barb blairbefore & after basicsbefore and afterpaint

before and after basics: painting furniture

by Barb

hello friends, and welcome back to before & after basics! i’m so excited to discuss how to paint furniture today, which most of you know is very near and dear to my heart. i love it, love it, love it and am always dreaming up new designs and plans in the studio. transformation is a beautiful thing- not only when dealing with furniture, but also when carried out in every day life. so, let’s start painting!

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

here is a list of my favorite tools and necessities:

* soft angled brushes 2-2 1/2″ wide {favorite brands are purdy & sherwin williams}

* small foam roller

* painters tape

* paint/ paint tray

*drop cloth

* craft knife

* orbital sander 120 grit disc

* sanding blocks in fine and medium

* stain

* wood glue

* lint free rags

when painting a piece of furniture, the most important part is the prep work done beforehand… the furniture is your canvas, and it needs to be clean and smooth.

1. remove all hardware and fill any holes that you will not be using once the piece is completed. re drill any new holes you will need for the new hardware. this is also a great time to address any scrapes and scratches that may need to be filled, as well as any loose joints.

2. sand all of your filled areas and apply more filler where needed. this is where it is really important to sand in between coats and keep wood filler thin so that your holes are completely seamless when painted.

3. lightly sand the entire piece with your orbital sander and a 120 grit disc, being careful not to eat into the finish as this will show through your paint……and is not a happy occurrence!

4. vacuum the entire piece inside and out and then wipe down with a clean damp cloth. make sure that your piece is completely clean, dry, and dust free.

5. tape off all areas that you do not want to get paint on. normally i tape off the sides of all of the drawers so that when you open the drawers you see a nice clean line. i also tape off the inside of the piece to keep all runners and such free of messy paint. in order to look professional you want nice , clean straight lines …….everywhere!

6. now is the part that is completely a preference for me: priming! on the pieces that i distress and am creating a look of perfect imperfection i do not prime {gasp!} …because i really feel like it takes away from the end result….BUT, if you are going for a solid look with really clean lines i would suggest a primer. also, if the piece is a knotted wood or has any type of inconsistency, for best results go ahead and prime.

7. pour your choice of paint in the tray and get your roller and paintbrush all nice and full of paint. use your brush to cut in all areas of the piece that the roller cannot reach and then grab your foam roller and roll your piece. you want to work on one section at a time to make sure that it is all smooth, and make sure that you do not force the roller…it will leave unwanted lines and cause frustration. just roll nice and easy. also make sure that you check all of your edges when rolling to make sure you don’t have extra paint overlapping the edge which is also an unwanted end result! it’s all about being smooth my friends …..

8. apply 2-3 light coats this way, and then let dry overnight. one tip i have when painting a piece, is to paint the back of the piece as well…..it really finishes off the piece nicely.

9. sand your piece with either a sanding block for a lighter distressed look, or go all out and use your orbital sander for a heavy distress. just be careful that you work really fast with the orbital sander to avoid round sanding pad marks on your furniture. these are a sure sign of over indulgence:) the goal is to make it look like the distressing happened over time with lots of love and use.

10. after you have the piece sanded the way you like, apply your finish. i use three different finishes: stain, wax, and poly. on most pieces i use at least two of the finishes listed here for a nice natural layered look, but my favorite finish over paint is stain. apply the stain with a brush making sure all areas are covered, then wipe off excess with a clean lint free rag leaving the stain in areas that it would naturally rest. drying time is at least 48 hrs or until stain is no longer “tacky”

11. now comes one of my favorite parts! details, details, details! line the drawers with paper , and add some beautiful new hardware.

and there you have it…..a brand new piece of character for your home! enjoy!

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  • Great tutorial, but there’s one sub-step you missed (or maybe I’m the only one that needs help with it…): How do you fill wood? What’s wood filler? Help!

  • What type of paint do you use? Are there different steps for staining rather than painting furniture? Can’t wait to get started on my first project!

  • I’m actually really disappointed with this tutorial. I, too, need to know more about wood filler and when to use it. A disscussion of what makes a piece suitable to paint would be helpful (laminate, veneer????) Also, there was no explanation of the finishes and when i would use which one and which combos. This feels like a tutorial for people who already know what they’re doing, not for the girl who wants to get started.

