Not sure if you should sand first before painting that table? Could you skip the sanding? Maybe just degloss instead? Or maybe prime? This guide to prepping furniture to paint should answer all those questions and more…
I will be the first to say that not every piece of furniture I’ve ever painted has turned out so well. There have been pieces where the paint just peeled off, where the old finish bled through or where the paint color decision wasn’t exactly my best.
That kind of stuff happens. I don’t have a PhD in furniture painting, but I have learned from my mistakes. With the exception of the poor paint color decisions, the root of the problem often stemmed from not prepping the furniture properly before painting it.
While there are some pieces where you can just slap the paint right on there without doing diddly squat, there are some pieces that require a bit more prep work. So, here are my tips on prepping furniture for painting – when you should sand it, when you should degloss it, and when you should prime it.
Prepping Furniture: When to Sand, When to Degloss and When to Prime
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Do you have to sand before painting?
I know. Sanding furniture can be a pain in the butt and messy. There are times you can skip it, but sometimes not so much.
If the finish of the piece you are painting is damaged or chipping in any way, then always sand first. If you try to paint over that, then your new paint job will start chipping off almost as soon as you paint it on there.
If the piece you are painting has any rough spots, like let’s say you’re painting new wood, then you need to sand those spots smooth before painting as well.
Sanding Furniture to Paint
What to Sand With
I generally use a power sander with medium grit sandpaper (like a 120 grit) on it when I sand furniture. You can also use just regular medium grit sandpaper without a power sander as well, it will just take you a good bit longer. I have a tutorial here about using power sanders if you need it.
After sanding furniture, I usually give it a go-over with my Shop Vac and then follow-up with a tack cloth. If there isn’t that much dust, then I just use a tack cloth. Either way – don’t skip the tack cloth! It keeps you from having dirt and dust bumps in your finish.
Got holes, gouges, dents or dings?
If you’ve got any holes, gouges, dents or dings in the piece you are painting and want to smooth those out, then this is the time to do it. Fill them with wood filler and then sand smooth.
How to Paint Furniture Without Sanding or Priming
When You Can Just Degloss Furniture
There are times when you can skip sanding furniture. However, before painting it, you might need to degloss it.
If the piece you are painting has any sort of finish on it that is shiny, slick, glossy, semi-glossy, even satin, then you need to degloss it before painting it.
What is deglosser?
Exactly what it says it is. 🙂 It’s a liquid that removes the glossy finish from painted or stained surfaces.
Deglosser vs. Sanding
Now, if you already sanded it, you probably already removed that shine, so don’t worry about de-glossing it. You should always sand the piece if you have uneven surfaces as well. A paint deglosser can be used when the piece is in good condition and you only need to remove that shiny finish.
How to Degloss Paint
My go-to deglosser is Ready.
You just spray it all over your piece of furniture, let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe it clean with a cloth or paper towels. Ready will remove the shine from the finish. If you have something that has a really thick shiny topcoat, it make take a few rounds of Ready. I’ve also used Klean-Strip Sander Deglosser and it worked well too, the application is just a little messier.
When You Should Prime Furniture
A lot of times, if you had to sand your piece of furniture or degloss it, you usually won’t need a primer. There are two cases though where I always tend to use a primer before applying my actual paint:
1. When I’m painting something a much lighter color than what it already is.
Let’s say I’m painting something white that started out black. I can just go on and paint tons of coats of white on it until I get all the black covered, or I could start with a coat of primer to reduce the overall number of coats of the white paint. Make sense?
2. When I’m painting over a stain or wood with red undertones.
Some stains and woods such as mahogany, have lots of red undertones. I’ve found that these red undertones can easily bleed through your paint finish – especially if you are painting the piece a lighter color rather than a darker color. I suggest a minimum of one coat of primer to keep those red colors from bleeding through.
Of course, if you have other stains on your furniture that you are afraid may bleed through, go ahead and give those spots at least a coat of primer. Primer is also good if you have a musty or stinky piece of furniture. It helps to kill those smells.
Also, if you’re painting raw wood that’s never been painted or stained before, giving it a coat of primer before painting it helps to reduce your number of coats of paint. Otherwise, the wood will soak up a lot of your paint color.
Best Primer for Furniture
You can find different primers at your local home improvement store. I generally use Kilz primer or Zinnser primer. You’ll apply just as you would your paint – with a roller and brush or you can use it in a paint sprayer. I’ve got a tutorial here for using a paint sprayer when priming and painting furniture if you need it.
When You Can Skip Sanding, Deglossing and Priming
There will be times that you can skip all these things. If the finish on your furniture isn’t damaged or chipping, it’s flat not shiny and you aren’t painting it a drastically different color, then you may be able to just go ahead and start painting. Before painting though, do make sure the piece is clean. You can wipe it down with a wet cloth to do this. Follow up with a tack cloth to pick up any bits of dust or dirt your cloth might have missed. If you are skipping sanding, deglossing and priming, then I do suggest using a paint that already has a built-in primer such as Velvet Finishes, Behr Marquee, or Behr Premium Plus just for good measure. There are also other paints out there that have this (I think chalk based paints have it), but I’m not very familiar with those.
Do you have any tips for prepping furniture or to make it easier?
Perfecting your furniture painting skills? You might want to see these too then…
What kind of paint do I use on that? – The ultimate guide to all types of paints and what kind of furniture to use them on.
Furniture Painting 101: Topcoats and When to Use Them – ever wondered if you should use a topcoat on painted pieces and if so, what kind? Here’s your answer…
Best Paint for Cabinets – All the paints I’ve used on cabinetry and what I think is the best.
FAQ: Painting Furniture – All the FAQ I get about painting in one place.
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