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Beginner’s Guide to Painting Furniture

All of the tips and tricks you need to know how to paint furniture the right way and make it last + secrets to finding the best secondhand furniture deals.

Seriously, why have I not written a tutorial about how to paint furniture before? There have only been something like umpteen million furniture makeovers on this blog. (Only slightly an exaggeration.)

8 years ago, I visited thrift stores and found unwanted furniture on Facebook Marketplace to paint in my garage as a stay-at-home mom in order to resell my projects for grocery money and paying a few bills for our family.

It’s the PERFECT side gig (or main gig), creative outlet, and way to beautify your home for inexpensively.

the beginner's guide to painting furniture - hale navy cabinet

How to Paint Furniture as a Beginner

I get a lot of questions about where to start, how to prep 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!

I pinky promise it’s not as scary as you think. And actually, once you start, you’ll probably be addicted. Fair warning.

nightstand with cane front

Where to Find Secondhand Furniture to Paint

If you want some ideas about how to snag the best secondhand furniture to paint, check out these posts for insider secrets:

how to find secondhand furniture on classifieds

Secondhand Furniture Shopping Sources

  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Craigslist
  • Thrift Stores
  • Consignment Shops
  • Antique Stores (these are usually more marked up but you can still find good deals sometimes)
  • Estate Sales (find them on EstateSales.net)
  • Yard/Garage Sales (search for them using Yard Sale Treasure Map)
  • Moving Sales
  • Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade Groups
  • OfferUp
  • LetGo
  • Nextdoor
what you need for painting furniture the right way - liquid sander, degreaser, primer, alkyd paint

Supplies You Need for Painting Furniture

Mandatory Supplies on Nearly All Furniture

Optional Furniture Painting Supplies

  • Kilz Adhesion Primer (even paint-and-primer in one paints sometimes still need a primer)
  • Spray shellac or Fusion Concealer (if you’re painting a dark wood stained piece)
  • Small foam roller and paint tray (great for larger smooth areas like tabletops)
  • 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.)
  • Orbital sander (If you want to strip 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.)

The Difference Between Chalk Paint / Acrylic / Alkyd Paints

when you should use chalk paint

When You Should Choose Chalk Paint

Choose chalk paint when you want a flat finish with the flexibility to distress, age, and weather a piece of furniture. Keep in mind because it’s often meant to be distressed, it might not be as durable on all surfaces.

  • Flat sheen
  • Chalk paint requires little to no prep work, BUT you do have to seal it when you’re done painting.
  • Brush strokes are much more noticeable with chalk paint.
when you should use mineral paint

When You Should Choose Mineral Paint

Choose a mineral paint like Fusion Mineral Paint when you want a smooth, satin sheen finish without much prep work with the flexibility to distress, age, and weather a piece of furniture. Mineral paint is slightly more durable than chalk paint.

  • Satin sheen
  • Mineral paint requires little to no prep work, and you do not have seal it after painting unless you want to boost its durability. It’s truly “one and done” on most pieces.
  • Brush strokes self-level and are usually not as noticeable as with chalk paint.
when you should use alkyd or acrylic enamel paint

When You Should Choose Waterborne Alkyd or Urethane Acrylic Enamel Paint

Choose a waterborne alkyd paint like Benjamin Moore Advance or urethane acrylic enamel paint like Sherwin Williams Emerald when you want the absolute most durable paint finish possible. This type of paint is the most recommended for cabinets, doors, trim, and high traffic furniture pieces like dining tables or end tables. However, it often requires prep work.

  • Available in any sheen (depending on brand) – flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, gloss
  • Waterborne alkyd and urethane acrylic enamel paints often require a primer
  • Sealer not required
  • Brush strokes self-level and result in the smoothest finish of all paints

Knowing what kind of paint you’re working with is the first step to determining how much prep work you need to do.

green ikea cabinet turned pantry

How to Prep Furniture for Paint

Prepping is the least fun part, but if you want the best, most lasting finish possible, it’s gotta happen.

1. Clean the Furniture

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.

