Everything you need to know about how to paint furniture! Includes the easy steps you need to take to get a smooth, durable finish when painting wood furniture. Whether you’re a beginner or have painted furniture in the past, you’ll find something helpful in this post about prepping, painting, and finishing wood furniture.
Even if you’ve never painted a piece of furniture (yet), it’s entirely possible to paint wood furniture right the first time and create a finish that will last! I was SO terrified the first time I thought about painting a piece of furniture. I had a fear that I was going to ruin everything as soon as I started painting. And, now that I’ve been talking about painting furniture for awhile, I’ve learned that many other people have this same fear from all the comments and questions I receive about it.
I can safely say I’ve refinished over a hundred pieces, used a variety of different types of paints and styles of finishes, and made my fair share of mistakes along the way. Being a teacher, I’m a firm believer in the power of learning by doing, but it’s really difficult to start doing something new if you don’t feel safe. This post is my attempt to calm your nerves and provide you with easy to follow steps on how to paint wood furniture so you can confidently pick up that paint brush and tackle that project!
Disclaimer – For those of you that HATE the idea of painting any type of wood, this post isn’t for you. However, please hear me out, because I choose to restore the wood finish on many pieces of furniture as well! Here’s a dresser that now shows off its gorgeous wood, a nightstand chest that I brought back to a natural wood finish, and I’m currently working on a wood dresser that is going to become my bathroom vanity. (Here’s the complete tutorial on how to remove the old finish from furniture and restore it to natural wood.)
For those of you looking for everything you need to know about painting wood furniture, keep reading!
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Step 1: Clean the Furniture
The first step is to clean your piece of furniture. This might mean simply removing some dust, or it could entail removing grime and grease and other unknown substances. No matter what type of paint you are using on your furniture, you always need to clean the piece first! Below are the two best ways to clean furniture before painting.
Murphy’s Wood Oil Soap
This type of soap is made for wood (think floors, cabinets, and furniture). It can be used safely on wood to clean and revive the finish, or before painting. It comes in a spray bottle that is already pre-mixed, or a concentrated formula that you add a little water to to create the solution. No matter which one you choose to use, you’ll add some soap to a cloth and wipe away any dirt or residue on your piece of furniture.
DIY Blend of Vinegar, Dish Soap, Oil and Water
Mix together 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup warm water, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap and a little bit of olive oil. Mix this up, dip in a cloth, and apply it to your furniture to clean it before painting.
Step 2: Lightly Sand
Everyone always wants to know how to paint furniture without sanding. The only paint I ever would think of skipping the sanding step with would be chalk paint. And even then, I’ve become so accustomed to lightly sanding before painting, I do it every time before I paint a piece of furniture. It literally takes five minutes, and it ensures you’ll have smoother finish that sticks to the piece.
To lightly sand your furniture before painting, use 220 grit sandpaper to lightly scuff up the surface. A sanding sponge works great for this, but since they are expensive to continue to buy new, I wrap a piece of sandpaper cut in half around my old sanding blocks. Please note, you are not trying to remove the finish here. Just run the sandpaper over the entire surface with slight pressure from your hand. It’s always best to sand in the direction of the wood grain as well.
Step 3: Prime (if needed)
Most of the time, you don’t need to prime furniture before painting. I have a full post on when to use primer on furniture and the best primer for wood furniture. Basically, here are the main reasons you might need to prime furniture before painting:
- You have a piece that is going to bleed through the paint (wood tannin bleed through, stains, or odors).
- You are painting over a piece that has been previously painted (especially if it’s chipping or if the surface is glossy).
- You are painting over slick laminate or other shiny surfaces (like IKEA furniture).
There are three main types of primer that work well for furniture – oil-based, shellac-based, and water-based. Here are all the details on each of these types of primer for furniture.
Step 4: Choose Your Paint
There are a lot of factors that go into the type of paint you should use for your piece of furniture: cost, the look you are trying to achieve, and the condition of your piece. I’ve used a lot of different types of paint, and tons of different brands, and each one gives a slightly different finish. I’ve tried to sort out the differences between all of these paints and give the pros and cons of each one in this post on the best type of paint for furniture.
