How to Paint Furniture: A Beginner’s Guide

By on February 6, 2014
How to Paint Furniture

Painted furniture is quickly becoming a highly popular and trendy way to give old furniture new life. It’s a great way to simply add your own touch or personal style to your new or old furniture pieces and if you’re like me, a woman on a budget, it’s also very affordable. If you are wondering how to paint furniture, what prep work is involved or what type of paint is best for furniture, I’ve got you covered. If you follow some of these basic steps you will be painting furniture like a boss in no time! It’s what I’m here for, so let’s dig right in.

When I moved into my current home, money was tight (isn’t it always). Money doesn’t have to be your obstacle if you don’t let it be. Thrift stores, Goodwill stores and even yard sales have given themselves over to my paint brush or spray can many times and have taken on new life because of it. Don’t be afraid of someone else junk! Look past the imperfections and see what it can become.

End Table

*Remember, there is more than one way to skin a cat and these are just basic guidelines to follow when painting your own furniture.

What Do You Need to Paint Furniture?

Drop cloth
Fine Grit Sandpaper
Tack Cloths
Paint Scraper
Bristle Paint Brush
Foam Brush
Paint Roller
Finishing Sealant

Remove the Furniture Hardware

The first thing you want to do to prepare your furniture for painting is to remove any knobs, handles, hinges or other metal hardware that may be attached to it. If you aren’t replacing the hardware, keep any screws and the metal parts in a safe place together so you can put them back on later. I usually just keep a little Tupperware bowl next to my work area and drop items in as needed. If the furniture has drawers, remove all drawers and cover the inner metal slides with tape to keep it from getting stuck due to paint that may get on it. That stuff can get gunky!
Restoration HardwareIf you are planning on adding new hardware to your furniture, such as dresser knobs or latches, don’t be afraid to visit stores that might carry unique hardware for your projects. Look for hardware with different finishes (although we can always paint them if wanted to) and styles that will complement your finished furniture piece. When it comes to obtaining unique hardware I love visiting old antique shops but when those come up empty, I must admit to being a huge fan of Restoration Hardware. They tend to have a beautiful collection of hardware in as many styles and finishes as you could possibly imagine. You can order a free catalog from their site and keep on hand if you plan on doing further furniture painting projects. Yes, they can be a bit pricey but I’m slightly addicted to them anyway.

Prepping the Surface

If you are repainting a piece that has already been painted, you will want to ensure that you start with a smooth surface by removing any old or flaking paint by scraping it off with a scraper and then sanding to a smooth finish with a fine grit sandpaper.

If you will be painting wooden furniture that hasn’t been painted, you may only need to lightly sand to smooth out any scratches or to get rid of the old stain.

If you are painting laminate furniture which tends to be a fairly slick surface, you will need to roughen it up slightly to ensure you give your primer paint something to grip onto. Since laminate is a thin material typically, be sure not to destroy it completely by tearing through the finish with your sanding.

When it comes to sanding furniture, hand held electric power sanders can make quick work of your furniture sanding jobs. Smaller areas, corners and other areas a hand sander can’t get to can be handled quickly with light hand sanding.

Once you are done sanding, wipe down the entire piece with a slightly damp cloth or a tack cloth to make sure you pick up all of the fine dust on the surface.

Prime the Furniture

Since you’re learning the basics of how to paint furniture, I want to make sure you start off on the right foot by not skipping any steps. A step many people tend to overlook is priming their projects before painting.

Primer is very important if you want the paint to adhere to the surface of the furniture and you want it to last for a long time. Without primer, your paint won’t last and will most likely end up chipping, which may not be the look you are after.

When it comes to primer you can apply it using a simple can of spray primer or by using a foam brush, paintbrush or a roller.

If you opt for the spray primer, I recommend getting your primer in gray for darker paint colors and white primer for lighter paint colors. Right now I am loving the Painter’s Touch brand spray primer. As you apply it, you should do it in several thin coats rather than one thick coat. Let it dry completely between coats.

If you choose to apply primer with a brush and/or roller, apply it to the large areas of the surface with the roller in an even manner. On corners or other areas you can’t reach with a roller, use the paint brush to ensure you reach every area. For projects that I use a brush on primer for, I prefer to use Zinsser’s Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer. This primer will work for practically any type of furniture and any material you can think of.

