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.

Room: Daughter’s blue and chocolate modern bedroom

About 8 months ago, Daughter started talking about re-decorating her room again. Now age 12, her previous room incarnations hadn’t really pulled it all together and used colors, as well as furnishings, that she was not that keen on. Turns out she has the heart of a modern girl, not one into pink, flowers and frills!

Room: 11′ 3″ x 11′ 8″ (without room entry)

First we started by having her pick out the bed linens. These would be the INSPIRATION PIECE to plan the room off of. This duvet cover was bought from Bed, Bath and Beyond, and the duvet was bought on deep discount at J.C. Penny home store. Probably about $200 in all when you consider pillows and sheets too.

Wall Paint: The walls colors were originally a soft pastel pink. They got re-painted with semi-gloss interior with Valspars’ Betsy Ross House Blue (5002-8A) and American Traditions’ Chef White (7002-15), about 1 gallon of each. Chef White is also the color of the trim throughout the house so it made it easier to just paint trim as well as the wall.

I used semi-gloss paint as this girl is tough on her walls and I want to be able to clean them easily. Semi-gloss is more commonly used in high traffic areas such as bathrooms and kitchens.

She wanted a feature wall (the blue wall the bed is against) something I usually don’t do but it turned out super cool so I may need to re-think that!

NOTE: it took a FULL WEEK for the paint smell (open windows and fan going) to really be gone. We did the painting when daughter was out of town with grandparents and are really glad we did.

Furniture:

Bed – the original four poster had been bought years ago and suffered a lot of damage. Two of the posts had been swung on by the daughter and splintered off. We chopped off the remaining posts and spray painted the frame Valspar Java Brown just to fade it away. Mattress was still good.

Headboard – (above photo) Came out a bit more expensive then I wanted… Daughter has great taste but also champagne taste! She picked the most expensive, upholstery fabric in the store (Interior Fabrics), thankfully it was on sale, 40 percent off, for a total of $50 and I have to admit looks fantastic! Upholstery fabric is much wider fabric that that which is sold on bolts so this also saves money on “wide” projects.

Foam was another $50 and with wood for the frame, came out to be about $125.

Side Table – this yellow, Cosco kitchen cart ($40 on CL) is metal and in great condition. I again, lucked out because we snatched it up (literally) from the junk store while another person was looking at it! Me bad…

The side table was a great find and it switched the accent color from pink (not my daughter’s favorite) to yellow which I think makes the room a bit more cutting edge.

Dresser – The chest of drawers ($40 on CL) were originally stained brown but had been sanded before I bought them. It actually took me some time to find a chest of drawers that had a modern feel to them. This one has clean lines, no additional molding, bowed drawer fronts and flared sides. The only drawback was that the drawers cannot be removed so painting was more time consuming then I had planned.

I painted the frame of the chest Valspar Swiss Chocolate 3010-10 semi-gloss, and the drawers were spray painted with Valspar’s Mediterranean Blue. The unit also needed a new back (it had been splintered). The hardware (picked by daughter) was the most expensive part of this, coming in at $60 for a total of  about $120.

Glass Computer Desk – from CL at $50.  I really lucked out finding this piece for this price!

Anything the eye “sees through” can help make a room seem bigger. Also I love the modern feel to it.

Desk Chair – bought from a 1950’s Retro store for $40. We will be recovering it in the very near future. This price was a bit high for me but I knew the daughter was going to want a comfy lounge chair vs. a streamlined modern office desk chair (my preference) and I was right!

Bookshelves – were made by hubby years ago and will be repainted next week in the colors of brown, white and blue. I’ll post an updated pic when done.

Windows: The heavy 6′ long, 2″ white, faux wood blind was hard to move up and down being that it spanned 6′. They also got horribly dusty and were hard to clean.

I switched these out for white cellular blinds that have no cord and go up and down with a touch. 35″ in length, from Bed Bath and Beyond $35 each.

This window faces west and gets a lot of late afternoon sun so two, brown thermal window panels with a block grid of icey-blue lines of color were bought from Target ($25 each).

The wooden curtain rod pole was one sale from Lowes at $18. It was black, so I spraypainted it Valspar Java Brown to match the room.

