This tallboy dresser makeover gave me the perfect opportunity to answer some common questions I receive about refinishing furniture. These are my tried, tested, and trusted steps for getting a perfect finish (along with the products I use and recommend).
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One thing I get asked fairly often – outside of “Where does Jane Fonda buy her clothes for Grace & Frankie” (seriously, that blog post STILL brings in questions?!!) – is how to refinish furniture.
Over the years – since 2013 to be exact – I have made a LOT of mistakes.
I have tried to shortcut the steps, tried different kinds of paints and applicators and at this point I have come up with my formula for a quality, long-lasting finish on any piece of furniture.
You’re not going to like it – it takes work – shortcuts lead to finishes that won’t last; that will chip or scratch off.
This is a tallboy that has been sitting in my garage for a year. Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit, I left it cluttering up my She-shop for a full year before I finally got around to refinishing it this past week.
Steps to refinishing furniture – tallboy dresser makeover
- You HAVE to sand. There really is no way around it, you have to remove years worth of dusting polish, oils from hands, dirt and grime and you have to give a new finish something to adhere to. Even if you’re painting melamine – ESPECIALLY if you’re painting melamine – you have to sand it rough. I use 120 grit and then finish with a 220 grit. If you plan to re-stain your furniture piece then you have to sand everywhere right down to the bare wood. If you are painting over the old finish, then you can get away with a lighter sanding.
- Sanding also helps to remove/lessen any small dings, scratches or imperfections that older pieces often have, and will make them more clearly visible to you can use wood filler to clean them up. Sand the wood filler at 220 grit until you can’t feel any fluctuations in the wood surface when your eyes are closed.
- PRIME. For the love of all the time you are going to spend on your tallboy makeover – or any other piece of furniture – make sure you get the best and strongest finish possible by priming your piece. Primer is less expensive than paint, so you can add multiple coats as a stain-blocker (the stain in this tallboy easily bled through the first coat of primer). After 3 coats of primer, with a light sanding with 320 grit sandpaper in between, this tallboy dresser had full stain blocking and an almost mirror-smooth finish.
- Applying your primer and finish: I have tried 4 different paint sprayers over the years, the most recent being a True Coat 360 Paint Sprayer and they have all performed well. The benefit of the Tru-coat is that you don’t have to dilute your paint before applying it, but the downside is that you go through a LOT of paint. The other sprayers I have used required diluting of the paint, and I rarely got the dilution correct and ended up with “drools” that had to be sanded out. If you get the right thickness, then you can whip through a layer of primer or paint in minutes and the finish will be flawless. If you don’t, then there is the additional work of smoothing out overspray with foam brushes.
If you don’t want to invest in a paint sprayer, and you certainly don’t have to to get a great finish, then I suggest using foam rollers. Apply the primer/paint as you would on walls, but then go over your paint job very, very lightly so that the roller pops any tiny bubbles that might have developed. This is important; eliminating these bubbles before the paint levels makes your finish almost texture-free and just slightly below the quality of an actual paint sprayer.
Regardless of whether you use a sprayer or a roller, a paint tent is a great idea. I have three sizes from HomeRight and the largest is easy to put up and take down and has the added benefit of a screen on the front to keep bugs off of your finish while it is drying.
- Sand with 320 grit before painting. After your final coat of primer, sand your piece – especially the high-touch areas – with 320 grit sandpaper. This will give you a perfectly smooth finish to apply your paint to. Use the “closed eyes technique” to find any lumps and bumps that aren’t easily noticeable. Remove all sanding dust with a clean, dry, lint-free cloth.
Apply your paint. I have tried chalk paint and mineral paint and even oil paint, but my favourite brand hands-down is Benjamin Moore’s Advance formula. It is a latex paint that hardens as it cures. After about 30 days, the finish is as close to an oil paint hardness as you can get without the messy application, clean up, or smell. I won’t lie – it’s expensive… but if you are refinishing furniture for your home, you want something durable or you’ll be starting again in a few months time (trust me, I’ve had to do this with a desk I tried to shortcut on).
- Apply a second coat 24 hours after the first, sanding again with 320 grit sandpaper in between coats.
This tallboy dresser is an antique, so the handles have 5 ½” centres – a size that isn’t available for less than about $16-$25 per handle. I don’t usually recommend painting hardware – it tends to come off in time with rings rubbing against it – but because I didn’t want to invest another $100 into this dresser, I made an exception.
If you decide to paint your hardware, then please clean them thoroughly first. I like to use Krud Kutter to remove oils and the top coat of gloss on the hardware, and then follow it up with a good wash in TSP. The TSP cleans the pieces, but also gives the hardware a surface that the paint will adhere to more strongly.
The entire process takes days to finish – but most of that is drying time between coats. Expect to spend about 2 hours sanding – and I suggest a random orbit sander for the initial sanding, but not for the between-coats sanding.
Tallboy dresser makeover perfection right?
I know, it doesn’t really look any different than a piece finished with chalk paint (and no sanding), but trust me when I say this finish is FAR more durable and will last you years where chalk paints / mineral paints are intended to be scuffed off to give the antique look.
If I’m refinishing a piece of furniture – I want it to look new and last like new when I’m done. (If you buy it, feel free to scuff it up at home – just don’t tell me)
This tallboy dresser makeover was gorgeous! So much so that it sold within 2 days of me finishing it!
You can make money flipping furniture, but you’ll want to do it right or your reputation (and business) will end after one purchase.
Want a before and after? (My favourite part!)
Try it out and have fun!
You might just find a fun and lucrative side-hustle!
Have a great one!