A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

Wooden furniture has remained an integral part of home décor for centuries. Apart from the comfort it provides, the aesthetic appeal makes it the cornerstone of many interior design projects. However, with regular use, wooden furniture will show aging and general wear, requiring a revamp and painting.

To paint wooden furniture, you need to get the necessary tools required to prepare the furniture for painting and your desired paint. The process typically starts with sanding down the furniture and then priming it, followed by painting. A sealant may be used after the paint has dried.

The rest of the article will cover all the steps in more detail. You’ll also find general recommendations and safety tips to keep in mind. You’ll have your wooden furniture looking like new again in no time.

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Tools for Painting Wooden Furniture

The tools needed for your painting project will vary based on your specific painting approach. In general, however, and for the methods outlined here, you’ll need the following:

  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Wood filler
  • Drop cloth
  • Tack cloth
  • Sandpaper
  • Lead testing kit (for old furniture)
  • Scraper tool
  • Orbital sander
  • Dust mask (N95)
  • Foam roller and paint brushes

Optional:

  • Clear lacquer or sealant
  • Painter’s tape

The Process for Painting Your Wooden Furniture

Here are the steps you need to go through to successfully paint your wooden furniture once you’ve gathered all the necessary tools:

Check the Old Paint for Lead

If you’re trying to paint old furniture from later than 1978, you have to test the old paint on it for the lead. Exposure to lead can cause a wide range of health conditions. So, working on such furniture can be very detrimental even when you’ve protected your face with a mask. 

Use your paint lead test kit to confirm that the old paint on the furniture is safe. Scitus Lead Test Kit and 3M LeadCheck Swabs are some affordable options you can go with. You can skip this stage if your furniture isn’t tainted by lead.

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Wear Some Protection

Before you get started on the job, you need to protect your body and your face. Face masks ensure you won’t breathe in dust or fumes. Safety goggles ensure you won’t get dust splash or any emissions in your eyes. You should also wear protective gloves to avoid getting some paint in your nails and all over your hands and fingers.

Prepare the Room

Depending on the size of the furniture and its current state, this is a DIY project that will leave much mess. First, you need to prepare a space with a room you can move around properly. It would be best to cover the floor under and around your furniture with a drop cloth or large tarpaulin to ensure you can clean up easily.

A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

You may also need to sort extra light to see your workspace clearly and any imperfections on the furniture wood. You’ll also need to make the space as airy as possible to limit the dust and fumes in the air.

The best place to paint the furniture is on your porch, patio, or garage. If you’re out on the porch or patio, you’ll need cover to prevent direct sunlight. You also need to check for the rainfall probability and ensure leaves or dust won’t get blown onto the furniture while priming or painting.

Strip the Hardware on the Furniture

If the furniture has knobs, handles, drawers, and other such fixtures, you need to remove them for safekeeping. This will ensure they don’t get stained by paint, and your painted furniture will look neat when you’re done.

Scrape Off Old Paint and Patch Surfaces

Your old furniture probably has some cracked or loose paint. Hold the scraper parallel and gently remove the old paint. Be careful not to cause any gauge or dents on the wood. However, if you accidentally end up with a dent, you can use some wood filler and a putty knife to remedy the situation.

A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

Apply the filler to the damaged areas on the wooden furniture, and then scrape off extra filler to ensure you have a smooth surface to work with. Please leave it to dry for a while. The dry time will vary based on the product, so read the instructions.

If the wooden furniture you’d like to paint doesn’t have any old paint on it, you can ignore this part of the process.

Cover Areas You Don’t Want to Paint With Tape

Are there any parts of the furniture you don’t want to paint? Use some painter’s tape to cover those parts. You have to be as precise as possible to ensure you won’t have a lot of cleaning up to do at the end of the process.

Sand the Wood

Once you’ve gotten the preliminary steps above out of the way, it is time to sand the wooden furniture. These days, many DIY guides, paint and primer makers all say you don’t need to sand if you’re using certain products. However, many core DIY enthusiasts agree that sanding is always a good idea regardless of the product you’re trying to use.

A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

With sanding, you can remove all imperfections and scratches from wood. This way, you’ll have a clean, clear surface to paint. Hand sanding the surface of the wood is a better idea when dealing with old furniture. Using powerful sanding tools can cause damage to the surface of the wood on older furniture.

Remove the dust from the sanding process using a soft cloth or brush. Dust particles can get stuck in the paint, leading to unpainted portions when you’re done. The surface of the furniture will also have a bumpy feel as a result of this.

Apply a Primer to the Surface

After sanding, the next step in the process is priming. You’ll find many paints claiming that they work as a primer as well. However, while some of these may deliver okay results, the real benefit of using a primer can only be felt when it’s used first before applying paint, as against when it’s combined in the paint. 

