How to: painting furniture 2 ~ abrasive tools

It’s unusual for me not to do one quick sand over on a piece before starting a paint job. It’s just been my experience that without sanding, you run the real risk of your colored paint job peeling or scraping off because it did not adhere properly. I’d rather be safe, then sorry.

Definitely sand a piece if: has a glossy surface, seems slick on the surface, has roughness or unevenness, has defects that are bumps, if you plan on staining – not painting, is stained, or if you want a very smooth looking final product.

Skip to a priming coat if: the piece is laminate, Formica, or veneer. Plan on at least two priming coats and definitely look for an oil-based primer either in a spray (if the item is heavily carved or ornate) or liquid to be applied with a brush. Any oil based primer should be applied in a very well ventilated room.

Back in the heyday of lovely stained furniture, a woodworker would “go through the grits” – which means they started with a rougher sandpaper (such as a 40-60) and then to a medium (80-120), to fine (150-180), and lastly a super fine (220-600). The point of this was to remove any marks made in the wood and to highlight it’s grain to perfection. With painted pieces all the tedious grit work in a painted piece will not be needed.

An example, would be on an oak project. I would start with 80, then 120, both with my electric palm sander. At this point I most likely put on a priming coat and/or the first two layers of paint. Then I sand with a handblock at about 220. Before the last coat of topcoat I might work the surface again with steel wool (depending on how fine I want the surface to be).

Orbital Sander – is an electric sander that moves in random circles. Sandpaper sheets are applied to the face and removed when used up.  If you plan on doing more then a couple of projects, or plan on painting furniture for re-sale, I would highly recommend buying one.

Use on projects that have large flat areas to work such as desk tops, bureau sides and tops, buffet sides and tops, hutches sides and shelves etc… A great piece of equipment for the first sanding and stripping.

Palm or Pad Sander – a smaller sander that can also be orbital. My Black and Decker Mouse is a one-hand sander which I use on a lot of my projects. It has a pointed tip that makes it easier to get in or rounded corners of desktops. If you are a more of an occassional DIY person, this smaller machine may fit your needs better.

Unless you are really good with your electric sander I would skip using it as a distresser – the risk is that you will take off too much. All it takes is one careless moment and that sander has ripped through a finish you worked hard to achieve.

shown here with scrubbing pad

Hand Sanding Sponges or Blocks – useful for areas where your electric sander can’t reach. I also like to use hand sanding sponges for the final sanding before the last topcoat and to do distressing techniques. Angled sanding blocks (like the one in photo below in green) are great for getting into grooves.

Steel Wool – very helpful if you want a glowing final finish, especially desirable for tabletops. Generally, if I use it (I don’t always) I do it before the last topcoat is applied. If your piece has collected some hair and dust which you want removed without damaging the paint coat, use steel wool.

Wood Rasps – these are helpful for taking off a lot of wood surface to make something level such as a room’s door that is sticking in it’s frame or a tabletop surface that needs to be leveled. More for the person who is taking their projects from casual to the next level.

Chemical Strippers – JMO I find are more trouble then they are worth. However, for removing stain or getting into highly carved areas, chemical strippers work better then sanding. In terms of brands, I’m using NEXT at this time but feel free to experiment.

After the stripper, you may need to use paint thinner to remove the gunk buildup that a stripper leaves behind. I also find wire bristled tools helpful in scrubbing out residue.

Wire Bristled Tools – use wire, not plastic. Helpful in removing gunk and layers in your carved areas.

Tacky Clothes – if you are sanding, then you need to remove all the dust. While you might want to skip this step remember that any dust left behind will get into the next layer of paint or topcoat, dulling your final product.

When sanding, wear protective eyewear (who wants a splinter in their eyeball!) and a paper mask to prevent breathing in the dust.

People are often confused about when to sand and when not too. So here are some more examples of how the procedure would work for a typical piece (remember, all projects are unique in what condition the original wood was):

Example One: vanity table (oak with pine top) was originally stained. This piece was stripped with the electric palm sander on the tabletop and chemical stripper on the legs. It was primed and painted once before being sanded again: the top with 180 electric sander, and the legs with a sanding sponge. After a final coat of paint it was given a very light, overall sanding with 220 sanding sponge before glaze was applied. Lastly, two coats of wipe on poly.

Example Two: Secretary desk (pine) was originally painted with a light color wash. There was no topcoat. I first spray primed the pine knots. Then I primed in gray and painted one coat of black. Did a first sanding with a hand sanding sponge of 220 because the pine was very thin. Two more coats of black, thinly applied with a 4″ foam roller. Steel wool was used before the final coat of wipe on poly on the sides of the piece where decorative stencil was located.