  • Simple Green
  • TSP (rinsing is required)
  • Krud Kutter
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap

Other cleaners, like TSP, can work too but require rinsing. Simple Green is just the one I personally prefer. Krud Kutter and Murphy’s Oil Soap work well too.

prepping and cleaning furniture with simple green

2. Remove Hardware and Patch

2a. After cleaning, remove all old knobs, pulls, and hardware and remove drawers and doors from hinges.

repairing furniture veneer holes

2b. If you have a badly damaged piece with peeling veneer, use your putty knife to scrape away any remaining peeling veneer.

2c. 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.

patching holes in furniture veneer with wood filler

2d. 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.

patched holes in veneer with wood filler

2e. (Optional – not always necessary) 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 old 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. 😉

sealing stained furniture with shellac to prevent stain bleed through

3. Apply a Base Primer (Optional but sometimes necessary)

On high traffic pieces, it’s best to use a primer. On laminate furniture especially, it’s best to use a shellac / oil based primer to get paint to adhere properly. I’ve found Kilz Adhesion to work well on just about any surface.

Only one coat is necessary.

use a primer on laminate furniture before painting

3. Paint Furniture

The fun part! Well, not as fun as actually being done, but it’s where the magic happens.

how to paint furniture

Use an 1.5″ or 2″ angled sash brush or this natural bristle brush to easily apply paint in every crevice and carefully work around details (like those non-removable wood knobs below).

how to paint furniture

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 paint is all I need for a solid paint job (sometimes 3 coats of I’m painting white on a very dark piece).

Let dry for 24 hours to ensure the paint has cured enough to handle.

painting furniture as a beginner

4. Seal the Furniture (Optional but Sometimes Necessary)

How to Seal Chalk Paint

If using chalk paint – sealing with a coat of clear wax is strongly recommended. I use Annie Sloan Clear Wax or regular Minwax Paste Finishing Wax.

Put a small nickel sized amount on a natural bristle wax brush or a clean white sock and evenly rub a thin layer of clear wax all over the painted surface. Work in small sections until fully covered with wax.

how to seal furniture with wax
how to seal chalk paint with wax

How to Seal Mineral Paint / Waterborne Alkyd Paint / Urethane Acrylic Paint

These types of paint are more durable than chalk paint, but for furniture pieces that receive a lot of wear and tear (like a dining table top for instance), I suggest applying 2-3 thin coats of water based polyurethane.

Water based polyurethane will not darken paint or cause a yellow hue like oil based polyurethane will but still greatly increases durability, which is why I suggest it above all other sealers.

how to seal painted furniture with polycrylic

After painting your furniture, you’re done!

Well, 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…

How to Add Character to Furniture

Furniture Distressing

If you like the weathered 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.

how to distress painted furniture to look naturally worn

Scuff up the paint with your sandpaper, focusing on corners, edges, and details where a piece would naturally chip and wear with age.

distressed painted furniture

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.

how to get a chippy distressed look on painted furniture using a wire brush

Aging with Wax After Painting Furniture

Wax is suggested more for chalk painted or mineral painted surfaces.

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.

how to create an aged look on painted furniture with wax

How to Create an Aged Antique Look with Wax

You can add Homestead House espresso or black wax or Annie Sloan dark wax or black wax after sealing to create an aged, antique look.

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 1-2 foot section of your painted furniture. (If I’m working on a dresser, I often wax only one drawer at a time.) Don’t apply wax to the entire furniture piece. Wax dries quickly and you’ll need time to buff.

3. Let the wax dry for just 2-3 minutes, then gently buff away any excess wax with a clean, dry rag. I like to wear an old, clean sock like a mitten to vigorously buff away the wax.

If you need a more visual example, here is an excellent tutorial by Marian Parsons (Miss Mustard Seed).

how to apply wax to furniture

How to Create a Liming with Wax

Or you can use Homestead House white wax in the same way for a beachy, liming effect.

a liming look on coastal style furniture

How to Dry Brush Furniture to Create Depth

If you want to add a little extra “grain” or weathering to a piece, try 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.

how to dry brush furniture for a distressed look
  1.  Choose a color contrasting your base color already on your piece of furniture. I love dry brushing white on a dark painted finish.
  2. Using a chip brush, dip the bristles about a 1/4 inch into your paint.
  3. 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.
  4. Then, brush your piece of furniture, keeping your stokes going in one direction. Add as much dry brushing or as little as you prefer.
dry brushed furniture
creating a weathered look on furniture

Adding Metallics to Furniture

Adding a Metallic Effect with Metallic Paint

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.

how to add metallic accents to painted furniture

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.

how to add a metallic finish to hardware
how to add faux gilding to furniture hardware

Adding a Metallic Effect with Rub n Buff

Or you can apply Rub n Buff.

  1. Put a very small amount of Rub n Buff to an artist brush and brush on the waxy paste in a very thin layer where you want to add some glitz.
  2. After 1 minute, buff away any excess with a clean cloth.

It works beautifully on hardware. Pictured below is what it looks like before buffing. Here is a breakdown of all of the Rub n Buff colors.

rub n buff colors applied to hardware

Adding a Crackling Effect After Painting Furniture

This finish is SO COOL to watch and makes every piece look suuuuper aged.

  1. Paint your piece whatever color you want peeking underneath the crackle and let dry.
  2. Brush a moderate layer of Fusion Crackle on top of the base color.
  3. Then, wait following the directions on the back of the Crackle bottle.
  4. 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 paint sprayer.)
adding a crackle finish

How to Strip and Re-stain Furniture

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 layer of paint. Next, smooth out the wood surface with a medium grit. Then, finish with a fine grit.

(You can also go through the process of using a paint stripper, but it’s fumey, time-consuming, and extremely messy. I avoid it at all costs. I also don’t love the oven cleaner stripping method.)

how to strip furniture with a sander

2. Use a varnish brush or rag to apply a wood conditioner, let sit for a few minutes, and wipe away any excess just before staining.

3. Apply the stain color of your choice, let sit, and wipe away, following the directions on the back of the can.

4. Add additional coats, depending on how dark you prefer your stain. Let the stain dry at least 24 hours before sealing.

how to stain wood furniture

5. 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 thin layers of Polycrylic (try not to pass your brush over the wet poly more than twice to prevent brush marks), let dry for 24-48 hours, and your finish is totally protected.

how to seal furniture with polycrylic

Add Hardware After Painting Furniture

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.

This hardware template makes drilling holes for new knobs and pulls much easier.

where to find hardware for furniture

Whew! That’s a whole lot of info, but I hope it makes the whole newbie painting thing seem not so daunting. This is all literally everything you’ll need to know to get you started.

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. The best lessons are learned through mistakes, right? I’ve learned them through the School of Hard Knocks.

But really, isn’t it so worth it to find a $20 desk and make it look like a million bucks with just a couple of hours and a can of paint?

desk with Fusion Mineral Paint Coal Black

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. Find more furniture makeover ideas here.

signoff

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I paint over chalk paint?

Because chalk paint is often sealed with wax, that can make it difficult to paint over.
1. Remove furniture wax first by scrubbing the piece with an abrasive sponge and mineral spirits.
2. Scuff the surface with medium grit sandpaper.
3. Wipe down any residue with Simple Green or Krud Kutter.
4. Then paint as you would like.

What is the best paint sheen for furniture?

The answer to that is totally up to you and your style, but the most widely used sheen is satin as its versatile for many styles and is durable.

What will happen if I don’t clean or prime my furniture before painting?

You risk your paint peeling right off of the surface, and while some paints claim to be “no prep”, furniture will always be the most durable with some prep and primer.

How do you prevent brush marks on furniture?

Your best bet is to apply your paint with a paint sprayer. Follow the directions on the manufacturer label for this as some paints require thinning before sprayer application.

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74 Comments

  1. Great information! Thanks for all the tips! I really look forward to your updates on your new home. I love everything that you do!

    1. I 2nd that thought. I look forward to every update on your new home. You and your husband are both so creative.

  2. Love your French blue dresser. I’m just about to distress an armoire, so this was very timely. Thank you!

  3. Oh my goodness — this is SO very helpful! Thank you, Lauren. This will be my guide and good reference as I redo some of my newly acquired “old” pieces!!

      1. Hi there. I love your blog. Just started following ! Wanted to know where you got your rug and name/brand ! Thank you

        1. Hi, Jennifer. The finished product of each piece is on a rug. Is there one that you are particularly interested in?

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