Painting Furniture: A Few Tips

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I have done a ton of furniture painting lately.  And I’ve done it all — latex, oil, spray — you name it, I’ve done it.  So, I thought it may be helpful to put together and pass on a few tidbits of information that I’ve learned along the way. Let me first state for the record that no painting job will ever go perfectly.  So don’t get down on yourself if you make some mistakes along the way.  Almost anything is fixable.  And for the rest, no one will ever notice but you. Promise.

So, without further adieu, some tips:

Tip #1: When using latex paint (on furniture and mouldings) it would be wise to use Floetrol.

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I love this stuff for just about any paint job (except walls, not really much need to thin paint that goes on walls). So much in fact that I dedicated an entire post to just this product.  You can read about this stuff in more depth here, but I’ll give a short explanation of what it does. When using latex paint, you just add some of this stuff to it and mix before you paint.  It thins the paint and makes it so much easier to brush or roll, and it makes it so that brush or roller marks are so much less noticeable.  The only thing is that since it thins the paint a bit you may have to do one to two more coats than normal depending on what you are covering.  But so worth the end result!  Don’t have any Floetrol handy?  Use water!  If you do this be careful because it thins the paint a little more (just use a little at a time until you get your desired consistency), but it will give you similar results.

Tip #2: When using oil-based paint, use Penetrol.

This goes right in line with Tip #1.  Penetrol is Floetrol’s equivalent for oil-based paint.  But in my experience the use is just a little different.  You can mix it in with the paint just like with Floetrol and latex paint, but the most handy use in my opinion is that if you make a little mistake while brushing on the paint, just dip your brush in a little bit of the Penetrol and run the brush over your mistake area.  Viola!  Gone!

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Tip #3: When using oil-based paint resist the urge to brush and brush over the same spot trying to “fix” an imperfection.

Oil-based paint can be a little tricky, but when it’s applied correctly it has the perfect glossy finish.  I love oil-based paint on furniture, it gives a piece that lacquered, enameled look (just see the smooth slick surfaces on the nightstands below).  So pretty.  But unless you are fixing a small mistake with a little Penetrol on your brush (see Tip #2), then don’t try to fix it!  Finish the job, let whatever it is you are painting dry completely (sometimes it may even take more than 24 hours), and after it’s dry sand away the imperfection and try again.  In fact, since oil-based paint is self-leveling, the imperfection may even be gone by the time it dries.

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Even though oil-based paint can be tougher to work with than latex in some ways, it is so much more forgiving than latex paint is in others. Latex paint dries SUPER fast, so if you do make mistakes, that’s it.  Oil-based paint dries painfully slow, but that means it is easier to do the little Penetrol trick I mentioned above to fix small mistakes.  The fast vs. slow drying properties of these different types of paint are also attributable to the type of finish you get in the end.  Since it dries so slow, oil-based paint will give you a smooth, glass-like surface because the paint levels itself out over the drying time.  With latex paint you have to work fast.

Tip #4: When painting over furniture with latex paint (and sometimes even oil-based paint), oil-based primer is your friend.

More often than not a furniture piece you are going to paint over will either be wood, or it will have a smooth, varnished finish.  The use of oil-based primer in these instances decreases any bleed through (if you are painting over wood) or any bubbling or chipping off (if the piece has a smooth, slick surface).  To make this even easier, you can now get oil-based primer in a spray can.  Easy peasy.  This is a step you won’t regret in the end.

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This is exactly what I did on the dresser below.  (And then I also used Floetrol in the paint to eliminate most of the brush marks).

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And I did the same on a set of large bookcases recently.

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Tip #5: By all means use spray paint when you can, but use it with caution on furniture pieces.

Spray paint is awesome because it makes a painting job so quick.  It dries so fast that you can get 3-4 thin coats on a piece in no time flat for a flawless finish.  BUT — If whatever you are painting has larger flat surfaces or parts to it, beware.  Depending on the type of finish of the paint you pick, the gloss that is mixed in with the paint may not come out and distribute itself evenly.  When this happens you’ll get some splotches of paint with the clear coat top and some splotches with no clear coat on the paint at all.  This does not look good no matter how you slice it.  And when it happens it is SO disappointing.  Moral of the story: watch out for bigger flat surfaces when spray painting. All that being said, spray paint is great for smaller pieces.  For instance, I spray painted these old lamps with black glossy spray paint and they came out great.

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So there you have it.  I know there are a lot of people out there who know a lot more about painting than me, but these are just a few things I’ve picked up along the way in my painting adventures.  I hope they help!

Do any of you have any other little gems you’d like to share about painting?  Do tell!

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