How to Paint Furniture: Old Wooden Chest of Drawers

This post is the second installment for a page that I am building here on my blog that will be called How To Paint Anything. I get many emails each week asking me how to paint this or that and I hope this page will become a valuable resource for all questions related to how to paint items successfully.  The first post I did was how to paint metal.   I will add more tutorials as I post them so that eventually the page will have a tutorial on how to paint every surface imaginable.

Today I am going to show you how to paint furniture or how to paint over a chest of drawers that has a stain and varnish/urethane finish on it.


This chest of drawers was a hand me down that my daughter wanted for her apartment –just didn’t want it brown.   She chose turquoise to coordinate with fabric on her bed pillows.

If you would like to know how I transformed the drawer pulls.   You can find the post – How to Update Brass Drawer Pulls, here.

The paint is a satin latex from Glidden.  The color -Peacock’s Plume # A1249

Before and After

I could not get a decent shot of the chest of drawers in my daughter’s room after it was painted– the room was too narrow to get a better angle.

How-to-paint-a-furniture that is stained




Supplies Needed:

Paint, primer, high quality (Purdy is my favorite) angled paint brush, foam paint roller or a high quality low nap roller, paint tray, tack cloth, sander or sanding block, sandpaper of various coarseness – fine to medium, screwdriver, sandwich bags to place hardware in, paint stirring stick

Optional: paste wax and soft cloth


I find a sanding block the best and easiest way to sand the surface of the furniture to rough up the finish so the paint has something to adhere to. You can see the one I use in the above photo. It have had it for a long time!  It is one of those well designed tools that stands the test of time.  If you have an electric sander then use  that especially if the surface is very slick or beaten up. Sanding with an electric sander will smooth the surface imperfections making the piece not only look better, but accept the paint better.  Use it with medium grit sandpaper. Coarse sandpaper is too rough and will leave deep scratches in the surface.    When I do touch up sanding between coats of paint – the sponge style “Fine Grit”sanding block works perfectly.


When painting furniture, if you are not using “Chalk Paint”, you will need to use a primer first.  Do not skip this step or your paint will come right off or will discolor.    (My next tutorial will be on Chalk Paint)

The priming and prep are the key to getting a perfect finish.

My go-to primers are Glidden Gripper and Kilz Original.  Glidden Gripper is best used when you are painting over shiny or slick surfaces.  It is water based. It comes in 2 formulas – grey – to use under dark and vivid – and white.  I used the white formula on my kitchen cabinet makeover.

If you are painting over a piece that has knots or smells like pine or is bare wood – use Kilz. It is the best all-around primer. If you are not sure what primer to use, you can not go wrong with Kilz Original.  It is oil based – but don’t let that scare you.  It only smells a little bit and dries in 30 minutes.  Since it is a primer – you can use latex over it. I use a sponge roller and/or brush when using it so I just throw them out when done.  There are a few different formulas of Kilz that are water based. I have tried them all  – they work, but you need more than two coats to block the stain from seeping through.  I used Kilz on my dining room hutch.

P.S. There is a brand new formula of Kilz  – called Kilz MAX. It is said to be up to par with the oil based formula for stain blocking.  I have not used it, but it is worth trying out if you want soap and water clean up.



1.  Remove hardware and place in a baggie. Mark the back of hinges and knobs with a magic marker or wrap painters tape around them and use the tape to write on what door or drawer they came from so you can put everything back exactly where it was originally.   It will save you frustration as doors will not line up if the hinges are not placed back exactly in the same spot they came from.


2. Sand all surfaces to remove as much of the shiny surface as you can.  You don’t have to take it to the bare wood, but just remove the shine.

3. Clean the surface with a tack cloth.

4.  Apply a coat of primer. When painting furniture use, 2 light coats of primer and 2 light coats of paint, letting each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next.  Use a foam roller on the flat surfaces and a high quality angled brush on the beveled and raised sections.


Make sure to paint the inside edges where doors and drawers go.  If you don’t do this when you place the drawers or doors back on you will see a sliver of the inside wood and your efforts will not look professional.


I line up drawers on a drop cloth and use a roller to paint them.  The angled brush comes in handy if any paint drips.


5. For this chest of drawers I used Glidden Gripper in Grey since the turquoise is a very vivid color. I noticed on one drawer that the stain bled through in one area even after 2 coats. It is a latex product, so I rolled on one more light coat.  When the primer is dry, you should not see any brown color seeping through the paint. If you do – roll on another coat.  When the primer is dry, use your sanding block to go over any areas that need smoothing.  Clean with a tack cloth before applying paint.


Time for paint. I chose a latex satin, but you can paint furniture in any finish you like.  Satin, semi-gloss, or gloss will give you more of a polished look – satin the least shiny – gloss the most shiny.  If you can find a latex enamel paint in the color you want, then I would go with that as enamel has a very durable finish and is perfect on kids, bathroom, and kitchen furniture where a lot of abuse and moisture can occur.


