how to paint wooden furniture
DIY Projects

How to Paint Wooden Furniture

I love repurposing antiques & finding cool pieces.  The thrill of the hunt and finding the perfect piece for a space just brings me joy.  I want the spaces in our home to be simplified and clutter free, but I also want them to feel welcoming, cozy, and put together.  And since I know this about myself, I will almost always repurpose something versus buying new.  And more often than not, this saves cash, too!  Saving cash is just one of the many benefits of DIY.  So, when it came time to create our minimalist bedroom oasis, I wanted to paint our antique furniture white instead of buying new side tables at IKEA.  If you’ve ever wanted to paint wood furniture, but haven’t tried it out of fear, it’s time you learned how to paint furniture by following this step-by-step beginner’s guide.

How to Paint Furniture

Supplies for painting furniture:

Cleaning agent

Sandpaper variety pack (corse, medium, and fine grit)

Small foam roller & tray

High-quality paint brush

Palm Sander (optional)

Wood putty & putty knife (if necessary)

Furniture grade primer & paint

Tack cloth

  • Note: Be sure to take before pictures so you can appreciate the transformation at the end!
Check out the before & after photos of these white, antique French dressers from our DIY guide to painting wood furniture. Learn techniques to get a distressed look, or go for a hand-painted finish. From how to prep your wood pieces to applying the final finishing touches, this guide gives you all the information you need to tackle your own furniture painting project- even if you've never painted furniture before! #furnitureflip #DIY #frugal
BEFORE: Notice the chunks of missing paint. A sign that proper prep wasn’t followed.

Check out the before & after photos of these white, antique French dressers from our DIY guide to painting wood furniture. Learn techniques to get a distressed look, or go for a hand painted finish. From how to prep your wood pieces to applying the final finishing touches, this guide gives you all the information you need to tackle your own furniture painting project- even if you've never painted furniture before! #furnitureflip #DIY #frugal

How to prep furniture for painting

The first step in learning how to paint furniture has nothing to do with paint.  Cleaning your piece is the first step to a gorgeous finished product.  You want to remove all the old grime and dust with a cleaning agent like Simple Green or Murphy’s Oil Soap. Now is also the time to remove doors, drawers, knobs, and hinges.

Tip: If your furniture can be placed at eye level, it makes the process of painting wood furniture so. much. easier.

Sanding your wooden furniture

No one likes the idea of sanding.  There’s a reason “how to paint furniture without sanding” is a popular Google search term.  But I promise you, if you want a professional looking finish that stands the test of time, sanding down your piece is a must!  Sanding removes the shiny finish and gives the new paint something to grab to.

* If your furniture is in good shape, a once over with medium grit sandpaper should do the trick (something in the 60-100 grit range)

* If your furniture is unfinished, a light sanding is still recommended.

* If your piece has a lot of imperfections, you’ll need to sand to remove them with heavy grit sandpaper (40-60 grit)

For our antique dressers, we wrapped 60 grit sandpaper around a sanding block to sand off the old finish. I highly recommend using this method for hand sanding as the block allows for consistent pressure across the paper versus using just your hand.  When painting wood furniture, be sure to sand with the grain.

Check out the before & after photos of these white, antique French dressers from our DIY guide to painting wood furniture. Learn techniques to get a distressed look, or go for a hand painted finish. From how to prep your wood pieces to applying the final finishing touches, this guide gives you all the information you need to tackle your own furniture painting project- even if you've never painted furniture before! #furnitureflip #DIY #frugal
Sanding off old paint

We discovered at least three layers of old paint, some of which sanded off in patches down to the bare wood.  This left a ridge that hand sanding wasn’t removing.  This was a problem because we didn’t want a distressed finish in the end, but a pristine, brand new from the store finish.  We had purchased a high-quality primer, so we applied it hoping it would fill in. Nope.  So, plan B.   Ya gotta be flexible when learning how to paint furniture.