Step 5: Paint with a Brush and Roller
Using a paint sprayer is a great way to get a smooth finish on furniture, but if you are new to furniture painting, you probably don’t have one of these laying around. I know I sure didn’t! However, it is easy to get a smooth finish on furniture using only a brush and a foam roller.
Best brush for painting furniture
I am not loyal to one brand here, but I will say that price does matter when buying a brush to use when painting your furniture. Although I am usually very thrifty, I reach for the higher priced paint brushes for painting wood furniture. I’ve used Zibra, Woodster Pro, and Purdy paint brushes and they all are superior quality and will give you the best finish.
I prefer to use a 2.5″ angled sash brush for furniture. It allows you to paint edges and corners well, but also flat surfaces as well.
Best type of roller for painting furniture
When choosing a roller for painting furniture, you want to choose the lowest nap possible for a smooth finish. This may mean you will need to apply one extra coat of paint because the roller doesn’t hold as much paint. However, this is exactly what you want to do (see my tips at the bottom of this post). I’ve used both foam rollers and 1/4″ nap rollers and don’t really have a preference between the two.
Step 6: Sand Between Coats
After the first coat of paint has dried (usually a few hours of dry time is enough, as long as you did a light coat as suggested above), use 320 grit sandpaper to lightly sand the piece. At this time, you can sand away any drips or brush marks. Then, use a tack cloth to remove any leftover sanding dust. This step is the single most important factor in achieving the smoothest finish on a piece of furniture.
Step 7: Add a Topcoat (if needed)
Depending on the type of paint you choose, you may need to apply a topcoat. The post I mentioned above about the best kind of paint for wood furniture will break down which types of paint require a topcoat, but for now, here are a few general guidelines.
|Topcoat ALWAYS needed||Topcoat SOMETIMES needed||Topcoat NOT needed|
|milk paint||acrylic paint||Alkyd Enamel paint|
|chalk paint||“All in One” specialty furniture paints|
When choosing a topcoat, I would always recommend using a water-based topcoat or a wax. Oil-based topcoats (like polyurethane) will yellow over time which doesn’t work well with painted furniture. Using a water-based polyurethane or a clear acrylic topcoat will give you a clear, durable finish that helps your painted furniture withstand bumps and use. Furniture wax gives a hand rubbed, matte finish but still protects the paint. I love using wax when using milk paint or chalk paint because it compliments the natural, organic look of those types of paint.
I am working on a detailed post of my favorite brands and types of topcoats to use on furniture. I’ll be sure to link it here once that post is complete!
Following the steps above will allow you to easily refinish any piece of furniture! Below, you’ll find a few more tricks that help to best finish when painting furniture.
Top 5 Tips for Painting Furniture
Less is More
Using less paint and painting multiple light coats gives the smoothest finish in the end. When you have less paint on your brush, it is able to level more evenly when drying. Usually, three light coats of paint is enough to thoroughly cover your piece.
Paint it On – Leave it Alone
Brush your coat of paint on the piece and then let it be. If you try to over brush, or brush over a part that has already started to partially dry, you’ll actually create more brush strokes and a stickier mess while trying to paint. I especially find this to be the case with chalk paint, because it dries so quickly. Just paint a stroke and let it be.
Sand Between Coats
Use 320 grit sandpaper to lightly sand between coats. Then, use a tack cloth to remove any leftover sanding dust. This step is the single most important factor in achieving the smoothest finish on a piece of furniture.
Watch for Drips
When painting edges, legs and corners, watch out for drips on the other side of the piece. Paint a side and then run your brush along the other side to catch any excess paint that might be dripping or sagging on the other side.
Keep the Leftover Paint
Put the leftover paint in a small glass jar and label it with the piece of furniture you painted. I keep this handy in case I need to touch up a small spot down the road.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you this post helpful in some way and you can walk away with the confidence to just give it a try! If you run into some snags along your furniture painting journey, I’m only an email away. I might be able to help you out – there’s almost always a way to “fix it”. Good luck, and happy painting!
A Few Pieces of Painted Furniture
Painting furniture is one way that I save money and am able to decorate and redesign spaces in our home. You can find all of the other ways I decorate our home on a budget here.
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