My First Furniture Project and What I learned


I get a lot of questions from people on how to start their very first furniture refinishing project; however, it's not a simple answer. Most pieces and paint are not created equal.  It depends on the type of piece it is, the look you are going for, type of traffic it will get...and on. 

Here I will go through my first DIY project and learnings.  


#1. Pick something inexpensive.  I wouldn't suggest starting with your grandmothers antique cabinet, rather purchase an inexpensive piece (or better yet, free) and go for it. 

I bought my first table for $25.  It was sanded, stripped, stained, painted, and then re-painted. Yes, I did all of this. I made mistakes along the way and I learned from it. 


#2.  Pick something made of wood.  There are different variations of how much wood makes up a piece of furniture today- solid wood, made of wood (less common these days); wood veneer, a thin piece of wood bonded to less expensive material; and laminate furniture, man-made material. All of which can be painted. Although for your first time, I would stay away from laminate furniture (think many pieces at IKEA or Structube).  You are less likely to get the long term durability out of the work you put in and can be discouraging.  Wood (whether solid or veneer) is more forgiving and porous, allowing finishes to adhere better. 


#3. Start with a small scope.  I was a little overambitious to start.  I wanted to give the table a white washed look, so I decided I would sand and stain it.  I left the hardware store with a palm sander, paint stripper, sand paper, stain, top coats, paint brushes, drop cloths..Okay I can admit that my $25 table, well, now cost me a lot more. 

This brings me to my next learning...

#4. Paint it. 

Painting is far less laborious and requires less products than staining.  Not to say that you shouldn't but in my experience it would have been a better place to start. 

I started with chalk paint (not to be confused with chalkboard paint) and was really happy. Chalk paints are forgiving, easy to use, and require minimal prep.  Also, I didn't love the colour I did the first time (and used the wrong top coat that yellowed the finish, for another blog post...) and since chalk paints adhere well, I was able to do a light sand and re-paint again over. 

When I did this table I used Annie Sloan, I loved it but there are so many options now. Some include, but not limited to:

  • Fusion Mineral Paint
  • Valspar Chalky Finish
  • Rustoleums Chalky Finish Paint

Admittedly, I don't have a lot of experience with latex paint on furniture but there are lots of options as well. 

    #3. Buy a good quality paint brush.  Your painting will only be as good as the paint brush you are using. Inexpensive paint brushes are more likely to shed bristles and leave streaks while painting.  I learned this the hard way.  Nothing more frustrating than having to pick off bristles out of freshly painted furniture. 


    Tip: When not in use, wrap your brush in saran wrap and put in the fridge until you are finished your project. Once you are finished, wash and dry out your brush.  If you take care of your paint brush it will last you for years. 



      #4.  Prep, prep, PREP.  Ok this cannot be avoided. Sand and/ or prime, and then clean the surface.

      Some paints do not require sanding; however, I always like rough up the surface with a light sand, it's good practice, at least with a 220 grit, for best adhesion. There's nothing worse than putting your time and effort and then see paint chip.  

      Another - vacuum and clean the surface. make sure to get in the nooks and crannies or you might pick up dust with your paint brush. 

      Read product instructions. Not all products are created equal. When in doubt call the manufacture.


      #5. Sealer.  There are a lot of options for sealers (lacquers, waxes, polyurethanes, etc).  I went with a polyurethane topcoat and have not been happier.  Waxes are a popular choices for chalk painters; however, they are not durable and often require re-application.  Also, some newer formulated chalk or milk paints have a built-in top coat in the paint. However, if you have a young family or just want to enjoy your furniture without worrying about scratches, then polyurethanes are a great option. 

      I learned the hard way (meaning, I had to re-paint)  that it's a must to select a water-based and non-yellowing polyurethane. I used Varthane's Premium Diamond Wood Finish- Water Based and it created a very durable surface. Since then, Rustoleum has come out with a more Matte version, which I love for it's true matte look. 




      Marla LubinskyComment