How to Paint Wood Furniture – In-Depth Tutorial with Tips and Tricks
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You may find yourself with an old piece of wooden furniture that simply requires some wood paint and a little elbow grease to revive it. However, it can prove to be difficult to paint wood. To make the whole process easier, you should know what you are doing and know how to avoid any potential mistakes. But once you have completed a project, you will find it very rewarding and we can assure you that you will be eager to begin another project as soon as possible! The following article with equip you with the knowledge to paint wooden furniture yourself.
Table of Contents
- 1 Deciding What Kind of Paint to Use on Wood Furniture
- 2 Types of Paint
- 3 Choosing What Kind of Paint to Use on Wood
- 4 How to Paint on Wood
- 5 Tips on How to Paint Wood Furniture
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
Deciding What Kind of Paint to Use on Wood Furniture
The most important decision is to determine what kind of paint you will need to paint your specific piece of wooden furniture. It is important to select the correct paint for your project from the assortment of types available. Each painting has its advantages, disadvantages, and properties, so one paint that might be ideal for a project could be a disaster on another. We will be discussing the following paints in detail:
- Acrylic paint
- Oil paint
- Latex paint
- Chalk paint
- Milk paint
Types of Paint
There are many different types of paint available on the market and, as mentioned, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. When selecting which paint to use, this is greatly impacted by the project at hand and your desired results. What follows is an in-depth look at five types of paint that can be used on wood.
Acrylic Paint for Wood
Acrylic paint is a water-soluble paint that can be applied to an assortment of surfaces, including paper and canvas. It is a great option if you are looking to tackle a small project and it is relatively inexpensive. You will require a primer when using acrylic paint, as well as two to four coats of paint to get the desired results. Most acrylic paint is in a semi-gloss finish, and you normally do not require a sealant on the paint, however we do recommend using one when painting an outdoor wooden surface. The paint dries relatively quickly, in-between 30 minutes to an hour, and will be completely cured in three weeks to a month.
If you choose to apply acrylic paint to wooden furniture, you will have to prepare the wood’s surface accordingly.
Acrylic paint is best for things such as smaller tables and wooden frames. The paint is so simple to apply and, thanks to the porous nature of a wooden surface, it adheres with ease. It is a very durable paint, and once dried it is completely water-resistant and will not require a sealant (provided you don’t use the item too often). But if the piece is stored outdoors, we recommend you use a water-based polyurethane or polycrylic sealant.
- Can be purchased in several different colors
- Majority of options are non-toxic
- Can be used on surfaces both outdoors and indoors
- Will not fade with time
- Ideal for use on small projects
- Can be used on many different surfaces
- Paint is not affected by moisture and heat conditions
- Can be applied with ease
- Chemical solvents required to clean it
- Requires a primer
- Can only be purchased in small quantities
- Not many finishes available to purchase
- Not as eco-friendly in comparison to latex paint
Oil Paint for Wood
Oil paint (also known as alkyd paint) is considered to be very durable and provides the user with an assortment of vibrant colors. These paints can be purchased in an assortment of different finishes, including high gloss, matte, semi-gloss, satin, and eggshell. They do have a slow drying time, taking anywhere between six and 24 hours to dry, and they require several days to completely cure.
Oil paints are ideal for use on wooden items that require high protection or durability (such as outdoor furniture or your bathroom cabinets).
Sadly, oil pints are highly toxic, so you must wear the necessary protective gear when working with them. In fact, certain states in America have begun banning oil paints due to the high level of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that they release.
To achieve the best results, we recommend using a primer and applying at least two coats. Keep in mind that oil paints can be very pricey. When you are working with oil paints, you do not necessarily have to apply a sealant, but should you choose to, we recommend either using a polyurethane sealant or a lacquer-type sealer.
What is great about oil paints is that you can apply it over previous wood finishes. Oil paints are a good option for wooden surfaces that are used often and require a durable finish, although these days, there are safer alternatives that are just as effective.
- Available to buy in different colors and finishes
- Slow drying time allows you more time to work with the paints
- A great option to use on wooden items that require protection
- Can be applied to a number of surfaces, including wood
- Offers smooth coverage
- Can be applied over surfaces that have already been painted
- A very costly form of paint
- Very toxic with high levels of VOC
- Gives off a bad odor
- Not available widely
- Difficult to clean up
Latex Paint for Wood
Latex paint is an almost toxic-free paint option that is water-based (with little to no VOCs) and does not contain any chemicals. It is available all over and when it comes to painting wood, it is a very popular choice. It is quite a thin paint and therefore dries quickly, drying to the touch in roughly an hour, and you will be able to recoat in only four hours (it is fully cured in roughly three weeks to a month).
