I’ve been refinishin/ painting furniture for over 3 years now, and each new piece brings a new learning experience. Today I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned over the dozens of furniture makeovers I’ve done, in the hopes that it will save you some time and effort on your projects.
1. Always, always, ALWAYS sand your furniture piece. If you are staining it, then you need to strip it to the bare wood, but even if you are painting it – it really needs to have a roughed-up surface, free of furniture polish and varnish, in order for your new finish to adhere and last.
This is one of the first pieces of furniture I ever refinished – and I am embarrassed to admit – I did not sand it down. How can I remember? I don’t, but you can see the paint is chipping off of the top of the desk and a beautifully varnished and stained top is showing through. This paint job didn’t stand a chance of lasting more than a few years because I painted right over top of the previous finish without sanding.
2. Chalk, Mineral, Milk and Mud paints – This is repetitive, but there are numerous paints out there that say “no sanding required” – particularly chalk, milk, mineral and mud paints…. unless you plan on distressing your furniture so that previous finishes show through – you still need to sand for adhesion. Janice’s sideboard was done with a mineral paint and even with a thorough sanding, the mineral paint scuffed off very easily and required more than a few touch-ups before I was able to wax it.
3. Drawers – When sanding your furniture down, remember to sand the drawer sides, top and bottom as well as the openings that they fit in. Drawers are sized perfectly to fit within the space allotted on your desk, dresser or nightstand. Adding a coat of paint (on top of the original coat) adds anywhere from 1/16″ to 1/8″ (depending on how many coats you put on) to the piece. This minuscule size difference will make your drawers stiffer to slide. For the few extra minutes it takes to give these a light sanding (say 220 grit), it will be worth it for ease-of-use of your furniture.
4. Sand down the INSIDE of the drawers. This might seem silly, but removing a thin layer from inside the drawers themselves will help remove not only stains, but odours as well. Again a 220 grit sandpaper will remove the top layer and give your drawer insides a fresh scent and smooth (snag-free) lining.
5. Drawer handles and knobs – part of the fun of a furniture makeover is dressing up your piece with new handles or knobs. More often than not, you’ll find you need to drill new holes to accommodate these accessories. Drill the holes and use wood filler to fill in the old ones before priming. If you need two layers of wood filler, use it and take your time – indents from inadequately filled holes become clearly visible after the finishing coat of paint is applied. (Note: sand the outside and the inside of the drawer after drilling so you don’t get slivers that will snag your clothes)
6. Prime – I know, trust me, it’s not a favourite step of mine either – but priming your furniture before painting will stop any bleed-through of knots, previous stains and will help the fresh paint adhere better.
7. Sand after priming. More sanding – but this time it’s almost fun. Use a foam block and wrap it with 320 grit sandpaper and lightly sand your primed surface. Follow behind with your other hand to find any areas you missed. Getting an almost-mirror-smooth finish now, will make your top coats that much smoother as well. This sanding is very light and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
8. Pre-Satin wood conditioner – if you are stripping your piece down to bare wood and plan to stain it, I highly recommend using a pre-stain conditioner. It’s like priming before painting. Pre-stain conditioner soaks into the wood and helps your stain to soak in evenly. I liken it to making french toast: when you dip your bread into the egg mixture it soaks up more in the centre than it does on the crusts – it’s just the density and dryness of the bread. Likewise, wood has varying densities and dryness levels between knots and the varying grains of the board and between different boards. Using a pre-stain conditioner will soak up more in dryer areas and less in denser – and will leave your wood relatively uniform in absorption levels for the first coat of stain. SOOO worth it.
9. Swirl marks – these make me CRAZY! These are marks created by electric sanders – particularly finishing sanders, but random-orbit sanders can create them as well. They are small circles created by the circular motion of the sanding pads when you apply too much pressure. They are very difficult to see until you have added your pre-stain wood conditioner. One way to reduce the number of swirl marks is to finish sanding surfaces by hand, with the grain of the wood. This should remove most, if not all. The only other way is by sanding your piece again after the pre-stain wood conditioner once the swirls have been brought out. It’s tedious, but you really don’t want them in the finished product – stain and varnish really highlight these marks.
This top had several swirl marks prior to finishing – fortunately, the pre-stain wood conditioner brought them out and I was able to hand-sand them out before the final finish.
10. Paintbrushes – you really only need one, but getting a good one will make a difference. I’ve tried the ‘disposable’ dollar store paintbrushes, but spent a fair amount of time removing bristles from my paint job. Not a big deal I guess, but really irritating. I decided to see what the big deal was about a quality paintbrush (my favourite being Purdy) and let me tell you, if you plan to refinish more than one piece, these are well worth the money. The bristles stay in the brush, and they are easily washable to be used over and over and over. My only suggestion would be to allot one brush for latex paints and a separate one for primer/oil/ stain; because of the different clean-up processes (water versus varsol) oil/stain brushes are left with a somewhat oily coating on them even after cleaning. I pick up my brushes when the hardware store offers the “three-for” deal and can get three different sizes for $26 Cdn. Otherwise you’re looking roughly that much for one brush.
11. Paint rollers – mohair rollers provide a more level finish and leave far fewer (if any) bubbles when painting furniture. I know, foam rollers are cheaper and more easily found, but if you want your piece of furniture to look closer to a spray job, the mohair rollers (found at paint stores) really will make a smoother finish.
12. Foam rollers – if you do choose to use a foam roller, make sure to roll your piece again veeeery lightly after applying your paint. The first rolls will spread the paint and get coverage for you, and the last light rolls will pop any bubbles that the first may have created. Basically put your roller on the wet paint and push it with no downward pressure to remove bubbles and get a more level finish.
13. Paint choice – This is not a sponsored post, and Benjamin Moore has no idea that I am writing this – but BM’s “Advance” paint is the best I’ve come across for painting furniture. It is a latex paint (so water washable), but with the durability and levelling properties of oil paint. It won’t end up quite as smooth as an oil finish (although pretty close), but it’s durability on furniture and cabinets far surpasses anything else I’ve tried. You can second-coat it within an hour, and can use your furniture same-day – but for full hardness, you should wait 30 days for the paint to completely cure before putting anything heavy on, or washing, your refinished piece.
14. Finish on a stained piece – if you are staining your furniture piece then using a varnish (a few coats with sanding in between) is a necessity. I’ve been quite pleased with the results and finish from this triple-thick varnish – where one coat is equal to three of regular varnish. You will still need to sand smooth with 320 grit between coats, but you will have to do far fewer coats if you use this.
15. Finish on a painted piece – don’t use varnish. Varnish and most polyurethanes have a yellow tinge to them – which warms up the look of stained wood, but yellows paint. For desk surfaces and dresser tops, look for a polyurethane that promises ‘non-yellowing’ or ‘clear’ finish. While not a necessary step if using the Advance paint, this will add longevity to your piece by blocking stains, spills and light scratches.
So from one of my first pieces ever:
To my technique today:
These tips will save you the headache of having to re-do your work within a’short’ period of time (like 3-4 years) and your finish will be smooth, durable and give you a show-stopping piece.
Plus you’ll have a very happy recipient of your quality-finished piece.
Have a great one!