A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

The primer ensures the paint will stick better and won’t have any dips and bumps when you’re done. It would be best to use an oil-based primer or a latex option for wooden furniture without a stain or finish. However, if the furniture has a stain or finish, a stain-blocking primer is the better option—unless you plan to strip the wood.

You should aim for no more than two coats of the primer on the surface of the wood. Brush a single coat of the primer onto the surface of the wood and leave it. Once it dries completely, you can add the second coat and leave it to dry.

If you’re going to paint on a light color, you should use a white primer to ensure the colors you get are saturated. If the paint you intend to work with is dark-colored, you should consider using a black primer to get even coverage.

Test the Paint Color First

After you’ve chosen the paint color you’d like to use for the project, it’s always a good idea to test out the paint on a small part of the wood before you proceed to use it all over the surface. The color might look different on the furniture than what you saw in the color book at the store.

A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

So, just like you would test makeup to be sure it matches your skin tone, you should test the paint color on your furniture first before using it fully. The best corners to use for the test are the underside or the inside of the furniture.

After you’ve applied the paint, give it time to dry. You won’t know the paint’s actual color and how it will look until it’s dry. Some people will recommend testing the paint before priming and sanding. Regardless of the sequence, getting a snippet of what the paint looks like on the furniture before full painting is always a good idea.

Paint the Furniture

Once you’ve finished the priming process and tested the paint, it’s time to start painting. If you’re using latex paint, you should work with a synthetic-bristle paintbrush. For oil paint, you should work with a natural-bristle paintbrush. If there are uneven surfaces on the furniture, you should apply the paint with a foam roller. Hard-to-reach edges or corners can also be reached using a brush.

Some examples of latex paint you can use for your wooden furniture include Rust-Oleum 1976730 Painters Touch Latex and Shabby Chic Furniture Chalk Paint.

Rust-Oleum Brush On Paint 1977502 Painters Touch Latex, 1-Quart, 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), Gloss Kona Brown
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Shabby Chic Chalked Furniture Paint: Luxurious Metallic Paint, Furniture and Craft Paint for Home Decor, DIY Projects, Wood Furniture - Interior Paints with Rustic Matte Finish - 8.5oz - Antique White
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  • CHALK BASED (Not Chalk Paint): Shabby Chic is a chalk based paint. Specifically formulated to create a distressed or imperfect look where brush strokes are desirable. To achieve this look a thinner paint with superior pigments is preferred over a thicker paint.

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If you find paint starting to drip, you should paint over the area quickly to ensure it doesn’t set. It would help if you smoothed it out before continuing the process. You should follow the furniture’s natural lines and paint from the top down for the best results.

If you’re working with rollers and brushes simultaneously, you should ensure you have an even layer of paint before you allow it to dry. Using multiple light coats of paint will also lead to a nicer finish compared to one heavy coat.

After applying the first layer of paint, you should let it dry for at least six hours. Check the surface for bubbles, bumps, drips, etc. Once the paint has dried, you should carefully sand away any runs or drips. Run over the surface of the furniture a second time using a fine grain of sandpaper, and clean all remnants with your tack cloth.

At this stage, you should apply another coat of paint. It’s impossible to achieve perfect-looking wooden furniture with a single coat of paint. You need to apply 2-3 coats, sanding in between each process, as we’ve described in the paragraph above. The paint also has to dry completely between each layer to prevent wood warping.

Use a Clear Finish on the Surface

Depending on your preferences, you can give your wooden furniture a matte or glossy finish by applying a clear finish after the paint has dried. This step is optional, but it is an excellent way to protect your furniture from scratches and make the paint a bit more hard-wearing, and prevent peeling. A good finish to use is water-based polyurethane like this one from Minwax 63010444 Fast Drying Polyurethane.

Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane Protective Wood Finish, Clear Satin, 1 Quart
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  • OIL-BASED DURABLE FINISH – Clear finish provides long-lasting protection and warm beauty to both finished and unfinished wood projects. Protective coating is ideal for woodwork, furniture, doors, cabinets & floors, and is available in a variety of sheens.
  • SATIN SHEEN – Give your wood projects a sleek finish with this satin clear varnish. It not only protects the natural beauty of the wood, but offers a soft, unique sheen for a modern, cozy and on-trend look.

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However, if you’ve painted the furniture a light color, using polyurethane as the finish may not be a good idea. It can cause yellowing after a while. It would be best if you considered using polycrylic in this situation. It doesn’t contain as many fumes as polyurethane, and it’s easier to clean.