6.  Once you have a coat of paint on and it is dry, look for placed where dust has settled, drips, or bugs that have dried into the paint. I go over the areas with the sanding block covered in fine grit sandpaper.  I then use a tack cloth to remove all the sanding dust and roll on the next coat of paint.

How to paint furniture


Optional:   Many years ago I used to poly over painted pieces, but I no longer find it necessary with the very durable paint formulas that are on the market today. I have found however on some pieces adding a little bit of polish in the way of paste wax brings the paint color to life.   This step is totally optional. I have painted plenty of pieces where I skipped this step and they still look great.  Certain colors just seem to pop when wax is applied.  You can test it on the back of a piece if you are not sure if it will make a difference in your color vibrancy.    I used satin latex for this piece and the wax also does give a thin layer of protection.

To apply wax:  Wait until the paint is thoroughly dry or overnight to wax.  Only use wax that is clear – Johnson’s is clear. Minwax is not, it is orange.   Apply a very,very thin coat with a soft cloth.  Rub it on in a quick circular motion. Less is more – so use just a little bit of wax.   After it dries, buffing it will bring out the shine and color vibrancy.

Painting furniture tutorial


After the wax is applied – let it dry. Drying time can vary depending on the temperature.  3o minutes to overnight.  You will know when it is ready to buff as it will look a bit hazy and feel slightly tacky or sluggish when a dry cloth is wiped over it.   If you don’t have a soft cloth like a diaper – balled up pantyhose are said to be a good buffing cloth.

How to paint furniture the right way


Once dry – buff with a very soft cloth using circular motions until when you wipe over the surface it feel slippery or smooth.

Place hardware back on.

If you don’t need to use the piece right away – let it sit for a few days before using so the paint can cure. This should be done with or without waxing.   After a day or two you can start to use it and will be rewarded with a beautiful finish for many years to come.

How to paint furniture tutorial





  1. says

    Thank you!! Followed your steps exactly and my old hope chest turned out beautiful!! Went to Home Depot on a mission and they told me flat latex paint could not be applied over oil based Kilz…I ignored the advice :) They also told me wax would not “stick” to latex paint…ignored that advice as well :) Next project I am going to give the fancy chalk paint a try and skip the priming. Thank you so much for the help!

  2. Nella says

    Thank you for your invaluable advice on cupboard painting. We had painted some kitchen cupboards and found that the rim surface was completely uneven and looked very poor indeed. The trick of painting just a little way into the cupboards has made a more professional finish to our work.

  3. Stephanie says

    In your post you mention to paint the inside edge of the drawers. I was wondering if it would work if I actually primed and/or painted the whole inside of the drawers. My piece has been sitting in our garage for 25+ years and I worry if I don’t cover every inch with primer that the musty smell will linger. The drawers have a wooden center guide rail just like the dresser you painted above. Would painting this area cause the drawers to stick? I would like to use this piece for its original purpose, a buffet, but not if it is stinky!

    • says

      Hi Stephaine –

      Paint and primer alone will not mask the smell of old furniture. There are a few different ways to combat the smell. 1. To remove musty smells from old furniture, fill plastic containers with white vinegar; seal, and punch holes in lids. Put one inside each drawer or cabinet overnight to absorb odors. For extreme cases, clean interiors with a vinegar-dampened cloth. 2. Clean with wood soap or TSP Cleaner that is sold in the paint aisle. Place outside in the sunshine to dry. If it still smells you can use clear shellac over the surface. It will get rid of the smell.

      I would not paint the drawer guides, it would cause problems – just wash them well with TSP or wood cleaner and dry them off quickly. You can paint everything else using light coats.

  4. Christina says

    Hi. My problem when painting wood is the scratches I get afterward. Let me explain. When the piece is all dry and ready to use. (Like my dresser I just did) When opening the drawers or putting something on top of the piece, it scratches so easily. How do you prevent this??

    • says

      Hi Christina –

      It sounds like you did not use a good primer or the paint needed more time to cure before you used the newly painted piece. If I am using regular latex to paint, (not DIY Chalk paint) I sand to rough up the surface and then use Glidden Gripper primer or Kilz Original primer. 2 light coats of primer, letting the first dry throughly before applying the next. Let that dry overnight and then apply 2 light coats of paint. After the piece is painted, let it sit as long as you can live without it so it has time to cure. Some paints can take up to 4 weeks to cure completely depending on the temps and humidity. When painting over drawers, I sometimes sand the edges down, so that when the layers of new paint are on, they still glide in easily. If you don’t do this, they may be tight and then the paint would come off.

