You bought all the paint and pinned all the pins to envision exactly how you want to look, but you still haven't gotten to repainting that old dresser you've been meaning to tackle for the past six months. Why? Because you're totally afraid you'll screw it up.
It's true, repainting furniture is really scary — because once you start painting, it seems like you can't turn back. The project doesn't have to be so intimidating, though. DIY pro Diane Henkler helps us out by breaking down the process step-by-step.
- Minwax High Performance Wood Filler
- Small spatula
- Citristrip (paint and varnish remover) or another paint-stripping product
- Fine grain 220-grit sandpaper
- Tack cloth
- Four-inch high-density foam roller
- Purdy two-inch angled paint brush
- KILZ Original interior oil primer
- High-quality name brand latex paint in the finish you want for your furniture
- Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Protective Finish
Next up: Directions on how to get started
Originally published July 2014. Updated January 2017.
1. Remove the hardware
Why waste time taping hardware when you can simply remove it? Henkler recommends taking off hinges, door knobs, drawer pulls and any other removable hardware. She suggests placing each piece of hardware in a small plastic bag and marking the bag with the exact location of where the piece of hardware came from so you can put it back in the right place.
"Removing hardware will give your finished piece a more professional look, and it will ensure that the doors and drawers close securely when you're done," she adds.
2. To strip or not to strip
According to Henkler, stripping the paint off of furniture is only necessary if there are multiple coats of previous paint.
"Adding yet another coat of paint on top of existing layers of paint will make your furniture finish look thick, it takes away from the fine details of your piece, and it could result in doors and drawers not closing properly," she explains. If you do need to strip, use a paint stripper or remover according to the product's directions.
Product recommendation: Citristrip. Henkler uses Citristrip because it is an effective natural product that doesn't smell or burn your eyes or skin. It takes a little longer to use, but you can do it indoors and it's safer for the environment.
3. Fix your furniture
If your piece of furniture has cracks or dings, fill them with a wood filler before you apply primer or paint.
"You can use a spatula or even your finger to apply the wood filler, depending on the size of the cracks," says Henkler. Let the filler dry completely and then sand the repaired area smooth.
Product recommendation: Minwax High Performance Wood Filler.
4. Rough the furniture surface with sandpaper
"You need to give the primer and paint something to stick to, so use sandpaper all over the surface of the furniture to lightly rough it up," recommends Henkler. She uses a hand sanding block, which fits in the palm of your hand. "Sandpaper gets wrapped along the bottom of the block and the ends are secured in an opening on the block," she explains. "You can buy them for a few dollars at home improvement stores."
5. Become one with your tack cloth
After sanding your furniture at each stage, whether it's after stripping, priming or painting, use a tack cloth to clean the dust or debris from the surface.
"After each sanding, you'll need to remove the dust from the furniture surface to ensure you don't end up with a grainy finish," she explains.
6. Get primed
Applying primer is a key step in getting a beautiful finish on your repainted furniture.
"For primer and paint, I use a four-inch foam roller for flat surfaces and a Purdy one- to two-inch angled brush because these tools are easy to handle and reach into every corner and cover edges," Henkler explains. "I recommend buying the highest quality brush you can afford so you don't end up with uneven coats or paint-brush bristles in the primer and paint on your furniture."
Apply one light coat of primer and then let it dry. Sand the surface and use the tack cloth to remove dust. Repeat with a second light coat of primer, let it dry, sand the surface and again use the tack cloth to remove dust.
Product recommendation: KILZ Original interior oil primer. The DIY expert uses KILZ because it blocks mold and mildew while also blocking tannins from the wood from seeping up. KILZ oil-based primer will dry in 30 minutes. "You can also use KILZ latex primer, but it will likely need more coats," she adds.
7. Paint lightly
Henkler strongly recommends applying two to three light coats of paint rather than slapping on a single thick coat.
"Light, thin coats are best because a thick coat will dry unevenly and likely peel," she adds. "In addition, make sure you apply paint during optimal weather conditions — ideally when the temperature is around 75 degrees F and there is low humidity."
Extreme weather conditions can make paint dry too fast and crack, not adhere properly to the furniture or take too long to dry and invite dust, hair and even insects to mar your finish.
8. Be patient with your paint
Let each light coat of paint dry completely and then lightly sand. Follow up with the tack cloth to remove any dust or debris before applying the next coat of paint.
"Properly applying thin coats of paint, sanding in between and using a tack cloth will give your furniture a smooth, professional-looking finish," says Henkler.
9. Apply a finish
Once your paint is dry, use just your paint brush to apply a non-yellowing water-based polyurethane protective finish. Foam rollers can cause air bubbles to form in the finish. Henkler suggests applying one coat, letting it dry, sanding lightly, using the tack cloth to remove debris and then applying a final second coat.
Product recommendation: Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Protective Finish. Henkler uses satin finish because it gives furniture a softer look, but if you want high sheen on your piece, opt for a gloss finish. It all depends on the look you want for your repainted furniture.
10. Replace your hardware and set your furniture aside
After the paint has dried for 24 hours and is dry to the touch, replace the hardware in the exact spots from where you removed it. Then set your furniture aside for a few days to cure, which allows every layer of paint to dry completely and solidly adhere to the furniture.
"For chairs, desks and any other furniture that gets heavy use, allow the paint to cure for up to five days, otherwise you're going to leave marks in the finish," says Henkler. "You went through all the trouble of repainting your furniture, so set it aside to allow the paint to properly dry and adhere to your piece."
Before you go, check out our slideshow below: