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Guide to Prepping Furniture for Paint

Materials Needed

· Degreaser cleaner like Krud Kutter or TSP solution

· Lint free cleaning rags

· Brillo pad or scouring pads

· Toothbrush

· Spray bottle with water

· Screw driver and plastic bag for hardware

· Gloves and protective gear like mask and goggles

· Goo gone or mineral spirits (for stubborn gum, tar or other sticky residues)

· Electric Sander and various sanding pads

· Tack cloths

· A GOOD bonding and blocking primer

· Foam rollers and brushes

· Small paint pan, liner and paint roller handle

· Denatured alcohol for clean up of shellac primer

· Paint can opener

· Stir sticks

· Disposable paper plates

· Putty Knife

· Drop cloths

So, you’re wanting to venture into furniture painting but not sure where to begin? Here is a short guide on prepping your furniture piece to last a lifetime! Prep is the number ONE thing most people skimp on. Your final results and finish are dependent on one thing; how well it was prepped!

Begin by assessing your piece. Does it have imperfections like deep scratches you can feel when you run your hand over it? Missing veneer, chipping wood, missing moldings, stuck drawers/cabinets, old paint/stain or a funky smell? These are also all things to look for when purchasing your project piece! If you said yes to all of the above, don’t fret! These things can all be fixed.

Don’t forget to take your BEFORE photo!

I like to start with removing all the hardware and any other pieces that will make painting a little easier. Does your dresser or buffet have a back decorative piece that is screwed on? Remove it for easy cleaning and painting. Keep your hardware and screws in a ziplock bag and label it even if you don’t plan to use them (sometimes those screws come in handy!) I typically prep my pieces with drawers and cabinets on, however, for cleaning you will to really see inside your piece without the drawers in (because there are always dead bugs in them!) The last thing you want is to help your client load a piece and find you need to remove the drawers for easy loading and they see dead bugs! Vacuum out any loose dirt/debris (or bugs!) and wipe clean with damp cloth.

Click above for link to Krud Kutter

Next, take your degreaser (I like krud kutter) and follow the directions on the bottle. Some solutions need to be diluted with water and some require a good rinsing. Krud Kutter degreaser can be used directly from the spray bottle. I spray a section at a time and with gloves on (and sometimes eye protection if I’m working outside) I wipe the krud kutter off. You will be surprised by the years of grime and grease you didn’t see before you cleaned your piece! Continue this process of the entire piece, sometimes grabbing a new rag because once your rag becomes so dirty, you will just be moving dirt and grime around. For tough dirt/stains, use a scouring pad and for crevices and detailed areas, use a toothbrush. Clean the insides of your drawers/cabinets even if you don’t plan to paint.

I ALWAYS rinse away the chemicals used for cleaning even if the bottle doesn’t say to. You do NOT want any residue left on your piece that may prevent your paint from sticking. I take a spray bottle filled with water and spray my piece and wipe clean. If my rag appears dirty when wiping with water, then it needs more chemical cleaning. Your rag should stay fairly clean when rinsing your piece with water. Don't saturate your rag in a bucket of water and clean wood pieces as the wood will absorb all that water and you will have to wait longer for it to dry before you can paint.

Click above for link to Minwax High Performance Wood filler and JB Wood KwikWood

Now you’ll want to work on repairs! My biggest challenge is figuring out if I want to fill the existing hardware holes (because I never know what hardware I will use until I’m nearly finished with my piece) So do take that into consideration. My go to is Minwax High Performance wood filler. It is a 2-part system consisting of wood putty and an activator. It comes with a small white tube which is the activator. You mix a ratio of 1:16. Just be sure to mix in SMALL portions as this stuff hardens fast. Mix onto a disposable plate or bowl with a popsicle stick. Apply with putty knife and be sure to clean off your putty knife before it hardens on there forever. This stuff is amazing because it hardens in 20 minutes and can be sanded (because who wants to wait 2-6 hours for traditional wood filler to dry before it can be sanded). It is a little tough to sand so try and apply in thin coats. If you glob it on, its just more sanding you’ll have to do to get it smooth. I use this on missing veneer and even areas missing wood (I had a huge portion of a leg missing on a buffet that I used this on and you would have never known!) but this stuff STINKS! Another great product is JB Weld which is also a 2 part epoxy system (it stinks!). You combine a 1:1 ratio of this playdoh like putty and mold with fingers until you get a uniform color (one part is brown and the other is white). Then apply to say a missing corner and shape it. Let it dry and apply a second layer if need be. You can then sand it smooth. Keep it mind these products will say they are paint and stainable, but ALL wood fillers will take stain differently than your wood. I won’t get into too much detail on removing veneer (definition: a thin piece of wood that it attached to particle board or other manufactured wood). They are used to lessen the cost of the project without sacrificing the overall appearance. If your piece has some serious missing areas of veneer or damaged veneer, its best to remove it and sand the surface under it. I remove veneer with a heat gun and chisel. If you can glue down veneer that is lifting, I like to use TiteBond QuickNThick wood glue and clamp it until dry (about an hour). Repairs are super important as paint does NOT cover scratched and imperfections. in fact, it sometimes highlights them. Also, if you have drawers that don’t open and close smoothly, find out the source of the problem. Sometimes sanding down the drawer sides or using a wood salve is all they need to work properly again. Sometimes they need new tracks. My husband is now my repair man as I save my energy for creating beauty so seek the help of a family member to save your sanity! Okay now allow your piece to thoroughly dry overnight before our next step…

Link above for TiteBond Quick and Thick Wood Glue

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t go over sanding prior to cleaning. I always clean my pieces prior to sanding for 2 reasons: I remove all the grease and grim so my sandpaper doesn’t gum up with grease and grime and so I can better assess what exactly needs to be sanded while I’m cleaning the piece (you can easily mistake a scratch for a glob of debris).