  5. Diane says

    Great article — very useful. I plan on doing some dinning chairs. Since they will be getting a lot of use I wonder if I should poly coat when I have finished painting.

    • says

      Hi Diane –

      You can never go wrong putting a poly coat over any painted piece. Just make sure it is a water-based poly. It will not yellow or give your paint color an orange tint. I like Minwax Polycrylic. It comes in a few different sheens.

  6. Anwen Pritchard says

    How much paint did you use to cover this dresser in all please, thank you anwen

  7. Maria says

    Hi ,
    I just saw this piece of furniture and i really liked it.
    I would like to ask you from where did you bought the handles.Can i find to buy it somewhere on interenet pls?

    Best Regards;
    Maria Mizzi Paris.

  8. Ren Jetton says

    This post is so informative. I found out about the orange in min wax the hard way! I am wondering about the hardware. I recently painted a dresser and have been unsuccessful in finding hardware. It looks like you reused the original stuff but now it has an interesting pattern. I would love to know more about what you did. Thanks!

  9. ValeriaBurton says

    After reading this post, I can’t wait to paint the dresser for my baby’s nursery! This is very detailed and it answered a lot of questions that I had when I decided to paint the dresser.
    I have a question, if you can help me. How much paint did it take for that chest?
    I have a regular size, six drawer dresser, and I don’t want to buy too little or too much…
    Do you have any idea of how much I should need?

    I appreciate any help you can give me!

    • says

      Hi Valeria –

      1-2 quarts will be plenty. If you use very light coats – 1 quart may be enough depending on the size of the dresser and how well the paint covers.

  10. Courtney says

    I’m going to paint a dresser I just purchased today. I went to Home Depot and after asking several questions I was directed to buy “Valspar Paint+Primer, flat: white.”
    Should I be worried that I’m using a Paint and Primer vs. doing the steps individually?

    • says

      Hi Courtney – Are you going to use this one paint to both prime and paint the dresser? Do you plan to put poly or wax over it? I am asking because I am not sure you should have gone with a flat paint. It will smudge easily. Normally when painting furniture – satin to gloss finishes/sheens are used. The only time I would use flat paint on furniture is if I was using it to make chalk paint. Even then you put poly or wax over it.

      As far as the primer in the paint being OK to use on the dresser…If the dresser is old wood, tannins could still bleed through the wood if the primer is not a stain blocking type. If the dresser is newer the primer/paint combo should be fine. I always like to use a stain blocking primer on old furniture to make sure the previous stain and or poly finish does not change the color of the paint. I would sand the piece and test out the primer + paint to see if the color changes after it is dry. With white paint, you would see brown or a pink color come through the paint in places.

      I hope this helps you.

  11. Kristy Siegel says

    Help! I think I did something terribly wrong, Diane! I am in the middle of painting a 30 year old wooden dresser, chest and nightstand with a total of 15 drawers. I sanded it, painted it with several coats of primer and two coats of my paint color. It was looking beautiful and I was almost finished, but I think I messed up the last step. To seal it, I applied Minwax Wipe-on Poly with Polyurethane protection in Clear Satin. I rubbed it on with a cloth. I let it dry over night and today it is rough and sticky and very tacky to the touch. What should I do now? Should I sand it again? I tried to buff it off yesterday, but this isn’t a wax so it wouldn’t buff. I fear all my hard work is for nothing. Thanks for your help.


    • says

      Hi Kristy –
      Try not to panic as there is always a way to fix the finish. I think the problem could be the Wipe-On Poly. I am not a fan. I prefer their Polycrylic. It is water based and one of the best ways to protect a painted finish while not changing the color. It also could be that if you were working outside or in an open area, dirt and dust could have blown in and stuck to the surface to make it rough. Since it is summer and the air can be humid, drying time can take much longer. If it felt tacky, it was not dry yet.

      The way to fix it is let it dry – Wait a few days and let the finish get really really dry. If you don’t you will just make a mess of the finish as it will get glumpy. Then take super fine sandpaper and wet it. Rub this over the surface to smooth it. You may need to go over the surface a few times. Once it feels smooth, clean off the sanding debris and see how the finish looks. If it needs more poly for protection, test a small area with brush-on Polycrylic to see if it adheres well on top of the wipe on poly. If it does then you an move forward. If not, you may have to sand the wipe on poly finish off and then touch up the paint and then protect with brush on Polycrylic.

      • Kristy Siegel says

        Thank you for your quick response! I am working in a bedroom, not the garage, so there’s no humidity. Although, you are right, it is summertime. Thanks for your suggestion to just let it dry for a few days. Would you recommend the Johnson Paste Wax you mentioned above or should I stick with the brush on Polycrylic? Was my problem that I used an oil based finish instead of water? Thanks again!!

