How To Paint Wooden Furniture: A Step By Step Guide For Beginners

How to paint wooden furniture

Wooden furniture is beautiful in its natural state, but after a while, the chair or dresser you’ve had for years won’t look the same as it did when you first bought it. The paint could be peeling, or you could just want to cover the wood exterior for a fresh look. However, you won’t get the best result from grabbing a paint bucket from Home Depot, slapping on a few coats of any old paint, and waiting for it to dry. That’s why if you own even one wooden item, you should know how to paint wooden furniture right at home.

Tools You Will Need

This list may look intimidating to beginners, but don’t be discouraged! Once you realize that each item has a simple function, you will realize that this project is easy to tackle.

  • Drop Cloth
  • Lead testing kit (if you paint vintage furniture)
  • N95 dust mask
  • Wood Filler
  • Scraper Tool
  • Sandpaper
  • Orbital Sander
  • Tack Cloth
  • Painter’s Tape(Optional)
  • Paintbrushes and A Foam Roller
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • A sealant or Clear Laquer(Optional)


1. Test The Paint For Lead


If you are going to work with vintage furniture that was made before 1978, test your paint to make sure it is lead-free. Lead is very harmful to your health and should be avoided for prolonged amounts of time. If you start sanding lead-based paint, there is a risk of inhaling airborne particles of paint that can cause lead poisoning, even if you wear a dust mask. Paint lead testing kits are inexpensive, and the extra time is worth it for your health.

2. Protect Yourself

Before you start on this project, you need to make sure your face and body are protected. Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from sawdust and a face mask to make sure you do not breathe in the sawdust either. Gloves are optional if you don’t mind a little paint on your hands.

3. Prepare Your Workspace.

Depending on the condition of your furniture, this project will create a lot of mess. Make sure you have a drop cloth, canvas, or tarp large enough to cover space under and around your furniture. This will help you later with easy cleanup.

You need an excellent light source so you can see any dents or imperfections in the wood, ventilation to keep sawdust from circulating inside your home and being breathed in at a later time, and a large enough space where you can move around freely. This way, you can get around your furniture’s nooks and crannies without hassle. You should do this either in your garage or outside on your porch or patio protected by a canopy. If you choose to do this project outside, check the weather to make sure no unexpected rain will creep up on you.

4. Remove Hardware

Start with removing the hardware from your furniture. Hardware refers to any knobs, drawers, handles, or anything else that is not a part of the wooden frame. This step is to ensure your furniture looks neat when it is put back together. Painting all of the parts separately ensures there will be no dripping or unwanted paint on any other part of the furniture.

If the surface of your furniture already has a smooth finish or is paint-free, skip the next two steps.

5. Scrape Off Any Loose Paint

If not, you will need to scratch off any remaining cracked or loose paint. Hold the scraper parallel and apply even pressure to the surface so you do not make any additional gouges or dents to the wood. If you do accidentally cause a scrape or gouge, it is okay, as it can be fixed in the next step.

6. Patch Damaged Surfaces With A Wood Filler

Use wood filler and a putty knife to repair any damaged areas. Only apply this to the damaged parts of the furniture, and make sure to scrape off any extra filler to ensure a smooth surface. Allow this to dry for however long the instructions of your selected product tell you.

7. Sand The Surface

Now, take your sandpaper and sand the surface of your furniture. If you have scraped off paint or used putty to patch holes, then use a coarse sanding paper to smooth out the surface. If the surface of your furniture is already smooth, use a finer grit to sand the surface. If you’re confused about which is which, the larger the number, the coarser the grit. 220-grit sanding paper will be the coarsest, and 180-grit sanding paper will be the finest. When you are sanding, follow the grain of the wood. For large surfaces, a good sander for furniture refinishing, such as a random orbit sander, will make your job faster and easier.

8. Wipe Down Any Residue

Once you are finished smoothening the entire surface, use a tack cloth to remove all of the residues from the sanding process. Tack cloths are made to pick up dust, but a damp rag will work in a pinch. It is important to keep the wood absolutely clean from any residue before you proceed to prime it.