We recommend that you use latex on furniture pieces that are not used too often, as it is as not as durable as other paints. To achieve the best results when using latex paint on wood, you should sand and prime your wood surface first and then use at least two coats of paint. You do not necessarily have to use a sealant unless the item is a piece of furniture that you use often, in which case we do recommend applying a protective coat. Latex paint is an affordable option and is even cheaper than acrylic paint.
- Water-based paint
- Easy to clean up
- Has no chemicals and is almost completely non-toxic
- Does not release any harsh fumes
- Little to no toxicity
- Does not yellow with time
- Can be bought in an assortment of finishes and colors
- Readily available
- Dries quickly
- Not very durable when used on outdoor furniture
- Not resistant to extreme temperatures
- Necessary to apply a primer
- Paint is not breathable
- Not all versions of latex paint are washable
Chalk Paint for Wood
Chalk paint is a stunning option to use on decorative wooden pieces or vintage furniture. What is great is that the paint can be blended with ease, making it great to use for artistic painting applications and techniques. Chalk paint is relatively thick (although you can thin it out if need be), so it generally does not require many coats – perhaps just one or two – and no primer is required. You do not have to prepare the paint either; in fact, you can apply it directly from the container.
The paint comes in a smooth, matte finish that you can distress with ease if you choose to. Chalk paint does require a sealant and you can use a soft wax sealer to protect the paint. It dries in 30 to 60 minutes and will be completely cured in three weeks to a month. Due to it drying so quickly, we recommend that you paint the surface section by section. While chalk paint is non-toxic, certain brands may potentially contain toxic ingredients, so please always consult the manufacturer’s label.
- Dries very fast
- Paint consistency is thick, so only requires one or two coats
- Do not have to prime before using chalk paint
- Can be blended with ease
- Can distress the finish if you desire
- Majority of chalk paint is non-toxic
- Offers a matte, smooth finish
- No odor
- No primer required
- Adheres to the majority of surfaces
- Due to the thickness of the paint, it often leaves brush marks
- Paint does not brush on as evenly as other paints
- Chalk paint can be relatively expensive
- Only limited colors available
- Requires a top coat (soft wax)
Milk Paint for Wood
Milk Paint is made from all-natural ingredients, making it completely non-toxic. It is a water-based product that you normally purchase in a powder form and simply add water to. The paint contains casein, which is a milk protein, as well as color pigments, limestone, and clay. The paint is ideal for adding a distressed or weathered look to your wooden furniture pieces and leaves a matte, velvety finish that will flake over time. It will dry in about 30 minutes and takes roughly a month to cure.
We recommend that you then use a soft wax sealer as a protective topcoat. What is great is that milk paint is cheaper than the likes of chalk paint! If you do not want your finished piece to look distressed (keep in mind that milk paint chips and flakes easily), then you can use a bonding agent. You would also require a bonding agent if you were to paint non-porous surfaces. Once you have applied the milk paint, you can use a sealant such as soft wax for added protection.
- Made from all-natural ingredients
- Water-based and non-toxic with no VOCs
- Takes only 30 minutes to dry
- Cheaper than chalk paint
- Can be used with ease
- While being cheaper than chalk paint, milk paint is still relatively expensive
- Product has to be sealed, otherwise it will scratch and flake
- Product has to be mixed – does not come in ready-mixed form
Choosing What Kind of Paint to Use on Wood
The type of wood you are working with and the final look you are aiming to achieve will determine the kind of paint you need to use. Before you purchase your paint, take the following aspects into consideration.
What Type of Furniture Is It?
You need to decide what you want to do with your furniture piece, as this will help you determine the correct paint type. You can achieve different levels of durability from different types of paint. For example, despite chalk paint being a very popular option due to its ease of use, minimal preparation requirements, and eco-friendliness, it is best to use on a piece of furniture that you will not be using too often, as it is not very durable.
So, chalk paint would be great for a more decorative piece such as a picture frame.
Chalk paint would also not be great on something like a coffee table, as it picks up dirt easily and is prone to chipping. While you can extend its overall durability by using a sealer such as polyurethane or wax, it still will not wear well. The correct paint should not feel tacky once it has completely dried, should not flake or chip, should be easy to wipe clean, and should ideally have a smooth finish. If you are dealing with an outdoor piece of wood furniture, then you will require even more durability, meaning that selecting the correct paint is imperative!
What Finishes and Colors Are Available?
