Painting Furniture

Restoring old furniture, or up-cycling, has become something of a trend of late and it’s not hard to understand why.

Old furniture tends to be made from solid wood with proper joints and fittings so you can often end up with a piece of furniture far superior to what you’d be able to buy new.

A few problems you’ll encounter when painting old furniture will stem from the original finish which may not be compatible with the paint you’ve chosen to use.

Preparation is always important but even more so when it comes to previously polished or stained surfaces.

Q&A About Painting Furniture

I have just purchased an old pine dresser which has been previously painted but I want to change the colour. READ MORE…

Is there a reliable way to determine if the existing paint is oil-based or water-based?

I’d prefer to repaint it using a water-based paint if possible (probably Dulux water-based Eggshell).

If it turns out that the existing paint is oil-based then I’m happy to use an oil-based paint for better adhesion. Many thanks in advance for any tips you can provide.

It is probably safe to assume the dresser has been painted with an oil-based paint but an easy way to tell is the appearance of brush marks. With an oil-based finish they will be much less obvious than would be the case if a water-based finish was used. In any case though, preparation is much more important than the choice of finish.

Furniture tends to get a lot of grease building up on the surface, from constant handling, and can sometimes be contaminated with polishes and wax. It is essential this is removed by thoroughly wiping-down with white spirit and then washing with a sugar-soap solution before rinsing with warm, clean water.

Once you’re satisfied here is no more grease on the surface you should rub-down the existing coating to remove any glossiness. Provided you have done this properly you should be OK to paint the dresser with a water-based finish of your choice.

For best results I would use an acrylic-primer as a base coat and to promote adhesion. You’ll often find this labelled as ‘quick-drying wood primer’ or ‘quick-drying primer/undercoat’.

Since the surface already has a coating on it you should opt for the primer/undercoat variety since this tends to be a bit thicker and will provide a good base for any other coatings.

I suggest that when you have finished painting you don’t use the furniture for as long as is possible in order to allow the paint to fully harden.

Water-based finishes can be just as tough and resistant to wear and tear as their oil-based counterparts but only when they have fully cured (or hardened) – and this can take a few weeks.

Obviously, it may not be practical to wait that long but I would advise at least 2 or 3 days. You can, of course, touch-up any subsequent damage but the need is best avoided if at all possible.

I have painted a pine table with undercoat & 2 coats of white oil based satinwood. Do I need to sand prior to using oil based clear varnish on top & how many coats are recommended? Also will this varnish yellow the white paint? READ MORE…

Whether to sand down the painted surface depends on the kind of finish you want. For a gloss finish I would say not but for a matt or satin finish I would say yes.

You only need to lightly rub down enough to remove and nibs in order to get a good finish. Also, use the finest grade of abrasive you can find.

Using an oil-based varnish will likely cause the white paint to yellow over time. I would suggest you use a quick-drying water based varnish instead. Once cured it will be just as durable as an oil-based finish and less prone to discoloration.

You may find that, initially, a water-based varnish will not take to a recently oil-painted surface but if you leave it harden for a couple of weeks first you should have less problems.

Also, I would recommend, you do a test area first (maybe a leg) to see what the end result is going to be before committing yourself to doing the entire table.

Hope that helps?

I was intending to use a water based varnish but was advised at the paint shop that it would bubble if used on top of oil based paint. Is that a problem you have encountered or should it be OK if, like you say, I leave the paint to harden for 2 weeks before varnish? READ MORE…

It is highly unlikely that it would bubble? The only problem you are likely to encounter is ‘cissing’ which is when the water based paint has troubling adhering to an oil-based finish. In extreme cases the top-coat will dry but with circular patches where it has pulled-back slightly while drying – I expect this is what they meant?

As I said earlier though, you can mitigate this by waiting a couple of weeks for the oil-based paint to fully cure and then it is much less likely there will be a problem.

I have built rather deep long wrap around desk for my daughter in her bedroom from MDF. What paint can I use that doesn’t stay sticky to the touch? READ MORE…

I have built rather deep long wrap around desk for my daughter in her bedroom from MDF. In the past some paints i have used for furniture tend to be sticky to the touch even months or a year afterwards.

She tells me the desks in her school are like this and it is very annoying and difficult to work on. so when leaning on the desk you actually stick to it as do items / ornaments etc.

What paint can i use to prevent this from happening? Or is there a procedure i am not familiar with to prevent this. Many thanks in advance. Michael

Domestic paint products do take a while to fully cure. Part of the problem is in the formulation which enables the paint to stay wet long enough for it to be applied by brush.

There are commercial products that cure much quicker because they are made to be applied by spray or are a two-pack system where a chemical reaction speeds up the process.

The issue with these commercial products though is that they are not only difficult to work with, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience, but they also contain a high level of Volatile Organic Chemicals which can be hazardous to health, even after they have dried.

As you can appreciate, for a desk to be used by a child, this isn’t the ideal.

The best solution, therefore, for your situation would be not to paint the desk at all. I appreciate this isn’t the answer you’re looking for but there is simply not a domestic paint finish which will do the job you need.

Hi, I have a lot of the cheap, laminate ikea furniture that I would like to paint. Do I need to sand it down, what primer is best to make sure it sticks and then what paint is best to use? READ MORE…

You’ll get a better result if wash down the surfaces with a sugar soap solution and rub-down with a very fine abrasive paper.

For the first coat an adhesive primer such as Zinsser Bulls Eye via is ideal. Dulux Difficult Surface Primer is another option.

You may get-away with using a cheaper acrylic wood primer (often sold as ‘Quick Drying Wood Primer’ in DIY stores) but you’ll get a longer lasting result with the Zinsser stuff.

If you want to go the full-hog, use a preparation solution such as Owatrol E.S.P for best results.

Bear in mind also that all paint takes a while to fully cure, even when it has fully dried, and the finish will be easily scratched and damaged for the first few weeks.

Was given a pine bed which had a very light coat of varnish on, we sanded it down and applied aluminium primer to stop the knots, the primer seems to be drying a bit flaky shall we sand down and do another coat before painting in gloss? READ MORE…

It’s hard to say what has happened but I’m guessing the existing varnish wasn’t entirely removed? Rather than apply another coat of aluminium I’d be tempted to try undercoating it. Maybe do a small area first and leave it to dry – if you can then sand this smooth proceed to the gloss coat. If you still have problems you may have to start again from scratch.

See Also
Painting a window ledge with white wood primer
Wood Primers
Rusty railings
Metal Primers