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How to paint wood furniture

Mcclark Bespoke kitchens Lick Teal 02 painted sitting room built in cabinet

WordsMegan Lambert

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Whether you're giving an existing piece of furniture a new lease of life or are upcycling a flea market find, painting wooden furniture is the perfect way to create a cohesive colour scheme in your home. Plus, it’s a great way to use up any leftover tins of wood paint you’ve got lying around. To get the most professional and long-lasting finish, there are a few important steps to follow. So, if you want to learn the tricks of the trade for how to paint wood furniture, read on.

What kind of paint do you use on wood furniture?

You can use both our matt paint and eggshell paint on wood furniture and other surfaces. 

What is the hardest-wearing paint for furniture?

Both our matt and eggshell paints are durable, wipeable, and very hard-wearing. 

We’ve had many happy customers who have used matt paint to makeover bedside tables, drinks cabinets, and much more. When it comes to painting wooden furniture like a kitchen cabinet or wardrobes that will receive a lot of use, however, we’d recommend (with a lowercase ‘r’) using our eggshell paint as its higher sheen means it can withstand a heavy hand.

When it comes to painting wooden furniture in your bathroom we must insist on using our eggshell paint as it will withstand the hot and humid weather that a bathroom brings.

Our 6-step guide on how to paint wood furniture

Step 1: clean

We know it’s boring but whether they’re from your home or a dusty old vintage shop, furniture will collect dust and dirt over time that will affect the finish. Using warm soapy water, give your furniture a gentle sponge (or cloth) bath taking care to dry it properly afterwards. 

Step 2: sand

Once you’re all dry, sand down any rough edges using sandpaper or a sanding block. Again, this will give it a smooth and professional finish. 

Step 3: clean again

Just a quick one this time! Give your furniture a final wipe down to remove any dust accumulated whilst sanding. Leave to dry. 

Step 4: mask off areas you don't want to paint

Use masking tape to mask off any areas you don't want to paint, such as hinges and handles.

Step 5: time to prime

You’re so nearly there! If you are painting MDF, ply or unpainted wood, we recommend applying a primer before you start. These surfaces can be quite absorbent and porous, making it harder for the paint to adhere to them.

A primer could be either a mist coat of 70% paint and 30% water or a wood primer. If you opt for a wood primer, we’d recommend using Zinsser BIN water-based primer for the most durable finish. Once you’ve applied the primer, leave to dry before painting. 

Good news is, if your furniture is already painted you can skip this step. 

Step 6: paint

Time for the fun bit! Grab your paintbrush and roller from our collection of decorating tools, as well as your paint. If your furniture has details like doors, start with them first. We’d recommend that you:

  • Begin with the door edges, followed by any mouldings and inlay panels.

  • Cover the surface with paint then use your brush to spread it evenly. 

  • Use consistent stroke patterns to ensure an even coverage. 

  • When the inlays are done, move on to the top and bottom rails then the side stiles. 

  • Once the doors are complete, move on to the surrounding framework. Once the front is done, paint the side panels before finishing with the top.

Time to admire your handiwork!

Pop the kettle on (or pour yourself something stronger), stand back, and admire a job well done. Remember to allow the paint at least 48 hours before you place anything on it or push it against a wall. This gives the paint time to properly bind.

Just look at this stunning example below of built-in wood cabinets transformed with Lick paint, from McClark Bespoke Kitchens.

Mcclark Bespoke kitchens Lick Teal 02 painted sitting room built in cabinet
Mcclark Bespoke kitchens Lick Teal 02 painted sitting room built in cabinet

Some of your FAQS on how to paint wood furniture 

Can you paint straight over wood furniture?

Yes! And no… Not all woods are created equal and it depends on what kind of wood you’re working with. If it’s MDF, ply, or unpainted wood, we recommend applying a primer. However, if your wooden furniture is already painted, there’s no need.

Do you have to sand before painting wood furniture?

Listen, we’re not here to tell you what you can and can’t do. We’re all grown-ups here. But for a better finish (and longer-lasting result) we’d always recommend sanding before painting wood furniture.

What happens if you don't sand wooden furniture before painting?

Sanding creates a better surface for your paint to stick to. So, if you skip it, over time your paint job might start to chip and flake. Which means you’ll have to retouch more regularly. We hate to sound like your mother, but time spent now will be time saved later. 

Can you paint over varnished or painted wood?

Generally speaking, if the surface is already painted, you don’t need to prime... However, if the surface has been previously varnished, we would recommend something like Zinsser 1-2-3 BIN primer after thoroughly sanding. As varnish is a difficult surface to adhere to, a primer is required to help.

Do I need to varnish painted furniture?

No, you don’t. However, if you are painting in a high-contact area, like a doorknob or handles, then you may want to consider sealing the paint with wood varnish for extra durability. 

And there you have it. The definitive guide on how to paint wood furniture. If you’re feeling emboldened and want to tackle more decorating projects, then why not take a look at our guide to painting kitchen cupboards or how to paint your wardrobes.

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