Electric Sanding

We used a palm sander with 150 grit sandpaper to slowly sand down the ridges.  If you decide to go this route, a few tips….

* Be sure not to leave the sander sitting in one place too long, as this will gouge your furniture.

* Be mindful of edges and detailing- you don’t want to sand off the profile!

If there are deep crevices that will not sand out, consider filling with wood filler.  Use a putty knife to apply wood filler in the damaged areas.  Once it dries per package directions, use medium grit sandpaper to smooth it even with the surface.

Prime wooden furniture before painting

Primer helps the top coat adhere to the piece and covers imperfections in colors & old stains.  It also helps fill in surface blemishes.  To paint our antique furniture, we used STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer.  This stuff is amazing!

Check out the before & after photos of these white, antique French dressers from our DIY guide to painting wood furniture. Learn techniques to get a distressed look, or go for a hand-painted finish. From how to prep your wood pieces to applying the final finishing touches, this guide gives you all the information you need to tackle your own furniture painting project- even if you've never painted furniture before! #furnitureflip #DIY #frugal

Wipe furniture down with a tack cloth to remove fine particles from the surface directly before priming.  Apply a consistent coat along all surfaces, following the grain whenever possible.  Start painting furniture at the top and work your way down.  Starting at the top will help you catch drips or splatters that might occur further down the piece.  Be especially careful to watch for paint runs, as these will be visible even after your final coat.

Sand furniture again

Primer & paint cause wood fibers to raise, so use fine grit sandpaper to sand down your furniture between each coat of paint (try 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block).  You’re looking to just knock down the texture until it is smooth to the touch, so no need to sand aggressively.  If you see any paint runs, be sure to do your best to sand them out.

Check out the before & after photos of these white, antique French dressers from our DIY guide to painting wood furniture. Learn techniques to get a distressed look, or go for a hand-painted finish. From how to prep your wood pieces to applying the final finishing touches, this guide gives you all the information you need to tackle your own furniture painting project- even if you've never painted furniture before! #furnitureflip #DIY #frugal
After sanding the primer.

Painting your wooden furniture

When learning how to paint furniture, people often get stuck when going to the store to select paint.  Luckily, selecting your paint doesn’t have to be complicated.  When purchasing paint for furniture, use a product designed for hard surfaces.  We used Benjamin Moore Advance Waterborne Interior Alkyd tinted in Dove White.  Another great option is Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel.

You can use a paint sprayer if you’d like, but given that this is a beginner’s guide, I’m going to assume most of you will be painting by hand.  Be sure to purchase a high-quality brush.  It will make all the difference.

Pick your sheen according to what you want your final piece to look like.  The glossier the finish, the easier to clean.  Keep the location of your furniture in mind.  How many dirty little fingers will routinely be touching it? I highly recommend that you avoiding flat paint, as it is difficult to clean and shows everything.  You’ll thank me for that tip later.  If you’re not sure what route to take, satin finish is always a nice choice (it’s what we used here).

Applying the paint

Apply the paint in thin coats- with the grain- to help avoid brush strokes.  We watered down our paint to ensure our coats went on smooth and thin.  Nothing ruins the looks of your final product like paint runs everywhere!

To thin paint, pour a small amount from the paint can into a container (never thin the entire container at once).  Add water incrementally over time and stir until you get a uniform consistency.  Because every paint is different in viscosity, I can’t give you a formula of water to add.  I can say the final look of our watered down paint was like a thin yogurt.  Be sure to pour enough paint that after it’s watered down, it will be able to coat the entire piece so that you don’t have to stop to make another batch partially through the painting process.

Most tutorials don’t tell you to thin the paint before applying, but it’s the trick to getting a nice, even finish.  Thinning the paint helps ensure a smooth application and reduces runs.  Less runs = less sanding and a more beautiful end product.

