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How to paint furniture

Being able to paint furniture allows you to not only look around for bargains, it's also a way to customise dated or dark furniture to fit in with your style of home decorating.


I have mentioned before that there are those who abhor painted furniture and those that love it. If it's a choice between throwing something out or giving it a new purpose, I am definitely all in for painting furniture. At the end of the day the piece is being saved from the trash heap, and who knows, perhaps somewhere down the line someone else will inherit the piece and strip it back to its original condition.

So don't feel that by painting vintage finds you are destroying them. Quite the opposite.

You only have to browse the Internet to see how popular painted furniture has become. Not only painting furniture, but furniture that has been distressed and aged. Everyone who paints furniture for a living has their own tried and tested technique for painting furniture, but at the end of the day they are all pretty much the same paint technique - with a few tweaks here and there.






Before you paint any piece of furniture you will need to do some basic preparation. Waxed or oiled furniture needs to be wiped down with steelwool (ultra fine) and mineral turpentine. Where there are thick layers of wax polish you may even need to use a heat gun to soften this before you can wipe it off. Varnish will need to be sanded off - starting with 60/80-grit sandpaper, moving up to 120-grit and then finishing off with 180/240-grit sandpaper. If you don't do the above the painted finish will not be able to bond to the wood and may eventually peel or flake off.


The best type of paint to use if you plan to do a distressed finish is a matt or low-sheen PVA. This paint also looks more authentic than a sheen or gloss finish. My favourite paint to use is Modo low sheen PVA - a Builders Warehouse brand - and I have also used a few of the Fired Earth paints as well.

You don't need to apply a primer if the timber has been cleaned or sanded, as the paint will immediately bond to the wood. However, if you are making furniture from pine it is always best to apply a wood primer just in case the wood still retains moisture or if there are any knots, as these still leak sap over time and this will bleed through the paint.

Any furniture can be painted and the hardest decision you need to make is selecting the right colour choice. So many colours are popular right now, anwhere from light slate blue to grey.

Milk paint is also a nice choice for painted furniture, whether you are whitewashing or distressing. And milk paint is extremely affordable as you make this paint yourself.

How to distress

The whole process of distressing furniture involves no more than painting and then sanding around the edges. There are various ways to distress furniture and you will eventually decide on which works best for you.

The original technique was to rub a candle on the surface of the project before painting. Once the paint dried, you use sandpaper to rub off on this area to reveal the wood beneath. This technique still works well if you want a rustic or shabby chic distressed finish, which tends towards a heavy distress.

However, modern paints are far easier to work with and it isn't necessary to use a wax candle and rub on the edges UNLESS you are using two different paint colours - as shown in the project above and below - and want the bottom colour to show through. Then it is necessary to paint on the base colour, rub with a candle, paint on the second colour and sand the edges once the paint is dry.


There are various options for finishing off a painted piece of furniture. To seal a matt or low-sheen paint and protect where you have sanded away the paint you can use Woodoc Antique Wax.

This product is similar to Cobra Wax and is formulated for wood. It leaves behind a matt lustre. If you prefer a satin or glossy finish you can use a paint on clear acrylic sealer, or one of the Rust-Oleum spray-on clear varnishes. Whatever product your choose, it's essential to apply a finish to the furniture to protect it.