  • wonderful tutorial! thank you so very much for sharing your talent and “secrets”!

    any go-to sources for paper to line the drawers without investing in an entire roll of wallpaper? (especially longer drawers where decorative paper is too short.)

    so excited to have you as a regular on d*sponge!

  • I want mine to look like yours. And I LOVE that moose head or whatever that you have mounted on the wall. Would love to see more pictures that show it in brighter light. Did you use flat paint or one with a finish? Also, is the stain clear? Is it oil or water based? Thanks!

  • I would be interested in learning your thoughts on acrylic paint vs. oil paint. I love the look of the oil paint finish. Any way to accomplish that with an acrylic?


  • Thank you for this! I have searched high and low in the internet for good painting tutorials, and though I found some ok ones and went ahead with my first painted piece, this is far superior and answered some of my burning questions!
    I wondered if I should have used primer… and I did. Now I’m sorry. Oh well.
    Can you explain how you do the drawer liners? I’m not sure what the best thing is to use for adhesive.

  • Agreed! Can just any piece be painted? How do you know when it can’t? I know nothing about finishes to even know if you use them every time. I know it’s probably to spread this out over a couple posts, but I coudln’t really tackle a project knowing what i was doing with this post alone…more to come?

  • Thanks for this! I have a dresser that I have paint plans for, I’ve been stalling out of fear of screwing up. Before I take the plunge, a couple of questions: When I sand it before painting, it’s just to rough it up for paint adherence, right? Also, I like the sound of applying stain after paint, but I don’t actually get it…just normal wood stain? Any shades better than others?

  • Thanks for the tips! I have read that it is good to use spray paint because it is less likely to show lines. What do you think?

  • do you have any tips on how to keep the drawers from sticking? after i repainted a dresser, the drawers became almost impossible to open and close.

  • Great tutorial! Thanks so much for posting this, I think I might try some of those paint projects now that I’ve been too afraid to try in the past.

  • That is such a great tutorial….I am loving the finished piece and you did so well with it…Thanks darling :)


  • Um,yeah, what Rhea said: can we get a source for the animal head, or, better yet, a how-to?

    I would LOVE to make one of these!

  • I have been waiting for this exact post but I still have so many questions…Mostly, what type of paint to use? Latex, oil? Flat, satin, glossy?

  • Thanks so much! Will you write a book please? Example pieces with all the fixins it took to get the finished look? You could put little anecdotes about screw ups and history of some of the pieces for interest. I’d buy it.

  • Thanks. But yes, please do tell us a little more about your “stains” of choice!!!

  • Totally confused why the actual “painting” would be combined into one confusing step (7). Huh? “grab your foam roller and roll your piece.” Does the foam roller have paint on it? Plus, the info about finishing the piece appears to need finishing. More details please!!!!!!

  • hello friends! here goes…

    kristan: wood filler can be found at any hardware store and i buy the brand that comes in a squeeze tube. i just find it easier for the project that i do. all you do is apply the wood filler to any deep scratches or holes that you need filled by squeezing a generous amount onto the area. then take a putty knife and graze over the surface until it is thin and smooth. make sure most of the wood filler is mainly on the area needing to be filled so that when you sand you are not having to sand through thick layers of unwanted filler. repeat this process until you feel like it is completely smooth and will still be smooth when painted over.

    hannah: i always use latex satin finish paint, and my favorite brands are behr and ralph lauren. as far as staining furniture rather than painting….that post is coming in a couple weeks!

    teri, a tinted primer that is tinted the same color as your paint would be ideal, and would still give you a great distressed look.

    emily, i’m so sorry that you are disappointed with the tutorial. the possibilities are endless when it comes to these kinds of projects….i could write a book! so, i just tried to cover what i felt was the most important. if you will go back and re read the post i do explain that there are several finishes that you can use but my favorite is stain over paint and then i very clearly state how to apply the stain. as far as what kind of furniture is best to paint….i always paint solid wood furniture, and wood veneer pieces that you can sand are great as well. particle board/laminate and paper veneer pieces are not ones i would consider painting.

    summer, i will spray paint every now and again, like a chair here or there but personally do not like spray paint a whole lot.

    karen, i will use decorative sheets of paper for small projects and use snow and graham alot. but other than that i order papers from ferm living, cole and sons, and designers guild. i will also hit up any kind of wallpaper stores that i see and buy lots and lots of inexpensive papers for lining drawers. i’m always on the lookout for good wallpaper.

