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How to Paint Furniture With Chalk Paint: The Step By Step Guide

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Looking to find out what the best way to paint furniture is?  It is chalk paint for so many reasons. Did you know that when you learn how to paint with chalk paint, you can create many different painted finishes from sleek, clean and modern to antiqued or a distressed look.

You can even paint upholstery! Learn how to paint furniture with chalk paint and make the most of your furniture or kitchen cabinets.

If you have been following my blog for sometime then you know I have painted quite a lot of furniture.  I did a quick count…

…I have painted and posted about 42 pieces of furniture since I began my blog.

Today I am going to add one more and am going to show you how to chalk paint furniture.

sideboard in foyer that needs refinishing

What is Chalk Paint?

Chalk Paint is sometimes confused with chalkboard paint and milk paint, but Chalk Paint is neither of these. Chalk paint is a water-based furniture paint first created by Annie Sloan. Using the chalky paint requires little prep work, looks great, and has a very durable finish once sealed with a clear coat of soft wax or water-based polyurethane.

Since its arrival on the paint and home decor scene, many major paint brands like Behr and Rust-Oleum have introduced their own lines of chalk paint, including spray paint formulas.

You can even make your own chalk paint with Plaster of Paris or calcium carbonate powder when you want a certain color or to save money.

How to Paint Furniture Using Chalk Paint

Since moving to a new home, I have mentioned that I have been wanting to paint this sideboard (above) in my foyer. It is a unique piece that was handed down to me. The top drawer opens up to a desk and was the inspiration for the IKEA hack I did for the BHG Makeover Madness contest I won a few years ago.

It is not that I didn’t like the mahogany finish on the sideboard, but it was scratched and worn in places. It needed a colorful update.

A few weeks ago I was at friends house and saw she had painted a console table, blue. It was the exact color and finish that I had been thinking about for the sideboard so I asked her what she used.

Navy blue chalk painted sideboard with books on top

I have used quite a lot of different types of paint and know firsthand what the best furniture paint is.

I have a few favorite paint brands for all types of objects from walls to floors, but when it comes to painting furniture, there is only one type of paint that I will use and that is chalk paint.

You may be asking, WHY use chalk paint?

Why Would I Choose to Only Use Chalk Paint to Paint Furniture?

The answer: There are many reasons to paint with chalk paint, but the main one is that the furniture makeovers I use chalk paint and wax on always look like the finish was done in a factory. Smooth and velvety with a subtle sheen.

The chalk painted furniture has none of that “latex stick” or a built-up layered paint look that can be seen on corners and that keeps drawers and doors on furniture from closing right after painting when you use traditional latex paint.

Another reason you want to use chalk paint when painting furniture is that it rarely requires any preparation, such as sanding or priming, and can be used indoors or outside, on just about any surface.

It can be used to paint wood, metal, laminate and even fabric, making it one very versatile, low voc paint.

These are the most popular reasons why home decorators love to use it when making over an old piece of furniture.

Blue Chalky Chicks Furniture painted piece of furniture

The chalk paint my friend gave me was Chalky Chick’s Furniture Paint in the color DC Blue. It is a matte finish furniture paint like chalk paint, that requires wax or poly to seal it, so I decided to try it.

My friend made it easy as she gave me her leftover paint… which is another reason I like chalk paint, you don’t need a lot. I only needed half a quart to paint the sideboard.

Navy Blue chalk painted chest of drawers in foyer with brick floor

When choosing how to seal chalk paint, there are two options in the way of topcoats:

  • Soft Wax – Using wax may seem scary to do, but it is so easy and truly will make the painted finish velvety smooth. It does take time as you have to apply in thin layers and buff with a soft cloth to bring up the sheen.
  • Water-based Polyurethane – Using poly over chalk paint is popular, but I think takes away from the velvety sheen.

If you can’t decide on what sealer to use to protect the painted finish, here is a tip that may help you make the decision.

  • When using wax to seal the paint and the finish gets damaged in some way, for instance, a water ring. To fix it, you can simply sand over the damaged area and then touch up with paint and a thin layer of buffed wax and the damage disappears.
  • On a water-based poly sealed painted surface, you can’t easily fix a damaged area, as the new paint and poly will lay on top and make a ridge when in dries. The fix will stand out.

When refinishing a piece of furniture with chalk paint, you can also add a stain or glaze over it before waxing.

To see what this chalk paint technique looks like, take a look at this cabinet where I used stain. And this dresser makeover where I used glaze before adding the wax sealer to protect the paint.

For the finish on my now blue sideboard, I distressed a few areas with sandpaper first and cleaned the grit from the surface.

For the protective finish, I applied one coat of Annie Sloan Clear Wax and buffed it with a soft lint-free cloth.

