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How To Paint Wood Furniture: A Guide For Beginners

I compiled this guide for how to paint wood furniture just for you guys. I know you want to paint furniture because you tell me you do. I know you’re scared because you told me that too.

furniture painting guide
furniture painting guide

Wood Furniture Painting Guide

I will walk you through your first furniture painting project, giving you the advice you need to get started and see the job all the way through. But this post isn’t just for beginners. It’s also for professionals. There is always something to learn. 

Kathy, Petticoat Junktion
Kathy, Petticoat Junktion

Taking the first step is always the hardest but it will be worth it. For my first furniture project, I set up in my living room to paint. It worked.

When we moved to Florida, I painted on our two-bedroom apartment’s tiny, tiny balcony. That worked too. I’ve painted furniture outside in extreme heat, freezing cold, and places you wouldn’t believe. No excuses from you. Let’s do this.

1. How To Select Your First Furniture Project

I know you’re thinking you already have your project piece. But you might want to rethink that.

first paint projects

Furniture With Simple Lines 

For your first paint project, you should start with a simple piece. Good candidates are nightstands with straight lines, small chests of drawers with minimal details, and tables where you only paint the tabletop or the drawer fronts. The photo above shows examples of the type of furniture that is easiest to paint. You also don’t need a piece that requires repairs. We’re just talking about a basic project here.

china not to paint

Furniture With Shelves And Cabinet Doors

Try to avoid bookcases, china cabinets, wardrobes, and anything with many shelves or an interior you are considering painting. The shelves on china cabinets and bookcases must be painted top and bottom, and look at all those corners, whew.

You may have noticed that, as a rule, I normally don’t paint bookcases or china cabinets. It’s just not worth the time and energy. The photos above are all old projects. Once you paint a small piece or two, you will be ready to tackle your china cabinet or bookcase.

2. How To Select The Right Type Of Paint

You probably have heard of chalk paint, chalky finish paint, milk paint, mineral paint….all types of specialty furniture paints. Those are fine.

But you don’t have to use those paints. Latex paint works great on furniture. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. I paint with all types and brands of paint, but I usually use good old latex paint.

latex paint for furniture

I recommend latex because you can buy it anywhere, and it comes in any color. {read my post on latex paint here} Seriously, just buy a good quality latex paint, and it will be just fine.

3. Selecting The Paint Color

I suggest starting with a neutral color because it usually covers any stain or furniture finish well. Neutral colors are anything from black to white, to gray, to browns …in various shades. A neutral color works with just about any color palette.

how to paint furniture

Pinks, reds, and yellows usually require 3 coats of paint or more. At least, that’s what I’ve found to be true. Stay away from bold colors for your first project.

4. What About The Paint Sheen?

Let’s talk paint sheen. Flat paint is low sheen and doesn’t reflect light so it hides imperfections ………..but is the most difficult to clean. Matte is low luster and easy to clean. It also hides imperfections.

I’ve never had trouble cleaning the flat or matte paint and I really like the flat look. Plus flat or matte paint will show the least amount of brush marks.

Eggshell  has a soft, velvety sheen, and satin has just a little more shine. I would use flat, matte, eggshell, or satin for the sheen. Semi-gloss and gloss paints are harder to work with and will show brush marks.

The bed project with gray primer in preparation for painting.

5. Prime Furniture Before Painting?

Most latex paint brands do not require a primer but I recommend using one. It will cover any splotches or uneven areas of the furniture finish and give you a good solid color base for your top coat.

Have the primer tinted gray. White primer is great…..if you use white paint as a top coat. Gray is easily covered with any color top coat.

Just ask the tech at the paint counter to tint it gray, no certain shade. They may tell you there is no room in the can but they can spoon out a bit of the primer in order to add the gray tint.

6. About The Paint Brush Or Paint Roller

Why buy quality paint and primer if you skimp on the paint brush. There are a number of good paint brush brands: Purdy, Kilz, and Wooster, just to name a few. The  1½  or 2-inch size brushes are a good size for most projects and I also like a sash brush for corners or edges.

Paint rollers can be used for furniture. The small 4-inch or 6-inch foam rollers work best. Buy the dense foam rollers not the soft ones. 

furniture painting guide

7. Supplies For Painting Furniture

Supplies and tools to have on hand before starting a furniture paint project are sandpaper, screwdriver, gloves, painter’s tape, plastic wrap, drop cloth, and general cleaning solution or plain old soap and water.

