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How to Paint Furniture: The Basics



This is the first part of an on-going series of how to paint furniture

Back when I was learning how to paint furniture, I went from zero to information overload while trying to research the topic. There are so many tips, tutorials and techniques on the Internet and in books about how to paint furniture that it will make your head spin.

Here’s the thing — what I needed back then was information on the very basics.  I needed to learn the essential steps of painting a piece of furniture, without experimenting with special paints, techniques and 20 different products. It is important to know how to properly prep, paint, and seal a piece before learning about all the extras.

Note: There are many different schools of thought when it comes to painting furniture and woodworking in general. This is simply the method I have found that works best for me and my clients.



  1. Drop Cloth
  2. Latex water-based paint
  3. 1 – 2 quality paint brushes
  4. Foam rollers
  5. Oil-based primer
  6. Medium & fine grit sandpaper
  7. Lint-free cloths
  8. Tack Cloths
You can find all this at your nearest home improvement store.


Clean – The very first thing you really need to do before tackling any project is to thoroughly clean your piece of furniture. I usually just use hot, soapy water and it works just fine.

Rough Sand – If your  piece of furniture has a glossy finish to it, you will need to sand it with 100 grit sandpaper until the surface is dulled. The easiest way to do this is with an orbit sander, but a normal sanding block will work as well.

Repair– If your piece has any holes, dings, chipped veneer  — or if you need to switch out old hardware, you’ll need to repair it will wood filler. Using a putty knife, simply fill in the imperfections and spread it out thinly until completely covered. Take fine sandpaper and sand it until it is smooth.

Sometimes I don’t repair the imperfections if I’m trying to create a piece that looks really worn. I think it brings character to a piece of furniture that you simply cannot replicate with paint.

Wipe Clean –  Clean off the surface with a lint-free rag, followed by a tack cloth to ensure every speck of dust is off your furniture. Sometimes I even vacuum the piece if I can’t get all the dust off.

Prime –
You will need to use an oil-based bonding primer for this step. This enables you to skip stripping your entire piece of furniture before painting. Apply two thin coats and allow enough time for it to dry in between. I usually wait 20 minutes. After priming, sand it down one last time with 220 grit sand paper and wipe off the excess dust.

Now, you’re ready to paint!



Dip your paint brush halfway into your paint, and wipe off its excess paint. Begin by painting the edges and grooves of the piece.

I usually use a foam roller for the large, flat sections of furniture (you can use your paint brush if desired). While using a brush, make sure you paint in long strokes, moving in one direction. Apply the paint thinly to avoid drips and uneven layers.

After your first layer is complete wait for it to dry for a good 4 -6 hours. Afterwards, sand the piece down thoroughly with fine sandpaper to smooth out any uneven areas.

Continue painting 1 – 2 more layers using the same process, allowing the proper amount of time to pass before beginning a new layer.


The last step in the process is to properly seal your piece. I use three different types of sealers (and again there are many different schools of thought on this).

Wax: I use paste wax by minwax often, because it creates a beautiful hand-rubbed finish.

Lately, I have also been using annie sloan clear wax, which is amazing. It is really easy to apply as well. Apply wax in a thin layer, allow it to dry, and then buff the piece to allow the shine to come through.


Wipe on Polyurethane: On pieces of furniture that will have things placed on it often, like kitchen tables, coffee tables, etc. I used a wipe on polyurethane on it. I never use this on white or light colored furniture, however, because it will yellow over time.


Polycrylic: If I want a gloss finish, or I have a light colored piece of furniture that will be used a lot, I use polycyrlic. It’s a little weaker than wipe on poly, but it will not not yellow light colored furniture, creates a slight gloss finish, and still protects well enough.


Make sure you apply 2-3 layers of each protectant and allow it to cure for the instructed amount of time.

There you have it. A basic tutorial on how to paint furniture. After you get these basics down, there are so many other things you can do – from distressing, glazing, experimenting with speciality paints, and more.

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