Maybe you’ve inherited a vintage or antique desk that needs a little love, or brought home a secondhand dresser with good bones. You just know a new coat of paint would give your scuffed or outdated piece a fresh chapter, even if it feels a bit overwhelming to immerse yourself in a makeover. In order to fully enjoy this item as an eye-catching and functional piece of furniture, you should push against those feelings and go for it. After all, reasons can only take you so far in this line of work — at some point you have to take action.
And it all begins with the items you need to get painting. Below, professional furniture flippers break down the must-have tools they can’t work without, and shared valuable advice on how to shop for materials. Yes, the prep work will take time and elbow grease, and no, you shouldn’t skip any steps. Follow along to learn about the seven things you need to paint your furniture for pro-level results.
Step one in this process: You need to thoroughly clean your furniture find! There are plenty of commercially available oils, soaps, and polishes, but Kasey Pitstick, who calls herself “The Furniture Redeemer,” prefers to formulate her own 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. “You don’t want to be sanding the dirt down into your wood,” she says. “This mix takes off years of dirt and grime.”
Pitstick says that sanding furniture can take at least a day. To make the process of removing layers of paint and varnish easier, she usually employs two different types of sanders. A random orbit sander is best for flat surfaces like wood, metal, and plastic. Foam-backed sanding sponges are necessary for stripping down ornate details and crevices. If you plan to sand a high volume of pieces, dust extractors and shop vacuums are worthwhile because they’ll protect the workspace (and your lungs) from excess dust.
To restore cracked surfaces or fill small holes in wood, use compound fillers after a piece has been completely sanded. Fillers have a putty-like texture and are made of epoxy, clay, or polyurethane. You can lightly sand down the filler once it’s dried to ensure that the surface is level.
Primers act as sealants for porous surfaces that could otherwise absorb a first coat of paint, and improve adhesion, so your new paint job lasts longer. And most importantly, primers also block future water, grease, or smoke stains from leaving a lasting mark.
While there are paint brands that advertise when no primer is needed, Pitstick urges novice flippers not to skip this crucial step. “Prep work is key because that’s laying the foundation for your finish,” she says. Primer can take up to 24 hours to dry, but the wait is worth it. Once it’s ready, you’ll most likely end up with a sleek, uniform finish.
Professional flippers tend to use this word often: quality. “Quality brushes are so important, as they can make or break a finish,” says Anne Michelle of Amini Designs Ashburn. “Natural bristle brushes are great when I’m looking for a textured finish, and synthetic brushes for when I’m blending pieces or looking for a smooth, satin-like finish — these typically don’t leave any brushstrokes.” Michelle also recommends a paint sprayer if you want your piece to look ‘next level.’ “It produces a factory-like finish with zero texture (as long as I’ve done my prep correctly),” she says. One more thing: If you do use a paint sprayer, then you should also invest in a respirator for safety.
Chalky finish paint is water-based and can be easily distressed for an antique look. Latex paint is durable. Oil-based paint is great on wood. Paint types abound, but flippers agree that you don’t have to buy the priciest paint on the market — you just have to buy the right one for your project. (You’ll be hard-pressed to authentically distress latex paint, for instance.)
Keep in mind, too, that home improvement stores sell cans at a discount if the color mix doesn’t look “right” or customers change their minds about a paint purchase. “Don’t break the bank buying expensive paint in the beginning,” explains Rhonda McDonald of MacWorks Furniture Painting. “Check out the local hardware stores for their ‘oops’ paint that can be $10 or less per gallon.”
A polyurethane-based topcoat is best to protect paint colors. Let it dry, and then set about finding the perfect spot in your home for your freshly-painted piece.