    cecelia, thank you! i used a satin paint on this piece and the stain over top is special walnut by minwax. the paint is latex and the stain is oil.

    briana, when i line the drawers i use a ruler and a craft knife to get all of my edges straight and then i just use double sided mounting tape on all four corners to adhere it to the drawer.

    avery, no, not every piece can be painted. i personally will only paint solid wood or a wood veneer that can be sanded. also i posted steps to my favorite finish which you can go back and re read, other finishes can be done as well, but are a preference thing. you may like wax over your paint for it’s matte shine or you may like stain all over your paint with a little wax around the edges to add depth, etc. it is a layering process that you have to experiment with and come up with your own personal favorite. there is no one right way…..catch my drift? and there is definitely more to come! there is a post on staining in a couple weeks.

    rhea, ah yes…the moose! he was made for me by my friend mollie greene of royal buffet {http://www.etsy.com/shop/royalbuffet}

    sarah, yes the sanding is just to prepare the surface for painting, and to remove any inconsistencies . and stain over paint is just that…good old wood stain. any minwax stain will do and my favorite shade is special walnut.

    sasha, i’m not spray paint fan, and personally i feel it is harder , especially on flat surfaces. if not applied right it is spotty. you have to stop and start off the piece to avoid issues.

    eve, sometimes that can happen as the wood swells from the paint. it is best to keep all runners and edges free of paint, but if you still have sticking, buy a bees wax stick or use a glycerin bar of soap to coat all of the edges with. if you still have problems you may need to sand or adjust the drawers a bit.

    alexis, once the stain dries you can clean or dust with a slightly damp rag. never use any kind of chemical when cleaning painted furniture as it will damage your finish.

    elisabeth, paint sprayers are awesome, and do take a fraction of the time once you get your piece all taped off and ready to spray. i personally am not set up with a spray booth area , and prefer the hand finish for distressed pieces over the spray.

    banu, that post is coming! it will be all about taping off stripes and creating designs as well as stenciling!

  • so is it the sanding that gets rid of paintbrush strokes? i find that using brushes leaves unsightly strokes so i’ve taken to using spray paint. but this is a tedious process.

  • I would also like more details on the staining step- that’s a step I haven’t heard of before! I would imagine it adds a depth of color to the piece, but how do you go about picking out the stain color?

    Also, for the other posters, I have some tips to add-

    First, about priming- prime if you aren’t going to go for the shabby chic distressed look- it will always give you a smoother finish. If you are going to prime your piece, I would suggest using an oil primer (it blocks any stains and adheres really nicely) and then use latex paint to finish. Though you usually wouldn’t mix latex and oil, this combo works really well for a nice finish- but make sure you use oil PRIMER. If you use oil PAINT under latex paint, you’ll get bubbles.

    You can use any finish you want (flat, semigloss, highgloss, etc)- that decision is up to you based on aesthetics and washability needs. Like on a kid’s dresser, you might want to use glossy so you can wipe it down. Some people like glossy, I prefer flat, it’s up to you.

    Any piece can be painted, but if your piece is laminate, like your ikea furniture for instance, sand sand sand! You need a good rough surface to start with. You would also want to prime or else you risk your paint chipping.

    One final word of advice, I would recommend NOT spray painting furniture because the smell of the spray paint lasts for months and months. Ick. Spray paint works great for smallish projects, but I did a whole dresser once in spray paint and I had to get rid of it because the fumes make me sick, even a month later.

    Thanks for the post, but some more details were definitely needed! If you have questions, I find the paint department at my local hardware store is a great resource. They’ll have some good product recommendations, like what brand and finish of paint you should use to get the best results.

  • Your excellent tutorial would explain why my many painted projects never look as lovely and professional as yours do…I have patience in every area of life but creative projects.

    I always rush things or try to cut corners and I always pay for it. I’m learning from your example that slow and steady wins the race.

  • Just wanted to say “hello” and tell you that I enjoy reading your blog. So full of inspiration!

  • I’ve been looking for a shade of turquoise like yours. Would you share the name of the paint shade?

