Do you have a piece of furniture to paint but you’re not sure where to start? Or maybe you’ve seen a flawless paint job and wondered how that was done? Today I’m sharing how to paint like a professional and giving you all the basics to get you started!
First off, some raw truth… The flawless finish in my dresser above was done with a HVLP Sprayer and it was done in less than a few hours. Most professional furniture painters have an arsenal of spray guns in their tool box.
For me, painting with a quality HVLP sprayer is the difference between riding a bike or driving a car to get to your destination. Both will get you there, but one is fast and doesn’t make you sweat.
But don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a spray gun because you can paint furniture without a sprayer. I come from a family of craftsmen and artists and we’ve painted furniture with nothing more than a paint brush for years. My grandfather was an amazing furniture restorer and didn’t use a fancy spray gun. It can be done and we’ll talk a little about that process.
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HOW TO PAINT FURNITURE: THE BASIC PROCESS
• PREP & PRIME
• CLEAR COAT
1. FURNITURE SELECTION: WHEN TO PAINT AND WHEN TO PASS
It all starts with picking the right furniture to paint.
I loooove free and cheap furniture. Heck most of the furniture in my house was someone else’s discard (and I’m darn proud of that). I’m someone who will salvage and fix anything.
However, even though I’m a firm believer in seeing the beauty in the broken and discarded, I’ve learned the hard way that some furniture pieces are bad choices.
Learning to spot potential problems before diving into a project will save you a ton of time, heartache and Tylenol.
Regardless of whether the furniture piece is new, old, purchased or free, it’s so important to EXAMINE IT CAREFULLY and assess it for potential problems.
A few of the issues I avoid are…
• Furniture made of cheap materials like junk or fake wood.
• Badly warped, water damaged furniture.
• Furniture missing critical pieces to its function.
Below is a drawer from the dresser I recently finished for my son’s room. Noticed how warped it is. Not to mention it’s broken.
It’s a good example of what to pass on since the repair work added several days onto a job that only takes a day to complete in the first place.
Not to mention, even back when it was brand new, it wasn’t high quality furniture.
This is one of those Craigslist purchases gone wrong. The seller assured me the dresser was in very good shape and it didn’t have any broken pieces. I did examine it when I arrived to get the dresser but in my rush to get out of there for fear that he could be some scary Craigslist killer, I missed this. Don’t worry I was safe. I brought my sister with me just in case I needed to push her down and trip him with a human speed bump so I can run away. Just kidding big sis……maybe
Anyway, his definition of “good shape” and “no broken pieces” is obviously a lot looser than mine. Thanks a lot buddy.
2. FURNITURE REPAIRS
You have your furniture piece picked out, now what?
It’s important to take the time and make any needed repairs before the paint goes on. A professional finish starts with a clean canvas. This is when to glue loose joints, fill deep scratches and patch and glue loose veneer. There is nothing like wet paint to make loose veneer bubble up and stand out like a sore thumb.
It’s always tempting to skip minor repairs and get right to the fun stuff but in the long run you will have wished you had taken the time to patch that missing piece. Your future self will thank you.
This old art desk that I did last fall needed a lot of patching and gluing loose veneer. It also needed a whole new top since the old one was warped and gouged from years of students carving their name into it. In the end, the results were so worth the effort.
3. PRE-PAINT PREP & PRIME
I have to confess, I’ve taken lots of short cuts over the years. I don’t always prime. Heck sometimes I barely sand. Many times, it’s worked out just fine. But it’s a risky roll of the dice. When it goes wrong, it goes wrong bigtime! It’s hours and hours of work (and a few tears) to undo that mistake.
Trust me on this one too, regardless of magic bullet paint claims like “with this paint there is no sanding and priming needed”, it’s not worth skipping a couple of hours on prep only to find yourself spending 3 days undoing a problem. Been there, done that more times than I care to admit.
It’s not worth comprising a great end result.
My basic routine entails…
• Clear cob webs and wipe down the surface with mild soap and water to get rid of surface dirt and grime.
• Remove drawers, doors and hardware.
• If the furniture is in great shape and has a smooth surface. I lightly sand with a medium grit sand paper and finish with a fine grit sand paper or fine steel wool.
Lightly sanding evens out the surface, removes fine scratches and any wax or dirt left on the surface. It also opens the wood grain which will help the paint bond to the surface. Remember to always sand with the grain of the wood.
• If more than a light sanding is needed I use an orbital sander. But a word of caution, heavy sanding with an electric sander can gouge the wood, so go easy.
• If the surface is rough because of a bad paint job or an old cracking finish I find it easier to forgo the hours of sanding and instead strip the bad finish off with stripper and start fresh.
• Use a tack cloth to wipe the sanding dust. Tack cloths are indispensable.
• Avoid the temptation of taking short cuts in prep work, they have a way of turning into painful long cuts.
Many people think you use a primer just to help the paint stick better the surface but that is not true.
Priming plays a critical role to seal and smooth the surface of the furniture and create a flat base. A flawless finish starts with priming.
There are several types of primers available. The two I use most often are latex and shellac based.
