Do you have a tired piece of furniture that’s seen better days? Learn how to paint furniture easily and avoid frustrating mistakes. If you hate painting or have never painted furniture before, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
They all seemed like a good idea at the time: that cute kids’ rocking chair in the Goodwill shop window, a rickety little end table at Brimfield Flea Market, the Martha Washington sewing table from Craigslist that smelled like mothballs for months…
Those pieces of furniture – and others over the past few years – drew me in with their dirt-cheap prices and imaginary tales of neglect. Like homeless animals, they needed me to rescue them.
The trouble is, I hate painting furniture. Although there’s nothing I love more than a good before and after, I lack the patience required to paint anything well.
All that stripping, sanding, taping and waiting for paint to dry drives me nuts.
Until I found a better way to paint furniture.
But before I finally got it (mostly) right, I made several mistakes along the way.
Lessons I Learned from Painting the Wrong Way
Through all my trial and error, I learned a few things about painting furniture that will spare you some pain:
- Latex paint + primer combo paints meant for walls are awful on furniture. Case in point: That cute Martha Washington sewing table that’s now a nightstand in my daughter’s bedroom. The paint didn’t provide the right coverage and the dark stained wood bled through despite my sanding efforts.
- Oil-based wall paint is also not great for furniture, although I do love the glossy black shine on the small dresser above. The fumes were so bad that I almost passed out.
- Use a dark primer under dark paint unless you want to paint three coats.
- Tack cloth is your friend. Now that I’ve tried it I will never again use a Swiffer dusting cloth to remove sawdust and dirt during prep.
The Best Way to Paint Furniture
On a St. Patrick’s Day visit to our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, my son and I were as lucky as leprechauns when we found a solid wood desk for $40, perfectly sized for his bedroom.
But after several furniture painting failures filled with lots of cursing and wasted time, I didn’t want to repeat past mistakes.
Instead, I tried chalk paint.
Now, let’s see how a beat-up desk turned into an emerald beauty and I’ll show you how to paint furniture the easy way.
Furniture Painting Supply List
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- Painter’s tape
- Sandpaper (optional)
- Tack cloth
- Drop cloth
- Valspar Chalky Finish Paint
- This is the paint I used, and you can have it tinted in any Valspar color at Lowe’s. This color is called Four Leaf Clover.
- Valspar Chalky Clear Sealing Wax
- This is the sealing wax I used.
- High-quality flat paint brush
- High-quality round brush (for sealing the paint)
How to Paint Furniture Easily With Chalk Paint
What makes chalk paint so appealing is that you don’t have to sand or prime your furniture before painting. However, go ahead and sand your piece if it’s beaten up.
My son’s new desk was clearly well-used by its previous owner, judging by all of the scratches and the robot carefully etched (with a pen!) right on top. The old hardware also left grooves and marks behind.
First, prepare the surface.
- Clean the surface with a damp cloth and let dry.
- If you’re not sanding, wipe the surface with a tack cloth to remove all traces of dust.
- If you choose to sand, start with the roughest sanding block and finish with a fine grit. Here you can see I used three sanding blocks: heavy, medium, and finally fine to achieve a smooth surface.
- After sanding, clean the furniture with a tack cloth.
- Using painter’s tape, tape off any parts of the furniture you don’t want to paint.
Next, get your paint on.
Valspar recommends that you always paint in a well-ventilated space (see details here), but since it was cold and windy outside I painted the desk in our basement. My personal experience was that there were no fumes, and I’m quite sensitive to paint with high VOCs (I get bad headaches if painting with regular or even low-VOC latex paint). However, please exercise your best judgment and be sure to read the instructions on the product.
How to paint furniture with even coverage:
- If painting a desk or dresser, remove the drawers and paint them separately. I recommend painting only the drawer fronts and not the sides to avoid sticking when the drawers close.
- Use a high-quality paintbrush (I like Purdy brand) and start along the edges. I painted the front first, then the sides, and finally the top.
- Chalk paint dries quickly, so work in small areas.
- Allow the paint to dry for the amount of time recommended on the can before painting another coat.
- To remove dust, lightly wipe the surface with the tack cloth before applying the next coat.
Lastly, seal the furniture
Your final step is to apply sealing wax, which protects the furniture and adds a low-gloss sheen (very low gloss, unless you apply multiple coats). The liquid consistency of this furniture wax surprised me since I expected something more like shoe polish.
I applied the wax in the same order that I painted: front, sides, then top.
Make sure that the cloth you use to wipe the wax away is lint free! I grabbed a clean painting cloth from our supply bin that looked and felt like a jersey t-shirt and was purchased new in the paint section of our local hardware store.
To my horror, it left little lint particles behind that are most noticeable on the top of the desk. Gah!
Lesson learned: wash and dry your paint rags before use to remove excess lint, or better yet – use a really old t-shirt, sheet, or pillowcase that’s been washed many times.
Painting Furniture with Chalk Paint: The Benefits
Despite the lint fiasco, I’m very happy with this desk makeover. Now that you’ve learned how to paint furniture with chalk paint, here are the benefits that make chalk paint ideal for busy people who hate painting:
- No priming required, saving loads of time.
- No sanding required, although I chose to because of the desk’s original condition.
- Excellent coverage with two coats (decent with one coat).
- Self-leveling paint, which hides lots of the dings and scratches sanding couldn’t remove.
- Dries to the touch very quickly, eliminating the risk of accidentally marking up the surface while working.
- Washes up like a dream. Just a little dish soap and warm water were enough to clean the brushes and my hands quickly. The paint also washed out of my daughter’s favorite pair of purple velour sweatpants. 😉
More Painting, Fewer F-Bombs
Next time you spot a sad, unloved piece of furniture at a garage sale or thrift shop that fits a need in your home, don’t pass it by. If you’re intimidated by the time and effort needed to spruce it up, or frustrated by past painting attempts, then try chalk paint. It’s really the easiest way to paint furniture that I’ve found so far.
I guarantee you’ll drop fewer f-bombs while transforming your furniture!
Check out these other ideas!
- 5 Amateur Painting Mistakes to Avoid When Updating Old Furniture
- 5 Budget-Friendly Decorating Tips That Will Transform Your Ugliest Room
- Before & After: An Eclectic Boy's Bedroom Makeover with Meaning
- How to Easily Update Shelves in Minutes (Without Paint!)