How to Paint Furniture Like a Pro

Whether updating an heirloom or decorating on a budget with vintage finds, painted furniture is one of today’s most popular DIY projects. Paint can completely transform old furniture by covering worn, outdated finishes. Follow our step-by-step guide, and soon you’ll be painting every piece of furniture like a professional! Plus, our pro tips at the end of the article will help you choose the best paint for your furniture project. Read on to learn how to get a smooth, durable finish on your wood furniture!

How to Paint Furniture in 9 Steps

The key to a professional paint job begins with careful prep work. Plan for a coat of primer and 2-3 coats of paint with drying time in between coats. Create a painting area in a clean, dust-free room where the furniture won’t be disturbed, such as a garage or spare room. Set your furniture on a plastic-covered table so you can reach every angle and avoid missing spots. A table is also a big help when painting cabinet doors and drawers from large furniture pieces. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Clean and repair

Don’t skip this step! If your furniture has a build-up of old furniture polish or grime, wash it down with a clean cloth and a degreaser like TSP. Then sponge it off with clean water and let it dry overnight.

With a screwdriver or power drill, remove any drawers or cabinet doors and lay them flat on your work table. Remove the hinges and knobs and label where they came from. Use wood filler or paintable caulk to repair any cracks, joints, or nail holes. If you’re replacing the hardware and won’t reuse the existing holes, fill the holes with wood filler. Let the repairs dry and then sand until you have smooth, flat surfaces.

Step 2: Use sandpaper and tack cloth

Sandpaper removes the surface shine to help the primer coat adhere. This is especially important for furniture that has varnish, shellac, or laminate. Using the 180-grit sandpaper, sand all surfaces thoroughly. Use the sanding sponge for any molding or trim. Wipe away the sanding dust with a slightly damp cloth, then wipe again with the tack cloth.

Step 3: Apply a coat of primer

You can create an even finish without a professional sprayer by carefully using a small (we recommend 4”) high density foam roller and a paint brush with angled bristles. You’ll need this combination of tools for both the primer and the paint. Use the roller as much as possible, especially on flat areas and cabinet frames. Then fill in rounded spindles, ornate molding, and hard-to-reach crevices with the angled brush.

If you’ve had problems with chipping paint in the past, the problem may have been the primer! Be sure to buy a high quality primer for long-lasting results. Our go-to primer for painting furniture is Benjamin Moore’s INSL-X STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer. It’s a premium-quality, acrylic-urethane primer-sealer that adheres to almost every surface.

If you need a little practice, start with the backs of cabinet doors and interior areas. Always work from the center outwards; roll the middle of any door panels and finish off edges with the brush. When you change the side of the furniture you’re painting, double check the edges/corners for drips or brush marks. Be patient and let the primer dry according to the instructions.

Step 4: Sand again after priming

This is your final opportunity to fix any dents or gaps. Surface imperfections will be highlighted by the paint’s shine, so you want a surface that’s as smooth as possible. Let any repairs dry and sand everything again with 300-400 grit sandpaper. Use a sanding block to get into grooves and corners and remove any primer drips. After sanding, wipe off the piece with a damp rag and go over it again with the tack cloth. Careful sanding pays dividends with better adhesion and a smoother surface!

Step 5: Apply the first coat of paint

Finally, you’re ready to paint! Just as you did with the primer, use both the foam roller and the angled brush to apply the coat of paint. For ornate or round legs, use the side of the brush to pat the paint on, then gently smooth it with the tip of the brush. It may be tempting to apply a thick layer of paint — you actually need a thorough, but not thick coat. You’ll have fewer drips, better paint leveling, and more complete drying with a thinner coat.

Table painted with Benjamin Moore ADVANCE Semi-Gloss in Sailor's DelightTable painted with Benjamin Moore ADVANCE Semi-Gloss in Sailor's Delight

Let everything dry thoroughly. Be sure to check your paint’s label for the recommended drying time before recoating. This may take several hours depending on the temperature and humidity.

Step 6: Spot-sand after the first coat

Spot-sanding after each coat of paint erases brush strokes, drips, or roller marks to give you the smoothest possible finish. Sand lightly with the 300-400 grit sandpaper. Wipe all surfaces with a damp rag to remove dust, and follow up with the tack cloth to prepare for the final coat.

Step 7: Apply the final coat of paint

Even though your furniture piece may look great after one coat, a second coat of paint is very important. It provides complete coverage and builds the necessary paint thickness to create a protective coating. Use the brush and roller to apply the final coat of paint.

Table painted with Benjamin Moore ADVANCE Paint in Windmill WingsTable painted with Benjamin Moore ADVANCE Paint in Windmill Wings

Step 8: Let the paint dry thoroughly

Check your paint’s drying time and let the furniture piece sit for the required time – 24 hours is even better. While paint may feel dry to the touch, it still needs the full drying time to develop a durable finish.

Step 9: Reassemble your furniture

Once the paint is dry you can carefully reassemble your furniture piece by replacing the drawers and hardware. If you need to drill new holes, use a template made out of cardboard to help mark the right locations. Once your furniture is re-assembled, carefully move it into place and enjoy!

Remember most paint takes a few weeks to fully cure; handle all pieces gently for the first 3-4 weeks. After that, your newly painted furniture will be durable enough to withstand daily living.

Dresser painted yellow

The Best Paint & Primer for Furniture

You’re taking the time to paint your furniture the right way — you also want to choose the best paint products for your project. Most homeowners today choose either latex or alkyd paint because improved formulas create a lasting finish previously only attainable with oil paint.

Quality paint products from manufacturers like Benjamin Moore include water-soluble, low VOC paints that are easy to use, very durable, and safe in your home. Benjamin Moore’s ADVANCE products are available in more than 3,500 Benjamin Moore colors and three paint sheens.

Choose a Paint Sheen with Gloss for Furniture

A paint’s sheen or finish is the amount of light that reflects off the surface to create shine. Typically, the glossier a finish is, the easier to wipe down, so a Satin or Semi-Gloss paint is best for furniture. In general, we recommend avoiding matte finishes because they can show scuff marks and make painted surfaces harder to clean.

For more information about choosing the right paint for your furniture project, be sure to check out our article, What is the Best Paint for Furniture? Once you’ve chosen your paint color and sheen, it’s time to gather your supplies and start your furniture makeover!

Ring’s End carries Benjamin Moore ADVANCE paints in-store and online, conveniently shipping anywhere in the U.S. We’re here to help, so we gathered the supplies you’ll need in this convenient Furniture Painting kit. Our paint professionals are ready and waiting to answer any questions you have about your paint project. Chat with us online, or text us at (203) PRO-HELP.

Furniture Paint FAQs

Do you have to sand when you paint wood furniture?

Do I have to prime furniture before painting it?

What is the best paint for furniture without sanding?

Is acrylic or latex paint better for wood furniture?

How do you paint furniture with a glossy finish?

Can furniture paint be sprayed?