Tips on Painting Furniture

how to paint furniture

vintage faux bamboo dresser

I recently refinished the faux bamboo dresser I found at a thrift store, so today I wanted to share details on the process as well as the incredible transformation that this pretty dresser has undergone.  The color I used is Sapphire Ice by Benjamin Moore.

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faux bamboo dresser

One of the questions I receive most often is whether it’s hard to paint a piece of furniture.  My answer is always “no,” however, it is labor intensive and it takes some strategic blocking off of time, but it’s not actually hard.  You learn a lot as you go and every time I tackle a piece I learn something new.  I always say to just go for it if it’s something you’ve been thinking about doing!

Supplies Needed to Paint Furniture:

  • Canvas drop cloth to cover the ground, or a flattened cardboard box if you’re doing something smaller like drawers.  Don’t use a tarp, the paint will stick and then will flake and create a big mess that will possibly lead to chips on your fresh paint job.
  • Sanding tools.  I like to use an orbital sander on tough jobs but on pieces that only need to be scuffed up lightly and on the detailed parts (drawers, faux bamboo detailing, corners etc.) I like sanding blocks that have the sanding surface on all sides of the block.  The lower the grit number the coarser it is, so the number you’ll need varies with each project.  I wasn’t removing any paint this time, and this piece was in good condition, so I primarily used 220, though I may have dropped down a little lower in the beginning.  You’ll also want 220 or finer for a light sanding job in between coats.  You can skip this step (and I have in the past) but turns out the sanding in between coats is what really helps you get that showroom finish.
  • Gloves.  I like big reusable kitchen or cleaning gloves.  They keep your hands from getting covered in paint and they’re also good when you need to clean the hardware with chemicals.
  • Goggles.  Helps keep any spray out of your eyes.
  • Mask.  Much easier to come by these days, thanks covid.  This is important when you’re sanding and when you’re spraying.
  • Painter’s Tape.  Tape off any areas that don’t need paint.
  • Microfiber Cloths.  I like to have a bunch of these cloths around the house because they’re so great for cleaning.  I use them with a little bit of water to wipe a piece down after sanding.
  • Tack Cloths.  These are essential in making sure you’ve gotten up all of the dust from sanding.  They’re tacky so any dust sticks right to them.  These are particularly great in corners and if you have crevices like on faux bamboo.
  • Primer.  I used Kilz All-Purpose 2 Primer.  This prepares your furniture for paint and helps you get a more even first layer.
  • Paint.  I used to go the spray paint route but have recently been a fan of Benjamin Moore Advance paint in semi-gloss.  That’s the paint I used here on the dresser.
  • Paint Sprayer.  Optional, but they sure are handy.  I’d never have the patience to use a brush or roller, so when I switched to regular paint (as opposed to spray paint) I decided to invest in a paint sprayer.  This Wagner HVLP Paint Ready Sprayer Station is the one we have, and at $129 it is definitely worth the investment!
  • Krud Kutter.  Optional, but this is a good cleaning product that can remove paint if you have hardware that was painted by a previous owner.
  • Brasso.  Optional, but very helpful for polishing brass hardware.  Bar Keeper’s Friend is also good and works on a wider variety of surfaces.
  • Wax.  Optional, but a layer of wax can help protect recently polished hardware.  I also use wax on unpainted wood to give it some moisture if it looks dry.
  • Con-Tact Paper for lining the drawers.

sapphire ice painted furniture

Furniture Makeover Steps

painters tape on railing tack cloth paint sprayer for furniture primed furniture polished hardware

Every piece is different, but for the most part the steps are the same.  Here was my process for this faux bamboo dresser!

