (using polyurethane over chalk paint)
- Blue Bureau (my favorite enamel paints)
- How to Spray Paint Furniture (step-by-step)
- How to Paint Bathroom Cabinets (step-by-step)