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How to Paint Wood Furniture in 6 Easy Steps

We’ve all got that one piece of furniture that we love, but know it could use a facelift. If you want to give that well-loved wooden furniture a new look, a good coat of paint can do the trick. However, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can just dash some paint over the wood and it will look good as new.

There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to painting wooden furniture successfully. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be doing it like a pro in no time. To paint wood furniture successfully, there are just a few things you need to know. Read on and we will fill you in on everything, step-by-step.

a piece of wood furniture being painted green

Different types of wood need different types of paint

Preparing the wood and using the correct type of paint are the two most important stages when you paint wood furniture. Outdoor furniture will need paint that is weatherproof, while indoor furniture may need to be sealed. Getting rid of all the dirt and old paint is important before making the first brushstroke.

For paint to adhere to the wood effectively, the wood must absorb at least some of it. And, depending on the type of wood you have, you may find that different paints work better than others. All types of wood are not the same. You may have furniture made of a hard wood, like ironwood, or of a softer wood, like pine.

Ironwood is quite rich in natural oils and does not absorb a lot of paint. You may find it easier to leave ironwood furniture natural or to stain the wood, rather than paint it. If you do paint furniture made from something like ironwood, using latex-based paint will be your best option.

There are other woods that will absorb paint more easily, so painting furniture made from pine, balsa wood or yellowwood is a lot easier.

Always consider the look of the wood, though, and what you want to achieve with it. The more absorbent woods can easily be painted with acrylic paint.

Chalk paint is a popular choice for painting furniture and can be applied almost immediately to any type of wood. Because it is water-based, it will be absorbed more easily into softer woods.

Location makes all the difference

When you decide its time to paint your furniture, it is important to think about where it will be kept or used. Garden furniture will undergo much more wear-and-tear than indoor furniture. Chairs and couches on a verandah will weather somewhere in-between.

The location will tell you what quality of paint is important for the furniture. Choose a waterproof and weather-proof paint for outdoor furniture. This is not quite as important when you paint wood furniture that will stand on the verandah.

You don’t need to look for paint with any particular qualities for indoor furniture. If the piece will stand in the kitchen or bathroom, though, it will be better if you do use a paint that will not bubble or peel when it gets hot or humid.

How to Paint Wood Furniture

When you paint wood furniture, 80% of the success is preparing the surface. 20% is the choice of paint, how it is applied, and how it is finished. This means you must prepare the surface of your furniture properly and carefully before even picking up a paintbrush.

So, before you rush to the hardware store to get your supplies, be sure to take care of these things first.

1. Clean the furniture

The first stage of cleaning your furniture is simply to wipe off any dust and surface dirt. This can easily be done with a soft cloth or duster. You can also vacuum it, especially underneath chairs and couches.

Some pieces of furniture may require a heavier cleaning, with mild soap and warm water, to remove caked on dirt or gunk. If this is the case, be sure to allow your furniture plenty of time to dry before moving on to the next step in prepping.

2. Preparing the Surface

When you are sure you have removed all the obvious dirt from the furniture, it is time to sand it down. Don’t worry, sanding isn’t as scary as it sounds, and you don’t have to have a special tool to sand your furniture.

There are many reasons you will want to sand prior to painting. I’ve mentioned a few of those here.

Be sure to sand before you paint wood furniture

To add to the absorbance of the wood in your furniture, it is necessary to roughen it up a bit. It may sufficient to sand it with the medium grain paper, making sure that every part of the surface of all the wood is slightly roughened.

If you think there may be a section that is not really rough, then use a coarser sandpaper and rub gently over those parts. Don’t press too hard, or try to make the wood feel very rough. Take your hand and run it over the furniture. The wood should feel slightly ‘matt’ (not smooth) to the touch.

Previously painted furniture may need a little more effort to prepare the surface for painting, especially if you are need to remove all of the paint before repainting. Using a paint stripper is effective, but make sure that it is compatible with the particular wood, so be sure to do your research first.

Paint thinner is applied to the paint with a normal paintbrush, using even strokes, then let it set for about 5 minutes. Once it has set, you’ll use a flat instrument to scrape the paint off. A putty knife can do the trick.

Some woods, however, don’t respond well to paint thinners and these should be avoided. When this is the case, you’ll have to sand the surface instead. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you will have to sand it down to its naked wooden glory. You’ll just need to sand it down enough to where any chipped, peeling, or flaking paint has been removed and some of the color has been stripped away.