  • sarah clark, of course the roller has paint on it! go back and read the first sentence of the step….sorry ti was confusing for you! :) and as far as the finish goes, i gave clear steps for my very favorite finish.

    martha, as a general statement about the stain: i personally don’t have a hard time choosing stains because i use the same one EVERY time! minwax special walnut! it’s my fave. thanks for all the extra tidbits.

    jessica, the sanding will get rid of some lines, but if you use the foam rollers and nice soft brushes meant for latex paint { i like purdy or sherwin williams} you should have no problems with lines.

  • Barb – thank you for this tutorial! I’ve done some furniture painting, but I’ve never thought to do a finish like stain, so that’s something I’m excited to try! Thanks for a great step-by-step.

  • Maybe I’m just not getting it, but I still don’t really understand why you use a stain over paint. Is it just an aesthetics thing, or does it help protect furniture? I’m having a hard time visualizing stain over paint, I always thought stain went on bare wood. I have absolutely no experience painting furniture so I need things spelled out. Thanks for this post!

  • This looks great and the tutorial is really handy for diy enthusiasts. I have had something similar done in my own home. I got the guys in work to spray paint my dull furniture in Farrow and Ball paint colors. They color matched these paints in a more durable two pack paint which helped with my messy kids!! It turned out great in the end. Keep up the good work.

  • d*s fan, the stain over paint is something that i came up with as a finish, and i love it! i know it sounds crazy….but i promise you, once you try it , you will see what i mean. i’ll tell ya why i like it…..it adds protection for the paint finish, depth of color and it gives the piece a finished look. i personally think this is the step most people miss when they paint furniture…..paint by itself can sometimes look “crafty” or shabby and the stain adds that beautiful finished look with just the right amount of sheen .

  • Barb, thank you for all the information so far, you got me inspired to start a project on my own. I really love all you do, but your milkpaint pieces are my favorites. It would be so nice if you could help me with two more questions : Could I use shellac instead of sanding? Do you use colored or clear wax? Thank you so much and good to hear that your surgery went so well.

  • susanne, you are so welcome! i’ll let you in on a little secret…. milkpaint is my absolute favorite to paint with, and you may want to tune in here next week:) i’m not sure i understand the shellac sanding question….can you expound? as far as waxes go i only use fiddes wax….it is a european wax that is rich and creamy and super easy to work with and i have it in light {clear} and rugger brown. i end up using the clear most of the time…..it is my favorite. you can email me if you need to barb@knackstudios.com

  • great to know. i’ve added this link to my blog for future reference. thank you.

    also love love love the moosehead. wow, you’re creative!

  • Thanks for all your secrets. It’s so lovely when artists like yourself share valuable information and special techniques to help us DIY’s. Can I suggest to the novice painter, try a few colour combinations, and stain or wax finishes on old bits of wood before you paint your actual piece to be made over. That way if you make a mistake, or don’t like the finish, you haven’t ruined a large valuable piece of furniture. I love your blog Barb and all your pieces of furniture. Looking forward to future posts. Thanks again.

  • I came across your blog today and love this tutorial! I have been looking for a dresser & dining table set on Craigslist, but want them to be black. I’ve seen many that are lighter wood colors and seriously want to tackle something like this…now it’s just a matter of convincing my husband. :)

  • katie, i forgot to answer your question about acrylic! so sorry… i have only worked with oil paint on a few occasions. i mainly use latex paints, but then i do always use an oil stain on top. there are latex paints that are water based and latex acrylic paints that are chemical based but i stick to the water based latex. i feel like with the foam rollers you get a really smooth effect, but that is just me personally…you may really like the oil , and to that i would say just stick with it, because it definitely is a preference thing.

  • I painted an old dresser for my daughter, and now the drawers don’t close as easily. The paint or the water in the paint seems to have swollen the wood. Have you had this happen to you? What do you suggest?

  • Oh gosh, your timing is incredible. I was just thinking on how I should go about painting an old bookcase I’ve had tucked away for awhile. Perfect!

  • Thank you for this tutorial. I have been wanting to paint an old piece of wood furniture in my home and had never attempted this before. The stain over paint seems strange but interesting and I may tray that. Thanks for the advice in your post.

  • Thank you for this! I’ve been thinking of re-doing my room decor and I have all these furniture that I’m ok with expect the colours are kind of all over the place with beige and black and wood in different pieces. I’m hoping to re-purpose them with fresh coat of paint. And love the knobs on this too! what an idea to give my drawers a new facelift! :)

  • I don’t have any projects that I could realistically attempt prior to the start of the coming school year, but I do appreciate this and am saving it- since I have never (but want to) attempted anything like this.