Then I added a thin layer of Annie Sloan Dark Wax and buffed it to a sheen.

close up of a Brass and navy sideboard

Putting down the clear wax first makes it easy to move the dark wax where you want it. It looks nice in grooves and crevices.

I have used and like many different waxes, but had the Annie Sloan brand in my supplies so I used it to seal the painted finish on the sideboard.

Back when I started my blog, chalk paint wasn’t even on the scene yet. But when Annie Sloan came on the market and I used it for the first time, I found the holy grail of paint to use when painting furniture.

Blue painted sideboard with decorative accessories on top and baskets on shelves.

Before chalk paint, I had always painted furniture using traditional latex and a primer that you would use for walls and trim.

When I finished that first chalk painted piece, I couldn’t get over the finish, it had the look and feel that I had always tried to achieve using latex paint/poly but could never get.

After that first chalk painted project, I learned to make my own chalk paint to save money and to be able to use any color of paint I wanted as most chalk paint brands only carry a select option of colors.

Navy chalk paint furniture before and after makeover
Navy Chalk Painted Furniture

Nowadays, chalk paint is made by many different brands and comes in many price points. Not all are the same, some have acrylics in them and other ingredients, but they still offer the same smooth painted and sealed finish.

Which brings me to this question that I get asked frequently.

What is So Great About Painting Furniture with Chalk Paint?

  • Furniture doesn’t need to be sanded or primed.
  • Chalk paint is easy to sand smooth once dry, which makes eliminating any brush strokes easy so you can create a super smooth finish.
  • You only need 2 coats. With traditional latex wall type paint, you need 1 -2 coats of a gripping/stain blocking primer and 2 coats of paint. This can make the finish look thick and make cabinet doors and drawers not close fully.
  • There is no latex “stick” when you pick up items from the surface.
  • Chalk paint is very durable when cured and when you add a wax or water-based polyurethane protective finish. One is not better than the other. It just comes down to personal choice.
  • Chalk paint gives you lots of decorative options!  You become a furniture designer since you can alter and mix colors, use clear or colored waxes to create many different decorative finishes, and create modern., vintage look and aged pieces.
Chalk paint furniture how to step by step tutorial and painting tips.

How to Decide What Type of Painted Finish You Want to Achieve?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want a more contemporary, modern look with paint that is full-coverage. If so then don’t distress the paint with sandpaper. Once the paint is dry simply add and buff a coat of wax or add a coat of water-based Polyurethane, like Polycrylic in the sheen you desire.
  • Do I want a more chippy look, distressed, rustic or aged look?  Then use 100 grit sandpaper over the dried paint to distress the finish in areas to make it look old and worn.
    • You can beat the surface with chains and other items to damage the wood, too or even use Vaseline in areas before painting so they paint doesn’t stick and will come off in areas.

I Like a More Modern Look for My Painted Furniture. Do You Have to Age and Distress Chalk Paint For It To Look Good?

  • No. This is the biggest misconception about using chalk paint in general. You do not have to distress the paint. I wrote a post about not distressing the finish in this post: Modern Painted Finish Using Chalk Paint

Do You Need to Sand Wood Furniture Before Painting with Chalk Paint?

sanded piece of furniture waiting for a coat of paint
  • When preparing furniture for chalk paint, the answer is no, you do not need to sand the surface before painting, but I learned at an Annie Sloan Chalk Paint workshop I attended, that a quick going over the surface with 100 grit sandpaper to provide some “tooth” for the paint to adhere can and will help with adhesion.
  • Five minutes will provide years of lasting durability. :-)  Worth the effort,  so I always do a 5-minute light rubdown of the surface. I clean it, let dry and then start painting.
Sanding the edge to distress a piece of painted furniture.

Other times when you should sand a chalk painted finish:

How to Distress Furniture with Chalk Paint?

The only other time you will want to use sandpaper on chalk paint is when you want to distress the dried second coat to make it look old and aged.

  • If you want a distressed finish when painting furniture, chalk paint makes it so easy as it is very easy to sand.
    • After the piece is painted and completely dry, using 100 grit sandpaper, sand the edges or any area that would see repeated use, like around drawer knobs and pulls, the top edge and corners.
    • You want to remove some of the paint to expose the bare wood underneath. The amount of distressing is up to the look you want. If you have never done it before, start with sanding a little bit, step back and to see if you think it needs more and continue distressing until you like what you see.

Should I Distress the Finish Before or After Applying Wax?

  • I like to sand/distress the edges before adding the wax, as I like the finish to look polished. If you want a more rustic finish, you can sand the edges after you add your protective coat of wax or water-based polyurethane.
    • The exposed wood will not have a finish over it and will look more rustic.