Allow the Furniture to Dry

At the end of the finishing process, you need to let the furniture dry for as long as indicated by the manufacturers of the finishing product you’ve used. If you didn’t apply a finish, you could end the process by allowing the paint on the furniture to dry. Allow the paint to cure for 2-3 days, and then replace the hardware you removed at the start after you’ve made sure that all areas of the furniture have dried.

What Is the Best Way to Paint Wood Furniture?

As we’ve seen above, the best way to paint wood furniture is to do the following:

  1. Get rid of any old paint safely.
  2. Fill up any dents in the wood.
  3. Sand the furniture properly.
  4. Prime it.
  5. Then paint.

Remember, you’ll have to apply two to three coats of paint to the furniture for an exquisite look, with light sanding in between, after each coat of the paint dries. 

Tips for Excellent Results When Painting Wooden Furniture

Here are some top tips to keep in mind to ensure you get your desired result while painting wooden furniture:

Decide on the Look Early

Before getting started with painting your wooden furniture, you need first to decide the look you’d like to achieve. Do you want a worn and distressed look or a smooth and flawless appearance? This is the foundation of everything else you’ll be doing in the painting process.

A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

If you’re aiming for a distressed or aged finish, you have to choose a paint that leaves a matte finish, such as milk paint, latex paint in flat finish, or chalk paint. You also won’t need to worry about perfect brush strokes.

However, for a smooth and flawless finish, you’ll need to work with paint that has a glossier finish and be a lot more careful about maintaining smooth brushstrokes. You’ll also need to lightly sand the furniture to remove flaws and ensure a smooth finish. This won’t be necessary when you’re going for a distressed finish.

Buy Paint Brushes That Are High Quality

If you buy the cheapest paintbrushes you can find, you’ll have the bristles constantly shedding onto your painting. You’ll also have unsightly brush marks as you work. The Purdy Clearcut Series is a popular option. They cost a bit more but will last longer and ensure you enjoy a clean job in the end.

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For large smooth surfaces, small foam rollers are the better solution to use. The paint will go on a lot faster, and the finish, in the end, will be very smooth. It would help if you chose rollers made for smooth surfaces, such as those made for door painting or trims.

Buy the Right Primer

We’ve seen above how different types of primers are best for different use cases. However, latex primer tends to be more problematic. Wood finish can seep through and discolor the paint with such options. This is why many people use an oil-based primer such as Rust-Oleum Zinsser. It will stick to the wooden surface and also keep the old finish sealed in. 

Rust-Oleum 3554 Zinsser High Hide Cover Stain Primer and Sealer, White 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)
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Remember, you’ll have to sand the furniture lightly after priming before painting. This is especially true if your primer leaves a rough texture like the Zinsser.

Use Paint Additives

To thin your paint and get rid of brush strokes, you should use paint additives such as Flood FLD6-04 Floetrol and Flood 410 QT Penetrol. The former is for latex paint, while the latter is for oil-based paint. The instructions on how to use them are clearly listed on the package.

FLOOD/PPG FLD6-04 Floetrol Additive (1 Quart) (2)
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Put Your Brushes and Rollers in the Fridge

If you’re working on a collection of wooden furniture, it’s unlikely that you’ll finish the project in one day. Putting your brushes and rollers in Ziploc and placing them in the fridge is an excellent way to keep them from drying out. You’ll save yourself the stress of having to wash the brush or roller with every coat of paint.

Keep the Distressed Look Natural

You can do the job with 150-grit sandpaper or 100-grit option if that doesn’t work. To maintain a natural, distressed look, you should pay attention to parts that will typically get a lot of wear and tear, such as the edges, drawer fronts, raised decorations, corners, etc. If you try to create random scuffs and circles in the center of the furniture, you’ll end up with a very artificial distressed look.

Use Sealers on Top Surfaces

If the wooden furniture you’re working on has a top or surface that will hold objects, it’s a good idea to protect that side with a quality sealer. You can use wipe-on polyurethane for stained surfaces, while a polycrylic sealer is best for painted surfaces. With this, you’ll prevent the yellowing of your paint and keep it protected from wear and tear.

However, if you’ve gone for a distressed look while painting the furniture, a few scratches will only blend into its overall appearance.

Use the Furniture After the Paint Hardens

Many people erroneously think that a piece of painted wooden furniture is good to use as soon as the paint dries. This isn’t exactly the case. Drying is only the first part of the equation, and most latex paint won’t harden or cure fully for up to four weeks.

Using that piece of furniture regularly before it’s fully cured will only leave you with scratched and banged up paint. Again, if you’re going for a distressed look, this doesn’t really matter. However, if you’ve chosen a smooth finish, you need to give your piece of furniture up to a month before you start using it regularly.

