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Ruby Rhino
Tags: Tips, Upcycling

Upcycling for beginners: Painting furniture

Posted on 2015-01-28

Without a doubt, the easiest way to spruce up a piece of furniture is to give it a lick of paint. 

Whatever your tastes and level of painting skills, with a little imagination and a bit of elbow grease, the possibilities for fabulous looking furniture are endless.

What type of paint you need to buy, and what preparation you’ll need to do, depends on the material of the piece that you’re going to paint.

Before you start make sure you’re in a well ventilated room (open some windows) and you’ve covered the floor with an old sheet or some polythene – your landlord won’t thank you for painting their carpets!

Priming furniture image
Photo credit: Jenna Burger

Depending on how smooth the wood is, you’ll need to use the right weight of sandpaper to achieve an even surface.

For rougher wood, use coarse sandpaper, followed by light sandpaper, working in the direction of the wood grain. If the surface is smooth, light sandpaper should suffice. Wipe off any dust with a damp, lint-free cloth (microfibre works well for this).

If your piece of furniture is varnished, you’d usually need to completely remove this, using a noxious solvent or lots of sanding. With laminate furniture, you can’t remove the shiny surface at all.

However, there are certain primers that will stick to these surfaces; you’ll just need to create some texture by lightly sanding it. Look for primers that are designed for ‘difficult surfaces’. They’ll work on any kind of wood; as well as metal, plastic, tiles and many other surfaces – giving you fantastic value for money.

Once your surface is smooth and splinter-free, you’re ready to start applying the primer. It’s really important not to skip this step – to make sure your paint goes on smoothly and doesn’t flake off.

Some materials, such as laminated wood, won’t hold onto the paint without primer, making for a costly and messy mistake.

Apply an even, medium coat of primer and leave it to dry (as per the instructions on the tin). Once dry, give it another light sanding to remove any bumps or drips, and wipe down with a damp cloth.


Images of paint
Photo credit: Not on the High Street

What kind of paint you choose will depend on the finish you want and the surface you’re painting. Here’s a handy rundown of the most popular types of paint for furniture, and what effects they give.

paint table

Using a good quality brush, apply your chosen paint evenly – making sure to get in all the nooks and crannies (you may need a smaller brush for the fiddly bits). For larger surface areas, try using a mini roller kit (only a couple of pounds at most DIY stores), working in one direction only to avoid leaving marks.

Leave the paint to dry, according to the timings on the tin. Once it’s dry, you’ll be able to see if it needs another coat (or two) and repeat the painting/drying process.

Special effects
Special effect furniture
Photo credit: Mod Podge Rocks

If you want a distressed finish, now is the time to sand off some choice areas – but don’t go overboard – aim for different degrees of sanding on the edges where wear would naturally occur.

You could even paint two coats of different colour paints, to reveal a contrast when sanding areas of the top coat away.

To add a pattern, you can either buy or make a stencilling kit, or try decoupage. Decoupage is a craft that’s had somewhat of a comeback in recent years.

All you’ll need is some patterned paper (try wallpaper off-cuts, wrapping paper, maps, magazines, sheet music – the possibilities are endless) or fabric. You can then either cut out the patterns or keep it whole, depending how you want the finished product to look.

Water down some PVA glue (3:1 glue to water ratio) and apply, with a foam applicator, to the area you want the pattern to stick to. Alternatively, there’s an American product called Mod Podge, which you can sometimes find in UK craft shops or on eBay.

Place your paper or fabric carefully and stick down. Leave it to completely dry and then add another coat or two of glue mixture over the top.

If you’re upcycling a dresser or chest of drawers, consider changing the hardware. Inexpensive handles and knobs are easy to come by and will give your piece a lovely, pulled together finish.

Finishing image
Photo credit: Country Chic Paint

Lastly, apply a clear varnish or wax of your choice to seal it all in, finish it off and keep it looking good for longer.

If you choose to use a varnish, opt for an acrylic (rather than oil) based product as this won’t ‘yellow’ your colour. Apply according to the instructions on the tin, making sure to use a good quality brush.

When it comes to a wax, you can use either clear or dark wax. Clear wax will change the colour slightly, but it gives a much more natural finish than varnish. Dark wax is good for a distressed or antiqued look, if that’s what you’re going for. Apply your chosen wax, following the instructions on the tin, with a clean brush or cloth. Leave to cure for the advised amount of time and then buff into the wood.

Photo credit 'Featured image' In My Own Style

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