  1. Remove drawers and label the back of each one with a sharpie so that you know what order they go in.  Drawers sometimes don’t fit exactly as they should if they get put into a different opening, so make sure you know the order they belong in.  I write A, B, C, D (etc) on the back of the drawers as I remove them.  It really helps you keep it all straight!
  2. Tape off anything you don’t want to get paint on.  (Like the rails of drawers.)
  3. Sand furniture well.  You don’t want any slick surfaces, so you’ll want to scuff up any protective finish that’s on the piece.  You don’t need to remove all paint (if your piece is painted), you just want it smoothed out.  Pay close attention to corners, curves, nicks in the furniture, etc.  Best to have a few different grit options depending on your piece.  Typically between 120 and 220 is what I use.
  4. Use a microfiber cloth that’s a little damp to wipe your piece clean.
  5. Follow up with a tack cloth to gather any remaining dust.  Pay special attention to crevices and corners.
  6. Paint the piece with primer.  I opted to use the paint sprayer to apply the coat of primer and it made the job very quick and easy.  I also primed a desk I was working on at the same time.  Primer makes the first coat of paint adhere much better than if you don’t prime, so I always recommend priming if possible!  When using my sprayer it was helpful to have a paper towel in my other hand to wipe the nozzle occasionally to remove excess paint.
  7. Follow the drying time recommendation for the primer.
  8. Sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper.  I just did a quick run on the flat surfaces with a sanding sponge to smooth out any bubbles or bumps and paid close attention to any hardened drips, aiming to sand them down flat.
  9. Wipe down with damp microfiber cloth.
  10. Wipe down with tack cloth.
  11. Apply first coat of paint.  When spraying I try to not keep my hand on the trigger (or nozzle, with spray paint) for too long because that can lead to drips.  I go back and forth pressing and releasing often, always moving.  Aim to cover the whole piece with paint, but know that it’s ok to miss some spots because you’ll get those on the second coat.
  12. Wait the appropriate amount of time for drying.  Spray paint is easy because you re-coat within the hour, but Benjamin Moore Advance requires 16 hours between coats, so plan accordingly!
  13. Sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper.  I just did a quick run on the flat surfaces to smooth out any bubbles or bumps and paid close attention to any hardened drips, aiming to sand them down flat.
  14. Wipe down with damp microfiber cloth.
  15. Wipe down with tack cloth.
  16. Apply second coat of paint, ensuring every part of the piece is covered with paint.
  17. Wait for the piece to dry and respect the curing time required by the paint you’re using.  For Benjamin Moore Advance it was 6 days before I could place anything on the furniture for too long without it leaving a mark.
  18. Clean and polish hardware.
  19. Wipe down drawers and the inside of the furniture.
  20. Apply Con-Tact paper to the inside of the drawers to provide a nice clean surface for clothing and anything else you place in the drawers.
  21. If your drawer rails are metal you may need to apply some WD-40 to help lubricate them if they stick or squeak.  If your drawer rails are not attached in the back (one of mine wasn’t) be sure to use some wood glue so that your drawer won’t be wonky.

Random Painting Tips

benjamin moore painted furniture faux bamboo dresser and books

One of my biggest tips is to not touch a piece of furniture when it’s wet, even if a bug lands on it or a little dirt or a piece of a leaf lands on the paint.  It’s much easier to just sand it off after it’s dried than it is to deal with a fingerprint in the paint that you then have to cover up with more paint.  I learned this the hard way a few years ago and now just let anything sit until the piece is dry and it saves so much headache.

Sand well to smooth out any rough spots and to remove any slick top layer on the furniture.  On some parts I used my orbital sander but I mostly just used sanding sponges/blocks, which I prefer over regular sandpaper because they’re easier to hold.  I don’t really think it’s necessary to go below 120 grit (the lower the number the coarser it is), and mostly stuck with 220 on the initial sanding as well as the sanding in between coats.  I pay particular attention to corners, blemishes on the furniture (such as rough wood or rough paint/chipped areas).  You just want it to be smooth to create a nice layer for the paint to adhere to.

Wipe down with a damp microfiber cloth.  This helps remove the majority of the dust before you use tack cloth.

Wipe down with tack cloth right before painting.  This sticky cloth is particularly great for corners and it’s so helpful because dust that gets painted over never looks all that great.

painted faux bamboo dresser faux bamboo dresser

Painting Questions I Received on Instagram:

What types of pieces can you paint?  With the sprayer did you sand first?

You can paint wood, metal, wicker, plastic (though spray paint would probably be best for that and drying often takes longer).  I think you can attempt to paint ceramic too but it’s trickier since it’s such a slick surface.  You’d want to really scuff it up with sand paper and a good primer would help.  I have a lamp I’d like to paint, so I’ll be sure to share my experience once I decide to tackle the project!  I plan to use chalk paint on that.  For outside pieces you’ll want to use a rust-stop primer and make sure you’re using spray paint that’s good for outdoor pieces.

Do you need to dilute the paint before you put it in the sprayer?

I have the Wagner HVLP Paint Ready Sprayer Station and I believe that it says to only dilute with a little water if you need to.  I know some paints are thicker than others, so it really all depends.  I’d say it’s best to try without diluting and then dilute if you’re having problems.  I did not dilute my paint and I used Benjamin Moore Advance in Semi-Gloss.

How thoroughly do you sand?  All the little grooves or mostly the big swatches?

I rough up the whole piece.  Typically the tops and sides don’t need a lot of sanding but it’s good to remove any slick top coat that may be on a piece to help give the paint a better surface to adhere to.  I just do a quick scuff up on the tops and sides and then pay close attention to any chips, nicks, details like faux bamboo, corners and edges.  You want everything to feel smooth and often those areas need the most help.  Do a good once over with your eyes and your hands to make sure it’s all smooth!

Do you plan when you rehab around the weather?

Yes!  Most paint won’t dry properly if it’s below 50 degrees or above a certain temperature or humidity level.   I try to do it on clear days that aren’t too windy, since I prefer paint that can be sprayed, as opposed to using a brush.  Thankfully we have a covered carport that’s a great place to paint, otherwise it would be difficult to protect the furniture from falling leaves, pollen, etc. coming from the trees now that it’s spring.  If you don’t have a covered place to work try to find a spot that doesn’t have a tree over top.  Plan for the dry time too!

Do you finish your pieces with shellac or something like that to protect them?

When I used spray paint I would finish my projects with a clear topcoat for added protection.  This time I used Benjamin Moore Advance paint in Semi-Gloss and decided to not use a top coat, since it cures to a hard, furniture-quality finish on its own.  So far so good!

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Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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