  • di, try using a wax stick found at your local hardware store or a bar of soap to rub on all of the edges and runners if that doesn’t work sand a bit in the places that the drawers are rubbing.

    jennifer, i use wallpaper to line the drawers, satin finish latex paint, and i like just reular stain over gel stain. gel stain is much thicker and dries really fast so if you don’t work fast enough you end up with a forced look.

  • love, love, love the dresser! what’s the turquoise color please? Also love the tip about stain–can’t wait to try it. You do beautiful work!

  • I have this wonderful cupboard that I inherited when we purchased our house several years ago. It has been painted so many times that I guess I will have to strip it before I paint, but I cannot wait to try your techniques! I am looking forward to your next tutorial.

  • Thanks SO much, Barb, for taking the time to share with us the “secret” of your success. I was just talking to my mom how I would love to be able to watch you work. You don’t know how excited I was to see you were giving an online tutorial. I’m in the middle of painting a corner seating piece, and I’m going to start on some dining room chairs and a coffee table soon. You are awesome–thanks again!!!

  • i love painting furniture – many thanks for the post. I, too, would love to know the color of the paint. What a great hue.

  • Thank you so much for this tutorial. Not only is the there so much valuable info in the post, but in the comments as well. I am really looking forward to reading more about this! I’ve always wanted to try painting furniture but avoided it because I was worried it would look too crafty or amateurish, but I love the idea of adding a finish like a stain. You’ve inspired me!

  • Please, please, please more of these posts! It’s like seeing the wizard behind the curtain of the “before and afters.”

    Two quick comments:
    1) I second Martha’s reminder that your friendly neighborhood hardware folks are a great resource! We have done an absurd amount of work on our house and rely on them heavily for advice for matters both large and small! I have a few questions as a result of this post that I am excited to take to our nearest Home Depot!

    2) A tip for any fellow d*s readers who also happen to be desert dwellers: THIN THE PAINT! I recently painted a dresser in my Scottsdale, Az. garage and quickly discovered how quickly (instantly!) paint dries in the desert heat! I had to re-sand and pretty heavily thin the paint w/ water to get a smooth finish. The un-thinned paint got dry and gloppy right away- not a pretty finish for my mid-century look!

  • A roller! To think this never occurred to me! I have a piece sitting in my garage right now that is on its second coat of paint, and I am so frustrated by the brush strokes that I ignored it for the past week. Thanks for the time- and frustration-saving suggestion!

  • Barb, this was so helpful! I’ve got a couple of chairs (okay, more than a couple) that I’ve been wanting to paint, but hadn’t taken the time to get the skinny on how to. Now I have no excuse!

    I’ve also been wondering about the process for painting metal furniture with light rusting. Do you have to get it sandblasted first or can you use steel wool or something to sand it yourself?

  • Thanks for this great tutorial. I’ve never heard of putting stain over paint! You’ve sort of already covered this, but just to be clear…does putting the stain over the paint color drastically change the outcome of the color? Or is it very subtle?
    Also, when finishing the piece with stain…and taking off the excess…does that still provide full enough coverage to protect the piece?
    And lastly…you mentioned you usually use 2 of the finishes together…which two and which one goes on first?

  • Love your “special sauce” color!

    A while back, I saw a tip on the This Old House blog to apply a couple of coats of polyurethane on top of newly painted kitchen cabinets. What a revelation! It makes total sense to me now four years after we painted our vintage 1930 cabinets. Bare paint gets dirty and wears away with regular cleaning (which can be a good thing if you like the distressed look!). It can also just look shabby sans chic.

    I’m going to test out your minwax ‘special walnut’ tip on a dresser in my garage. Thanks for the fiddes wax tip too.

  • i’ve been waiting for this thankyou! just a wee bit intrigued about the stain process aswell … if you have painted white would you still use walnut? does it add colour or just a nice sheen? i’ve been wondering for ages how so many before and after paint jobs were made to look so lovely and shiny when mine never do! thankyou!

