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How to Paint Wood Furniture

Learn how to paint wood furniture with these tips and detailed project instructions. So you have some wooden furniture you want to give a new life to? Perfect! There is nothing I love more than seeing how an old shabby chair or table (or bookcase or dresser or cabinet, etc) completely transforms with just a coat of paint. However, you want your hard work to last and be durable, right? Right. Follow these tips and guidelines for prepping your surface and picking your paints below.

What are you painting? Well the first question is knowing what it is you are going to paint. I'd treat a kitchen table top much differently than I'd treat a decorative wooden frame for example. The table would need maximum prep and durability while a wooden frame? Just slap on some paint and forget about it. So for the rest of these instructions, we'll assume that you are painting something that will get a lot of use and so you need it to last and withstand some abuse.

Also, the finished look is important too! For a distressed furniture look, you might enjoy reading how to paint wood furniture - glazed distressed style and see how I transformed an antique china hutch. Or get instructions on how to distress furniture using traditional sanding and denting.

how to paint a coffee table

For a completely different look, you might enjoy this funky mid century coffee table I built and painted using a woodburning technique combined with regular acrylic paints.

Prep: This is a step that you can not skip when learning how to paint wood furniture. If you skip this your paint could scrap right off with just the brush of a fingernail. If your piece is glossy you need to remove the gloss. There are two options for this. You can either use a liquid deglosser like we did with our painted dining chairs or you can hand or power sand the surface like we did with our painted dresser. Be sure to clean up any sanding dust from your surface.

spray painting primer

Prime: This is another step that you do not want to skip. Yes, you can purchase paints now that are "primer included" but don't do this for furniture. A primer helps bond the surface you are painting with the paint, think of it as a sort of glue. Without the glue your paint will not stick on the surface as well. Your priming job does not have to be pristine since it will be covered up, but try to create an even surface to give you a nice base for your paint. I like Zinsser Bulls Eye for furniture projects but if hand painting would take forever (like with something like a set of dining chairs) then I use a spray primer like I did on my spray painted dining chair project. Tip: If you are painting a very dark color, you can have your primer tinted to a dark base which will allow you to cover it easier.

Paint: Finally, paint! For most applications (tables, chairs, etc) I'd advice you to at least use a satin (or semi-gloss or gloss) finish so it can be wiped clean easier. A full gloss will show every little ding though so I don't use this on old banged up wood. I generally use semi-gloss or satin for most projects like this. For furniture projects, my opinions on the best paint to use on wood furniture are the same as when I paint kitchen cabinets since durability is key.

how to paint a dresser

Large flat surfaces can be painted on with a small roller. This helps to cover quickly and without streaks. Of course you can also spray paint your furniture though your color options will be more limited this way.

Let it dry: You might think this is a funny step in learning how to paint wood furniture, but letting it dry completely and for as long as possible is often where people go wrong! I like to let projects sit for at least a full 24 hours but more is better. Paint "cures" as it sits and hardens, becoming more durable with time. I would not use a table for example for at least a few days!

Seal: If you have followed all of the other steps completely then sealing is optional for many applications. Things that get high traffic, like a kitchen table or a dresser I may still seal with something, but then again I may not if I used a semi-gloss or a glossy paint. Even my kitchen cabinets weren't sealed, but my dining room chairs were. A simple wipe-on poly is an easy way to add a protective layer to your project.

Now that you know how to paint wood furniture, be sure to come on back and show off your project! Remember to take those before and after photos!

Share YOUR Painted Furniture Project!

Share before and after photos of your painted furniture project and tell us what you did!

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see furniture projects from other visitors to this page...

Outdated Dresser Madeover 
My sister wanted me do re-do a dresser for her son's bedroom at their new house. Her only wishes were that it had lots of room and she could hang a mirror …

Dumpster find = fab high gloss breakfast cart! 
Please describe and tell us about your painted furniture project. 1. I salvaged a bi-level bookcase on wheels - and cleaned it. - left on the street. …

Kitchen Cupboards 
Thoroughly cleaned with sugar soap including using a toothbrush for those awkward little corners. I would say this is the most important part of the process. …

Transitional Style Crackle Painted Tables 
These were tables left behind by the friend who lived in an apt before me. I loved the lines but hated the very masculine finish that was on them. These …

Beige Accent Chair 
Please describe and tell us about your painted furniture project. I found this cute little lone chair at a garage sale one afternoon for $4. It was …

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