how to refinish painted wood furniture

After making all those painted flowerpots, I started thinking about better utilizing my vertical space. I needed plant stands, but those can get pricey. I first tried wire shelving as a cheap solution, but I thought the look was too utilitarian and cluttered. I then decided to look for something cheap, decorative, and of good quality, so I went bargain hunting at a local resale shop. I found this shelf, which has a real wood frame and (I think) laminate or particle board shelves. It’s very solid and heavy. Since it had already been painted once, and I detest yellow, I decided to refinish it.

The find. All it needs is a little work and imagination…

Note: This is a guide to refinishing wood furniture that you would like to repaint. Please keep in mind that painting laminate or staining wood furniture has some different steps!

The previous owner only painted what you’d see from the top.

I’m going with a simple white, because I want the spotlight to be on the plants and their pretty pots, not the shelf itself. If you prefer, you could certainly make the furniture into a statement piece with an interesting design. (If you do, please share pics, I’d love to see them!)

First, you will need to collect some materials. Here’s a list of everything you will need for your project.

Sanding:

  • coarse grit sandpaper
  • rags
  • microfiber cloth
  • dust mask

Painting:

  • primer, enough to cover your furniture piece twice*
  • interior or exterior paint in the color and sheen of your choice (flat or matte sheen is not recommended, because it gets scratched very easily)
  • decent quality brushes
  • old newspapers or cardboard

*I highly recommend primer even if you are using “paint and primer” paint. “Paint and primer” paint doesn’t actually have primer in it, it just has more sediment (white) that makes it cover better. However, actual primer is better to use on furniture because it helps create a better paint bond. This helps prevent it from chipping off. Make sure check with a “paint expert” on which kind of primer to use with your paint.

Here’s what to do!

1. First, you will need to sand your furniture. (Wear old clothes, and give yourself plenty of time to do this step.) I recommend doing this step outside, or in a place where you can make a mess, as you’re going to create a lot of dust. You will need sandpaper, a damp rag that has been wrung out, and some drinking water (because you’ll probably get thirsty). You will also need a damp microfiber cloth, which should be only barely wet. Also, don’t skimp on the sandpaper, as you may need more than you think you will. (This was a mistake that I made, and I discovered the hard way that two pieces of coarse grit sandpaper were not sufficient.)

2. Once your furniture is in the proper location, put on the dust mask. This is so that you don’t end up breathing the dust created by sanding the paint, which is especially important if you think you might be dealing with lead paint. Lead paint hasn’t been legal since 1965 in the USA, so it really just depends on how old you think your furniture piece is. (Better safe than sorry!) Then, begin lightly standing it with the coarse grit sandpaper. You don’t really need to take all of the existing paint off of the piece, what you really want to do is just scuff it up lightly so that the paint will adhere well to the surface. I found it helpful to make circular motions with the sandpaper, as if I was wiping a table.  If some of the paint flakes off, that’s okay. You want to get rid of the loose paint, as any loose paint will cause the new paint to flake off. Make sure that you get every surface with the sandpaper, and don’t miss any little nooks and crannies.

Sanding. Hotter and sweatier work than I’d realized.

3. Once everything has been lightly sanded and you can see the scuff marks, it’s time to remove the dust. Using the damp rag, gently wipe down the surface in order to remove as much dust as you can. You will need to make sure that all of the dust has been removed before painting, as this is another factor that will keep the paint from adhering well to the surface. Then, use the microfiber cloth to go over the surface again. This will really help pick up any specks of dust that you missed the first time through.

Wiping the furniture with a slightly damp cloth to get rid of dust.

4. Make sure that the furniture surface is clean and dry before moving on to the next step, which is to apply the primer. Make sure the area in which you are working is well-ventilated. I highly recommend putting old newspapers or cardboard on the floor underneath your furniture piece in order to protect your work surface. You can use a brush to apply primer, or if using a spray primer, it’s best to do this step outdoors. For my project, I will be using a brush to make sure that I get everything adequately coated. You can technically get away with one coat of primer, but I really recommend two coats, especially if you are trying to cover a dark color like red or black. Be sure to cover the entire piece everywhere that you plan to paint.

I decided to prime the whole thing, including the underside.
Applying primer en plein aire is fun!
One coat of primer. I ended up doing three coats of primer.

5. Now it’s time to paint your furniture! If you are using a spray paint, I again recommend doing it outside. If you are using a brush, then you will simply need to apply the paint evenly over your piece. When painting a surface, I find it helpful to do it over the course of a couple of days. This way, I can make sure that (for example) the top is painted on the first day, and then I can do the bottom the next day. There’s not really a right or wrong to the time frame of painting, you’ll just want to make sure that you give yourself enough time to let everything dry adequately. How long you should wait depends on a lot of factors, such as the humidity in the air, how thick the paint coat is, and the sheen of the paint. Look on the can to give you an idea of dry time based on the type of paint you are using. I recommend putting a second coat of paint on your furniture, which will give it a more even look.

That’s it, you’re done! I recommend waiting for at least a few days before using your furniture. This will give the paint plenty of time to cure, and reduces the risk of your paint chipping off. Usually, new paint is susceptible to chipping for at least a week after painting, so again, give yourself plenty of time to allow your piece to dry. Now you have a nice piece of furniture to enjoy!

Ready for plants and styling!
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