Painting a Wooden Piece of Furniture

How to paint a piece of furniture from scratch is probably the question I get asked the most. In my painting career I have used many different brands of paint and now without exception the process I will describe here is what I do. 

I use Grand Illusions Vintage Style Chalk Paint, it love the texture of it (its very like normal matt emulsion in the tin, not thick like other similar brands), its easy to apply. But the process I will describe here is the same for any water based paint.

The key to a successful, good looking, long lasting result, it to properly prepare the piece before you start. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. Paint tins will tell you that you don't need to and theoretically with a chalk based paint this is indeed loosely true, as it has good adhesion properties. However, if you start with wood (polished or varnished) you will prevent colour bleeding and chipping further down the line by preparing the piece properly before you paint.

At the bottom of this text is a photo story of a piece I painted in 2017. I used two colours, Nordic Blue and Verdegris to produce a two colour effect. Please click on a thumnail to start then click through to see the finish piece emerge.

Step One

Take off knobs and handles (unless you want to paint them).

Roughly sand the piece all over to scratch up the surface. Used a grade 40 (course) to a grade 80 (medium course) sandpaper to do the job. The courseness will depend on the thickness of the surface polish or varnish, the paper will need to cut through it leaving lots of surface scratches. You can do this by hand or use a hand sander to speed up the job on flat surfaces. You are not taking off the surface here, you a providing a key for all future layers to adhere to. The amount of time spent doing this really depends on the size of the piece.

For a small side table 5-10 minutes for a dresser it could be up to an hour.

Step Two

Prime the wooden scratched surface with a shellac based primer. Experience has shown me that almost any wood surface will colour bleed though the paint, for example, changing white paint to an off white/yellow. Pine is extremely guilty of this! Previous spills, wood knots and damages will also pull though. I use Shellac (we sell it in the shop and on the website), its a thin oil based product (need to clean the brush with meths), apply a couple of coats (let it dry inbetween). Another excellent product is Zinsser-Bin Shellac Based Primer. This is a white product that you paint on, you'll also need a couple of coats of this and is available at most homeware and DIY stores.

For a small table this is 10-20 minutes per coat, for a dresser it would be up to an hour or more depending on how quick you are.

Buy some Shellac..

Now, occassionally you will find that despite painting on two coats of shellac you will still see some colour bleed. If this occurs just apply another coat of shellac over the area that is problematic, you don't need to do the whole piece. You can then paint over the top again. You can repeat this process if necessary.

Step Three

Start painting! Make sure you thoroughly stir the paint first, this is especially applicable with darker colours, not stirring enough can make the colour look streaky. Depending on the colour, you will need to apply 2 - 4 coats of paint. Lighter colours will need more coats to cover the wood colour, darker colours less.

I prefer painting in the direction of the wood grain, long smooth strokes, this means that you get a smoother more professional look at the end. Paint a surface from end to end, not first the left half and then the right half (you'll see the join!) Remember how you put the paint on will be visible as brush marks. If you want a more rustic country feel then random paint strokes could add to the affect. Make sure each coat is properly dry before painting on the next, and watch out for drips (try to catch them as they happen, sorting them out at the end is a pain).

Another tip is to be generous with the paint and don't pull it out to thinly. Don't have so much paint on the brush that is slops off or flicks everywhere, load the bristles up to about three quarters of the way up and wipe of one side on the side of the tin.

I can also recommend using a non loss brush - this means you won't be picking bristles out of your paint work every 5 minutes.

Another tip is... if you are painting drawers then mask off a neat line on the outside front edge of the drawer. Don't paint the whole of the side of the drawer unless there is plenty of space - otherwise the drawer will get stuck and you won't be able to get it back in!

For a small table this is 15-20 minutes per coat, for a dresser it would be over an hour per coat.

Buy some paint...

Step Four

Sanding to smooth or age/distress. This stage is really why we use a chalk paint. The chalk is what allows us to sand the paint without it ripping off. We can create lovely aged looks or a soft smooth professional feel.

If your not a fan of brush strokes and want a smoother finish then this is your opportunity to do something. I tend to us a grade 80 sandpaper at this stage. Lightly sand in one direction, the same direction as you applied the paint, to smooth out the ridges from the brush marks. Be careful, its very easy to go through the paint to the wood, especially on the edges. 

To age something you can sand off edges, corners, decoration, as much or as little as you like until your happy with the look.

This part is dusty, you'll need to take off the dust with a dust pan and brush or as one of my students told me, a hand held hoover, before you move on to the next step.

For a small table this stage takes about 15 minutes, for a dresser up to 45 minutes to an hour.

Step Five

Finishing with wax or varnish. We are nearly there! This stage is about choices.

A varnish finish is more hardwearing, not impervious to liquid, but protective enough to give time to wipe up spills. You'll still need to used a coaster for cups and vases but it will prevent scratches and generally stand up to more wear and tear. The Grand Illusions Matt Varnish is simply the best product I've ever used. There's no yellowing of the paint colour, and just needs, on the whole, one coat applied with a brush. Work quickly, try to load the brush with the same amount of varnish each time, apply in one direction (the same as you used for the paint) and make sure you have covered the whole surface (no light and dark patches). It goes on milky and then dries clear.

Wax is definitely more beautiful and allows for more creativity. Its super easy to apply, but it will not prevent scratches and marks. When first applied it is quite resistant to water, you can put a drop of water onto the surface and it will sit as a droplet, giving time to wipe it off. The reason I love wax is that it accentuates and deepens colours (especially effective on darker colours), giving a rich more luxurious finish. You can also get many colours of waxes which can give you a more aged look if that is what you are going for.

Apply with a cloth (like an old tshirt or teatowel), be fairly generous, making sure that all the surface is covered and has an even colour. Leave to sink in for a minimum of half an hour and then come back and buff it. For buffing I prefer to use an old towel (don't use a duster, the fine filaments will come off onto your hard work). If when you rub the cloth over the surface it sticks then its not ready to buff. A polish all over will bring the piece up to soft sheen. 

Wax can be reapplied in the life of a piece of furniture, in fact as it dries out over time, I would recommend it, to keep the piece in good condition.

For a small side table this stage will take 10-20 minutes and for a dresser it could be up to an hour.

Buy some wax or varnish...

Step Six

Stand back and admire your work! And please, if you've used this information to achieve your good result then please tag me if you share your achievement online. @roomremedies #roomremedies and on instagram room.remedies

Photo Gallery

Please click on a thumnail to start, then click through to see the finish piece emerge. This piece is painted in Nordic Blue and Verdegris and finished using the Matt Varnish.