How to paint furniture

How to paint furniture

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

Guide written by:

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

Recently changed your décor or picked up some second-hand bargains? Or perhaps you've just grown tired of your old furniture? There are many reasons you might want to paint furniture. We'll take you through all the steps involved and, as a bonus, give you a few tips on how to customise your pieces!
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Customise your furniture with a lick of paint

Customise your furniture with a lick of paint

Repainting an old furniture item is one of the easiest DIY tasks out there. It requires little time, few tools and it can even be an introductory project for kids to teach them about the importance of upcycling rather than throwing things away! We'll take you through all the steps involved in restoring furniture using paint. And if you're looking to create something truly unique, we've got 10 tips and tricks to turn your furniture item into a piece of art you can call your own!

Steps

  1. Clean and sand the furniture

  2. Repair the furniture and replace the hardware

  3. Prepare the furniture and workspace 

  4. Paint the furniture 

  5. Clean your tools, furniture and workspace

1. Clean and sand the furniture

Degreasing the furniture

Grease builds up on furniture through exposure to cooking fumes or just day-to-day use over a long period of time. Of course it's much more important to clean and degrease a furniture item that has been used in a kitchen than one that's spent most of its life in the living room! Taking steps to remove grease from the furniture is therefore not always necessary and it's up to you to decide if it's required. If you do want to remove any traces of greasy marks, this can be done using a basic household cleaning product. If the grease is really caked on, you might need to use a more powerful product designed specifically to degrease. In this case, you'll need to wear the right PPE including safety goggles and gloves.

Sanding the furniture

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The type and grit of the sandpaper you use depends on the material and condition of the surface: start by the coarsest grit (e.g. 60) and work your way down the finest (e.g. 120). You don't have to strip the wood all the way back except if you plan to bleach, varnish or stain, or apply a natural stain or wax. Furniture that has already been refurbished a few times and has a few layers of paint can be tackled with a paint stripper.

Sanding metal furniture

Sanding metal furniture

Start by roughly sanding with a medium-grit metal sandpaper before finishing off with fine-grit metal sandpaper. For a better finish, you can wet sand the surfaces. 

Sanding composite or melamine-faced wood

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Just like when sanding plastic, composite wood or wood coated with melamine should be sanded using fine grit wood sandpaper. Any coarser grit will make scratches in the material that will be difficult to hide with paint. 

Sanding wood

Wood can generally be sanded using medium-grit wood sandpaper but this depends on the condition of the wood. Work your way down to a finer grit as you go. Always sand in the direction of the wood grain whether you're sanding by hand or using a vibrating, orbital or random orbital sander. Your choice of tool depends on the surface you need to sand: 

  • use an orbital sander for curved surfaces;

  • use a vibrating or random orbital sander for flat surfaces; 

  • corners and details should ideally be sanded with a detail sander (a vibrating sander with a triangular sanding pad).

If you only have a small surface to sand and your furniture has a lot of cornices, mouldings or other rounded features, it's best to sand by hand. Manual sanding also produces less dust and noise! Use a sanding block for flat surfaces to stop you getting blisters on your fingers or the palm of your hand. Steel wool can also be used for furniture that has been waxed or if you're looking to create a distressed look. Just like when you use sandpaper, start with the most abrasive type and work down to the finest grit (0 to 00000). Always work in the direction of the wood grain. You might want to use a de-waxing product at the same time.

Remember to wear a dust mask when sanding wood.

2. Repair the furniture and replace the hardware

Repairing wooden furniture

If your furniture features imperfections like scratches, hole or other signs of age and wear, you can fill them in using wood filler as long as they aren't too deep (less than 5 mm approx.). If you have any gaps larger than 5 mm, it's best to use caulk. In theory, you can use wood filler to tackle gaps larger than 5 mm, it's just that you'll have to go over the same spot several times as the putty will sink into the hole as it dries leaving behind an ugly hollow. If you want to make the wood filler blend in better with the colour of the wood, you can always mix it with some of the dust produced by sanding

If you have big gaps, don't attempt to use too much wood putty. Instead, try filling in part of the hole using a piece of wood cut and shaped for the purpose.

Repairing composite or melamine-faced wood

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With the exception of the edges of the material (which can be refinished), you cannot repair the surface of composite or melamine-coated wood. The material coating simply won't allow it. Your only option in this case is to replace the damaged panel. If that is beyond your skill level or you don't have the right tools to carry out the repair, you can attempt to repair a hole or chip by blocking it up, applying wood glue as required and covering up the surface with materials like vinyl sheets, cork board, glass or fabric. 

Repairing metal furniture

Metal furniture is so robust it rarely gets damaged. However, parts can come loose. In this case, you'll need a welding station and some welding experience. Alternatively, you can cold weld the materials which involves using a weld agent and a hardening agent to join two surfaces. It's worth noting that it's also possible to find metal glue that can be filed down and sanded once dry.

Replacing the hardware 

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Handles and hinges can be replaced with hardware in better condition or just more in line with your tastes. If your hardware is in decent condition, you can:

  • leave it as it is;

  • remove it to stop you from having to cover it up when you repaint the furniture;

  • sand and repaint the hardware itself (by either removing it or leaving it where it is).

