All of the tips and tricks you need to prep and paint furniture and add unique finishes, plus secrets to buying furniture on Craigslist and at thrift stores.
Seriously, why have I not written this post before? There have only been something like umpteen million furniture makeovers on this blog. (Only slightly an exaggeration.)
I get a lot of questions from some of y’all about where to start, how to prep, how to distress and play around with some fun finishes. So it was high time I wrote all of my best tips in one easy-to-find place. A beginner’s guide to painting furniture!
(If you’re already a pro, this post will probably bore you to death, but I wanted a one-stop-easy-to-follow-how-to for anyone who’s been a little intimidated by the whole painting furniture process.)
I pinky promise it’s not as scary as you think. And actually, once you start, you’ll probably be addicted. Fair warning. 😉
But even if you don’t live in a hot Craigslisting area or you don’t get a chance to hit the thrift stores during the work week for the best finds, you can often find furniture at yard sales, estate sales, or on your local Facebook buy/sell/trade groups. Just search your town’s or county’s name alongside “buy/sell/trade” and you’re bound to find a group with people trying to get rid of their furniture overload.
Supplies You’ll Need:
(Some affiliate links are provided below for convenience. The optional list below will vary depending on what kind of finishes you would like to achieve. More about that toward the bottom of this post.)
- Simple Green cleaner (Or other brand of cleaner you prefer)
- Clean, dry rags
- Screwdriver (for removing old hardware)
- Wood filler
- Putty knife
- Medium and fine grit sandpaper
- Spray shellac or Fusion Concealer (if you have a dark wood stained piece)
- Paint of your choice (My favorite is Fusion Mineral Paint)
- Paint brush (I prefer these natural bristle brushes)
- Tack cloth
Additional Supplies (optional):
- Furniture wax in the color of your choice (If you want a more antique look.)
- Wax brush (for applying wax with ease)
- Clear wax (If you’re working with chalk paint.)
- Wire brush (If you want a chippy, extremely distressed look.)
- Chip brush (If you want to dry-brush your piece.)
- Artist brushes (If you are working with a piece that has lots of details.)
- Fusion Crackle (If you want a cracked, distressed finish.)
- Belt sander (If you want to re-stain your piece.)
- Stain of your choice or Homestead House Stain & Finishing Oil (If you want to re-stain your piece.)
- Polycrylic or Fusion Tough Coat (If you need to seal your stain finish. This step not needed if you’re using Homestead House Stain & Finishing Oil.)
So once you find the oh-my-gosh-can’t-live-without-it piece of furniture…
Prepping is the least fun part, but if you want the best, most lasting finish possible, it’s gotta happen. The good news is I LOVE Fusion Mineral Paint, which requires pretty much no prep work, no sealing, and brush marks are much less visible. (More about that on the painting step.)
Chalk paint also requires little to no prep work, but you do have to seal it when you’re done painting. And brush strokes are much more noticeable with chalk paint.
If you want to use latex paint or spray paint though, you will likely need to sand and prime before you can paint.
Knowing what kind of paint you’re working with is the first step to determining how much prep work you need to do.
1. Because wood furniture especially often has wood oil and dusting residue on it, I like to give my pieces a quick wipe down using a clean, dry rag and Simple Green. Other cleaners, like TSP, can work too, but that’s just the one I personally prefer.
2. At this point, remove all hardware as well and remove drawers and doors.
3. If you have a badly damaged piece with peeling veneer, use your putty knife to scrape away any remaining peeling veneer.
4. Using your putty knife again, press some wood filler into the damaged wood and let dry. At this point, add wood filler to any old knob/pull holes too, if you plan on using a different size of hardware later.
5. Once the wood filler is dry (follow dry times listed on the back of the wood filler package), use medium grit sandpaper to sand it down to a smooth finish.
6. If you are painting a dark stained piece of furniture, spray it with shellac or brush on a coat of Fusion Concealer to prevent the stain from bleeding. Painting white paint over raw dark wood, especially, can cause the paint to turn pink from stain bleed. You probably don’t want a Pepto Bismol table. 😉
The fun part! Well, not as fun as the adding character part, but it’s where the magic happens.
7. The good news is it won’t take long to see your furniture totally transform in a matter of an hour, two tops. I really love using these natural bristle brushes because they allow me to easily apply paint in every crevice and carefully work around details (like those non-removable wood knobs below). They also hold more paint, so you don’t have to reload your brush as often.
Keep your brush strokes going in one direction (up and down or left and right) to maintain a smooth finish. If you want a more visual guide, this video can help.
It might take a little bit practice, but just watch to make sure you’re not dripping your paint and you’re set. Usually, two coats of Fusion paint is all I need for a solid paint job (3 coats of I’m painting white on a dark piece).