Safety Tips When Painting Wooden Furniture

Here are a few ways to ensure safety while painting your wooden furniture:

Wear a Respirator or Mask

A mask or respirator is essential while working with primers and paints. It would help if you also protect yourself from the dust that comes from the sanding process. Basic masks are enough protection against dust while sanding. They are very cheap, coming in a box of two dozen masks or more. They are also disposable, which makes them a good option for quick projects.

A Complete Guide to Painting Wooden Furniture

On the other hand, the respirator protects everything, including MDA particulates, arsenic, cadmium, asbestos, lead, etc. This is thanks to the filters by its side, which can be easily swapped out depending on the protection level you need. 

If you’re working on a large piece of furniture which may require the use of an orbital sander or working with paint, primer, or wood sealant that has a strong odor, the respirator is the better option to use.

Use Gloves While Touching Chemicals

You need to wear gloves when touching the paint and other materials required when painting wooden furniture. Standard nitrile gloves are often enough to do the job. MedPride Powder-Free Nitrile Exam Gloves and Wostar Nitrile Disposable Gloves are two popular options you can find in most stores.

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You can use the gloves to keep your hands clean while staining the wood, getting rid of wax or hemp oil when using certain paints, or just cleaning your stripped furniture with some spirits. Just like the basic masks, these gloves are super disposable and make them ideal for use when working on paint projects with your hands.

If you’re working with caustic chemicals such as strippers, you need to use gloves that are more suited to protect your skin, such as the UXglove Chemical Resistant Latex Gloves. Generally, it would be best if you protect your hands with the right gloves recommended by the manufacturer of the product you’re working with. 

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While most paints and primers won’t get through conventional nitrile gloves, some manufacturers will recommend using stronger protection for their products. There’s a reason why they’re recommending chemical-resistant gloves.

Wear Safety Glasses

It would be best if you had splash goggles and safety glasses while painting your wooden furniture. Dust or dirt getting into your eyes while working is not only uncomfortable but can also be very harmful—especially if you impulsively try to wipe off the dirt with your dirty or paint-laden, glove-covered hands.

You need to protect your eyes from sawdust and also splash from paint or primer. The fumes from some products can also leave a burning feeling in your unprotected eyes. Safety glasses and splash goggles fit like standard glasses. Still, they have little extensions covering the sides and wrapping around your eyes in most cases.

They are usually shatter-proof, which makes them excellent protection against flying debris while sanding your wooden furniture. The covering also ensures liquid won’t splash into your eyes. Bollé Safety SILEXPSI and LianSan Anti-Fog Anti-Saliva Safety Glasses are two options you can look at.

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Cover Your Ears With Ear Muffs

If you’re working on a few pieces of wooden furniture, you’ll be doing lots of sanding. If you’re using an orbital sander, the ringing noise may keep reverberating in your head weeks after you’re done with your project! Covering your ears with some ear muffs can help cut down the noise or even eliminate it.

Professional Safety Ear Muffs by Decibel Defense and ProCase Noise Reduction Safety Ear Muffs, Shooters Hearing Protection Earmuffs  are two options you should consider. They are adjustable and can come in handy in other situations that have nothing to do with painting wooden furniture.

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Pay Attention to the Labels

Some of the most important safety tips for using paints, primers, and other products necessary for this project can be found on these products’ labels. The manufacturers always guide using their products, including how best to prepare the surfaces and the disposal instructions when you’re done. A few of them also offer video guides for you to work with.

The manufacturer’s instructions trump any advice you’ll receive elsewhere or anything you’ll read in online tutorials (including this one). So, take the time you need to read labels and ensure you’ve done your due diligence.

Dispose of Paint Products Properly

After you’re done painting, you need to carefully remove the empty paint containers, damaged paintbrushes, empty primer cans, and more properly. If you’ve used rollers and brushes that are still usable for future projects, wash them off properly outdoors.

Please don’t wash them off near vegetation or water bodies as the chemical components may harm the ecosystem. Washing them down your sink is not a good idea either, as the chemicals can damage the piping structure or lead to the release of toxic fumes into your home.

Using an organic paint-product free of chemicals is a good way to avoid adding toxins to your environment. However, it isn’t easy to complete a painting project using only organic materials. Many paint manufacturers have eco-friendly options you can choose from. Still, between primers and paint additives, the entire cocktail will rarely be organic.

Conclusion

Painting a piece of wooden furniture is a very straightforward process. For small pieces, you can be done with painting in just a few hours. Larger projects will also take a lot more time, but that’s all the challenge there is to it.

By following the instructions we’ve covered above, you can have your wooden furniture looking like it’s been painted by a professional. You’ll save the money that should have gone to a professional painter, and you can always revamp your furniture from time to time instead of paying for a new batch regularly.

Sources

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