How To Get the Perfect Paint Finish

Furniture Painting Tips

Last weekend one of my friends came over and wanted to see what I was working on. Right now my garage is filled with hand-me-down furniture that I am transforming with paint, production-line style for my daughter to use in her apartment.   Two of the items are metal and my friend was surprised that you could paint metal. She didn’t think you could.  “Yes, a big yes, I told her – you can paint ANYTHING and get the perfect paint finish at the same time.   Over the years I have painted quite a lot of things and have figured out what the right products are and what formulas work to give me professional results every time.

Here is a daybed frame that is getting painted. It has both metal and wood parts. It is in great shape, but the black and wood tone color are not in my daughter’s decorating scheme.  I know with the right products that I can paint this to look brand new – like it came directly from the factory.


Furniture Painting Tips

My secret – any of these products.  I would not even think about painting this bed or any piece of furniture without one of these primers on it first. They are my go-to products – tried and true and have never let me down. Normally I use a brush or roller, but for this bed I used the Kilz spray primer since the bed has all round surfaces – hard to paint evenly with a brush or roller.


I didn’t always know to use these products and learned the ins and outs of painting surfaces the hard way when I was younger.

Learning The Hard Way #1:  The Need For Gripping Primer

When Ed and I were newlyweds in our first house we were given the armoire that is now in my Studioffice.   We used it in a breakfast room as a pantry back then  – it was orange.  I was 24 at the time and very excited to put my style on it and paint it.  Easy peasy – right?  Wrong!  When the paint was dry – it rubbed right off. I was horrified!  What a big HUGE mess – all the detailing and curved top.  Yikes!  I had to go over the entire surface with a wet rag and scrub until it all came off. It is a big piece of furniture and I had to stand on a ladder to do most of it. Not fun.  Off to the paint store I went to find out what I needed to do.  Gripping primer was the answer.

What I Use It On:  Anything that has a bit of a shine or gloss finish, even after sanding – I use 2 light coats of gripping primer first letting each coat dry before applying the second. Then I paint.

It now comes in a grey color which helps when using deep paint colors. It will bring out the color and lessen the need for more coats of paint.

I painted my kitchen cabinets over 10 years ago using Glidden Gripper primer before putting on 2 coats of semi-gloss Sherwin Williams latex.  They still look newly painted. Benjamin Moore also makes a good gripping primer called Aqua Grip. 

Learning The Hard Way #2: The Need For Stain Blocking Primer

Around the same time – being newlyweds in our first house we were eager to make it ours and built a built-in bookcase in our living room. We stained it and after a week I didn’t like the dark color and decided it would look better white. “Just roll on some white paint”, I thought – and I did.  It looked great and I was one happy homeowner.  Fast forward to a week later and it was no longer white – it was pink – Egads!   Back to the paint store I went and learned that stain bleeds through paint.  I needed a stain blocking primer and Kilz Original formula was what they gave me.

Kilz comes in many different formulas. I have tried them all and the Original is the best – two light coats and everything is sealed and bonded to the surface.   Don’t let the oil formula scare you. It smells just a little, but unlike most oil-based paints – it dries in 30 minutes.  You will have to clean your brush out with mineral spirits or use a disposable one if you don’t want to clean it.

I used the spray Kilz for the first time on a lamp a few years ago and was not expecting the same results – but I was pleasantly surprised with smooth excellent adhesion – which is the most important factor when painting over furniture.

What I Use It On:  I use Kilz Original when I am painting over a piece of furniture that has a stained or polyurethane finish.  It will block any stain, resin, or oil from knots in the wood from bleeding through.  It can be tinted if you are going to use a mid-tone or dark paint color.

I have used one of these products on every piece of furniture I have ever painted since.

Sneak peek of the daybed frame After

See the nice smooth finish on the wood and metal parts.   That is the result of Kilz Original spray primer and Rustoleum semi-gloss white. I only had to lightly sand over the wood posts with a piece of medium grit sandpaper to rough up the surface just a bit. Not even 5 minutes of sanding.  The primer does the rest.  Bonds and allows the paint to adhere better so that 10 years from now – the finish looks just as good as the day you painted it.  The smooth finish is also the result of patience – light coats only and letting each coat dry before applying the next.   I have been rewarded with a factory-like finish and a big hug from my daughter for my efforts.

Spray painted furniture tips


When using the spray formula of any primer or paint wear a paint mask and/or respirator and do it outside or in an open area with lots of ventilation. I use plastic sheeting to place large objects on so the overspray doesn’t get on everything.

Best Spray paint primers for furniture

I will show you the finished bed and the rest of the furniture I am working next week when it is all set up in my daughter’s apartment.

Click here to find:  The steps on how to paint anything.

