How to Paint Furniture Like a Pro - Step by Step Guide

Painting furniture can be a fun and inventive way to transform pieces that you already own into something completely new. While knowing how to paint furniture gives you the freedom to creatively reimagine your home, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Maybe you have tried painting furniture before but ran into mishaps along the way or were unsatisfied with how the piece turned out? If you do it incorrectly, you could have a mess on your hands.

Using the Guide

With our guide to painting furniture, you can avoid missteps such as unsmooth finishes and chipped paint. You really can make a DIY project that looks professional with a little help from us.

This article supplies you with the shopping list you need to pull this project off and walks you step by step through the painting process and everything it entails. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned furniture painter with a few burning questions, we are here to help.

It is important to clarify that painting furniture is a different process from staining furniture. Staining furniture is the practice of covering the wood with a clear coat in a naturalistic way. If you are looking to stain furniture, this is not the article for you.

Before You Paint

If you think the best way to begin a furniture painting project is by busting out the paint and getting to work, you need to slow down and take a deep breath.

Before you begin, you need to make sure you have all the right materials assembled in order to pull off the project.

First, you need to find a good area to do your painting. We recommend picking an area with plenty of space and room to get grimy, as this project is guaranteed to get messy.  Outside is a great place to spread out and get down and dirty.

You need more than just paint and furniture if you want the completed piece to look well made. The materials you need are as follows.

We would not recommend skipping or short shifting this list if you want the project to go successfully and for the paint to last without chipping.


What You Need to Get Started

Drop Cloth

If you so choose to paint indoors, a drop cloth is a necessity for eliminating mess as paint can splatter further and be messier than you could ever imagine. Putting down a drop cloth is a smart preventative measure for any painting project.

Bondo or Filler

Bondo is actually an automotive filler, believe it or not. We use it for painting furniture projects, though, as a way of filling in any imperfections in the wood before you begin the painting process. If your furniture doesn’t have any imperfections, feel free to skip this step.

Oil Soap

Oil soap is what you use to prep the furniture for paint. This is an integral first step in the painting process because it prepares the piece for the paint and helps the paint to last without chipping. Murphy’s Oil Soap is a good option because it is safe to use on a wide variety of furniture.

Orbital Sander with Variable Speed Control

Furniture painting projects require sanding whether you like it or not. An orbital sander lessens the workload by doing the sanding for you.

We would recommend an orbital sander with variable speed control as it gives you the most efficient and precise sanding job.

Medium Grit Sandpaper

Medium grit sandpaper is any sandpaper that is 60-100 grit. You use medium grit sandpaper on your orbital sander to remove marks from the furniture and prepare it for the paint.

Fine Grit Sandpaper

Fine grit sandpaper (120-220 grit) is used to sand in between every coat of paint. This removes any residue and any unwanted dripping paint, helping you to achieve a more finished and professional look.

A Vacuum

You need a vacuum in between rounds of sanding to get rid of the dust that tends to accumulate on the furniture. You do not want this dust around when you get to priming and painting your furniture.

Primer

If you really want your paint to stick to the furniture, you need to use a primer. The material of the furniture you are painting informs what type of primer you may need for the project.

Oil based primer is normally a safe bet, but if you are painting laminate furniture, we would recommend a shellac based primer. Zinsser B-I-N Shellac Based primer is a great option that adheres to any surface.

Microfiber Cloth

We cannot stress enough the importance of microfiber cloth for a furniture painting project! After you vacuum the dust away, go over the furniture with a microfiber cloth to really make sure that there are no particulates on your piece.

The microfiber cloth can also tell you if you need to sand the furniture again as it is able to pick up on any rough surfaces you may have missed.

Foam Roller

Foam rollers are necessary for a few reasons. The first is for applying the primer to the furniture. The second is for applying the paint to the furniture. Lastly, you also need a foam roller to apply the topcoat to finish off the project.

We would recommend foam rollers because it makes for a more professional finished piece which is what we are always striving for.

Paint Brush

A foam roller helps you paint the big surfaces on the furniture and the paint brush’s job is to get to those little hard to reach crevices that need painting too.


Paint

A furniture painting project would not be possible without the paint. There is a lot of debate about the best type of paint to use for furniture painting.

We wanted to break it down for you to make things a little easier. Below we have broken down the basics about latex paint, chalky paint, milk paint, acrylic paint, and oil paint.