Work from top to bottom in small sections at a time.  Use a small foam roller to roll paint onto the flat surfaces.  Use a paintbrush to run through the wet paint in straight lines to create a hand-painted effect.  If you have a lot of detailing in your wood furniture, use the brush to paint in the details first, and then use the roller to roll over the area.  Follow up with the brush again for the hand-painted effect.

Allow each coat to dry per package directions, and then sand lightly with fine grit sandpaper (something in the 360-400+ range).

Repeat, repeat, repeat

You can expect to apply 2-3 coats (maybe even more) to get the desired final look you are after.  Repeat the steps above for each coat.

Wipe down wood furniture with a tack cloth to ensure a clean surface
Apply thinned down paint using the techniques discussed above
Dry completely according to paint specifications
Lightly sand along the grain with fine grit sandpaper
Repeat this list of steps until you reach your desired final look

Distressing wood furniture (optional)

One decision you’ll need to make when learning how to paint furniture is what you want your final piece to like.  If you want a pristine finish like I was after with our dressers, then you can skip this step.  However, if you want an antiqued, distressed look, you’ll want to apply your distressing at this point.

To achieve a distressed look, use fine grit sandpaper to distress the furniture edges, corners, and details, focusing on where a piece would naturally wear with age.  Sand until you receive your desired look.

While I decided not to distress our antique dressers, I did use this process to distress some corbels for our Minimalist Bedroom Oasis.

Check out the before & after photos of these white, antique French dressers from our DIY guide to painting wood furniture. Learn techniques to get a distressed look, or go for a hand-painted finish. From how to prep your wood pieces to applying the final finishing touches, this guide gives you all the information you need to tackle your own furniture painting project- even if you've never painted furniture before! #furnitureflip #DIY #frugal

Protecting your final product

After your final coat has had at least 24 hours to dry (or longer if your paint specifies), it can be sealed.  You’ll want to avoid traditional polyurethane (especially if you painted your furniture white) because it can yellow over time.  We applied Minwax Water Based Wipe-On Poly for our topcoat.  Simply apply by wiping on with a cloth in a circular motion.  Apply a generous coat without dousing the wood.  If applied too thick, it can leave faint yellow streaks in your finish.

If you prefer to use wax, a great choice is Minwax Finishing Wax.  Wipe it on with a cheesecloth, allow 10-15 minutes to dry, and then buff it with a clean cloth.  Be sure to let the final piece dry for a day or two before moving to avoid damaging the finish.

Pulling it all together

Add your hardware and hinges back onto the piece.  You can spray paint old fixtures to give them a new life, or opt to replace them with new knobs or pulls.  Since we painted antique furniture, it was difficult to find new hardware that fit the existing openings, so we opted to keep the original hardware.  This decision also saved us some money, which is always a good thing!

If new hardware is in your future, there are lots of places to shop.  Stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Hobby Lobby, and World Market carry a variety.  Antique malls often have a large variety for very low prices, but quantity can some times be an issue if you need several of a particular knob or pull.

Hardware costs can add up quickly, so if you need a lot of hardware or can’t find something you like in stores, be sure to check online options for great deals!  D. Lawless Hardware, Etsy, and House of Antique Hardware are some options to check out.

Painting wood furniture before & after

Don’t be intimidated about how to paint furniture!

Learning how to paint furniture is a great skill set that you can use again and again.  Don’t let the fear of messing something up keep you from painting your wood furniture!  Whether it’s an unfinished wood piece, old furniture that needs new life, cabinetry, or an antique that you want to repurpose for your space, painting is a wonderful way to transform the look without buying new!

Check out the before & after photos of these white, antique French dressers from our DIY guide to painting wood furniture. Learn techniques to get a distressed look, or go for a hand-painted finish. From how to prep your wood pieces to applying the final finishing touches, this guide gives you all the information you need to tackle your own furniture painting project- even if you've never painted furniture before! #furnitureflip #DIY #frugal

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