How to Paint Wooden Furniture: A Complete Guide

How to Paint Wooden Furniture

Upcycling furniture is a cost-effective way to give your current furniture an overhaul. If your wooden furniture looks dated or doesn’t match your new decor, a fresh lick of paint can give it a new lease of life. 

Before you get started on the task, here at Build & Plumb, we’ve created a guide to all you need to know about how to paint wooden furniture.

The tools you’ll need

To paint your wooden furniture, you’ll need:

How do you prepare furniture for painting?

First thing’s first, you’ll need to prepare your wooden furniture before you begin to paint. It might be tempting to jump straight in, but to get a long-lasting finish, the prep work is important. 

If you want a final finish that doesn’t chip or peel, it’s worth taking your time on this project or, in the worst-case scenario, you could have to start again from scratch.

Step 1: Sanding

how to sand wood before painting

Do you have to sand furniture before painting?

If your furniture has an existing layer of paint or varnish, sand it.

You may find that some primers (more on this in a minute) say sanding isn’t necessary, but to be sure you get the best results, we recommend sanding your furniture. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Sanding is particularly important if there are chips or flakes in the paint, or it has a glossy finish, as the paint won’t stick well to this.

Sanding is important, not only because it will help buff away any imperfections and create a smooth surface, but because it helps the paint bond better to the wood.

How to sand wood before painting

You can use traditional sandpaper for the job or an electric sander if you have a large surface. Remember, the lower the number, the coarser the grit. 150 grit should suffice if your surface doesn’t need much prep, but if it has existing varnish, opt for 80 – 100 grit for light stripping.

  1. Mask up. Sanding creates a lot of dust, and trust us; you don’t want this in your eyes or mouth. Keep yourself protected by wearing a facemask and protective glasses.
  2. Use your sandpaper to gently buff your wooden furniture in a circular motion to remove any gloss or paint and smooth out the surface.
  3. Brush down your surface and touch up the sanding if necessary.
  4. Clean up any dust with a clean damp cloth and wait for it to dry.

Step 2: Primer

How to prime wood before painting

Do I need to prime wood furniture before painting?

Always use a primer. If you’re painting onto bare wood, it will be porous and can absorb paint at different rates, plus natural tannins from the wood can bleed through the paint (especially if you use water-based paint). Primer blocks this from happening and ensures you’ll be painting onto a smooth, even surface. 

Primer is also specially designed for paint to adhere well to. So, if you’re repainting over old paint or gloss, it’s also a good idea to use primer, even if you’ve buffed it with sandpaper. It’ll ensure you have a uniform surface to paint onto. 

Additionally, if you’re painting a lighter colour onto a darker surface, primer will help stop the darker colour from showing through.

It might seem laborious to prime, but it will probably save you a second coat of paint, and it will ensure a good end result. 

What type of primer for wooden furniture?

If your wood is bare, use a specialised wood primer. If you’re painting over existing paint or varnish, choose a multi-surface primer.

How to prime wood before painting

  1. Roll your primer onto the large areas of your surface with your mini roller.
  2. Get to the nooks and crannies with a paintbrush, ensuring you have an even layer.
  3. Wait to dry (check the tin for manufacturer’s instructions).
  4. Buff away any drips with sandpaper.
  5. Wipe down with your cloth.

Step 3: Paint

How to Paint Wooden Furniture

What is the best paint to use on wood?

There are a few different types of paint designed for painting wood furniture.

  • Latex paint 

Latex paint is water-based. One of the main benefits is that it gives you a lot of choice. It’s available in a wide variety of colours, plus you’ll have a pick of finishes, including satin and gloss. It also dries fast, but the downside is that it isn’t very durable, so isn’t best for furniture that will get a lot of use.

  • Acrylic paint 

Acrylic paint is also water-based. It’s easy to apply and is suitable for all kinds of furniture – plus it’s more resilient than latex paint. It does however take a long time to cure and you definitely can’t skip primer with this paint.

  • Chalk paint

Chalk paint is another water-based option but is quite difficult to work with. It adheres well to surfaces and has a smooth matte finish. It dries quickly, but because of this, it can leave brush strokes and marks quite easily, which creates a distressed look. For this reason, it’s a popular choice for vintage furniture or creating a shabby chic aesthetic.

  • Oil paint

More durable still is oil paint. Oil paint is hardwearing and a great choice for furniture that will get a lot of use. The downside is that it’s generally more expensive, and takes longer to dry.

Ultimately, the best paint for wood furniture depends on the type of furniture you’re painting, and how much wear and tear it will likely get in your home.

How to paint wooden furniture

  1. Start by making sure the surface is clear of any dust and is completely dry.
  2. Using your mini roller (or a paintbrush if you’d prefer) roll on your first layer.
  3. Use a smaller paintbrush to get to any hard to reach places, such as the tops of chair and table legs.
  4. Leave to completely dry.
  5. Once dry, add a second coat of paint to ensure you have even, smooth coverage.
  6. If you find that you need more coats, don’t try and add a thick layer. Multiple, thin coats are the best approach.
  7. Depending on the finish you want and your paint type, at this stage, you may wish to add a thin coat of protective finish.

And you’re done! Follow these steps on how to paint wooden furniture and you can ensure your DIY upcycling project has the best result. 

If you’re planning on painting wood furniture, check out our complete range of furniture paint here at Build & Plumb.

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