Example Three: Oak cabinet was originally stained with a varnish top coat. A light sanding resulted in this project becoming stalled – the first layer of paint was easily peeled off. I went back and did a more aggressive sanding, removing all shiny surface. In this case, if I was re-doing it, I would have put on an oil primer before the paint.

After two layers of paint, it was lightly sanded with a 220 sponge block. It was then glazed. After glazing, two coats of wipe on poly. If this had been a bathroom with a shower/bath, I would have put on a different type of paint and topcoat; something more heavy duty such as oil.

How-To: painting furniture 1 ~ prepping and priming

The first step is prepping your piece and it’s the most important and IMO the most boring! It’s why too many people skip it and go right to painting and then are disappointed with the final product. It’s important – don’t skip the prepping! and if need be take several days to do it or wait a day and go back to it.

What your piece is made out of and what type of coating it has determines how you will proceed:

1.) Bare Wood. If dealing with bare wood you may want to prep the surface with a sealer (i.e. shellac or “sanding sealer” found in the stain area of the hardware/paint store) to prevent bleed through from the knots. If you don’t want the knots to show through, after sealing use a primer (recommended is Zinsser’s B-I-N). Be sure to seal both sides of the board.

I find knots that bleed through are most commonly found in pine that hasn’t been cured or fresh cut pine lumber. You might also have an issue with knots that are dried out and thus are loose and may fall out. A great article on how to work with knots can be found at American Woodworker.

2.) Soft Woods, i.e. pines, grow fast so are often seen in today’s lumber store. Softwoods dent easily with the use of a hammer and when stripping I do not start with the coarsest sandpaper (i.e. try a 80 to 120 grit instead of 40 or 60 for the first sanding).

You may even want to use a sanding block instead of an electric sander if the wood is too fragile. Too much harsh sanding can actually remove the pine itself and with older or thinner pieces of furniture may leave you with little to work with.

obvious marks on softwood (pine)

A line of Basset furniture has predominate knots as part of the country look that was once popular. If you wish those knots to disappear, they too will need to be thoroughly primed with B-I-N before painting. It comes as a liquid or spray.

3.) Hard Woods, ( i.e. oak, walnut, pecan) are slower growth trees and have a harder surface. It can withstand harsher treatment when stripping. Some of these are also a great wood for doing liming and whitewash effects due to it’s grain.

Generally, I start with an 80 grit sandpaper using my electric hand sander (I use the Black and Decker Mouse Sander but there are other hand sanders that are just as effective). From 80 I go to 120 (by machine), then 180, and possibly 220 (by hand) depending on how smooth I want the surface. Make sure you wear protective eyewear and a paper nose mask to prevent dust in your nose or eyes.

If  you are stripping a piece of furniture only to paint it, then you are looking for a smooth enough finish where the initial protective surface (i.e. anything shiny, whether it’s a wax or poly finish) is removed. If that protective surface is not removed, paint will not adhere.

It’s not important that every bit of stain or previous color be removed from the piece. Depending on the end effect, you may not even want the piece entirely smooth in order to enhance the distressed, end appearance.

However, special attention should be given to any details you want to emerge. Grooves and designs are notorious for being filled up with previous layers of paint, destroying the lovely detail. Use steel brushes and other scraping tools to remove what you can. I’ve also found that a chemical stripper may be used to speed up the process in areas that are hard to sand.

leg of vanity table for powder room bath

Repairs at this point need to be made, this would include filling in holes, any edges or trim that might be missing, framing that needs to be strengthened with glue, and legs that need to be fixed.

repairing furniture with spare piece

The bathroom vanity is a project showing the process of stripping, sanding and priming.

4.) Veneers and laminate will be covered in a later post.

To prime or not to prime? I’ve found myself starting to prime more and more. It cuts down on the coats of color paint needed which costs more then primer. A tinted primer is cheaper then paint and goes much farther in the can then using spaypaint primer. JMO but I am not a fan of these new paints which include primer.

A priming coat also lets you see if there are blemishes or further repairs you need to make before putting on your colored coat. A gray or darker tinted primer will also help you go to a darker colored paint faster and achieve a richer end color. For example, if going from white to black, or white to red, you may want to apply a gray primer.

gray primed table for vanity in powder room bath

Once a piece has been sanded, repaired and primed, it is ready for your decorative paint.

FAQ’s on prepping… 

When painting, the surface needs to be clean, smooth and free of any glossy topcoat. It does not need to be sanded down to clean wood but surfaces should be smooth. If you want it smoother, fill in any defects, sand and then prime/paint.

If the original piece is stained, break the topcoat with a sanding, and clean out decorative moulding pieces. Sand smooth and then prime before painting. If the piece is being difficult to clean (or is pine and you worry about damage), go with a chemical stripper, scrub with wire brushes, and then clean the area with thinner to remove gunk left behind.

