Reviews Furniture & Decor

Dream It, Do It: How to Paint Wood Furniture

Take wood furniture from drab to fab with a fresh coat of paint.

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Most anything can be transformed with a can of paint and some step-by-step instructions. Here’s an easy, four-step tutorial on how to paint wood furniture:

STEP 1: Sanding

The first order of business when painting wood furniture is sanding. Don’t be tempted to skip this step. Proper sanding will ensure an even, smooth finish that is not prone to chipping. I use an orbital sander, but other finishing sanders would work just fine too.

(I wouldn’t really recommend hand-sanding unless you are very strong and very patient. It takes a LOT of sanding to remove old paint and stain, and I would get very weary of sanding if I had to do it manually. I get tired of sanding even with the orbital sander!)

How to Paint Wood Furniture - Before

Photo: The Frugal Girl

I usually start out using 80- or 100-grit sandpaper, especially if there’s a durable lacquer finish on the piece.

Once most of the stain/paint has been removed, I switch to 150-grit or higher to remove any remaining finish and smooth out the surface.

Once I’ve sanded everywhere I can with the orbital sander, I tackle hard-to-reach spots by hand with either a sanding block or a piece of plain sandpaper  that I can bend and fold to reach awkward areas. As long as you sand enough to remove the sheen, the primer and paint should stick.

STEP 2: Dust Removal

When you’ve finished sanding, it’s important to remove all the dust, as residual dust will not only mess up the new finish, but also keep the paint and primer from sticking. I often use a damp cloth, or sometimes a dry cloth followed by a thorough vacuuming.

Now comes the fun part! (I hate the prepping.)

STEP 3: Priming

Once your piece is sanded and dust-free, you’re going to need to prime it. I prefer to use a spray primer, as it usually gives a neater, thinner coat than a brush-on.  Obviously, gray is best to use under dark paint colors, and white is best for light colors.

How to Paint Wood Furniture - In Process

Photo: The Frugal Girl

When you prime, you want to do several very thin coats. In fact, when you do the first coat, it should barely look like you’ve even primed. Let the primer dry for ten minutes or so (depending on the weather and manufacturer recommendations), then do another coat. Let that coat dry before doing one or two more. The goal is to have the piece completely covered in a thin, even coat of primer.

Depending on the wood type, I sometimes sand before the last coat of primer goes on, as the primer can raise the grain of the wood. If the surface doesn’t feel smooth to the touch, I run the orbital sander lightly across, using fine-grit sandpaper. I wipe it down again, apply one more coat of primer, and I’m finally ready to paint.

STEP 4: Painting

My favorite paint for wood furniture is Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Semi-Gloss (view on Amazon). This paint is thinner than ordinary paint, which makes it easier to achieve a smooth finish. Painter’s Touch comes in several different sheens, but I like to use the semi-gloss. (One can goes incredibly far. Just to give you an idea, the 2-1/4 cans I’ve used so far have covered two dressers, three nightstands, a chair, a desk and a file cabinet.)

Mix the paint well and using a clean paint brush (I use a regular, bristled brush, not a foam brush), brush on a very thin first coat.

Just as with the primer, it’s very important to do a number of thin coats. I don’t think I can overstress this: applying five thin coats is much, much better than one thick coat. The thin coats look better, and they will be more durable.

I have also found that when you’re painting a large, flat section (like the top of a dresser), it’s best to use long strokes that cover the entire length of the piece. This will help to ensure a smooth finish with an even gloss.

How to Paint Wood Furniture - After

Photo: The Frugal Girl

This paint dries very quickly, so by the time you’ve put a coat of paint on the entire piece of furniture (unless you’re painting in very humid conditions), the area you first painted should be dry again. If it’s not, wait ten minutes or so, then apply another very thin coat. Repeat this process until the furniture is painted to your satisfaction.

If you sand down to the wood, are careful to apply thin coats of paint, and your piece of furniture is made of nice wood, then you should be able to turn out a smooth, durable finish while still being able to see some wood grain through the paint.

And if you’re anything like me, once you see what an enormous difference paint can make, you’ll start looking around for more stuff to paint.

Happy painting!

When she’s not homeschooling her four children, Kristen is making a name for herself on the web as The Frugal Girl, a blog dedicated to DIYs, repurposing projects, and living simply. Kristen is enthusiastic about living on less—a passion that has allowed her to use her creativity to its fullest. We can’t wait to see what she does next!