How To Prepare Old Furniture For Painting

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    A friend asks me how they can paint their old side tables for a new couch they are getting. Then proceeded to tell me it will be a light blue leather couch with orange accents and yellow pillows. At that point I was wondering why this person was a friend… but since I won’t have to look at it all the time I decided to help them out with their task.

    The first thing that you have to understand is that most people think they can just get any can of paint from the home store and paint it on with a brush and it will make their old scraped up furniture look like new. The reason this normally fails is that you are putting wall paint on furniture. In some cases it might work but most of the time its not going to look anywhere near what you might buy in a store.

    Paint Selection for Furniture

    A lot of furniture that we buy isn’t really wood. Some of it is particle board with a vinyl type covering. Some of it is even worse. You need to consider this when you are preparing your piece for painting. Most paint will not adhere well to plastics although you have a better chance if you sand, primer and use enamel paint.There are specialty plastic paints for patio furniture made of plastics but they do not hold up well to heavy wear.

    You might think we are jumping ahead but the type of paint you select will mean differences in how you prepare your furniture.

    I personally would probably pick either gloss black or gloss white and I would spray paint the furniture with an engine enamel can paint but I understand that this probably won’t work for most people.

    If you want a gloss look there are a number of options at the store but what you want to look for is enamel paint and not latex paint. Latex is very popular now because its water based and it does not contain organic chemicals. Although there are even water based automotive paints now to conform to government regulations the consumer can latex paint is nowhere near the quality. Unfortunately if you want a wider variety of can based paint you will need to look at the latex line of paint and then use a protective coating. Either a gloss paint on top or you can wax your paint with a paste wax about a week after it dries and it will give you a soft semi gloss protective surface.

    Ok so you decided on either an enamel or latex paint.

    For Enamel paint you will need to clean sand and the prime the wood before painting because enamel paint will be sucked into the wood or surface and without primer the surface will look blotchy and you will need to use many more cans of paint to get the desired look.

    For Latex or water based paints you can spray right on the surface of the wood and although you might benefit from a primer its not required.

    Preparing the wood or surface for Paint

    The first thing you want to do is clean your furniture to remove all dirt, wax, oils, furniture polish. Don’t even think about sanding before you do this or you will be exposing bare wood and forcing garbage into the grain that will ruin your work.

    Take off all your hardware and remove the drawers. Removing the doors to a cabinet is up to you but it will come out better if you do.

    Use soap and water to start the process. A standard general cleaner will remove most of the gunk and dirt from the piece then you need to remove the remaining oils.
    Window cleaner if it is colorless works well or even getting a dollar store bottle of rubbing alcohol and a roll of paper towels will get all of that wax and polish off before you start. Do this outside and don’t smoke or have open flame near it.

    Once it is clean you will need to at the minimum scuff the entire piece with sandpaper or a scotch bright sanding pad to accept the paint.

    Scotch Bright Sanding Pads should not be confused with pot and pan scrub pads. Although a pan scrub pad might work in a pinch the scotch bright sanding pads you buy at the store are much more abrasive and are made to scratch the surface like sandpaper.

    Go over the whole piece and then wipe it down with alcohol and paper towels. Make sure there are no glossy areas that you missed.

    At this point you are ready to paint a piece that is in good condition.

    If you need to remove scratches then you will need to use a heavier grade sand paper on a sanding block to achieve that. If you have a lot of scratches that are not very deep you can use a primer filler paint and apply 3 to 5 good full coats over the area letting each one dry or flash 20 minutes between coats and then sand the surface flat and smooth.

    Just before painting you want to wipe down your piece with a tack cloth which is a cheese cloth that has been prepared with a mildly sticky material that will remove remaining dust without leaving behind residue. You want to wipe very very very lightly with the cloth just to pickup the dust.


    Final Note

    Painting furniture is a way to extend the life of old furniture and should always be considered before discarding. Recycling furniture or repairing it may be something that you like to do for a hobby or it might be a one time thing that you do to keep an old chair or desk and a few dollars in your pocket.

    The important thing is if you are doing this to save money then you want to do it in a way that is inexpensive.

    Dollar Stores sell packets of sandpaper of a variety of grades they also sell cleaners and alcohol. The only additional materials you will need is the paint and you can normally pickup a can of mistinted paint at your home store for half the price or less.

    If you believe there might be a project coming up even in a few months it is worth it to keep your eye on the mistinted paint section at any store that sells and mixes paint.

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