Latex Paint

Latex paint is pretty standard as far as furniture painting goes. This is because it is available in a wide range of colors, giving you the freedom to really get creative with your furniture project.

This paint is known for being less toxic, which makes it easy to use if you are painting indoors or confined to a smaller space. There are a few different varieties of latex paint that you can choose from: flat finish, satin finish, semi-gloss, and high gloss.

Semi-gloss finish is the best type of latex paint for furniture because it is easily washable, which is a great quality in a paint, especially if the piece of furniture you are painting receives a lot of day to day use. Choosing semi-gloss latex paint is a way of keeping your furniture looking up to date for a long time due to its durability.

Chalky Paint

Chalky paint can give your piece a smooth finish and dries really quickly, making it the perfect choice for some people. There are some downsides to using chalky paint for furniture that you should be aware of.

First, it does not come in as many colors as latex paint. Second, it can be more on the expensive side. Finally, chalky paint can be difficult to paint with if you are new to working with it and you might need to touch it up to make sure brush strokes are not showing through.

We would only recommend chalky paint if you like the look it gives and are up for the challenge.

Milk Paint

Milk paint is a good option if you want something that is nontoxic since breathing in some paint fumes is likely to occur during the course of this project.  This type of paint is known for its quick drying times, which is helpful during a project of this nature.

However, it is difficult to achieve as smooth of a finish with milk paint as you would with chalky or latex paint. This is due to milk paint’s thin and powdery consistency. It tends to be a more difficult paint to work with if you are unfamiliar with its nature.

Without proper sealing and bonding techniques, milk paint can end up chipping and leaving the surface of your furniture looking uneven. If you want your piece to look less smooth and more weathered for stylistic reasons, milk paint is a great option.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint gives you a smooth finish and offers a rich array of colors, making it a solid option for painting furniture with. However, acrylic paint is not as chip resistant as latex and it tends to be used for smaller surfaces. It is on the cheaper side so we would still recommend it if you need a more cost-efficient option.

Oil Paint

Oil paint is very durable, which is great for furniture. However, oil paint takes a very long time to dry, which is not ideal for a furniture painting project. It is also one of the more toxic paint varieties so if you choose oil paint, be sure that you are wearing protection and that you are using it outside.

Some places have even banned the use of oil paints due to the toxic fumes they emit.

Information on Health Effects of Oil Based Paint here.

 Although the type of paint you decide to choose varies based on the look you are going for and the conditions you are working under, semi-gloss latex paint is a great choice for furniture that offers a lot of creative freedom in terms of color.

Top Coat

Top coat helps seal the paint in and further protects your newly painted furniture from the elements. A water based polyacrylic is a great option for an easy to use and relatively safe top coat for your project.

If you are planning on painting your piece of furniture white or an extremely light color, do not use a polyurethane as a top coat unless you want your beautiful furniture to turn yellow over time.


Safety Glasses and a Dust Mask

This safety gear is necessary for the amount of sanding that occurs during the duration of this project.

You want to protect yourself as much as possible especially if you are a novice with furniture painting.


How to Paint the Furniture Step by Step

Now that you have everything you need to complete this project, it’s time to get started!

Step 1 - Cleaning

You should start by cleaning the space you are going to be painting in as much as possible. You can never be too clean; seriously. Put down drop cloth and cover as much of the space with it as you can to minimize mess.

Taking these precautions and the time you need to clean off your space only saves you energy down the road.

Step 2 - Remove the Parts

You should start by removing all the hardware and accessories from the furniture you have chosen to paint.  Be sure to remove any drawers if that is applicable for your piece.

Step 3 - Wood Surface Imperfections

If there are any imperfections on the furniture, this is when you can use your Bondo or another wood filler of your choice to fill these imperfections. Wait for the filler to dry, of course. If there are no imperfections in your furniture, go right ahead onto the next step.

Step 4 - Cleaning Surface

You want to clean the furniture before you go any farther. Clean everything and clean it as carefully as you can. The key to a successful furniture painting project lies in the details.  Be sure to clean any drawers and hardware.

Step 5 - Sanding Down Furniture Piece

Once the furniture is sparkling clean and dry, it is time to sand your furniture. Sanding is a really important step in this process, and it can make or break the finished project.

A lot of people can attribute their furniture painting failures to a lack of attention to detail in this particular step.

Begin sanding by using your orbital sander with the medium grit sandpaper. Make sure you have good control over the orbital sander by adjusting the speed so that you can comfortably use it.