If the original piece is relatively smooth, in good condition, and does not have a topcoat, you can skip straight to priming (if going from light to dark) or painting (if color hue is relatively the same tone).

If the surface is plastic, ceramic, glass, or laminate, you will need to get a speciality primer for the job. Try looking at the spraypaint aisle at Westlake for a product that suits these surfaces. Be aware though that it will take at least two coats and lots of time to dry in-between. If you rush it, the surface will eventually scratch back or not hold future paint layers.

Before painting be sure to vacuum or use tacky clothes and have your piece completely dust free.

Project: updating a retro chandelier

When we found these two chandeliers they were designed to hang on a swag chain from the same medallion. While I didn’t love the chain, the foo-foo crystals on the brass, I did love the glitter-glam of the glass tube.

First, the side curly details were lopped off, leaving a stem. The chain was removed.

In some of the lopping, we ended with a few holes in the metal. It was filled with the same product  we used to repair moulding. It was lightly sanded and then the entire surface was scrubbed with a metal wire brush.

A hanging rod and ceiling mounting bracket was bought from Lowes ($17 each) and all of the metalwork (new and old) was spray-painted a brushed Nickel by Krylon (available at Westlake Hardware). The screw threads were wrapped with tape to prevent paint from clogging the threads.

New wiring was added. A rectangle was marked out, the area smoothed out with two coats of plaster, Brush Pearl paint in Blue Winter Fox applied and trim installed.

It’s hung so the bottom of the dining room chandelier is 32″ from the table (30″ -34″ from the table top is a standard hanging height).

The originals were bought for $18, and each lighting rod was bought for $17 each, for a total light cost of $52.

There are also four wall sconces in this room; my top pick are these from Lamps Plus at $99 each:


Tip: Hanging art and frames

Because I’ve worked in graphic design and newspapers, I know a lot about layout. It makes arranging and hanging frames no real big deal however, just in case you could use a little help yourself, here are some basic ideas.

See the Slide Show!

Want to see it full size? Just hit the icon on the lower right with the square arrow box…

Tip: Hanging a heavy mirror

Since the mirror is so heavy, we used a pattern to help center and decide the measurements on how it would hang over the new vanity we will be installing later this month. A pattern can be easily adjusted until you get it exactly where you like it, versus the mirror was extremely heavy and using it during this planning phase might have broke it.

a pattern can be easily adjusted

Because we made a template of the backsplash (white cardboard in above photo) we know how high we have to get the mirror up. We also know the measurements of the new light fixture so we don’t get in it’s way either (the silver one in the photo is going to be replaced).

Before mounting the mirror, adhesive feet are put on the lower, back corners. This prevents the mirror corners from banging the wall and should also be used on your larger, wooden picture frames. You can find these at any quality framing store.

This is an extremely heavy mirror so here’s a tip on mounting it… at hardware stores and at frame shops (or make your own), you can find special mirror wall mounts called a French Cleat (want to know more? Check out this video). These are for hanging heavy objects on your wall and this mirror certainly qualifies!

part of French Cleat

The French Cleat comes in two pieces which fit into each other – one part goes on the wall and the other on the object to be hung. They will slot into each other making a strong, level hanging that can’t be “bumped” off the wall by accident. Make sure you hit some studs (a stud finder is a great investment) when mounting the bar on the wall. And use a level to make sure you are aligned correctly.

picture perfect!

Project: silver foiling a mirror frame

Did you know mirrors are pretty pricey? If you try to find one, made of real wood (not plastic) it can be in the hundreds of dollars. However, junk and antique shops have plenty of reasonable priced mirrors. They are also one of the easiest projects to work with and can easily be changed to suit any room.

Upon junk/antique shopping I found this mirror (mirror glass has been removed for painting in the photo) hidden at the back of a vendors cubicle for $69. It’s rather large at 25.5″ x 38″ and was quite heavy. It was painted a bronze-gold color probably popular in the 1970’s. So I started with a primer – since it has a lot of ornamentation I switched from a brush to a spraycan.

…and ended up with a black mirror, touched up with a bit of lighter glaze, that I thought would work in the downstairs bath. But after leaning it against the wall in there for a week, it was too much black – too Gothic – for a bathroom that was going to be light and airy with shades of blue, white and silver.

After selecting the other artwork for the bathroom, I decided to go with a silver foil (leaf was too expensive) which can be found at Hobby Lobby (and other craft/hobby stores). This entire package of 25 leaves was used for this project.

