The Four P’s of Refinishing Furniture with Paint
Refinishing old furniture can be a more important skill than say the ability of building anything from scratch. And it’s usually more cost-effective than buying new.
Now I know what you’re thinking—why put a ton of work into something that seems better suited for a dumpster? Trust me, the finished product will almost always be worth the time and effort. When you take on a project like this, you’ll get to choose everything from the style and the quality of the piece to its color and finish, all without having to sacrifice your savings. Plus, whenever you get tired of looking at it, you can simply start the process all over again, and get an entirely new look. Bonus!
We recently moved into a new house, and needed a small kitchen table for our breakfast nook. With an active toddler running around, I needed something extra durable. That’s when I found a sturdy, wooden table and chairs on our local Craigslist. This un-loved set had been tossed around and beaten up. It was scratched, dented, and chewed up … by a family dog. It was also just $50. Sold!
The first thing I did was clean this table and the chairs off. Wherever you get your old furniture from, chances are you’re going to need to clear a few cobwebs off, and the like. Make sure to let it dry completely. This is a great time to take off any hardware that might be on your piece.
The most important things to remember when you’re refinishing furniture with paint is that several things need to work together to ensure your success—a stain-blocking primer, a paint with a durable finish, and a sealant finally to protect all of your hard work. In addition to all of that you need time and patience! If you invest in more time upfront, you’ll be 100 times happier with your finished product, trust me.
After cleaning, it’s time to prep your piece by sanding. An orbital sander here will come in handy. Using a medium-grit paper, sand the entire piece and rough it up a bit. For detailed areas, like the railings on my chairs, I used a sanding wedge. This piece was covered in a black varnish. It wasn’t necessary to sand down to the original wood, just enough to smooth out the top and get rid of any scratches. On the chair legs, I got rid of puppy teeth marks by applying wood filler, allowing that to dry before sanding it smooth.
Once prepped, make sure to fully prime. I prefer to prime with a combination of brush-on primer and spray paint primer. My favorite and go-to is Zinsser’s oil-based stain-block Primer. It’s super sticky and clings to just about every surface that you can imagine. Whatever primer you go with, make sure that it’s stain blocking, so nothing will show through. I rolled on the primer and sprayed the hard-to-reach areas, like the chair rails and table crevices. I did three very thin coats of primer on this dark table, allowing each coat to fully dry before adding another.
We completed this project over two Sundays, so the primer dried for a week before painting. It’s not necessary to wait that long, but I recommend waiting at least 24 hours. Lightly sand with a medium grit sandpaper to get a perfectly smooth surface before breaking out the paint can.
For high-traffic furniture like a kitchen table or an end table, you need a paint that’s going to stand up to daily wear. We went with a water-based enamel alkyd formula by Benjamin Moore. Enamel paint tends to have a hard finish for a more durable and resistant surface. If you do go the latex route, choose a semi-gloss so it’s easy to wipe down. For the top, we used a small foam roller to eliminate any chance of brush strokes, but that is a personal preference. Use long strokes for a smooth finish. Again, use very thin coats—think egg shells. Four or five thin coats of paint will always look better than two thick, gloppy coats covered with drip marks.
Protect (aka Seal)
Now that your furniture is primed and painted, it’s looking better than ever. But it’s important to wait 5-7 days for the paint to totally cure and harden. Afterward, a clear gloss, like a Minwax water-based clear satin Polycrylic, will add another level of protection to your perfect paint job. Take it easy for the first week, and after that you will enjoy your new-to-you furniture for years!
Katie Frasier is a writer based in St. Louis, Missouri, who spends her days talking work boots with construction pros @ workboots.com and her nights working on home improvement projects.
All images by Katie Frasier.
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