How to paint any surface






  1. Charlotte says

    Diane, I love your site just found it. I had an old gold chandalier that we want to paint for our grand child’s room. I primed it with Zinseer primer spray 2 or 3 coats it looked fine. Then I used rust oleum satin white and like the post above I have tiny grit- looking places on the curves where the
    arms go up toward the light part. This has a scroll design on it too. Help!
    This is my first time painting this kind of project. Usually paint baskets.

    • says

      Hi Charlotte – What I believe happened is the over spray reached the other parts of the chandelier. When spray painting the over spray gets everywhere. I it was hot out, the droplets of paint dry faster and don’t have time to flatten. I think if you smooth the piece down with fine grit sandpaper you will be able to smooth it out. Wait to respray when the temperature is a bit cooler and then apply only light coats. When each coats is dry, go over the surface with 220 -320 fine grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough spot or drips. Clean it off with a tack cloth and then add the next coat of paint. If you are still getting rough spots, you may need to use a piece of cardboard to block part of the chandelier while you spray it a section at a time. Another tip, shake the can frequently while spraying. You can never over shake, more shaking is better :)

  2. Angela says

    hi I have a question I have an antique table its painted but the top is getting scratched and I need to give it another coat do I need to send the top lightly and do I need to use primer before I put another coat of paint on

    • says

      Hi Angela – You do not have to add primer, but I would use very fine sandpaper over the scratched areas. Clean any dirt off and then apply a light coat of paint over the table. 2 light coats should be enough. Lightly sand in between dried coats to ensure a smooth finish

    • says

      Hi Alice – you can paint it when it is dry to the touch. I usually wait a few hours just to make sure it is dry, especially in hot and humid weather.

  3. Kathy says

    What about the primer that rust oleum makes? I just used that on a wood make up table, then used the glossy white spray paint. Will their primer work as well as the kiltz?

    • says

      Hi Kathy – Rustoleum makes a great product and will work on metal, but if you were going to spray paint or brush paint on wood, you are better off using Kilz spray or brush-on because it will block the tannins in the wood from changing the color of the paint. Rustoleum may not do that – it is made for priming metal and rust.

  4. Ronda says

    Diane, I found your work while searching which type of paint to use on a furniture project I just started. Thanks for all the detail info and photos. Your work is great! Because of you I now want to try everything!
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful talent. Ronda

  5. Cinda says

    Been delaying a huge painting project on an old hutch that has been lightly sanded and also some veneer stripped off down to the bare wood. I would like to paint this antique white but don’t know if the whole project should be painted with primer and then paint. Will the stripped wood have the same finish if it is all done the same way. It was in rough shape when found and is a treasure to try to salvage. Any suggestions?

    • says

      Hi Cinda – Use a primer – a must when you are painting over bare wood. If you don’t use a primer – the paint will suck right into the bare wood and you won’t like how it looks. Primer will also block any wood tannins from coming through the paint and changing your paint color. Once the primer is on, the finish will all look the same. You may see a ridge or two if the veneer is still on it in areas, but the color will be the same. I did this on the mantel in my dining room. It came out perfectly even though I could not get all the veneer off it spots. You can see it in this post:

  6. Kaneez says

    I have an old table that is stained and has a polyurethane coat on it. I want to paint it antique white. Should I sand the whole thing, then put the Gripper on, then paint? I’m new to this, so if you can give me step by step, I’d appreciate it!

  7. Lynn says

    Help, I have a very old buffet that I am refinishing. I stripped it with citristrip. Sanded it with a hand sander. Cleaned it with tsp. then I used a primer zinsser bulls eye 123. I sprayed 2 coats letting each dry over an hr between. After several weeks, I finally found the rust oleum painters touch in heirloom white. I sprayed a coat and let it dry about an hr. then sprayed another. The paint is rough in many areas, like rough sand paper. I live in dry colorado so I don’t think the drying step is the problem. What do I do to fix the problem? Can I just lightly sand down the rough spots and paint another coat?

    • says

      Hi Lynn – The problem you have run into is quite common among spray painters. What is happening is the air is hot and dry and the droplets of spray paint are drying before they hit the surface. It can also happen when you are painting one area and the overspray gets on another section of the piece and that overspray being that it is light and airy dries too fast giving you a sandy feel.

      What you need to do is sand the piece smooth and wait until the air is cooler and is not so dry. Late at night or early in the morning may be a better time to recoat if you live in hot and or dry environment.

  8. Sarah says

    Help! I am painting a buffet. I was going to buy the Zinsser cover-all primer but just went with a multi-purpose latex primer from Sherwin Williams so I wouldn’t have to make another stop after I picked up my paint. Yesterday I put two coats of primer on the piece. I am able to scrape it off with my fingernail. I would have expected it to have hardened and not be so easy to scrape off. I am afraid of painting the whole piece & having it peel off after all that work. I really just want to go with the oil based Zinsser primer since I have had good success with it in the past. Can I add a coat of it on top of the latex primer? Or do I have to scrape the latex primer off first? I appreciate any advice you have for me! I am just not sure if this is normal that I would be able to scrape off the latex primer at this stage.