• Latex primers are good all-around primers and sand well but for problems with stain bleeding through choose a Shellac based primer.
• Shellac primers are great for adhering to challenging surfaces.
• It’s best to use a primer close to the color of your top coat. You can ask your paint store clerk to tint it for you.
• My primer of choice is Zinsser BIN shellac based primer. I’ve also been happy with Glidden gripper primer as a general latex primer.
• Don’t forget to sand in-between coats.
A shellac primer played a huge role in the dresser below because of stain bleeding through. This is the dresser from the broken drawer craigslist story. It started out in bad shape but after gluing, repairing and the help of BIN primer it made it into a good canvas for a flawless paint job.
5. PAINT CHOICES: WHAT KIND OF PAINT TO USE
YAY! You made it to the painting part.
In recent years there’s been a wave of internet love over products like Chalk and Milk paint. I love these products too! It’s wonderful to have some many fun choices. But sometimes the excitement over these products has lent itself to big claims and misinformation.
I’m going to be real honest here. I’ve not found one paint product superior over the other. It often comes down to personal preference and desired look. They are all suitable for furniture. And that goes for latex paint! Latex paint is my personal choice. It’s cheap, readily available and comes in every color in the rainbow.
When selecting a latex paint a general rule of thumb for a durable hard finish is to choose an acrylic enamel.
But to be honest, I often use regular wall paint. Wall paint may not always be the best choice depending on the quality and formula. The key is to check the ingredients.
You want a latex paint that says Acrylic Polymer or Acrylic resin in the ingredient list.
Stay away from paint that that has a Vinyl binder in the ingredients.
Keep in mind that while latex paint dries quick it can take up to a month to fully cure into a hard durable finish.
As for sheen I prefer a satin or a flat. If I want a high gloss look I add the gloss finish at the end with a clear finish coat.
6. FINAL CLEAR COAT
Adding a final clear finish will provide that needed protection to keep the paint job looking brand new. It comes in all sheens including matte.
The key to a flawless top coat is thin layers. Always sand in-between with very fine sandpaper or steel wool and use a tack cloth to make sure your surface is dust free before adding the next coat.
I often spray on my clear coat too. It’s a big time saver
For lighter color paint jobs choose a water based formula like a polycrylic.
Oil based formulas tend to yellow but they are easier to apply.
Wipe on poly is my favorite but I found that the oil based formula works better than the water based. The water based wipe on dries quick and I found myself using a brush anyway.
PAINT BRUSH METHOD
Buying a sprayer may not be in the budget.
The best way to get a smooth finish without brush strokes is to neatly apply several thin coats and sand in-between each and EVERY coat. It may take several coats. Use a quality paint and brush to help make this job go smoother. You can get a smooth finish. It just takes a little elbow grease.
PAINT SPRAYERS (LET THE FUN BEGIN)
Fuji Q4 Platinum Quiet HVLP Spray System (product link)
As you can see I’m pro paint sprayer.
The best type of spray gun for jobs like painting furniture are HVLP sprayers.
HVLP stand for High Volume Low Pressure. One of the advantages of a HVLP gun is it doesn’t produce as much over spray. You know like the dust cloud you get when you use a can of spray paint.
There are two types of systems, spray guns that use an air compressor driven air source and spray guns that use a turbine driven air source.
My Fuji Spray gun pictured above uses a turbine.
The turbine systems are nice because they are all in one but they can be loud and a nice one can be pricy.
You can also get a HVLP gun that connects to an air compressor. If you already own an air compressor, that may be a far less expensive route to go.
You should be able to get a nice HVLP gun (product Link) from around $100-$300 but do your research because quality and function varies. Turbine driven systems range in price for around a $100 to up to over a $1000.
I’ve been very happy with the Fuji brand and they come in a wide price range. (http://www.fujispray.com/)- No this is not a sponsored post. I just love my sprayer.
For more info on Spray Finishing and HVLP Sprayers I highly recommend the book Spray Finishing by Jeff Jewitt (Amazon Link)
(and remind me sometime to tell you my funny Jeff Jewitt story)
Cheap Alternative in a Pinch
If you’re are looking for a really cheap quick fix and have an air compressor, I recommend the Critter.
Critter Siphon Gun (Product Link)
The critter is not an HVLP and you will get some overspray but for 40 bucks it works well.
Obviously it doesn’t have the features and versatility of my high end Fuji.
You won’t get the super fine spray like a higher end spray gun but it does a decent job in a pinch. I use mine for quick small jobs because its handy and easy to clean. Plus I like that it uses ball jars to hold the paint. That makes storing left over paint easy.
I hope this gives you a start and helps you to create your own professional looking paint jobs.
In future posts, I plan on going more in depth in on some of the steps and equipment as well as special finishes.
All of the furniture in this post are from my last two room projects. The grey dresser at the top of this post is from my older son’s bedroom make over. Click (here) is you would like to see that project.
And click (here) to see my Pop Art Bedroom that I created the art desk for.
If you like this post I would love it if you would pin it! Because we are best friends right? Super Big Thank You.
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