Once the primer is completely dry, you may want to go over the entire primed area with a fine grit sandpaper if it’s not completely smooth. Just be sure to once again, wipe the piece down with a tack cloth to ensure no dust is left over. If you used a spray primer, you should do one final thin layer after sanding.

Check the manufacturer notes on the primer to see how long is required for your primer to be fully cured before painting. Some types require as much as 7 days while others only require a few hours.

It’s Time To Paint Your Furniture!

If you are using spray paint, you should apply your paint just like you did with the spray primer: several thin coats. Spray paint is especially convenient on furniture pieces with lots of areas to cover, such as a dresser or pieces with cutouts. Stay away from the cheap dollar cans of spray paint as they tend to be thin, won’t cover evenly and end up making more work for yourself. There are several fantastic brands of spray paint that works well for furniture including my favorite Painter’s Touch (do you see a trend here?).

Using spray paint to paint your furniture will also give you some creative options that you might want to check out such as giving your furniture a metallic silver or metallic goldfinish.

For brush users, you will also follow the same steps you used in your primer painting technique. Use long strokes to coat the furniture in an even manner. You can use either a roller for larger surfaces or a brush. A brush will allow you to coat the furniture in thinner layers of paint giving you a smoother surface and if it’s wood, can allow the wood grain to show through. Because this will go on a little thicker than spray paint, be sure to wait a full 6-8 hours between coats to ensure the paint is completely dry.

When shopping for furniture paint to apply with a roller or brush, you can get paint in a variety of finishes including gloss, satin, flat, etc. Just keep in mind the size of the paint you get because if you plan to do several pieces in the same color and finish then you might want to go with a larger size, but I know I like to have several different tones in my house and buying too much will leave you with a lot of wasted paint. You can buy paint in 1/2 pints, quarts, gallons, etc.

If you plan on adding any additional touches to your painted furniture such as stencils, gold leafing around edges or hand painted elements, you can do that now prior to the final finish.

Protect The Finish

While not required for all pieces, it’s a good idea especially with heavy usage type furniture pieces to apply a clear topcoat. A clear lacquer or sealant applied with a brush or spraycan should be applied with a single coat.

Be sure to apply your sealant in a place with little air movement and dust so that small pieces of airborne dust doesn’t settle into your clear coat as it dries.

When choosing your finish type, stay away from polyurethane when coating white furniture because it tends to yellow your finish. All other colors do pretty well with it. When doing white or very light furniture, stick with a Minwax Finishing Wax, they also have a darker wax if you like that look as well.

A Note On Your Paint Brush Choice

If you choose to paint your furniture with a brush, rather than spray, be sure to get a good quality paintbrush. Poor quality brushes will lose their bristles which then get into your paint and coverage isn’t usually as even and smooth as it would be with a good quality brush. While they do cost a bit more, a good brush will last you a long time and will result in a better quality finished project.

Now that you know how to paint furniture, I would love to see your finished project! Be sure to come back and share your before and after’s with us.

About Misty Spears

I absolutely love all things DIY, especially when it comes to decorating my own home. I’m a thrift store junkie and my head just explodes with ideas to repurpose old junk into something practical and beautiful when I come across that perfect treasure. I’m a wood furniture rebel and try to paint every surface I can to bring color into my life. My life revolves around my family and enjoying every moment that life serves up to me. You can connect with me on Twitter @diyhomeinterior, Instagram @mistyspears and see my pins on Pinterest for a sneak peak into all the DIY projects I am working on and crazy life happenings.


  1. Edie Dykeman

    February 25, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    I like it! Informative, interesting, and fun. What a great start to a new site. Hope it brings you much success.

    • Misty Spears

      February 26, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you Edie! Glad you stopped by. :)

  2. Bonnie Gean

    February 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    As they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure! I see nothing wrong with refurbished furniture and when you do it yourself, there’s pride that goes into every piece!

    You did a wonderful job on this table! I can’t wait to see what else you share!

    • Misty Spears

      February 26, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      Totally agree Bonnie. I love finding old things and making them new again…plus it sure doesn’t hurt the pocketbook when you can save some dollars.

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