Altogether the window treatments were expensive – about a total of $160-$180. However, I’ve already found that her room is staying cooler throughout the day if the blinds are down and the curtains pulled.

Accesories:

Lamps – Lighting for this room was always a problem. She had too few lights and not the right lamps for tasks such as reading, desk work and night light. This was another bigger then expected investment but the result was so cool and functional I don’t regret it.

This brown, desk lamp was from Pier One ($50). The original Pier One shade I didn’t like so we switched it to another lamp and bought a replacement shade from Target ($20).

The round, brown ball lamp with shade (see photo of dresser) was bought on sale from Lowes ($17). The clear, stacking ball lamp (see photo of yellow table) with separate shade was bought from Target, $38 total.

Storage boxes – Another purchase from Target at $10 per box. Daughter loves sorting and containers for her collection.

Desk Accessories – in yellow, bought from Target from the kitchen (plastic glasses) and bath areas (storage container with lid).

Magnet and Cork Boards – 4 from Target $20 each.

Brown Rug – Craigslist $5

Brown Chair– Craigslist $5

Brown Armchair Bed Pillow – Bed Bath and Beyond $20. This was purchased because she loves to read in bed and this should save wear and tear on the headboard.

Still to be done: new carpet and adding more yellow accessories.

Room Views:

Desk Wall (North)

Bookshelf and window wall (West)

Bed wall and closet door (South)

Dresser wall (East)

Personally, when I watch HGTV’s Decorating Cents, it blows my mind that they can do a room for $500… I simply don’t believe it! Whoever, bought paint for $12 a gallon and then had enough to do an entire room with it!? Even a small room like this will take at least 1.5 gallons of paint.

This room ended up being far more costly then I had planned, however, it has such good bones now it should last her well into her teen years with minor changes.

Project: round table for breakfast nook

This photo inspired me to change our too big, rectangular breakfast table to a round one, hoping to relieve the traffic flow in the small area.

bistrotable

I knew the next breakfast table had to be exceptionally strong and stable as my 15 year old son leans and rocks away from the table in his chair. Everyone has complained that it’s like eating at sea! It also had to be affordable as I would be needing new chairs.

Luckily, this item (below) came up on Craigslist. When I bought it for $60 I told them they could keep the chairs as I had other plans.

70sbreakfasttable

tablewitholdchairsI wish I had the original picture as this table came with four chairs that were your typical 1970’s / 80’s variety – extremely solid, thick chairs with low backs that really dated the entire table. The original chairs were similar to these in this photo of another table – I’m sure you’ve seen something like them!

Looks can be deceiving so you have to keep focused on the bones of a piece. Some things I immediately liked about it:

Image wise it fitted my inspiration photo pretty well.

Pedestal – I really liked the curves of the pedestal. A central pedastal, as opposed to legs, allowed a lot of leg room.

The diameter of the tabletop fitted the space nicely and it comfortably sat four.

Extremely solid and stable. The surface is at least two inches thick.

Price – $60. I mean can you beat that?

Color – I could clean it up, re-stain in a similar color which would limit the amount I would need to sand. Honestly, I am always looking for projects that are easy to sand and prep; if they are close to the original color I want to redo it in that means a lot less prep time. If they have one coat that would be easy to take off that is even better.

Remember, one problem with a stained piece is that you will seldom get it to the exact color that a stain chip offers; you have to factor in the original color that is seldom completely sanded from a piece.

Because I wanted a bit of definition from the original stain, I used the Mouse Sander to bring down the tabletop to almost, but not quite, bare wood.

I started with Cabots’ Black Walnut, mixed with some Valspar Antiquing Glaze (Asphaltum). After two coats of stain it was topped with Valspar Clear Mixing Glaze tinted with Valspar Antiquing Glaze (Asphaltum).

For protection, I went with three coats of matte Wipe-On Poly from Mini-Wax with two coats of glossy Wipe-On Poly for an extremely durable finish.

p1010011-1

breakfasttablepedestalThe bottom section was lightly sanded. This turned out to be a bigger job then I anticipated because the curves made it a slow, by hand, job. Beauty had it’s price!