Some types of paint can only be purchased in a limited number of colors, while others are customizable or have a huge selection of colors to choose from. Which finish you select will also greatly impact the final look of your piece. So, a semi-gloss or gloss finish is easy to clean and can fit an assortment of design layouts, while a matte finish is perfect for achieving a vintage or farmhouse look. You can purchase different finishes of the different types of wood paint, so you will need to determine the finish you are looking to achieve.
How Much Preparation Is Needed?
Preparation is imperative in order to achieve the best results. Luckily, there are certain options like chalk paint that require only a little (or no) prep work, such as not needing to sand the surface or apply a primer. However, doing a little preparation such as sanding and applying a primer and a sealer will help your piece of furniture last that much longer and protect the surface of the wood.
It is best to rather do the preparation, as then you will get the best results.
How to Paint on Wood
As mentioned, to achieve the best results, preparation is key to providing a good foundation in order to achieve the desired results. An example would be an old side table that is rarely used; you would follow the necessary steps of how to paint using a water-based primer and paint option. Their VOC levels are lower and are relatively cheaper compared to other options, and are ideal for surfaces that are not used too often. If you wish to achieve a distressed look, then you should turn to either chalk paint or milk paint. If your item is stored outdoors, then you will have to use something with greater durability, such as oil-based or acrylic paints.
Set up in a good workspace. The amount of space you require will be determined by the size of your wooden item, so you must ensure that you have sufficient workspace. Which paint you use can also dictate your workspace, as certain paints require a well-ventilated area. You can prepare your work surface by laying down some plastic or newspaper for easier clean-up.
Get all the equipment, paint, and tools you require together. Your most important decision is which paint type to use, and you will also need to choose the appropriate roller, paintbrush, or sprayer to apply your chosen paint. The tools needed are as follows:
- Paint sprayer, roller, or paintbrush
- Fine- to medium-grit sandpaper
- Wood filler
- Tack cloth
- Painter’s tape
- Topcoat, such as a wax or polyurethane finish
If your wooden item has any drawers or handles, ensure that you remove them (drawers can be painted separately). Next, you can clean the surface of the wood using an oil-based wood soap, which you can find at any hardware store; this will remove any unwanted dirt and dust. Allow the wood to dry completely before continuing. Alternatively, you can make your own cleaning solution by combining the following:
- One or two drops of olive oil
- A quarter cup of vinegar
- A quarter cup of warm water
- Half a teaspoon of mild liquid soap (like dish soap)
You can now sand down the wood. The best sandpaper to use is an 80-grit (medium) sandpaper – this is particularly important if there happens to be an existing coat of paint on the surface. You do not have to sand down all the way to the original wood, as you are only sanding to roughen up the surface so that the primer will adhere better.
Next, you can take a 220-grit (fine) sandpaper and smooth the surface over. If there is not an existing layer of paint on the surface of the wood, then you will only need to sand with the finer sandpaper. When you have finished sanding down the surface, you can clean it and wipe it down, and then allow it to completely dry.
If you are looking to make this step go faster, you can always use a power sander.
If there are any holes or forms of damage in the wood, you can repair this with some wood filler. Apply the wood filler and then allow it time to dry. Once it has dried, you can take some more fine-grit sandpaper and smooth the wood filler down. Always remember to wipe away any dust after sanding. If there are any areas of the piece that you do not wish to paint, you can use painter’s tape to cover them.
Not every type of paint will require a primer and, in some cases, the primer and paint can be purchased as a single product. Remember, though, that applying a primer will allow your piece to last longer and have no flaking or chipping. Should your wooden surface be painted with oil-based paint, you will then need to apply an oil-based primer on top before you can use water-based paint. Also, a few rare types of wood and darker woods require you to use an oil-based primer to seal the surface of the wood.
Tannins in the wood can potentially rise and cause the surface to yellow if you have chosen to use a water-based primer. Always consult the product’s details and labels so you are sure that you have selected the correct option. One coat should be sufficient, but if you require a second coat you will need to allow time for the first coat to dry completely, after which you can sand it down using a fine-grit sanding paper, wipe the surface clean of any dust, and then apply the second coat of primer.
You can now begin painting! Using either a roller, natural bristle paint brush, or a sprayer, you can begin applying your chosen paint. If you use a smaller roller and a high-quality angled brush, you will achieve a smooth finish. Ensure that the roller’s nap or fur is short, as the shorter it is, the better the results. Apply your paint evenly and quickly, and only go over the area once with each layer. Once done, allow the paint to completely dry and then gently sand down the surface, being sure to wipe away any dust once finished. You can then apply the second coat with the same method of application.
