6 Steps To Take Before You Paint Furniture

Let's Paint!
Let’s Paint!

I was starting to write the how to information for a piece of furniture, when it occurred to me, my starting process is almost always the same for painting a piece of furniture. So, you want to paint something, start here.
1. Clean! Put some dish soap and warm water in a bucket and scrub down the piece with a rag. Make sure you get in all the hard to reach places and then clean it off again with clean water. Many people will suggest TSP. It is actually not my go to cleaner due to the toxicity. I still use it for kitchen cabinet doors or if normal soap and water isn’t working.

clean the piece
Soap and Water Cleaning works for most pieces.

2. Repair. Look at the condition of the piece. Are there some small pieces of veneer missing? Or maybe a few scratches? You can get some sandable wood filler and patch those scratches right up or you can get some bondo to repair the veneer. It is just like filling nail holes in the wall. If there is a bigger issue like a missing or broken piece of a wood applique, you can fix that too!

use a good wood filler
This is my favorite wood filler. It is pink when wet and dries white.
wood filler to prep table for painting
Put on a big pink gob and smooth it out.

3. Lightly Sand if needed. If you like sanding, then by all means, go to town. I actually enjoy sanding. From what I can tell from other bloggers, I am the only one. However, even though I enjoy it, when painting, I sand the repaired parts of the piece and any rough spots, but other than that I leave it be.

fill all dents and sand
Once the piece is ready, sand any rough spots.

4. Clean again! I like to vacuum the dust, dust it with a wet rag and let it dry, and then use tack cloth if still needed. The less dust and dirt particles the better!
5. Prime – OK, this part you do not want to skip! I do two coats of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer. While I always use the same primer, how I apply it differs from project to project. If I am doing a distressed piece and don’t mind the various brush strokes, then I am fine with using a chip brush and letting the brush strokes show.

prime furniture before painting
Don’t worry if your first coat of primer is rather streaky looking.

If I want a smooth factory finish or am doing a large area, then I use a 4” high density foam roller. On cabinets, I usually do the edging or any nooks and crannies with a brush and then foam roller over the flat areas. If I am working on chairs with lots of spindles or carving, then I use the spray can version of the same blocker. The spray cans may be way more expensive, but it is worth it on some projects. For example, I redid some kitchen chairs with lots of pressed wood and spindles. It took me 1.5 hours to prime the chair with a brush for the first coat. I then did the second coat in an hour. I sanded a drip or two that I missed the first time around, cleaned my brush, and then headed straight to Home Depot to buy spray paint. The Zinsser spray paint is a little over $5/can. And when I am looking for good coverage, I use about a can a chair. However, I can do 4 chairs in maybe 30 min and there are no brushes to clean. I also find that I seem to do multiple dusting layers until it is coated, so I don’t have to do two full coats. It is completely worth the extra money to me to go from 10 hours for 4 chairs to 30 min for 4 chairs.

6. Inspect the piece – I look for drips and any little repairs I missed (they always show better I find after I prime). If I find an issue, I do like I did in the steps above (fix, sand, clean). If you are going distressed or antiqued, I stop here. If I want a smooth crisp factory finish, I lightly sand and clean again before moving on to painting.

primed table
Primed table that is ready for paint.

Now chalk paint fans will tell you that you can chalk paint anything and the major benefit is that you don’t have to do these steps. While I like chalk paint a lot for some projects, I do not think it is the answer to all furniture and cabinet painting issues. When I use chalk paint, I usually follow these steps still (although I only do one coat of primer with chalk paint). I will skip the priming though if I am going for a layering, dry brushing, or highly distressed look.

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