How I paint my Furniture

I got an email from a good friend who sadly lives too far away for me to go over and help her with a cute chair she found and wants to refinish for her entry. I thought though, that the least I could do was to write her a post summarizing the steps I take to refinishing a piece of furniture. I am not an expert but I have read some on the subject and these steps have worked well for me so far.

The way I look at it, there are 6 steps:

  1. Stripping/Sanding
  2. Repairs
  3. Priming
  4. Painting
  5. Effects
  6. Finish/Protective coats

{source : Knack}

You don’t necessarily have to do all the steps so I’ll explain them and you can decide which steps work for you for the piece you have and the effect you are going for.

1. Stripping/Sanding

Before you start, you need to decide what you want to do with the piece. Do you want to paint it or restore it to its natural wood?

If you are painting the piece you do not need to sand it down and strip all the previous layers off of it. This is great news because a total strip job is time consuming and no fun.


To paint a wood piece or a previously painted piece, just lightly sand the piece all over until the surface is smooth to the touch. This will scuff the surface and remove any waxes or previous protective coats and allow your new paint to adhere better. If the surface is smooth to the touch, your paint should also go on smooth.

2. Repairs

Make sure you do any repairs that need to be done for a smooth and professional finished product. If there are any dents or dings or deep scratches, fill them in with wood filler, following the instructions on the container. Make sure you sand down the areas you use wood filler on until they are super smooth and blend into the surface of the piece. Any bubbles, dents, dings, wrinkles etc will show after you have painted.


3. Primer

I didn’t use primer on some of my earlier pieces because I used latex paint with a primer built in. Now having used primer, I would recommend it especially when using spray paint. You don’t need to use much, just a light coat. I would especially use primer if you are painting bare wood, have used wood filler to patch, or are going to use a light colour paint.


Bare wood, especially old furniture wood, tends to have oil and water stains from being used. A primer with a good stain blocker will ensure that the paint adheres to the piece, ensures that the finish will be even, and keep stains from travelling through the paint and showing on the surface of the new paint.

4. Painting

This is the fun step! You have a couple options for paint. The basic options are latex paint or spray paint. There are fancier paints out there like chalk paint and milk paint which are used especially for hand painted furniture and antiques. I haven’t used any of them so I cannot comment on them. I have used latex, spray paint, and a home made chalk paint alternative.

(I used Plaster of Paris rather than grout)

You should have a vision of what you want the finish of your project to look like, this will help you choose the type of paint you should use. Do you want the finished product to be glossy or matte? do you want it to look antique and worn, like you just pulled it from your grandmother’s attic? or do you want it to look modern and sleek with a smooth finish, looking brand new and from a store? These effects will depend on the painting technique you choose.


Hand painting with latex, chalk, or milk paint and a paint brush will give you a more antique, hand painted look with brush marks. If you like this look, adding a couple of tablespoons of plaster of Paris will emphasis the texture of the brush marks.


Spray paint will give you a very smooth finish if you are patient and apply it in very light coats to avoid dripping. Spray painting is the fastest way to do a piece but it is important to follow the instructions on the can and work in a place with little to no wind. You blow through spray paint pretty quickly so for bigger pieces hand painting is usually a better option. Spray paint also comes in a much more limited palette of colours than latex paints. If you just want basic white or black (or other basic colours) Walmart is the cheapest place to find spray paint. Canadian tire has a wider selection and is also very reasonably priced. Micheal’s carries colours no one else carries, epecially their liquidex line (in the artists paint aisle) but they are twice the price so make sure you bring in the %40 coupons they always have up on their site.


For larger pieces, it can get expensive to spray paint them. If you want to get that smooth finish but need to use regular paint, use foam rollers on all the large areas to avoid brush marks. If you are really worried, ask your paint guy at the store you get your paint, which paint they would recommend for a smooth application.

6. Effects

After your base paint coat is done you have the option of doing an effect. If you want it to look antique, the best way is to take a medium grit sand paper and start distressing areas of the piece, mostly the edges and key areas.


The idea is to make it look worn, and to let the  paint colour or wood underneath show through. You can also use a dark wax or a watered down black paint to darken details and crevices to give it that time worn look. There are tons of different effects you can do, this step will require some research and inspiration searches online to try narrow down the look you like and how to get it.


7. Protective Coat

The last step is to protect all the hard work you just did. You can chose a wax, or a polyurethane finish to protect your project. I use a wax because I find that it gives a nicer, hand-rubbed finish and is never tacky and will never yellow. You can hardly even tell that your piece has an extra layer on it besides the paint. The wax will not give you a high gloss finish however, so if you are looking for that you will need to look at the polyurethanes. Make sure you chose one that specifically says it will not yellow over time!



6 thoughts on “How I paint my Furniture

  1. Hi Rachel, thanks so much for posting this for me:) Very informative article. It has sadly taken me a month to get around to this project of mine, but i am beginning today! I will keep you posted as to how it goes!

  2. Hi again,
    I also meant to say that Bonds can even create a spray paint to match a stained piece of furniture( that might have done with a paint on stain not spray) that you already have as long as you can bring them a sample of the finished wood. So if you were going to do wicker ( spraying is much easier than painting with brush) for example and you wanted the colour to work with some stained furniture already in the piece, they can create that for you.
    It is on the expensive side, but well worth it in some circumstances. I think a custom stain match for 875 ml or 900 ml can was 30.00 last year.

  3. Hi Rachel. Excellent article. We have a project upcoming this week which will involve a first attempt with milk paint so I will keep you posted. It is a slat, king size bed pallet which we built last weekend to put on top of existing box spring and support a brand new organic mattress which is yet to be delivered. It weighs about 80 lbs so we may ending falling through the floor into the basement! (your Mom has kindly offered to provide assistance from some of your male relatives -names shall remain anonymous to protect the innocent-to bring said pallet in. ) I chose milk paint because it is entirely organic or natural and it will seal the bare wood. Milk paint provides resistance to mold and mildew. Since the mattress is made of natural latex rubber, you need a special box spring with slats inside to allow for air circulation. My enthusiasm has caused me to digress from your blog topic momentarily. I wanted to comment that as spray paint is expensive, another alternative that I have done in the past is to use regular latex paint slightly diluted if necessary and use a power painter. (we have a Wagner power painter from some stucco ceiling painting we had to do many years ago.). You have to adjust the dilution in order to prevent the paint from clogging the nozzle. Also make sure that you thoroughly clean the nozzle afterwards as well as the paint container. I did a large wicker chair years ago with the power painter because I wanted to use the same paint I had applied on wooden furniture in the room and wanted the color to be an exact match! The power painter also has a little nozzle that you are not supposed to remove.:). Keep up the blogging, it is great fun and very informative.

    1. I would love to hear about how the milk paint works for you and where you get it from. Keep me posted!
      I have heard that power painters are a dream when it comes to doing furniture and I have seen a set of stools a friend’s mother in law did for her and they look very professional. I was impressed. Glad you still like the blog, sorry for being tardy with my posts last week!

      1. Hi,
        I can answer the where you buy the milk paint question…. Bonds Decor on Bank Street. ( They also sell amazing hand made furniture either finished or unfinished, depending upon your choice. They are also an excellent resource because their staff is quite knowledgeable. They also provide a match service (I used the Gladwin Crescent location- near St. Laurent and 417). If you bring a stained or painted sample of what you want they can provide a match. This is very handy if you have a piece of furniture and you are finishing another one for the same room, want them to match, but ran out of paint/stain years ago….The milk paint is only available on Bank Street, not Gladwin. I have not tried the milk paint yet, I am hoping to get to it sometime this week.

Please post your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s