Be sure to sand every area of the furniture with the sander so that every surface is even. This is a way of helping the primer and the paint to stick to the piece.

Step 6 - Vacuum Clean Dust from Sanding

After the initial sanding, your piece of furniture is covered in dust. Use your vacuum to suck up all the dust. Then, use your microfiber cloth to remove any excess. You really need the furniture as clean as you can get it before you apply the primer because the primer traps even the tiniest crumb and keeps it there forever.

Step 7 - Prime Time

Now, the time has come to prime! Using one of your handy foam rollers, apply primer to the entire surface of the piece and follow the drying instructions on the primer. Brush the primer on while following the direction of the grain in the furniture.

This is as equally important of a step as the actual painting itself if you really want this project to have a level of professionalism and to last forever. The Zinsser primer we have recommended is a thin solution, so be sure that you put enough on and in some cases,  you might want to apply two layers.

Step 8 - Fine Grit Sanding

After your primer is good and dry, it is time to go back in with your orbital sander using the fine grit sandpaper this time and get to sanding away yet again. The second round of sanding ensures that the surface of your furniture is smooth which is how you want it to be when preparing to paint it. 

Step 9 - Clean the Dust Again...

Once you are finished sanding with your orbital sander and fine grit sandpaper, you need to get rid of the sanding dust. Again, you can use the vacuum to get rid of most of the dust, but the vacuum can’t get everything.

After vacuuming, be sure to go over the entire surface of the piece with a microfiber cloth to remove any excess and prepare your furniture for the incoming paint.

Step 10 - Lets Paint!

It’s finally time to paint!

Start by using the paintbrush and the paint in the color of your choice to get the harder to paint crevices before moving on the bigger sections.

Using another foam roller and the semi-gloss paint, begin to tackle the larger surfaces of the furniture.

Always paint from top to bottom and in the direction of the grain. We recommend doing thin coats as you will be going over it again; no need to glob the paint on and call it a day!

To apply the paint evenly to the roller, run it along the ridge of the paint tray quickly so that it spins. Go over the sections after you paint them to smooth them out.

Once the first coat of paint has been applied, let it sit and dry for at least 6-8 hours. Yes, you are in this project for the long haul.

Step 11 - Sanding Time

It’s time for more sanding! This time, you can use the orbital sander with the fine grit sandpaper. You can do this between every coat of paint. Wait for the paint to dry before doing this, of course.

Step 12 - Wipe Down

After you finish sanding, remove the residue with a microfiber cloth to remove the dust and ensure that you have a clean surface.

You may feel frustrated with the repetitive nature of the project but stick with it; the results are worth it! Use a new tack cloth each time you sand for optimal surface cleanliness.

Step 13 - The Professional Tip

You are going to repeat steps 9,10, and 11 at least two to three more times. This is what gives you the most even and finished paint job, leaving you with a stunning piece of painted furniture.

Step 14 - Make Sure Paint is Dry

After you have painted two to three coats on the furniture, sanded and used a microfiber cloth between each coat, you need to let the last coat dry for at least 24 hours. Yes, there is a lot of waiting involved in this project.

Step 15 - Top Coat and Finishing Touches

You have reached the end of the furniture painting road! It is finally time to apply the top coat to your piece. Grab the water-based polycrylic of your choice and use another foam roller to apply it all over the surface of your furniture.

Make sure to smooth out any irregularities that may have formed because once the top coat is on, it seals just about everything in with it. You want to make sure everything is to your liking with this final step.

Once the top coat has been applied, let the piece dry for about three days before you get to using it and showing it off. You might find yourself tempted to use the piece sooner, but we urge you to wait it out if you don’t want things to be sticky and gross.

Summary

We hope that you follow the steps outlined in this article and end up with a beautiful completed piece of painted furniture. While successfully painting furniture by yourself might seem daunting, we assure you that by breaking it down and by purchasing all the necessary materials, you complete this project, and have it look professional.

Even more than looking professional, if you follow the instructions, the final painted piece should be durable enough to last you forever.

As you go through the painting process, make sure to take note of what works well for you and what doesn’t. There is a learning curve with everything we do in life and painting furniture is no different.

The more you experiment, the more you can find out what works for you. Each piece of furniture you paint is going to be a different experience and these steps are only the beginning of your furniture painting journey.

This guide has been carefully researched to ensure that you are getting the very best advice there is to offer when starting on a furniture painting project. Collect the materials you need and let your creativity run wild. Happy painting!

This post was published on August 20, 2020

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