So, sanding… everyone HATES sanding, right? It's a necessary evil in most cases! If you have a piece that has a factory finish and in good shape you can sure skip sanding, BUT you will want to be sure and prime as factory finishes usually have a slick surface to them.

I use my surfprep sander and I LOVE it (it comes with a hefty $500 price tag too!) If you’re just starting out, there is no shame in an inexpensive orbital or mouse sander from your local hardware store (I like the dewalt DWE6423K orbital sander). I could spend all day talking about sanding, but I won’t. Basically, you’ll want various grit sanding papers, starting at 80 and going up to 320. The lower the number or “grit”, the more surface it will remove. The higher the number the less it will remove and will smooth the surface. If I want to cut down to the raw wood, I would start with 80 and go over entire surface, not over working and then move on to 150, 220 and finally 320 for a smooth, buttery finish! If you have some surface scratches you want to remove, start somewhere in the middle around 150 and sand smooth. I like to run my hand along as im sanding to feel for areas that need more attention. Once I’m finished, I wipe excess sanding dust with a cloth and then use a tack cloth (grab a glove for this one) and get all the fine sand the first cloth missed. This is another reason why I love my surfprep- did I mention its SANDLESS sanding?! It hooks right to a shopvac and cuts down the airborne sanding dust by about 95%! It has also foam pads for easy sanding around corners and round edges/legs without loosing those details.

Surf Prep Sander link above

Whew.. you haven’t given up on the idea of painting yet, have you?! I promise we’re getting to the fun part. Next is PRIMING.

Now some paint companies claim.. “No prep, no sanding, just paint!” Yes, you sure can do that BUT your finish will likely not look professional nor hold up for very long. If you are painting for fun and for yourself, you can skip priming but if you want a lasting, professional looking piece of furniture, you need to prime it. You wouldn’t put your foundation on without first washing, moisturizing and using a primer for your face, right? Your foundation most definitely wouldn’t last all day. There is a lot of options out there for primers. I have found through trial and error what works for me and what gives me long lasting finishes for my clients. Ready for it? Its SHELLAC based primers. You will find OIL, WATER and SHELLAC based primers at your local hardware store. READ YOUR LABELS. Here is a great article that dives into the difference between oil, shellac and water based primers.,that%20are%20easier%20to%20adhere.

I like shellac for so many reasons and use Zinsser BIN shellac primer by Rust oleum. Shellac dries very hard and is SUPER durable (you can’t scratch this stuff off once its dried). It also works as an excellent stain and odor blocker. So, if you have a wood surface that no longer has a protective finish (like a polyurethane or varnish), you will want to block the wood tannins with primer prior to painting. Wood is a living thing and it BLEEDS wood tannins. Even light woods bleed tannins but your red woods will definitely require primer. So, say you skip the primer and go straight to painting your wood piece a gorgeous shade of cream. The paint goes on well and dries beautifully and looks great.. then you go to seal your paint with a top coat such as polyacrylic and suddenly your beautiful cream color looks yellow. Why is that? Because the top coat soaks through the paint, into the wood and PULLS up wood tannins, causing the yellow. The top coat didn't do it, the wood underneath caused this. YOU HAVE TO BLOCK WOOD TANNINS PRIOR TO PAINT. Shellac primer provides the best stain and tannin blocking. It even blocks nicotine smells and stains associated with it. This buffet smelled like marijuana in only one of the cabinets. It took 3 coats of shellac, but the smell was GONE.

After 3 coats of primer on inside and OUT. Gold glitter spray paint used inside for a fun pop!

The thing about shellac is it IS MESSY to apply and it STINKS. Its also not soap and water clean up so be sure to lay out drop cloths and wear gloves. Its very THIN because its alcohol based. So, you have to STIR it really well (and don't shake the can). You’ll want to stir again if it sets too long between coats of primer. I have found the best way to apply is with foam rollers and foam brushes. Just be sure to apply quickly and in thin coats (it will drip If applied too thick and you have to be quick as this stuff dries super fast, so catch those drips before they dry). I don’t like to use those throw away chip brushes because it leaves brush marks that you will see through the paint. If you apply your first coat and allow to dry and see a color like red or yellow peaking through, that is the wood tannins. You’ll need a second coat. Sometimes you’ll even see areas that look blotchy. I have found that to be some sort of oil that soaked into the wood at some point. The shellac is trying to block that from coming through so DO give another coat to areas that look blotchy. Allow second coat to sit 24 hours before assessing if it needs a 3rd. TIME is what primer needs. The more time allowed for it to soak in, the better the blocking abilities are to it. My general rule of thumb is to wait 24 hours between prep (clean and repairs) sanding, priming and paint.

Another thing to consider before you prime is what color you are painting your piece. Shellac primer only comes in white. If you are painting a light color than you are good to go! But if you are painting a dark color, you don’t want to start with a white surface or you’ll need 3 coats of paint for coverage. You can tint shellac primer. Have your local hardware store tint it for you as they can adequately mix it for you. Have them add their darkest color so that the primer is grey. Grey primer is ideal when painting with yellow and greens. When you are finished, you can lightly sand out any imperfections with a 220 grit sandpaper. I actually do this between every coat of paint as well.

Okay now the fun begins right when this blog is over! Next time I will cover the basics of chalk painting and how to get a smooth finish.

Thanks for reading!

Sarah Osborn One of a Second Kind Designs

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