5 Things to do Before you Paint a Piece of Furniture

Hey y’all…we get a lot of questions from you about painting furniture. We’ve been painting furniture for many years now – well before we were blogging and writing about it. We learned from trial and error and took great notes on what worked for us and what didn’t. Hopefully we can save you some time, money and energy with this concise list of 5 things to do before you paint a piece of furniture. These are all of the things we take into consideration before we bring a piece of furniture home for painting.

5 Things to do before you paint a piece of furniture!

 

1. What is the piece of furniture made of?

You would be surprised by the number of production materials that fall into this category. We will limit this list to the following:

  • real wood
  • veneer
  • composite/pressed wood
  • formica
  • plastic

In a perfect world we always prefer real wood. It is more durable, easier to sand, paint and achieve a smoother finish. The other materials are paintable too but they just take more prep work (see below).

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2. What condition is it in?

This is our tried and true checklist:

  • Structurally sound
  • loose veneer
  • missing pieces
  • wonky or wobbly legs
  • deep grooves, gouges or scratches
  • smell – I know, this is gross but you would be surprised. I used to think that paint removed all odors and it just isn’t true. Be very careful if you bring home a piece of furniture with a strong offensive odor…you may not be able to eliminate it.

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3. Is it more valuable than you think?

Here’s where things can get a little tricky. We love to paint furniture and we love painted furniture…but we don’t paint everything. When we paint furniture it is usually a piece found for a very good price or a free curbside find. It could also be a piece of furniture that we are simply tired of and want to give a new look. We always say we love the power of paint.

We would personally never paint a fine antique, but here is something to keep in mind. Just because a piece of furniture is old – even 100 years old – doesn’t make it valuable. Crazy, I know. We’ve probably all seen an episode or two of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. Someone brings in great-great-grandma’s Davenport side table for appraisal. We hear the history of the piece, we learn the sentimental story attached to the family table. We hold our breath as one of the Keno brothers says something like “Sorry…this 19th century table is factory made and I appraise it at $50.” I know I’ve sucked in my breath many a time watching this show. And I also learned that 18th and 19th century furniture was not all handmade. Who knew?

Be sure you know what you are painting BEFORE you apply paint. You don’t want to ruin a priceless antique.

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4. Clean it and prep it.

How much time can you commit to bring a piece back to life? We have been known to bring home some scary pieces…on purpose :) The important thing is that we use our checklist and determine if a piece is salvage worthy. We also determine how much time a piece will take to clean and prep. We have discovered that we are resourceful and creative in re-imaging or repurposing a piece of furniture. Cleaning and prepping is the most important part of furniture painting.

As we mentioned in step 1, your prep work will be determined by the material of your furniture finish. We almost always use chalk-finish paints when furniture painting.These are our basic rules and methods of prepping a finish for chalk paint.

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  • Wipe down the entire piece with a clean, damp lint-free rag.
  • If there is any sticky, gummy or oily finish wipe down the furniture with mineral spirits.
  • Let it completely dry.
  • Repair any loose veneer using our new fave Titebond III adhesive. Dry completely.
  • Tighten loose legs.

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Following are our methods of painting different finishes that we have had great results with. Here is additional prep work after you have completed the above cleaning and repairs:

    • Wood – apply chalk paint directly to the wood finish.
    • Veneer – apply chalk paint directly to the veneer finish.
    • All other finishes should be primed with 1-2 coats of Zinsser Gold Stain Cover Primer. Otherwise, the chalk paint will not stick or might craze or crack.

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5. Will painting it make it better?

Painting furniture is very personal. Only you can determine if painting is the right thing to do. In the following two makeovers we determined that paint was the only option.

This armoire was relegated to the basement for many years. Its pine finish was just too orange to be in the house and it didn’t blend with any of the decor.

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But, paint gave the armoire a new lease on life and it looks beautiful in the bedroom.

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This thrift store dining set was a fantastic deal, but we already knew before we purchased it that it would need to be painted. It had a pecan yellow finish.

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After painting it, the dining set looks beautiful in its new home.

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We hope this list of 5 Things to do Before you Paint a Piece of Furniture is helpful. For all of you that were curious or asked specific questions, we appreciate you reaching out to us. We would be so happy to answer any other questions that you have.

Until tomorrow…

XO~Vicki and Jenn

Comments

  1. says

    Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing. I had that exact dining set from my inlaws. It looks a whole lot better painted white! Ours ended up at a thrift store. I guess I didn’t see it’s true beauty. :)

  2. says

    I’ve just started painting items with chalk paint. I’m definitely learning as I go! Thank you for your valuable input!

  3. Lori Webb says

    I just painted a dresser and now the drawers stick. I have sanded them back down in the places paint touches paint and even put little plastic buttons on edges of drawers to stop contact. Did I use the wrong paint? what is the best paint to use on real wood furniture I am painting? please help!

    • says

      Hey Lori – Don’t fret. Our first question would be – what is your furniture made of? Is it wood or something else? Secondly, what kind of paint did you use? Did you use a topcoat of any kind?

      For real wood our preferred paint is chalk paint. Without having any of the above information yet here is what we would suggest to try: Rub clear wax (can be from a candle) on the drawer runners and the backside edges of the drawer front – if that makes sense. We would love to help you further with a little bit more information. Good luck Lori!