Do you have a tired piece of furniture that’s seen better days? Learn how to paint furniture easily with my tips for beginners. You’ll avoid frustrating mistakes and 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.
Plus, I can’t resist a good DIY project because let’s face it – I’m sort of cheap.
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 the best way to paint furniture if you’re short on time and patience.
But before I finally got it (mostly) right, I made several painting mistakes along the way.
Lessons I Learned from Painting the Wrong Way
Through all my trial and error, I learned a few things about how to paint furniture that will spare you some pain:
1. Latex paint + primer combination 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.
2. 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.
3. Use a dark primer under dark paint
Unless you want to paint three coats, use a tinted primer under black paint or other dark colors like navy or charcoal gray.
4. Tack cloth is your friend.
Now that I’ve tried tack cloth I will never use a Swiffer dusting cloth to remove sawdust and dirt during prep again.
Related: 5 Amateur Painting Mistakes to Avoid When Updating Old Furniture
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.
Guess what? I don’t hate painting furniture anymore!
From the limited preparation to the faster drying time and quick clean-up, chalk paint is the best way to paint furniture that I’ve used so far.
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 paintbrush
- 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 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 is required, saving loads of time.
- No sanding is 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!
Get the Printable Instructions PLUS Printable Paint Can Labels!
free printable painting instructions!
Start your chalk paint project today by following the instructions in this printable guide, plus get pretty paint can labels, too!
Have you ever made your own chalk paint?
No, I haven’t tried that! I love the idea of it, but doubt I’d have the time or patience to make it. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it works for you!
Did you use a paint brush or roller for the top surface?
Also, did you get a custom color made for the emerald green paint?
Hi Lynn! No, I used a regular brush for the top surface. Chalk paint levels really well, so you don’t see the brush strokes that you would typically get with a latex paint. I had the chalk paint tinted to Valspar’s Four Leaf Clover. According to my local Lowe’s store, you can tint this chalk paint in any color!
Both answers were what Id hoped you’d say! lol!
Thank you! I think I’ll head over to Lowe’s today!
Sara Elizabeth Moseley says
Great article – so informative. I’ve got an old rocking chair I plan on painting and recovering and didn’t know much about chalk paint, but I will definitely be using it – and all your good advice! 🙂
Laura, Im so glad I found your post today! I went to Lowe’s and found the chalk paint you wrote about. I spent 10+ minutes looking at all the chips of blue paint Lowe’s had and picked a beautiful sky blue. The paint attendant sees what Im doing, leads me over to the chalk paint display and points to the only blue and says he can mix that up for me.
Argh! I patiently explain to him that that color is too green, and I really want to have the blue paint I picked out, made up into the chalk paint, and told him about you and your post.
I ended up getting the blue paint I wanted; it took a long time!
But its thanks to you, I wouldnt have known I could have the paint mixed to the color I wanted! And Ive already done the first coat of the paint on my project, it looks so nice!
Your ‘neighbor’ in Massachusetts
Yay!! That’s makes me SO happy! I was quite confused by the chalk paint display at first as well. The little pamphlet near the display only showed a limited number of colors, and of course I didn’t want any of them – hah! It was actually the woman at the paint counter who tipped me off to the fact that the chalk paint could be tinted with any color (at least any Valspar color). Hats off to the Dedham, MA Lowe’s team. 🙂
Sara, that’s great! I’m so glad you’re inspired! 🙂
If I use the sealer will I be able to paint over it at a later date or will I need to sand all the sealer off first.
Can I skip using sealer or will it not wear well and look unfinished.
Since this was my first chalk paint project, I haven’t had reason to paint over it (yet!). So I researched it for you and found this article which suggests using something other than wax to seal chalk paint. It’s worth reading. http://canarystreetcrafts.com/why-i-stopped-using-wax-to-seal-furniture/
Chalk paint produces a very matte finish, so sealing it adds a subtle sheen. I don’t think the piece looked “unfinished” before I added the sealer – just more matte than I wanted. I think that whether or not you choose to seal it probably depends on how the piece will be used. Something that you will sit on, eat on, work on or otherwise get daily wear and tear should probably be sealed.
How often are you going to have to rewax? For me, that takes the easy out of it.
Honestly? I’ll probably never re-wax this piece because it’s in a low-traffic area (my son’s bedroom). Right now my son’s using the desk as a dumping ground for school projects and completed Lego creations. But once he starts to use it for homework, etc. I will likely top the desk with a piece of plexiglass or a desk pad to protect the surface.
Great job on the desk. I love the color. I too had to persuade the paint clerk at Lowes to tint the chalk paint to a color I wanted, (I knew it could be done because I used to work at Home Depot). Once he did agree to it, it took 5 minutes. I did not prefer their sealing wax, but once I practiced and played around with it, I did not regret buying it.
I have used Annie Sloan (my favorite) chalk paint and finishing wax (expensive but well worth it), Lowes chalk paint and sealing wax and other various chalk paints and finishing waxes. Both the paints and sealants are very forgiving. I like sealing it with the wax finish that comes with the particular chalk paint. For high durability you can even use Minwax paste finishing wax. I apply the finishing wax with a brush meant for the wax coat but I don’t use a lint free cloth to buff; instead I use steel wool. Use the softest steel wool available which is labeled 0000 or 00000. Ask the hardware associate and they can explain. I have even applied the finishing wax with the steel wool. It buffs up really nice. Gives it a very professional look. I practiced on an old shelf just to adjust for mistakes. It came out great. I also apply the chalk paint with a brush meant for chalk paint. Annie Sloan has the best one, expensive though.
How many cans of chalk paint did you need for the desk?
with a wax sealer, what would happen with a hot cup of coffee was set on the desk? Since I normally have a cup of coffee on my desk, just wondering how it would hold up. does it take a while for the wax to cure?
From the research I’ve done BEFORE trying chalk paint and the wax sealer a lot of people use, I’ve decided to not use the wax…ever. Reasons? lack of durability and necessity of repeatedly re-waxing over time. Plus, the difficulty (or even impossibility) of repainting over the waxed surface without completely stripping the old wax off. The matte or satin finish water-based poly products are much more durable and easy to apply. Just my opinion, of course. I love your little porch transformation, by the way! So glad to have discovered your website via your latest Pinterest posting. Great job!
Hi Donna! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I wasn’t thrilled with the wax process, but you’re right – I bet the matte/satin poly would provide a similar and more durable look, especially for furniture in high-traffic areas. My son got this awful dust on his desk from one of those “digging for gems” kits. I thought the desk’s paint job was ruined at first because the dust stuck to the wax. Luckily, a sponge in warm water with dish soap got it off. I’m sure a poly coating would be easier to clean.
Have a great weekend!
I want to paint my bathroom cabinet it’s dark and I want to paint it white do you think it would work
Do you think chalk paint would make a good primer for repainting old furniture?
No – chalk paint is good on its own without a primer, but I wouldn’t recommend using it as a primer under any other kind of paint. Thanks for the question!
Can you set drinks on it? Hot and cold? Will it leave rings.
Jami Morehouse says
Can you sand small areas after painting with chalk paint to give that distressed look? If so, how would you do this?