First spray or brush on an adhesive and then apply pieces of foil one at a time, using a clean brush to pick up the paper and to tap it down on the surface. In the end, everything was so sticky, that I found that it was easier to just use my hands.

a large piece worked best for me
once it is down, you can’t reposition it

This mirror had some lovely corner decorations and I wanted the silver foil to be broke up a bit, showing some of the black. My plan was to let alot of the black show through so this worked out well, however, if you have a highly ornamented piece, realize you will have a lot of cracking of the foil and will need more foil if you want it covered completely.

Use a brush to tap the foil down

General tips on foiling:

  • It’s pretty messy so do it outside.
  • Depending on how fast you work, you may want to do one section at a time before applying more adhesive, especially if you are working over a large area.
  • Laying down one large piece was easier to me then trying to do smaller pieces.
  • I used a brush to push down the foil into the crevices; be aware that any brush used, will be destroyed by the end of the job due to glue.
  • The adhesive is quite sticky- go with a light spray coat instead of heavy.
    You can always go back over it if need be.
  • Once the foil is applied, if you want to fill in gaps in the silver, just put down more foil. It attaches quickly and using the brush gently over the top presses pieces together, and blends all the foil.
  • The spray adhesive and top protective coat spray are both extremely smelly (think model airplane glue) so be sure to do it in a ventilated room (would not recommend your house).

The end result was too shiny – it was a bit too Christmas ornament looking LOL!, so I first knocked it back with a very light spray of white (very light!). Then I glazed some areas with Pearl paint, Blue Winter Fox color (leftover from bathroom ceiling) mixed with transculent glaze. After drying four hours, it’s sprayed with a topcoat (metals, including metal foils, will oxide if left unprotected).

click any photos to see a closeup
finished mirror!

PS to find out how to hang a heavy mirror, look at the next post!

P.S.S. I also love this mirror re-do at Before and After using the product Rub’nBuf. It’s a bit softer then the above mirror but still with some silver.

Project: glazing the bathroom cabinet (black over gray)

The original cabinet in the powder room was standard builder work. Though made of nice oak, it was just a box that hung on the wall. With the high ceiling, I always felt it should be a taller to draw the eye upwards.

Hubby made a box out of Aspen to mount on top of the existing cabinet. The carved work was recycled from an old vanity harp with very decorative moulding which I had bought years ago ($20), thinking I would make a shelf out of it. The edge of one piece of the molding was damaged so we used molding epoxy to shape the end piece.

The new box was attached to the wall, and molding trimwork used at the top and bottom of the old cabinet to make the unit appear as one.

Since the original cabinet had been stained and coated with a protective finish, it had to be sanded down to a point where all the old stain and varnish was completely broken and ready to receive paint. We goofed by not working hard enough at it and the first coat ended up peeling! DON’T SKIP SANDING AND PREPPING!

Danielle Hirsch (formerly of Color Splash) has a video here about cabinet doors. She recommends cleaning, sanding, (and on the show – not this video) priming with an oil-based as the first coat, covered with latex paint.

If you want a protective cover coat, and used latex paint, use a water-based poly (good) or water based varnish (better) – preferably applied with a paint sprayer. If you use an oil based over latex it will yellow the overall look. Oil based varnishes and poly’s also will yellow as they have a natural amber tint.

I apply latex paint with a foam roller designed for cabinet applications along with a 2″ inch bristle paint brush (to push into the crevices). I like the foam because it leaves no marks when you make the last pass.

In this case the undercoat color was Valspar Waverly Classics – Gull W38006A. The gray was lighter then I wanted the end product which was deliberate as I knew the glaze would darken it somewhat.

Thickly apply the Valspar’s Antiquing Glaze, a black glaze over an area you can work in about 15 minutes (dilute with their clear glaze for longer working time if you need more then 15 minutes) .

With a clean rag (cut up t-shirt), work the glaze into the crevices with a circular motion. The crevices is where you will want the glaze to remain so you remove the glaze from flat surfaces.

If you have removed too much glaze, just reapply with your paintbrush, working it back into the crevices.

The end wipe should be in the direction of the wood. For example the long sides were an even stroke all the way across; the short sides an even stroke. Match the wood grain with your strokes and lift off at the end so there is no end mark with your rag or brush (similar to dragging).

click photo for closeup comparison

Once the second door is finished, the two doors are compared to make sure the glaze looks the same on both doors. That’s why it’s best to have one person to do the project, the amount of pressure, amount removed, will be more consistent.

Glazed detail on moulding
Three coats of wipe-on, water based poly with the 2nd coat steel wooled. If this bathroom had a tub/shower, I would have used a different topcoat as the wipe-on poly isn’t extremely durable but will be fine for the light use of this room. 

Want to see more about base moulding and moulding projects? There’s more on the blog right here

Want to see more about cabinets? There’s more on the blog right here….