Wooden furniture can look very attractive when painted, but it's hard to get a good finish with a brush and paint bucket. ("Finish" in this usage means "how smooth and attractive the paint looks when it dries.) It's a tedious job that I seem to get roped into now and then, so here's what I've learned over the years. The process is similar to staining unfinished furniture and refinishing an old door, but some of the rules are different.

You will need:


Paint needs a dry, porous surface to stick to. If the piece of furniture in question has already been varnished, you should probably remove at least some of it. Stripping all the varnish off with toxic chemicals will give you the smoothest finish. If you're lazy, afraid of toxic chemicals, or want a rustic finish, just sand the varnish a little before you start painting.

You can buy furniture refinisher at any typical hardware store. It breaks down the varnish into a gummy substance that can be removed with a paint scraper. Follow the directions, wear gloves and a mask, and be in a well-ventilated area.

Furniture that has been stained will be slightly less porous than unfinished furniture, so give it a quick sanding-down.

Dirt and dust will also prevent the paint from adhering properly and will ruin the finish, so wipe everything carefully with a damp rag.


  1. Start out with your ordinary paintbrush and paint all the cracks. This step is not essential, but it will save you lots of time. By "cracks" I mean all the spots that tend to be a bitch to maneuver around: hard-to-reach bits, corners, joints, spaces between wooden slats-- anything that you would normally have to touch up at the end of the project. This is the most tedious part.
  2. Now grab your sponge brush and dab the paint on. Don't use a side-to-side motion; it'll look streaky and ruin the brush. It takes longer to do it this way, but the paint goes on much more evenly and leaves a nice rough surface for your second coat to stick to.

    If you're feeling lazy, do small portions at a time with your ordinary brush in the side-to-side stroke, then go back over it with the sponge while the paint is still wet. The paint's already there, you're just giving it that nice stippled look in half the time.

    The first coat should be thin. If you've ever tried to paint your nails, you've probably noticed what paint does when you put on thick globs all at once: it takes forever to dry and chips like crazy.

  3. Let the paint dry completely. For a smoother finish, do a second coat with the bristled paintbrush (and no, you don't have to dab it on this time).
  4. Let it dry. You are now the proud owner of a nicely painted piece of furniture in the color of your choice!

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