After sanding, the pedestal was painted a chocolate brown and topped with Valspar Clear Glaze tinted with Asphaltum. The advantage of a glaze is that it has a slow drying time, giving you more time to work it.

The tables’ original chairs had backs the same height as the table. With thes new chairs, the higher backs give more visual interest. They contemporary design also nicely updates the table.

Although, normally, I love chairs with arms this breakfast nook didn’t have the space. Instead these armless chairs snugs into the table, providing more walk around room.  The chairs’ black finish provides a contrast to the brown, brings out some of the black glaze, and isn’t matchey-matchey.

breakfasttableafter

Price: Table ($60), four chairs ($160), stain, sanding papers, glaze, tint etc… were divided between several projects so I’m guesstimating it was about $40 or less. This project was easily less then $300 for the table and four chairs.
And glad to report that husband is also very happy with the result.

Project: Library Shelves

My hubby is a master shelf builder! One of the first products I asked him to make were these very strong and deep bookshelves for my home office. He put a lot of nice molding around the top and front sides that I think really make this piece stand out.

They were designed to butt against each other smoothly on one end, with the other end wrapped with molding. This was a nice touch in the design as they allowed a seamless top for display.

Unfortunately, after I painted them black and lived with them for a few years, I realized that a lot of this nice design and molding detail was lost because of the deep rich black. It was time for an update!

molding detail on shelvesThe molding pieces I distressed back with fine sandpaper on my Mouse Sander. When using your electric sander, do so with a light touch; it’s power can often remove too much.

A brushing of Cabots’ Dark Walnut stain, was applied and then rubbed off. It brought the tone back down and was a nice compliment to the black.

I had seen an inspirational photo where bookshelves had a backing with a different color and I really liked it. The painted black, plywood sheets on the back were replaced with Birch veneer sheets stained with Cabots’ Dark Walnut.

The entire unit was then given a top coat of Mini-Wax Rub-On Poly.

finished black bookshelf

blkbookshelvesafter

Project: Formal Dining Room Table

I didn’t want to spend big bucks on a room and piece of furniture that was seldom used so I was lucky that I received a free dining room table from a relative. It wasn’t a family heirloom but it was free, and you can’t beat free!

I’m guessing it’s from the 1940’s era. The top and sides are veneer and the legs have a nice half circle effect that is appealing as well as some decorative molding (see corners). I had a carpenter make a new, unfinished table leaf ($100) to replace the one that was long missing so now the table can sit from 6 to 8 people.

table surface
table surface

Overall, the table was in pretty poor condition, with an irregular stain, watermarks, and chips to the veneer. We repaired the damaged veneer on the tabletop sides with a X-acto knife cutting out the damaged area to a rectangle. Veneer trim (Red Oak) was cut to fit and then glued and clamped to fit. The repair was lightly sanded to a smooth surface and the area painted black.

veneer repair

We also glued down veener on the edge of the table that had started to peel up.

When using clamps be sure to use a scrap to take the initial pressure from the clamp foot or you might form an unwanted impression into your project.

You can see, left, the sanded tabletop has an unevenly colored surface which I had to deal with.

distressed table legsThe legs and tabletop sides were painted black. They were sanded back for a distressed appearance; remember to sand prominent areas where natural pressure and wear would occur from use.

Cabots Natural Walnut stain was rubbed in and wiped off. This darkened the newly sanded areas making it look more aged.

For the tabletop, I first tried chemically stripping the surface but that wasn’t very effective. I resorted to the Mouse Sander with a fine grit. Anything rougher and I was liable to rip or gouge the veneer.

I went with three rubbed in coats of Cabot’s Natural Walnut stain, fine sanding with a tacky cloth between coats. Finally, I coated with rub on polyuretane, gloss coat, and did three more coats, handsanding lightly and using a tacky cloth in between sessions.

Golden Oak stained tabletop

finished dining room table

Price: Table ($0); extra leaf ($100); leftover black paint, sanding paper, stain, tacky cloths ($25), 6 dining room chairs ($360). Wow! I was really pleased with the finished result and couldn’t be happier!