After painting your furniture, you can be totally finished if you want. Or you can have some extra fun with it and add character in a bunch of different ways…
If you like the shabby farmhouse look, use a couple of pieces of fine or medium grit sandpaper for this step. I like using sandpaper rather than a sanding block because I can get into grooves and distress curved pieces that a sanding block can’t each. It tends to have a more natural distressed look with paper.
Scuff up the paint with your sandpaper, focusing on corners, edges, and details where a piece would naturally chip and wear with age.
If you want a heavily distressed finish, you can use a wire bristle brush to scuff it up even further for a chippy kind of look.
Waxing is the trickiest step when it comes to adding character, but the results are gorgeous and so worth it! If your piece has any carved details, it’s a definite must-do.
If you paint a piece with chalk paint, you will need to seal it with clear wax. I like to wear an old, clean sock like a mitten and rub it on the chalk paint. Then buff it 2-3 minutes later with the other clean sock.
For using Fusion Mineral Paint, you don’t have to worry about a clear wax step.
BUT, you can add Homestead House espresso or black wax to create an aged, antique look. Or you can use Homestead House white wax for a liming effect.
1. It’s best to practice on a scrap piece of wood first to get used to the process.
2. Using a wax brush, dip the bristles about 1/4 inch into your wax pot and rub it onto a section of your painted furniture. (If I’m working on a dresser, I often wax only one drawer at a time.)
3. Let the wax dry for just 2-3 minutes, then gently wipe away any excess wax with a clean, dry rag.
If you need a more visual example, here is an excellent tutorial by Marian Parsons (Miss Mustard Seed).
Another pretty effect that I LOVE is dry brushing. It’s very fast, dries in no time, and requires hardly any paint to do it. If you have a piece that has a lot of raised wood grain, dry brushing it would be perfect for pulling out that texture.
- Choose a color contrasting your base color already on your piece of furniture. I love dry brushing white on a dark painted finish.
- Using a chip brush, dip the bristles about a 1/4 inch into your paint.
- Brush the bristles on a dry paper towel or clean, dry rag until it appears all of the paint has been removed from the brush.
- Then, brush your piece of furniture, keeping your stokes going in one direction. Add as much dry brushing or as little as you prefer.
If you want to get a little bit glitzy with your furniture, I love the Fusion Metallics line. You can use it as a solid color or you can use it as an accent for faux gilding on small details.
For small details, it’s best to use an artist brush. Just add as much or as little as you’d like. Or you can dry brush with it for a more translucent sheen.
This finish is SO COOL to watch and makes every piece look suuuuper aged.
- Paint your piece whatever color you want peeking underneath the crackle and let dry.
- Brush a moderate layer of Fusion Crackle on top of the base color.
- Then, wait following the directions on the back of the Crackle bottle.
- Paint your top coat color of choice with a brush, or for best results that are more even, use a paint sprayer. (I prefer this one.)
This isn’t really painting, but it’s worth mentioning. If you want to change the color of stain on a tabletop, it’s a messy but simple job.
1. Use a belt sander (strongly recommend that over a Mouse sander as a belt is much faster) using coarse grit sandpaper to remove the existing stained finish.
2. Use a varnish brush or rag to apply the stain of your choice, let sit, and wipe away, following the directions on the back of the can.
3. Add more coats, depending on how dark you prefer your stain.
4. All stained wood should really be sealed, especially if it’s a piece that will receive lots of wear and tear like a dining table top or coffee table. Brush on 2-3 layers of Polycrylic or Fusion Tough Coat, let dry for 24 hours, and your finish is totally protected.
(If you want to finish the staining and sealing in one step though, Homestead House Staining & Finishing Oil works great.)
Add some pretty knobs and pulls as the finishing touch, and you’re all done! This post has some of my favorite places to buy hardware for furniture makeovers.
Whew! That’s a whole lot of info, but I hope it makes the whole newbie painting thing seem not so daunting. Just dive in and do it. You’ll never know what hidden talent you may possess. And if it doesn’t come naturally, it will with a little bit of practice.
Because if you think I was a rockstar at it from Day 1, then you need to take a gander at my giant fails in this previous post. The best lessons are learned through mistakes, right?
But really, isn’t it so worth it to find a $20 dresser and make it look like a million bucks with just a couple of hours and a can of paint?
Have you attempted refinishing furniture before? Do you have a favorite furniture paint color you use time and time again? Or a favorite distressing technique? Or a link to a favorite piece you’ve done if you have a blog yourself? Share in the comments!!! It’s one of those things you never stop learning and perfecting.
If you want more ideas, you can check out all of my past flips here too:
A big thank you to Fusion Mineral Paint for sponsoring this post.