Should I Use a Brush or Roller When Painting Furniture with Chalk Paint or Furniture Paint?

3 paint brushes to use when painting with chalk paint

The soft bristle Purdy paint brush that I usually use just couldn’t push the Chalky Chick paint on smoothly.

I removed that first coat of paint and started again using a Waverly chalk paint brush I had.  I am so used to using Purdy brushes that never shed.  The Waverly brush did because it was new.

Paint Brush Tip – How to stop a new paint brush from shedding bristles:

  • Swirl the ends of the bristles in the palm of your hand a few times to remove the loose bristles.
    • Shake it out and repeat until no bristles show up in your palm. Depending on the quality of the brush, it may shed a lot or not at all.

Note to Self:  Always follow directions on label and use quality brushes. :-)

Can I Use a Foam Roller to Apply Chalk Paint?

  • Yes, foam rollers are perfect to use to cover large flat areas quickly, plus they don’t leave any brush marks.
  • Make sure to use a foam roller with rounded ends. The rounded ends lessen roller edge lines from showing in your painted surface.
  • For the smoothest finish use a Flocked Foam Roller instead of a plain foam roller.  It is the best type of roller for furniture painting.

What are The Differences Between Chalk Paint Brands?

Most chalk paint and furniture paints are thin, but the Chalky Chick’s Furniture Paint I used was thicker than others I have used previously.

On their website it states to use a chalk paint brush or stiff brush. I didn’t use one and after I applied the first coat to the top of the sideboard I found out why a stiff brush is needed for their paint.

Some brands of chalk paint are not pure chalk paint, but have acrylic and other additives in them that pure chalk paint does not.  I have liked all the brands I have used and below have listed my favorites.

I liked the Chalky Chick’s paint once I used a stiff brush and would use it again. You can buy it here:  Chalky Chick’s Furniture Paint

Sideboard that was painted with blue chalk paint

Chalk Paint I Use and Like The Best:

Chalk Paint Waxes:

When choosing what wax to seal your furniture, all waxes work well. Most are clear or dark. Clear wax goes on everything. You use dark wax over clear wax so that you can manipulate the dark wax into grooves and crevices to make the piece look aged.

  • Annie Sloan Clear Wax and Dark Wax – Most expensive, but goes on like butter and buffs to a sheen very easily.
  • Fiddes and Sons Clear Wax  – mid-range price and one that I have used the most.
  • Johnsons Clear Paste Wax  – Least expensive – found in the cleaning aisle at most supermarkets and home improvement stores. I rarely use this any longer as the smell is intense until it dries.
  • KILZ Clear and Dark Wax come in smaller tins when doing a smaller project.

Chalk Paint Supplies:

Depending on the size of the object you’re painting, you can opt to use a brush, roller, or sprayer to apply chalk paint. How you apply the paint will depend on your applicator of choice:

  • To use chalk paint with a brush: For a smooth, uniform finish, choose a natural-bristle brush with long, flexible bristles. Dip the brush into the can, and tap the handle against the lid of the can to remove excess paint. Then, apply the paint in unidirectional strokes to one section of the piece at a time until the entire surface is covered.
  • To use chalk paint with a roller: Pour the chalk paint into a paint pan, then load it onto a high-density foam roller (depending on the size of the furniture, a four-inch mini roller may be the best option).
    • Scrape off the excess paint on the grid of the pan. Roll a thin layer of paint in a long, unidirectional stroke, then pull it back and make one more stroke in the original direction. Repeat this process until the entire surface is coated.
  • To use chalk paint with a sprayer: Chalk paint is a naturally thick medium that may not flow readily from all sprayers. You can get around this by watering down the chalk paint (adding approximately two tablespoons of water for every cup of paint) before loading it into the sprayer.
    • Or, you can opt to load the paint as is and operate the sprayer at maximum pressure, preferably with a spray tip measuring at least 1.8 millimeters to enable the fluid to flow.
    • To avoid risking damage to your sprayer, test this method on a small, inconspicuous part of the piece before tackling larger areas.

To read more about painting furniture with chalk paint and making it, check out these posts:

If you haven’t used chalk paint yet.  What is holding you back?

If you are afraid you will mess up a large piece of furniture, start with a small object like I did for these small and thrift store finds until you find your furniture painting confidence.

Blue chalk painted sideboard

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96 Comments

  1. Gorgeous. The piece is beautiful, anyways (I love them pulls), but the new finish is stunning.

  2. Love this piece of furniture. I even liked it with the old finish! I am so partial to blue I ,too, would have chosen that color. Very nice.

  3. Your project came out absolutely GORGEOUS!! I love it. Also, thanks for this very comprehensive post of the process. Appreciate it! :-)