3. Prepare the furniture and workspace 

Protecting surfaces

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Once your furniture has been cleaned, sanded, repaired and dusted down, you can move on to covering up any areas that you don't want to paint or any parts you want to paint a different colour. Use masking paper and tape to cover up any cornices or moulding. Choose the right width for your surfaces. 

Organising your workspace and preparing the paint

  • Once your furniture is fully prepared, take the time to organise your space and the products you are about to use such as an undercoat if you're working with composite wood or a rust inhibitor if you're dealing with metal furniture. Please note that some metal paints already contain rust inhibitors.

  • Before applying your first coat of paint to interior wood, you can always dilute a little paint in water (if it is acrylic) or white spirit (if it is oil-based). This will help you to save paint as wood tends to soak up some of the first coat. In terms of your work space, it's best to place your furniture high up (e.g. on a workbench or table) and protect the ground and surrounding areas using cardboard, newspaper or paint sheets.

It's best to use water-based paint when painting furniture as this type of paint emits fewer VOCs than other paints A primer or undercoat can be applied before your first coat of paint.

4. Paint the furniture 

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  • Before applying any paint, you need to mix the paint thoroughly to ensure you get an even texture and to make sure that the pigments haven't all settled at the bottom of the can. If required, dilute your paint as described above and read the instructions on the paint can.

  • Start by painting the edges, corners and any joints using an edging brush. Once you have cut in all the detailed areas apply paint to the rest of your surface. Use a roller for the most even finish. Overlap the paint as necessary but remember that your final brush or roller strokes must follow the grain of the wood. 

  • Leave your first coat to dry. Once it is dry, you can sand down the surface lightly before applying your second coat. This will help to create an even finish and ensure your second coat adheres properly. While not compulsory, sanding between coats with a fine-grit sandpaper will improve the final result.

  • Leave the second coat to dry, sand if required, then go in with a third coat. However, if you've got the result you want after two coats, remove your masking paper and check everything is dry. At this point, you can cover up the surfaces you have already painted and move on to applying paint to any other parts following the same process. 

As paint releases VOCs, it's best not to paint in the home. Ideally you should paint in an open workshop wearing a mask. It's also possible to use a paint gun but you need to have the right tools and a space set up for this purpose.

5. Clean your tools, furniture and workspace

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  • Once you've finished painting, clean your tools with water or solvents depending on the type of paint you've used (i.e. water- or oil-based). 

  • Seal your paint tins and write the date on them to give you an idea of their expiry date.

  • Store the products well out of the reach of children.

  • Gather up your masking paper, cardboard, newspaper or paint sheets and any empty paint cans, and either store them away or place them in a black bag ready to be thrown out or taken to the appropriate recycling facility. 

  • Leave your freshly painted furniture in the workshop or garage for a few days to avoid bringing too many Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the house. Most VOCs will disperse over the course of a few days. 

10 tips for customising furniture

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If you're looking to do more than just change the colour of you furniture, you can think about different ways to customise to make your piece really unique. Here are 5 easy ways to change the look of your furniture. 

  1. Does you furniture feature glass panels? Try removing them and replacing them with wire grids or panels for a more industrial look. 

  2. Got boring, flat doors? Add your own baroque-inspired mouldings to liven them up. You can paint the mouldings in the same colour as the furniture or even apply gold leaf

  3. Want to bring out the grain of the wood? Try burning the material slightly with a blowtorch. 

  4. Want to bleach wood? Apply some oxalic acid to the material. 

  5. Hoping to create an aged effect? Go over your painted surface with some steel wool and make tiny holes in it to imitate the look of wood worm!

  6. Making over a sideboard? Cover the top of the unit with tiles or azulejos for a unique finish.

  7. Looking to break away from all the furniture clichés? Mix up colours, metallic paint, stencils and geometric forms for something that's truly your own.

  8. Want an interesting but functional piece? Cover part of your furniture with blackboard paint and use it to write notes on.

  9. Top of the furniture not in great condition? Cover it with glass and slide in a few keepsakes such as varnished leaves, travel or concert tickets or old news articles.

  10. Want your furniture to take you on a journey? Cut up a map of the world and glue it carefully over the front, drawers or doors of your furniture.

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How to paint furniture

Required skills

Required skills

You don't need any special skills to paint furniture. You just need to be able to sand, paint, clean and potentially apply a bit of wood filler if your furniture requires repairs.

Time required 

Required time

From 3-8 hours depending on the type and condition of the furniture.

Number of people required

Number of people required

1 person

Tools and equipment

Tools and equipment
  • Vibrating, orbital or random orbital sander, depending on your surface type. 

  • Sandpaper in a range of grit sizes (fine, medium or coarse, depending on the surface). 

  • Cleaner with de-greasing agents (depending on furniture condition)

  • Masking paper and tape

  • Furniture paint

  • Brush and roller

  • Furniture hardware (hinges, handles, etc.)

  • Bin liner

  • Vacuum cleaner

  • Cloths

Safety wear

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Please note: this is a non-exhaustive list; be sure to match your personal protective equipment to the job at hand.

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Bin liners
 
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Guide written by:

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

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