To ensure better protection and durability, you can apply a sealant or a clear topcoat. For certain paints such as chalk paint, you can use a soft wax coat as your topcoat, whereas for other paints, you can use products such as polyurethane or polycrylic sealants. If your wooden item is kept inside, you can use a foam brush to apply a polycrylic coat. When applying it, ensure that you work quickly, as the substance dries very fast. Then allow roughly two hours for it to dry. Once the initial coat has dried, use fine-grit sandpaper to sand it and clean away any dust, and then you can add a second coat. Continue and add three or four coats in total.
When you have completed the previous steps, it is then time to reattach the hardware. If you have painted any drawers, they can also be replaced. We suggest that you allow the item to completely cure for two or three weeks before you begin using it, but this is not a must. Paint takes a long time to completely cure. Waiting for it to cure will just ensure the longevity of the wood’s surface.
Tips on How to Paint Wood Furniture
To ensure the best results, preparation is key. While preparation may seem like pain, the hard work is completely worth it once you see the results. If you are just starting and you are only painting your first or second item, you will still learn new things as you go. We have a few tips that can help you.
Determining what look you want to achieve can help you with other decisions you need to make. For instance, whether you are hoping for a solid gloss, smooth look or perhaps a weathered and distressed look. Maybe your item is going to simply be on display, or perhaps it will be used often? Will this item be left outside or indoors? These questions give you a little insight and will help you to select the correct products, tools to utilize, and the appropriate paint to use on the wood.
Sanding and Dust
You will always have to clean your wooden surface and ensure that you remove any dust and dirt. Preparation is important, but sometimes priming and sanding will not be required, such as with a large piece of furniture that is in superb condition. If you wish to give something a distressed look, you also will not need to sand it (unless it will help you to achieve a certain look). If the item has already been painted and has a finish, then you will have to sand it down.
Many think that with a little bit of sanding and priming, you can lengthen the longevity of an item.
Most projects will require sanding, and this can be quite a messy process. If your workspace is inside, we recommend that you wear a mask and ensure all the surfaces are covered. When you have finished sanding, ensure that you clean the surface using a tack cloth, because paper towels will not be as effective. Rather try to work outside, but if you have to work inside, make sure that a window is open to allow for good ventilation.
Quality Painting Tools
Do not skimp and buy cheap paintbrushes, as often the bristles of these come free while painting and you will then have to remove each one from your paint job, which is a pain. They can also cause brush marks to be a problem, and you will struggle to get the surface smooth. If you have to tackle a large, flat surface, then we recommend using a roller to achieve a smoother finish. Some swear by a sprayer, as it is quicker and offers even coverage. Other options include being completely different and using sponges or rags to apply the paint.
Taking Furniture Apart
To get better coverage, we suggest that you try removing the hardware and taking the item of furniture apart completely. This will allow you to achieve the best coverage over all the nooks and usually hard-to-reach places.
Extra Wood Painting Tips
- Do not apply another coat until the previous layer has dried completely.
- If you are painting floors, we suggest you wear knee pads.
- Apply the paint using good brush techniques.
- It only takes a few hours for a wood piece to dry to the touch, but it takes up to 30 days for it to properly cure. Try not to use the item, including opening and closing drawers or placing an object on top of the surface, until the paint has cured.
- Always test out your paint color before painting. Allow the test paint to dry to see the paint’s true color.
- As you work, use a system to ensure that the whole surface is covered, such as painting from top to bottom.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Option Is Better for Painting Furniture: A Roller or a Brush?
Either option is great as long as you purchase good quality products. Ideall, you would use both options for your project. A roller is great for use over large, flat areas, while a brush can be used to apply paint to the more detailed areas.
What Kind of Paint Should You Use on Wood Furniture?
There are many factors to take into consideration when it comes to this, such as whether this item receive a lot of use, or if you are looking to achieve a distressed look or a glossy finish. The most popular option is a semi- to high-gloss paint finish, as this ensures smooth coverage, is simple to clean, and offers a non-porous coat as well.
What Furniture Paint Is the Most Durable?
Your most durable option is oil-based paint, but sadly this type of paint for wood has many disadvantages, which include it being quite toxic with high levels of VOCs.
Is Chalk Paint a Good Choice for Wood Furniture?
If you are looking to achieve a matte finish, then chalk paint is ideal. What is great is it can also be distressed easily. Chalk paint creates a vintage look on the majority of wooden items, but you will be required to apply a sealant coat if the piece of furniture is to be used frequently. You can use either a polyurethane, polycrylic, or a soft wax as a sealant or topcoat. Chalk paint is great for use on decorative items and small wooden pieces.
Must You Sand All Wood Furniture Before Painting?
You do not have to sand down all wood; some only require the surface to be cleaned. If the wood has been painted or stained before, you unfortunately will have to sand it down.