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How to Paint Furniture

Liz O'Donnell
painted chairs

If you know how to paint furniture, you can enjoy a rewarding hobby and create beautiful decorative pieces for very little money. Luckily, learning how to paint furniture is easy.

What to Paint

You can paint almost any wooden piece of furniture. Yard sales and flea markets are a great source for finding material. Make sure the item is in good condition: drawers glide in and out easily, legs are sturdy, thatching is intact, etc. Don't worry, however, about splinters, scratches, stains or glass rings. You will remove these during the painting process.

Unfinished furniture stores such as Mill Stores, Country Woods and American Unfinished Furniture are another good source of furniture. Many of these stores sell pre-sanded pieces so you can paint them right away and skip some of the messier steps required to prepare items that were previously painted or stained. Finally, there may be items in your home already that make good candidates for painting. It's amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to give new life to an item or a room.

Before You Begin

It's helpful to gather all of your equipment before you start working. The first thing you will need is a well ventilated work area. Even low-VOC paints can emit fumes that may make you feel lightheaded.

Next, lay a large drop cloth down under the furniture. Painting furniture can be messy business. It is a good idea to wear work gloves and safety goggles and keep both a damp and dry cloth within reach. You can use the wet cloth to clean up any drips or spills before they stain. Use the dry cloth to dust off sand and dust from sanding and scraping.

Finally, consider wearing a dust mask and protective eye wear if you plan to sand off existing layers of paint and varnish.

Preparing the Wood

Now that you have your work area set up you can prepare the furniture for painting. Start by removing any hardware so you don't want to get paint on it. If the hardware cannot be removed, cover it with a small cloth or piece of tape.

Unless you are painting an unfinished piece of furniture, you will need to remove any existing layers of paint or varnish. Fresh coats of paint will not adhere well to old layers of paint. There are two options for removing the previous layers: scraping or sanding.

Scraping is a messy business. This process requires applying a paint remover to the furniture and them scraping off the varnish and the paint layers with either a hand scraper or electric planer. Many varnishes have noxious odors that can cause headaches and dizziness. If you choose scraping, consider wearing a mask with a built-in ventilator. The advantage to scraping is it usually takes less time than sanding.

Sanding is easier than scraping but it does result in a lot of dust, so be prepared to vacuum your work area when you are finished. You can sand by hand or use an electric sander. Either way, start with a coarse sandpaper to get the majority of the paint off. Then switch to a fine paper to remove the remaining particles and smooth the furniture. Sanding is less messy than scraping, but excessive sanding can lead to repetitive stress injuries so take breaks every thirty minutes.

Once you have removed all of the old paint, you should lightly sand your item with a fine-grade sandpaper. Then take a damp cloth and dust off the furniture. Allow it to dry and you are ready for priming.

Applying a primer to your furniture will help the final paint color adhere and allow it to go on evenly. Priming is just like painting; you apply the primer with a paint brush and allow each coat to dry before starting the next one. Choose a primer that works with your paint choice. Oil-based paints require different primers than latex-based paints. The cans should be clearly marked but if you are unsure about which primer to use, ask for assistance in the paint store.

Painting Furniture

Once the primer has dried, you are ready to paint. Begin by pouring a small amount of paint from the can into a paint pan. Working from a pan is neater than working right out of the bucket and allows you to get the paint evenly spread on your brush. Apply paint slowly and evenly in same direction as the wood grain. For a truly professional finish, allow the first coat to dry completely and then lightly sand it in the direction of the grain. Dust, and add another coat. Repeat these steps until you have achieved the color and hue you want.

Take a smaller paint brush and touch up any hard-to-reach corners or carved details. Now that the piece has been painted, consider adding a polyurethane sealer. A sealer will protect your piece from stains, glass rings and scratches. Sealers are applied just like paints: apply, dry, sand, and repeat.

Follow these simple steps and you will be painting furniture like a pro in no time.

How to Paint Furniture