    • says

      Hi Sarah –

      I am not of fan of all purpose primers, even brand name ones. I like Kilz, Zinseer, and Glidden Gripper. They are the best to use. The primer may just need time to cure. Another reason – Did you sand the buffet before applying the primer? Was the can shaken at the store to mix it up? If it was not mixed up enough, it may not perform well.

      To remedy the situation. I would let it sit another day to see if it can still be scratched off. If it does, then I would sand it – not to the bare wood, but enough to rough up the primed surface. Clean it off and then roll on 1 very light coat of Kilz or Zinseer primer. Let it dry and roll on one more very light coat. I prefer the oil based Kilz. It dries in 30 minutes. It is not like a slow drying oil paint. When it is dry, then proceed with the paint. Light thin coats are best. Don’t think you have failed – all is not lost – you just took a little detour :)

      • Sarah says

        Thank you so much for responding so quickly. It did my heart a lot of good :) I will give it another day and hope it doesn’t scrape off easily.

  9. Victoria says

    I made the mistake of buying a dresser that is particle board and a thin paper finish. I want to paint it but I am afraid that sanding it will make a mess. When I paint it will the paper bubble up if I use latex paint.

    • says

      Hi Victoria – I think you will be able to paint your dresser with success. You can sand it lightly to rough it up so the paint has something to adhere to. After sanding – use a good primer/sealer. I would use Kilz Original. It is an oil based, but dries to re-coat in 30 minutes. This will seal the surface so when you paint, the paper will not bubble. Use very light coats of each the primer and paint and after each coat is dry, make sure everything is not bubbling, shrinking, etc. If it is – sand to smooth and then apply the next coat of paint.

  10. says

    I just found your website today via the BHG Makeover Madness site (I don’t know who won and I’m too late to vote but I love how you combined two separate pieces of furniture into one gorgeous piece) and I’m thrilled! Your projects are beautiful and you seem to be a fountain of knowledge about painted pieces. I recently bought a dresser and china cabinet off of Craig’s List to paint and they will be my first painted furniture pieces (my painting experience is limited to walls).

    Anyway, after reading your posts, I’m beginning to think I really can paint my Formica kitchen cabinets! I read your comment above to another reader about painting Formica so I know to use a gripping primer. For the paint itself, should I used oil-based or latex? Or would your chalk paint recipe (the CCP one) be best?

    I hesitate to ask because I know that you get so many requests for additional information but I read as many posts as I could and I couldn’t find that info. I read your post about your kitchen cabinets, too (gorgeous makeover by the way) but didn’t see that mentioned. Any additional advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

  11. Mary says

    Hi Diane,

    I have a question…My brother gave me a somewhat ornate buffet that was painted with either an off-white flat or chalk paint. The surface, particularly around the areas of detail, were almost “lumpy”. My husband hated it so i told him that I had a plan to paint it. In an effort to “help” me he powerwashed (!!) the old paint off. We have found that the cabinet itself is solid and wood composite but the detailed panels are some kind of composite material. They are in fact bumpy. I tried to sand the surfaces as best I could, but they are still bumpy. I now accept that the surface will not be as smooth as I had originally hoped, but I still think we can work with it. I was going to paint it a mossy green and then paint a slightly lighter green on top and distress the edges a bit. I wanted to add some type of highlighting or wax rub, but I am afraid that all the irregularities will show up. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Thanks!!!

  12. Nazira says

    Hi. I have a diy disaster. I bought a trunk from the thrift store and some painted it red (it was black). It has paint drips that have dried. I want to spray paint it and even tried sanding it but the drips won’t go away. Do I use paint remover? What do I do? Please help! Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Nazira – What grit of sandpaper are you using? It sounds like it may not be coarse enough. Try 60 grit and then 100 after that, and then use 220 to smooth the paint in the area were the paint drips are. Try rolling a small piece of the sandpaper into a pointed roll to get into detailed and tight areas.

      I would not put paint stripper just on the area where the drip is, it will only make matters worse in getting a smooth finish. If the sandpaper does not remove the drip to your liking, then you will have to strip all the red paint off the truck to get a smooth finish all over. If you need to do this, use spray on Citra-Strip. It is easy to use and does not smell. Let it sit for at least 24 hours and it will be easy to remove all the red paint. You can buy it at Walmart and home improvement stores.

  13. Carmen says

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks so much fro the great post! Ive had some issues after spray painting a drawer is the Rustoleum Ultra Cover x2 Glosss spray. I’m trying to get a high gloss effect but after a couple of coats its turned out to be completely matt with a rough texture, there is no gloss effect at all. :( Do you have any recommendation for a product i can use over this to make it glossy? What should my next step be to correct this?


