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Give your cabinets and furniture a facelift with our lessons on how to paint wood

Time for a change? Breathe new life into your old furniture with our wood painting guide.


how to paint wood

Key steps

When you’re painting wood furniture:

  • Clean the furniture.
  • Sand it down, before beginning and ideally between each coat of primer or paint.
  • Apply primer.
  • Apply paint in several coats.
  • Use a sealant to prevent damage.

Change is good, and that applies to our surroundings! Switch things up by discovering how to go about painting wood furniture.  Follow our step-by-step guide to give a facelift to your wood furniture.

Covering matte paint with glossy paint is easier than the other way around. If you’re not sure what sort of finish you want for painting wood furniture, apply the matte first.

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How to paint varnished wood or wood that’s already been painted

If you’re painting wood furniture that’s already been varnished or painted, do you need to strip it first? Not necessarily, but new paint can have trouble sticking to shiny surfaces. If you sand down the existing varnish or paint with medium-grit sandpaper, you’ll roughen the surface and give the new paint some grip. Make sure the surface is evenly roughened all over.

How to paint wood: step-by-step wood painting guide

  1. Use a drop cloth to cover up your floors and other nearby furniture before you start. This is going to be messy work. Keep the windows open for ventilation while you’re working.
  2. Give your furniture a wipe-down with a damp cloth to clean it before painting with a little dishwashing liquid, such as Sunlight. Remember to always test any cleaning product a discreet part of the furniture first. Make sure any cleaning product you’ve used is completely rinsed away and the furniture is dry before you start painting, or the paint might end up peeling.
  3. If there are unwanted holes in the furniture, patch them and any other damage up with wood filler before you begin, making sure it’s as level as possible with the rest of the piece. Let it dry well before sanding and painting.
  4. Sand the furniture with medium or fine sandpaper. You want a surface that’s even and slightly roughened. As mentioned above, this step is particularly important with furniture that’s previously been painted or varnished. Dust or vacuum it clean after sanding.
  5. Get your paint. Think about what you’re painting when you’re deciding what sort of paint to use. If you’re considering how to paint wood cabinets, you probably won’t need to worry about them being rained on. If your question is how to paint a wooden door that leads outside, though, you’ll need to choose a paint that can withstand the weather.
  6. Get a small paint roller and a good-quality brush that won’t leave hairs in the paintwork.
  7. Prime the wood. Apply primer to the entire surface, using a paint roller (or a paintbrush, if there are fiddly areas the roller can’t get into), and let it dry completely before taking the next step. Use multiple coats of primer if necessary.

Once you have prepared the wood, follow these painting techniques for wood furniture:

  1. Work on layers: paint in light coats, allowing each coat to dry for at least half a day before applying the next one, rather than trying to get it perfect on coat number one. Two or three coats will probably be fine but see how it looks and use your own judgment. Again, you can use a roller for flat surfaces and a paintbrush to get into tricky corners. After each coat, neaten up any areas that don’t look entirely right with your paintbrush.
  2. Leave the furniture to dry for a day after the last coat of paint (resist the temptation to touch it!).
  3. Apply a sealant to help prevent damage to the new paint. You may want to consult an expert on which sealant would be best for your specific project. Different sealants such as polyurethane, polycrylic and furniture wax each have their pros and cons; for example, polyurethane can give light-colored furniture a yellow tint, and polycrylic can leave streaks on matte latex paints.

Tips for painting wood furniture

  • Using fine sandpaper, give your furniture a gentle sanding before each new coat of primer or paint for a more even final result. Remember to dust before applying the next coat.
  • If you’re torn between a glossy and matte finish, glossy paint has the advantage of being easier to clean.
  • When you’re painting wood cabinets or chests of drawers, taking the handles off beforehand will mean there’s not as much fiddly work to be done.

Hopefully, you’ve covered up your floors while painting, but it’s still possible they’ll need cleaning afterwards. If that is the case, then take a look at our guide on how to clean wood floors.

Originally published