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Painting Furniture


Done right, painted furniture can look stunning and expensive. Done wrong, it looks terrible and cheap! 


By following a few simple rules and using these eight steps, you can achieve amazing results.


 What is the most important thing to get right when painting furniture after you’ve chosen your colour?

Ask any decorative artist, painter, gilder or any craftsperson and they’ll all tell you the same,

“it’s all in the preparation”, that’s the hard work, so a great finish follows preparation.

 It has been in my own experience that there are three factors to achieve a flawless paint finish on any surface with any paint.


  • Clean surface

  • Dry surface

  • Dull surface

Step 1  

Make Sure it’s Clean

The oils from your hands, natural wax polish, spray polish, hairspray and any number of other everyday products act as barriers and effect the chemistry of the paint resulting in flaky, patchy and unacceptable surface finish, even if you’re trying for the distressed look.


Whatever you intend to paint always start by dusting it down.  Furniture should be firstly prepared by washing it down before painting.  Wiping down with White Spirit to remove wax and polish, wishing is always preferred

Step 2

Scratch and Sanding

It is not important whether your chosen piece of furniture is stained, varnished, painted or has a glossy French polished veneered surface, begin by dulling the surface.  Lightly sand the surface with a scratch pad or 180 to 320 grit sandpaper

The object here is not to remove the layers of the varnish, polish or paint, but just to scuff up and dull the surface so that you provide a key.


It is important to key the surface to ensure there is good adhesion between the surface and the paint.  If not, the paint will scrape off very easily like butter off a warm knife.  Once sanded thoroughly vacuum the surface then wipe down with a tack cloth or a cloth dampened with white spirit which will help remove any dust.

Step 3

Grain and Imperfections

Filling the grain and imperfection with a wood filler.  Part of the appal and beauty of natural or stained wood is the grain patterns.  However, if you’re looking for a flat finish once painted this can also become a problem.  This can also be said for badly filled imperfection such as nails holes, splits and scars in the wood surface.  


If your chosen project has a heavy grain or a lot of surface damage you will apply a lot of filler.  Allow the wood filler to completely dry before cutting back and sanding level with the surrounding surface.  Vacuum off and wipe with a tack cloth or white spirit damp cloth.

Step 4

Masking Off


This is a very important step and can take some time to complete and as such most people seem to skip it.  But by taking the time it will make your piece standout from the crowed as a more professional finish.  


Mask off everywhere that paint should not be applied to with painters/masking tape, use sheets of paper to cover large areas to stop paint splatters.  I would mask off inside edges of drawers and doors and along the underside of tables

Step 5 


Primer is used on natural or untreated wood.

Undercoat is used to help cover dark woods or colours giving solid ground colour to work on.


Using the right size of brush for your project or a roller apply the primer/undercoat. Depending on the colour and finish you’re starting with will depend on whether you use primer or undercoat and how many coats you may need to apply.  Apply “Thin Coats”, as heavy coats of brushed on paint will course any fine carving or moulding to lose it sharp edges and details making it look like its dripping in paint.


If possible, I would recommend that the first coats be applied by spraying your furniture as this give a smooth and flat finish.  You can hire a paint sprayer by the day.  But I would recommend purchasing one if you plan to do more furniture.  Always consult the guide for the Health and Safety for spraying paint or lacquers and wear a painting respirator, gloves and goggles.

Step 6

Sand (again)

Once the primer/undercoats have fully dried sand the whole surface down again, being careful not to cut through the primer/undercoat.  Then clean the surface again with the vacuum and wipe down with a tack cloth

Step 7

To Prime/Undercoat a Second Coat or Not

If a larger percentage of the furniture has required filler, a second coat or primer/undercoat may be required.  If this is the case, ensure it’s a light coat.  Allow to dry.  Sand lightly, vacuum and wipe with a tack cloth.

Step 8

Top Coat

If you spray on the top coat, begin with a slightly thicker layer of paint but not to heavy that you create runs or fill in the carving and mouldings.


If using a brush apply a thinner coat and lay off in one direction to help reduce brush strokes.  Let dry.  Gently sand down, vacuum and tack.  Apply a second thicker full coat of your chosen colour, again try to avoid leaving directional brush strokes to ensure you achieve a smooth flat surface finish by laying off in one direction

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