For any stubborn paint, use some coarse sandpaper to give it a good rub.

But some of this prep work will also depend on the type of paint you plan to use to paint your furniture. If you are using chalk paint, you many be able to skip some of these aforementioned steps, especially if you are wanting to go with a more distressed look.

Once you have sanded, be sure to remove any new dust from the piece before moving on.

Using a putty knife to scrape paint off of wooden furniture

3. Choosing the Paint

Before you even began to do anything to your furniture, chances are, you already knew where you planned to use this piece. So, from the start, you had a general idea of what kind of paint you would need, right? Right!

Well, now its time to actually pick the paint you will use.

Now that you have prepared the surface, its time to choose the paint color, if you haven’t already. If you are like me, you already had a color in mind when you started. After all, its important that the color of paint matches the color scheme in the room, which means you will want to (or already have) chosen swatches of colors you find interesting or want to try.

Once you have decided on the color you want to use to paint your piece, you want to make sure that you buy enough paint to cover the surface of the furniture with enough coats to achieve the look you want.

4. Applying primer

A wood primer is literally a base coat, which can be bought at any paint store. It’s applied using a paintbrush and spread evenly over all the surfaces in the wooden furniture.

Priming isn’t always a necessary step, especially if you are opting for a paint with primer already built in, which is always my go-to. But if that isn’t the case, there are some instances where priming may be needed before you paint wood furniture

There are some paints that will adhere better if the wood if primed beforehand. Be sure to do your research to find which ones those are.

If your plan is to paint wood furniture that has been painted before, you will want to prime first. This is especially the case if you plan to use a lighter paint color than the original paint used. This will prevent any remnants of the darker color from being seen under your fresh coats of paint.

5. Apply the Paint

When you paint wood furniture, you should try to use even brush strokes. And depending on the type of paint you are using, you will need to be sure your have the right paint brush.

In most instances, a typical flat brush will do. Use a medium-sized brush for most of the work. Your brush strokes should come from the same direction. Only when you change the section you are painting should you change the direction of the strokes.

To get into the smaller spaces and to paint something like the side of the slats in a chair, don’t dab with the medium brush, because this will change the look and feel of the painting of the wood. Use a small brush and paint in small strokes.

If you are using chalk paint for your project, you are probably going for a specific look. You will want to make sure you have a brush designed for use with chalk paint so you get that affect when you paint wood furniture. This is typically a round brush made of natural or synthetic bristles.

When you paint wood furniture, chances are you will not achieve the look you want with just one coat of paint. You will typically need to apply two, sometimes three, coats of paint to get the finished look you want. Once you have applied your first coat of paint, you need to let that coat dry before adding a second coat.

Some paints require a light sanding between coats, so read the label on your paint can before moving on to your second coat. Sanding between coats helps to ensure your paint has an evenly applied look when you finish.

6. Seal

Most paint will not need to be finished off in any way, but when you paint wood furniture, you may need to apply a sealant, or varnish over the paint. This will give the furniture a shiny and modern look, and help protect the wood itself.

If you are looking for a shabby chic or worn look, then distressing the paint will need to be done before you seal it. This means taking sandpaper and rubbing down sections of the furniture. Sand areas that would naturally take wear and tear over time, such as the corners or legs.

sealing furniture after painting it


Can I just apply paint to old furniture, or do I need to prepare it?

You always want to take the extra time to prep the surfaces before you paint wood furniture. If it is not prepared properly, the paint is unlikely to adhere evenly to the wood and will begin to lift or peel over time.

Can I use any paint on wooden furniture?

Before you choose to paint wood furniture, you should choose the type of paint that suits where the furniture will be used. Certain paints work better under different conditions.

Acrylic, latex, or water-based paints are the best to use on wood, because they can be slightly absorbed and will adhere better to the wood. This means the paint will last longer.


When you choose to paint wood furniture, it is not just a matter of grabbing a brush, a can of paint, and going for it. There are certain steps that need to be done to get the best results.

You’ll need to pay attention to the type of wood, the location of the piece, and the condition of the wood before beginning. All these factors play a part in the success you will have when you paint wood furniture.

Once you have answered these few simple questions, then, you can begin your project