How to Paint Wooden Furniture

Give your old wooden furniture a quick make-over and a new lease of life.

a colourful example of children's painted furniturePainted bedroom furniture is very popular at the moment and the trend for Shabby Chic and restoring old furniture is a growing one.

Old bedroom furniture can be easily given a lease of new life by repainting and, if done properly, will last a lifetime.

If you are thinking about renovating some existing wooden furniture and don’t know where to start then, hopefully, this will serve as a useful guide.

Before starting work it’s important to bear a few points in mind:

Previously Painted & Varnished Furniture

Has the furniture been painted before and, if so, what with?

  • Spirit Based Varnishes & Polishes — in most cases it is difficult for regular paints to adhere successfully to these kind of finishes and it is advisable to strip back to bear wood.
  • Regular Varnish — problems can occur when attempting to paint over traditional varnishes so it is recommended that these are stripped prior to painting.
  • Factory Applied Paints and Lacquers — in some cases these may be cellulose based and can react adversely to regular paints. There are specialist primers which will adhere to such surfaces but it is best to try a test area first.
  • Regular Household Paints — if the furniture has been painted before with regular paint and the surface is sound then you should be OK to proceed.
  • Bare Wood — some bare wood furniture may look OK but may still have some form of protective coating applied. You can generally tell by wiping with a wet cloth — if the water is not absorbed then there is a clear coating present and will need to be removed.

Stripping Existing Coatings

The most important point to bear in mind here is that stripping existing paints and varnishes can be very messy and time-consuming. Unless you are very fortunate it is not something you’ll accomplish in an afternoon, particularly if there are curves and complex mouldings to contend with.

Consider using a professional paint stripping company — most offer a pick up and collection service and can be quite reasonably priced. It can save a lot of time and when you consider the cost of buying paint stripper it may actually be cheaper in the long run?

If you are determined to go it alone then allow yourself plenty of time and take the furniture out of doors if at all possible.

There are several kinds of paint strippers available to buy and how effective they are will depend on the kind of finish you are stripping. You are best trying two or three different brands in small quantities before buying a large expensive container of paint stripper that doesn’t work.


There are various types of specialist paints on the market and are, in most cases, a waste of money. Conventional paint systems are perfectly adequate if used correctly. A finish is only as good as the surface it is painted on – no product exists to get around this problem.

You’ll need a good primer and acrylic wood primers are fine in most circumstances — not only are they water based and odour free but they dry quickly too.

Painting over Existing Coatings

For previously painted surfaces an acrylic primer can be used as a base-coat but ensure the surfaces have been thoroughly washed down and abraded with fine sand-paper first, use wire wool or a flexible sanding pad for intricate areas. For very glossy surfaces an oil based primer or undercoat will work best — if in doubt try a small test area first.

Don’t use regular detergents for washing down as these leave behind residues which will prevent paint from adhering, use sugar soap or a solution of vinegar and water for best results.


Once the surfaces have been primed and allowed to dry you can proceed to paint with your chosen finish and colour. A satin finish generally works best on furniture although traditional gloss paint will be harder wearing. Remember to sand-down and dust off between coats and the more coats you apply then the better the finish will be.

A conventional paint brush is fine although a small foam roller can be useful for painting doors and large areas.

Handles and Hinges

Remove handles, door pulls and hinges before painting, if at all possible, and use the opportunity to replace them if your budget will allow. There are numerous designs of replacement handles you can buy and they can be very effective when modernising an old piece of wooden furniture.

The Finished Project

Paint takes a while to cure fully so once complete try and wait a few days before putting the furniture back to use — even paint which appears fully dry can be easily damaged until it has fully hardened.

Provided you have taken your time and done everything properly the next time you want to paint this piece of furniture it will be simply a case of washing down, a light rub down and simply re-painting.

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