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.
Before and After
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.
Note: If you would like to know how I transformed the drawer pulls. You can find the post – How to Update Brass Drawer Pulls.
The paint I used: Glidden Peacock’s Plume # A1249 satin sheen.
How to Paint Furniture with Stain or Varnish Already On It
- 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
- Sandwich bags to place hardware in
- Paint stirring stick
- Optional: paste wax and soft cloth
Prep The Furniture for Painting
Mask out any areas you don’t want painted with painter’s tape.
Line up drawers on their back ends on a separate drop cloth. When it comes time to paint them, the process goes fast. I use a roller to paint the flat sections an an angled brush comes in handy to brush away any paint drips.
Remove the Hardware
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. Place them in marked baggies.
This is very important especially when it comes time to put hinged doors back on. They have to go back exactly where they came from or the doors may not line up and close correctly.
Sand the Surface
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.
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 100 grit sandpaper. Coarse 60 sandpaper is too rough and will leave deep scratches in the surface.
- When I do touch up sanding between dried coats of paint – a sponge style “Fine Grit” sanding block works perfectly.
Once you are done sanding, clean the surface well with a tack cloth to remove all the sanding grit. If there is a lot of grit, use a hot water and dish detergent on a damp rag to remove it. Then let the wood dry completely before painting.
Using a Deglossing Product or Liquid Sandpaper:
A deglossing liquid focuses on dulling a previous old finish in place of sandpaper. If the finish is irregular, rough, dented or scratched, deglosser won’t fix it. Only sandpaper can repair bad surfaces, smoothing them with its abrasive qualities. If the previous finish needs smoothing in any way, sanding is the only way to accomplish it
I tend to not use deglossers as I want to save money and sandpaper is inexpensive in comparison. Both de-glossing and sanding take time to do, and sanding – de-glosses and smooths in one step.
Use a Good Primer
The priming and prep are the key to getting a perfect finish.
When painting furniture, if you are not using chalk paint, you will need to use a primer first. Do not skip this priming step or your paint will come right off or will discolor. Trust me, I learned the hard way when I first started painting furniture.
My go-to paint primers are Glidden Gripper and KILZ Original or KILZ Max. 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.
There are many formulas of KILZ brand primers:
- KILZ MAX is my favorite water-based formula.
- KILZ Original. It is the best all-around primer. It is oil based – but don’t let that scare you. It only smells a little bit and dries in 30 minutes. If you are painting over a piece that has knots or smells like pine or is bare wood – use this. Since it is a primer – you can use latex water-based paint over it. I used this on my dining room hutch.
- I use a sponge roller and/or brush when using this formula so I just throw them out when done.
How Many Coats of Primer? Apply two light coats of primer, letting the first dry completely before applying the second. Then wait for the surface to dry before painting.
What If You See The Previous Stain Color Come Through the Primer?
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;
Now it is time to add 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.
I chose a latex satin paint, 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.
When priming and painting, make sure to paint the inside edges where doors and drawers go. If you don’t do this then 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.
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.
Sealing The Painted Surface
If using an enamel paint there is no need to seal the surface. If your paint is not an enamel, then you can seal the painted finish with a water-based poly. Minwax Polycylic is my go to, but you any water-based brand of poly will be fine.
- DO NOT use oil-based poly over paint. It will darken and yellow the color.
Why I Like To Seal Painted Furniture With Wax
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. I learned this when painting with chalk paint. I was also told that wax doesn’t work over latex paint, but I beg to differ. I waxed this piece and it going on 8 years and looks amazing still.
You can test the wax on the back of a piece of painted furniture if you are not sure if it will make a difference in your color vibrancy. I used satin latex for this chest of drawers 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. Fiddes and Sons and Annie Sloan both make clear waxes.
- 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.
- Let sit on the surface for about 5 – 10 minutes. 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.
- Buff with a blue Shop paper towel or a section of an old soft t-shirt. Buffing the wax into the surface with circular motions until when you wipe over the surface it feel slippery or smooth.
- Buffing with wax will bring out the shine and color vibrancy. Even on latex paint. On chalk paint, it goes deep into the flat finish. It will sit on top of latex, but can still help.
Wax drying time can vary depending on the temperature. 30 minutes to overnight. It will take a few weeks to cure and when it does you will have one hard and durable finish.
Place Hardware Back On.
When the piece is dry, place hardware back on making sure to place hinges and doors in the same place it was originally.
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.
I made over the drawer pulls for this chest of drawers using paper napkins and a very cool sealing product.
You can read more about how I did this in this post: