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Give your cabinets and furniture a facelift with our lessons on how to paint wood

Time for a change? Breathe new life into your old furniture with our wood painting guide.


how to paint wood

Key steps

When you’re painting wood furniture:

  • Clean the furniture.

  • Sand it down, before beginning and ideally between each coat of primer or paint.

  • Apply primer.

  • Apply paint in several coats.

  • Use a sealant to prevent damage.

Change is good, and that applies to our surroundings! Switch things up by discovering how to go about painting wood furniture.  Follow our step-by-step guide to give a facelift to your wood furniture.

Covering matte paint with glossy paint is easier than the other way around. If you’re not sure what sort of finish you want for painting wood furniture, apply the matte first.

How to paint varnished wood or wood that’s already been painted

If you’re painting wood furniture that’s already been varnished or painted, do you need to strip it first? Not necessarily, but new paint can have trouble sticking to shiny surfaces. If you sand down the existing varnish or paint with medium-grit sandpaper, you’ll roughen the surface and give the new paint some grip. Make sure the surface is evenly roughened all over.

How to paint wood: step-by-step wood painting guide

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  1. Use a drop cloth to cover up your floors and other nearby furniture before you start. This is going to be messy work. Keep the windows open for ventilation while you’re working.

  2. Give your furniture a wipe-down with a damp cloth to clean it before painting with a little dishwashing liquid, such as . Remember to always test any cleaning product a discreet part of the furniture first. Make sure any cleaning product you’ve used is completely rinsed away and the furniture is dry before you start painting, or the paint might end up peeling.

  3. If there are unwanted holes in the furniture, patch them and any other damage up with wood filler before you begin, making sure it’s as level as possible with the rest of the piece. Let it dry well before sanding and painting.

  4. Sand the furniture with medium or fine sandpaper. You want a surface that’s even and slightly roughened. As mentioned above, this step is particularly important with furniture that’s previously been painted or varnished. Dust or vacuum it clean after sanding.

  5. Get your paint. Think about what you’re painting when you’re deciding what sort of paint to use. If you’re considering how to paint wood cabinets, you probably won’t need to worry about them being rained on. If your question is how to paint a wooden door that leads outside, though, you’ll need to choose a paint that can withstand the weather.

  6. Get a small paint roller and a good-quality brush that won’t leave hairs in the paintwork.

  7. Prime the wood. Apply primer to the entire surface, using a paint roller (or a paintbrush, if there are fiddly areas the roller can’t get into), and let it dry completely before taking the next step. Use multiple coats of primer if necessary.

Once you have prepared the wood, follow these painting techniques for wood furniture:

  1. Work on layers: paint in light coats, allowing each coat to dry for at least half a day before applying the next one, rather than trying to get it perfect on coat number one. Two or three coats will probably be fine but see how it looks and use your own judgment. Again, you can use a roller for flat surfaces and a paintbrush to get into tricky corners. After each coat, neaten up any areas that don’t look entirely right with your paintbrush.

  2. Leave the furniture to dry for a day after the last coat of paint (resist the temptation to touch it!).

  3. Apply a sealant to help prevent damage to the new paint. You may want to consult an expert on which sealant would be best for your specific project. Different sealants such as polyurethane, polycrylic and furniture wax each have their pros and cons; for example, polyurethane can give light-colored furniture a yellow tint, and polycrylic can leave streaks on matte latex paints.

Tips for painting wood furniture

  • Using fine sandpaper, give your furniture a gentle sanding before each new coat of primer or paint for a more even final result. Remember to dust before applying the next coat.

  • If you’re torn between a glossy and matte finish, glossy paint has the advantage of being easier to clean.

  • When you’re painting wood cabinets or chests of drawers, taking the handles off beforehand will mean there’s not as much fiddly work to be done.

Hopefully, you’ve covered up your floors while painting, but it’s still possible they’ll need cleaning afterwards. If that is the case, then take a look at our guide on how to clean wood floors.

Do you want to learn which household cleaning tasks cause the most stress?  Then read our Heated Household data analysis. 

Frequently asked questions on painting wood

How do you apply varnish on wooden furniture?

Firstly, it's recommended to gently stir your varnish with a stirring stick to create a smooth consistency. Always use new varnish for your projects to avoid any lumps and don't stir too vigorously, otherwise you'll create a lot of air bubbles. Mix your varnish with a thinning agent in a separate container to thin it out a little, especially for the first coat. Apply your varnish with a very light touch, following the direction of the wood grain. For best results, it's better to work in thin coats.

Can you use a wood-sanding brush instead of sandpaper to sand wooden furniture?

A wood-sanding brush has the same effect as sandpaper - to smooth down wood and prepare it for coating with paint and varnish. It is perfectly fine to use a wood-sanding brush in place of sandpaper, though for DIY jobs, this will likely be a handheld brush as opposed to an automatic rotating brush sander which is designed for industrial use.

Should I use matte or glossy paint for wood furniture?

Both matte and glossy finishes for wood furniture have their pros and cons, and the choice largely depends on your preference and the type of surface you're planning to paint. Glossy paint makes the colour appear more intense and also tends to be more resistant to damages. However, glossy paint highlights all the imperfections, so it's best reserved for very smooth and even surfaces. Matte finishes are more forgiving but they tend to be less sturdy and harder to maintain. They always look classic and elegant, and are a good choice for bedrooms or small living rooms.

What is the best wood for furniture in the Philippines?

The choice of wood largely depends on the project at hand, but some good options local to the Philippines would include: Tanguile, a common type of local wood that's pliable yet resilient, so it's great for outdoor construction; a tropical wood called Narra with fine, granny texture, making it ideal for furnishings (it also smells amazing!); and Kamagong, which is perfect for smaller, more decorative pieces thanks to its statement, dark shade.

Are there any special tips for painting wood furniture outside?

Wooden furniture can be used to complete any sort of look in an outdoor space, from fairytale to modern. But the wear it experiences is significantly higher when exposed to the elements. Our tips for painting wood furniture outdoors: be particularly meticulous when cleaning and sanding to remove any dirt or debris; use outdoor primers and paints that have UV protection (protecting them from prolonged sun exposure); and aim for semi-gloss or eggshell paints as these are often more durable than matt. You can also have fun by spraying your wooden furniture with spray paint but remember to prepare your working area first - flecks of paint on your doors and patio aren't chic when you're trying to scrub them out!

Originally published