9. Mask Off Any Areas You Don’t Want To be Painted

If there are any areas on your piece of furniture that you do NOT want to paint, use the painter’s tape to mask off those areas. Be as precise as possible, as the more precise you are, the less clean up.


Priming is what will help you get a smooth surface and vibrant color after painting. It also stops any potential stains from soaking through the paint and into the wood. If you are using a light color, use a white primer to get saturated colors. If you are using a dark-colored paint, use black primer for even coverage.

1. Choose The Right Primer For The Job

The type of primer you use has to match the paint. For furniture, it is recommended you use a satin or semi-gloss finish with either a latex or oil-based primer. You can use an oil-based primer with latex paint, but you can not use a latex primer with oil paint. Oil-based paint only works on oil-based primers, but they have a strong smell. If you choose to use oil-based paint, make sure the room you are painted in is well-ventilated.

2. Apply The Primer

Primer can be brushed or sprayed on. Either way, make sure you are applying an even layer across every part of the furniture you plan on painting. Use a paintbrush to paint corners, edges, and other areas that would be missed by a paint roller. After you apply the first layer of primer, wait for it to dry. It takes around 1-2 hours for water-based primers to dry. For oil-based primers, this can take up to 24 hours. The bottom line: be patient. As soon as the primer dries, lightly sand it with fine-grit sandpaper.

3. Apply Additional Layers Of Primer And Sand Between Coats

If you are brushing on primer, let the primer dry completely before using the sandpaper to smooth out the surface again. Remove the residue with the tack cloth and paint on another layer. Repeat these steps until you have 2-3 layers of primer, making sure they are all completely dry and sanded until smooth. If you are using a spray-on primer, you do not need to sand the layers. Just allow the primer to dry completely before adding more.

Before you paint, check the surface a final time for any bumps, scratches, dents, or flaws. Wipe the entire surface clean before moving on to the painting stage.


Vacuum any dust to prevent it from settling in the paint while it is drying. Move furniture to an area where leaves or other debris can not blow into it while you are painting.

1. Apply A Thin Layer Of Paint

For latex paint, apply using a synthetic bristle paintbrush. If you have Oil paint, use a natural bristle paintbrush. Use a foam roller to apply the paint over even surfaces. For edges, corners, and other places the roller can not reach, use a brush.

If the paint begins to drip, paint over the area before it can set. Quickly smooth it out before continuing. Paint from the top down following the natural lines of the furniture. If you use both brushes and rollers, make sure the layer of paint is even before leaving to dry. Try to use multiple light coats instead of one heavy coat for a nicer finish.

2. Let It Dry For At Least 6 Hours, Then Lightly Sand

Allow the first layer of paint to dry completely. For most paints, this will take 6 hours. Examine the surface for any drips, bubbles, or bumps. As soon as the paint dries, carefully sand away any drips and runs, then go over the entire surface with a fine grain of sandpaper. Remove the residue with the tack cloth.

3. Apply Additional Coats Of Paint

A single coat of paint will not allow you to achieve a perfect look. Apply two or three additional coats of paint and sand between coats. It is important to let the paint completely dry between each layer to prevent the wood from warping.

OPTIONAL: Apply A Clear Finish

Depending on your taste, you can choose to apply a clear finish to give your furniture a glossy or matte look and protect it from scratching or peeling. This step is completely optional, though. Water-based polyurethane, for instance, will protect the surface from future knicks or scratches. Follow the instructions on the product for drying times.

4. Let it Dry

Let the paint cure for a few days when you are finished. After you are completely sure that all the layers are dry, replace the hardware and put your furniture back together.

Enjoy Your (Like) New furniture!

See? Learning how to paint wood furniture at home is an easier process than you would think. With a few hours of work, you can get results that are just as good as a professional’s. Not only can you brag that you did it on your own, but you saved money by not having to pay a service fee. It’s a win-win situation!

More Related Articles:
How To Stain Wood For Beginners
Best Woods For Outdoor Furniture

About the author

Picture of Arthur Kudriavcev

Arthur Kudriavcev

I was introduced to woodworking by my grandfather when I was 11 years old. I spend most of my free time working on woodworking projects and writing for this blog. Apart from that, I also enjoy weightlifting and chess.

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