    • says

      Hi Carmen – This is a common when using gloss spray paint. I think it has to do with either 3 things. One – the can has to be shaken quite a lot and even shake it while spraying if you can. 2 -It could have been to warm when you sprayed and the paint dried a tiny bit before hitting the surface, the perfect temp for spray painting is around 75 degrees. 3 – You sprayed with the can too far away from the surface. Try holding the can at an angle and about 6-8 inches over the surface as you spray. To fix your piece, lightly sand the surface with fine 220 grit sandpaper to smooth any roughness, clean off the grit and them respray during the time of the day when the temp is closet to 75, shake, and hold the can closer to the surface as you spray. Also don’t sweep the spray can across the surface too fast. Slower, but even sweeps should help.

  14. jaime says

    im wondering if you sanded the metal frame? one post i read on your table you sanded the metal frame before you primed. if the metal i’m painting is already smooth (rounded) do i need to sand it? also, i will be getting the spray primer and paint. i tried one chair (5 more to go) and i spent an hour sanding the edges then priming for another 30 mins or longer. im gonna give up if im not careful :(
    what should i do with the chair i have already primed? should i sand it off and re-prime with the spay??

    love the ideas here!

    • says

      Hi Jaime – It is always best to sand a surface before painting especially if the surface is smooth and shiny. The paint needs something to grip on to. When you rough up the surface with sandpaper you provide “tooth” that the paint can attach to. It doesn’t have to be to the bare wood or metal, just a quick 5 – 10 minute going over with a piece of sandpaper in your hand. You just want to rough up the surface a bit.

      If the chair is primed and they primer has adhered well and cannot be scratched off, then you are good to go over it with paint without sanding. A sanded surface and good primer is the best way to get a paint finish that will last.

  15. Shalee says

    Hi there. You did a wonderful job explaining how to paint a metal/wood daybed. My question is, I am painting the exact came daybed and I wanted to know how much roughly did it cost you to do this project? Also, exactly what products do I need and do you have a link to show what the bed looks like finished? I have been unable to locate the page that shows the finished daybed. Thank you so much!

    • says

      Hi Shalee – To paint the bed cost about $24 for the primer and 2 cans spray paint. I had the drop cloths and sandpaper. The products are pictured in the last photo of the post. Kilz Spray Primer and Rustoleum Ultra Cover 2x Spray Paint in Semi-Gloss White. My plan was to take a photo of the after when the daybed was dry and placed in my daughter’s apartment. I never got a chance to get the photo since her moving truck came and I was not home. I tried getting a good photo of it in her apartment when I visited, but the room it is in is dark and you can’t see the finish in the photos.

      It has held up great. If the bed is going to get a lot of use, you can always use a spray sealer over the paint, but if it is not water-based formula sealer it will yellow the paint color. Minwax Polycrylic comes in a spray can and brush-on. Wait for the paint to cure for a few days before applying the poly. Read the directions on the spray can to find out when it is save to seal. IF you do it too soon or heavy, it can wrinkle the paint.

  16. Anthony R. Williamson says

    Depending on the job, I generally lightly sand the surface
    of whatever I’m spray painting– the lightly scuffed surface helps
    that 1st layer stick nicely, and the sanding will knock off any
    loose crud that you might not notice until it has already been
    painted over. Shiny surfaces will take the paint much better if you
    lightly sand first to take the sheen off. I sand and then prime
    when I am looking for a very durable final surface; an antique
    tubular steel hospital bed I re-painted recently got the full
    treatment: sanding, several coats of primer sanded lightly between
    each coat, then several final coats of Kilz

  17. says

    Hi Diane,

    I love, love, love your blog. I am a Zinsser Cover Stain girl. I have a major kitchen refresh to do. The cabinets are painted in oil based paint by the previous owners. We are in a condo we are sprucing up for sale. While I love Cover Stain, I hate the fumes. Do you think I can use Glidden Gripper to prime them and then paint latex and seal with Polyacrylic. I’ve had luck with my DIY chalk paint with both Behr and Sherwin WIlliams and then sealing with Polyacrylic. Scared Glidden Gripper won’t work as well on previously painted cabinets (oil based). I will have to use Cover Stain on the Laminate Countertop that I am painting a faux Carrera marble effect on. Just trying to avoid using it in the entire kitchen. Worst case, I take the dog to my sister’s for a day, prime with Cover Stain and we all go away for the weekend to avoid the fumes.



  1. […] 16. I use Kilz Original when I am painting over a piece of furniture that has a stained or polyurethane finish. It will block any stain, resin, or oil from knots in the wood from bleeding through. It can be tinted if you are going to use a mid-tone or dark paint color. ~ In My Own Style […]

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