You can get by for most projects without using power tools or expensive products. Remember, you want to start with a furniture project where you don’t need to make repairs.

8. Prep Work Before Painting Furniture

Clean your furniture with soap and water or a cleaning solution. Remove any drawer pulls and store them in a plastic bag along with the screws.

prep to paint

Set the furniture on the drop cloth and remove the drawers.

painters tape for furniture

Apply painter’s tape on areas where needed, including taping over the hardware screw holes on the inside of the drawer to keep paint from leaking into the drawer.

9. Apply Your Primer

Embrace Your Fear | Painting Furniture Guide 101

Primer Tinted Gray

Shake or stir the primer to mix well if the primer has been sitting a while before use. Dip the lower half of the brush into the primer to load the brush.

prime before painting

Paint the sides, front, and top in that order, then paint the drawer fronts. One coat of primer will do the trick. Wash the paint brush well with soap and water.

10. Painting The Furniture

Once the primer is dry, apply the paint using the same process as you did with the primer. Pull the brush easily across the surface. If the bristles spread out or splay, you are applying too much pressure. Apply the paint going with the grain of the wood, and make long strokes.

how to paint furniture and furniture painting guide by Petticoat Junktion

Do not keep going over the same area as it will pull off the paint or the paint will gum up. More than likely you will see some brush marks. Don’t go crazy. They will hardly be noticeable when the piece is finished and in it’s spot in the house.

painting furniture

In between coats of paint, wrap the paint brush tightly in plastic wrap or slip your used gloves over the brush, wrapping securely. Allow the first coat of paint to dry, and apply a second coat of paint.

Depending on the environment, the first coat will usually dry within a couple of hours. The first coat may cover well, but I always use a second coat unless I’m heavily distressing the paint finish.

11. Finish Touches

It’s time to put the knobs or pulls back on the drawers and the drawers back in the nightstand or chest. You may decide to change the pulls or to spray paint the original ones. Either way works unless the holes for the new hardware don’t match up with the new one….and that’s another blog post entirely.

painting furniture guide 101

12. What About Sealing The Furniture

Latex paint doesn’t require sealing unless the furniture will see heavy use. You should apply a polyacrylic sealer to dining tables and anything that could possibly get damp. Latex paint takes a few weeks to cure completely, but you should be able to use the furniture within a few days without worrying about damaging the paint.

Once you paint your furniture if you want to move on to the easiest paint technique watch my video on how to distress furniture….

How To Distress Painted Furniture

Below are basic paint projects you may want to view for information or inspiration.

Click here……The Blond Table.

Click here……..Red Cedar Chest.

Embrace Your Fear | Painting Furniture Guide 101

Furniture Painting Guide – Click Here For the Free Printable

Pin this post for future reference.

That’s it. I know I forgot a ton of stuff, and if you have anything you would like to see addressed in the wood furniture painting guide, please let me know. Please leave a comment with any questions you have. Have a great day, and as always, thanks for being here, Kathy

Author: Kathy Owen
Kathy Owen is the founder of the home decor blog Petticoat Junktion where she shares tutorials on painting furniture and upcycling thrifty finds into unique home décor. Her DIY projects have been featured on the Home Depot Blog, Plaid Crafts, Behr Designer Series, and in numerous magazines. Kathy’s newest website is HappyHomeDIY.com

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  1. Hi Kathy, I’ve been AWOL for a while but I’m catching up. This guide is wonderful. I’ve painted before but it’s always great to have a review. I’m always confused when it comes to sandpaper. When to use what number. As always, your work is beautiful and so practical and I agree with the Latex. Two steps and you’re done! Take care. Stay warm.

  2. I’ve had that problem a few times but not often. Try wiping a bit of Vaseline on the back side of the drawer where it hits the body of the dresser or chest. This should keep it from sticking and pulling off the paint.

  3. Yes, most chalk paints don’t need priming. I would be sure and check what type of sealer to use on the particular brand of chalk paint you use.

  4. Very informative article. Thanks for the step by step instructions. I have an oak dining room table and chairs that I would like to make it look more coastal/beachy. I’ve never used chalk paint but I’ve read that you can put chalk paint over it without any sanding/prep to give it a whitewashed look. Any thoughts on this?

  5. Every time I have painted a piece with drawers, I have the same problem. No matter how long I allow the drawers to dry before putting them back into the piece, the backs of the drawer fronts stick to the frame of the piece, pulling off some of the paint. What am I doing wrong? This is with latex paint.