        • says

          Hi Kristy – I would not wax it. I would use Polycrylic. I never use oil-based poly. It is smelly, tacky, and takes forever to dry, plus it yellows the paint color. I always go with water-based poly. It has little smell and dries to the touch in a hour.

  12. Anthony says

    Hi, love the blogs some amazing tips, I have finished a chest of draws multi coloured in fluorescent acrylic paint for the inside of the draws and gold spray paint on the outside. Sanded/primed/sanded/light coats etc etc. draws got let to dry for a few days. But still would get stuck and paint would peel off. I decided I wanted it in a gloss finish so have used POLYVINE decorators varnish gloss finish and still the draws are getting stuck and peeling the Acrylic paint off to the white undercoat.

  13. says

    Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial. I’ve been debating a paint job on a old dresser to refresh it, but wasn’t sure I’d be able to take on the task. After reading your step by step process I feel more confident and can’t wait to give it a try!

  14. samar says

    thanks a lot , you are amazing and your article is verrrrrry helpful.

    my question is about after painting, which is the best to use for a restaurant custom tables
    1- varnish
    2- polyurethane
    3- wax

    what kind of varnish to use? or what kind of poly i should use? or what kind of wax should i use?

    many many thanks

    • says

      Hi Samar – Varnish or polyurethane would be best. Varnish is the most durable, but is oil-based and will give whatever you put it on an orange cast. If you don’t want the color altered like this, use a brand name water-based Polyurethane. Zinseer Ultimate Polyurethane creates one very durable finish that would hold up to a lot of wear, but any brand name will work just as well. If you want the glassy bar top type of sealer on the tables you could use an epoxy resin type sealer. These are hard to work with, but do provide a durable glass like finish.

  15. Judy says

    I’m painting a dresser according to your directions, but want to add a few simple painted designs in what probably won’t be the same kind of paint (either satin latex or latex enamel). Do I need to seal the desigs alone, or the whole drawer surface?

    • says

      Hi Judy – You do not want to seal the surface first. Paint your design on, then seal. If the paint (acrylic craft paint?) is thick, make sure to apply thin even strokes when painting your design. You don’t want to apply the design with thick strokes, they will just peel off. If the design in concentrated in one area, use 220 grit sandpaper lightly over the area to help with adhesion. Then paint your design. Once it is dry – 24 hours, then use a water-based sealer over it. If you plan to wax the piece, I would wait a little longer before waxing to make sure the paint has started to cure. Some waxes may remove the paint. Briwax is one that does remove some paint so I would not recommend using it. Annie Sloan, Miss Mustard Seed, or Fiddes and Sons, and Johnson’s are good waxes to use over painted designs.

      • Judy chew says

        Thank you for such a quick response, Diane. Two quick questios and then I wo’t bug you again with this should-be-simple project.
        1. I painted the dresser in a satin enamel and am painting the simple designs in the a satin enamel also. So I still have to sand and seal?

        2. For the drawers and flat surfaces of the dresser, I put 2 coats of Kilz on it to prime, and then used a roller with a knap for the satin enamel top coat and it looked terrible. I immediately switched to a brush, which was better, but the surface looks brush-stroked. Am going to put the second, and hopefully final coat on tomorrow…or soon. I have a sponge roller…would that be better, or do I embrace the brush stroked look? … Thanks

        • says

          Hi Judy –

          To answer your questions:

          1.If you are using the same type of paint, you don’t have to seal it, but sealing will protect your design. If you are on the fence about sealing, just let the piece cure for a few weeks and then decide if you want to seal it. It doesn’t have to be done right away. IF you find the design is getting marks on it that you can’t wipe away, you may want to add two light coats of sealer to protect it.

          2. Rollers with naps are not good for furniture as you found out. As for getting rid of brush strokes, you should smooth them out with 160 grit sandpaper before adding another coat of paint. A light going over should do it. Once it is smooth to your liking, you can add some Floetrol to the paint for your second coat if you want to brush it on. I never use this, but know that when you add it to paint, it is suppose to minimize the look of brush strokes. It is sold in the paint aisle. I try to keep things simple and always use a foam roller with rounded edges when painting furniture. The round edges on the foam roller help minimize roller edge lines in your painted finish. I use a 1″ Purdy angled brush to paint the crevices, corners, and detailed areas that a roller can’t get to.

  16. Stan says

    Hi. I purchased an unfinished mantel from Lowe’s several years ago. A friend recommended someone to refinished the mantel. Even though the gentleman did an excellent job, the end result is not what I wanted. The wood is oak and too much of the grain shows. I am pretty sure it has a coat/s of polyurethane on it. Can I paint this mantel, say white, and how is the best way to do it? Will Kilz cover the poly and help with the painting. If you have answered this in your blog I apologize for asking the same question. Thanks for any help.


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