  • bonny, getting rid of the rust on metal can be a tricky process…..you can try a metal bristle brush, but your best bet may be to have it sandblasted.

    janna, the stain is subtle but does alter the color a bit….always in a good way! but you can choose a lighter stain than what i use if you want it to be a little more subtle. the wiping it off still leaves plenty of protection on the paint, but you always want to be careful with painted furniture as you would plain wood furniture and keep all wet, hot extremes away from the finish. when i combine two finishes i always apply the stain first and then the wax…. or if i don’t want to change the color i’ll add a clear poly and then wax over that.

    steph, i always use special walnut…even over white, it is just my personal favorite….and it does add color and a beautiful sheen… but feel free to experiment and find your favorite!

  • Thanks so mucH Barb!! I’ve been looking forward to this post for a while! Your explanation of the finishing process was a big help, but can you talk further about how to sand using the orbital sander? I’ve never used one so I’m not sure how to move the sander to created the patterns of random distress that I love in your work. Any tips?

  • I just wanted to say:

    1) I found your tutorial to be perfect and inspiring. Just the right amount of detail and insider tips. Stain after painting: of course. Line the drawers and paint the back: yes!

    2) Your photos are spectacular and the piece you use is GORGEOUS. Better than most Crate & Barrell or PB or whatever.

    3) Extra special points for the setting: Moosehead, Line drawings on the wall. Light strings.

    I can’t wait to start our next project!

  • jennifer, the orbital sander is a serious sanding tool and the trick is to keep it moving! if you stop for too long in one area it will leave round circle marks in your paint finish that scream “yikes!”, or it will just eat into the edges and detail of your piece if you are not careful. one tip that i can give you is….i always start on the back corner of a piece, because that first touch can be crazy and then it smooths out from there…just keep it moving in circular movements…making sure not to press down to hard… and use it mainly on the edges and flat areas. if your piece has lots of detail it is best to sand those areas by hand.

  • Barb, since I posted, you filled in so much information and answered some of my questions, thank you!! I can’t wait to try a finishing layer of stain over my next painted project. Thank you!

  • Thanks so much for the tutorial! Your blog is great, too. I anxiously look for it daily. You’re very inspiring and fun to follow.

  • Hi Barb! So I’ve blogstalked you and the hole painting furniture topic for the past two months. I especially scoured the web for your previous tidbits and tips.I was ecstatic to hear you were doing this series but couldn’t wait any longer so I took the plunge and all I can say is that after painting the piece I liked it, but after applying the stain I ADORED it! It gives it that perfect antiqued look so it doesn’t just look like another piece of painted furniture! Thanks for being an inspiration and for sharing you talents with us!!

  • By the way I’m a big fan of you and your ” knackage” if you couldn’t tell…hence the blogstalking =)

  • Please Barb…..would you share the color turqoise you used for this dresser??!! I have bought so much paint and it seems to “change” once applied. I would be so thankful……….

  • Barb, you are such a dear. I just scored a cheap dresser and can not wait to start painting it. I am curious and confused – the dresser is already painted a brown color and I was hoping to do the whole shabby chic see the color underneath it with the sand paper as you recommended. Since it already has a good base color, do I need to do the initial sanding and priming or can I just apply the top color to it now and go from there? Wondering what you would suggest… Thanks so much!!

  • Barb, thanks for the follow up, and Martha, thanks for the heads-up about spray paint. I was thinking of doing that because of the convenience factor, but I’d rather do something right than do something easy and get (literally) sick from it.

  • A great tutorial! Thank you. One question – how do you apply the stain after you paint. With a roller? Brush? Cloth? Never stained after painting, but would love to try.

  • First time stopping by and I thought your tutorial was so informative! I have a dresser I have been planning on painting for the past year. I went back and forth about painting it white or be bold and paint it black. It will go in my foyer. After seeing your finished piece, I am so tempted to duplicate the color of your piece. A bit nervous though as the incorrect color might not be too forgiving. I plan on following your tutorial to the letter.

    Thank you much for this in-depth post!

    Kindly, ldh

  • Yet again another amazing piece of furniture. How are you finding these great pieces with such fantastic style and character?

  • Thanks so much for this tutorial. I want to paint a dresser white. Can you suggest how you would finish this piece? I don’t think the dark walnut would be appropriate.

  • Thanks for the very informative post Barb!!!!

    One question (thanks for answering the previous posters’ questions): I have a varnished bedhead that I want to paint white. Do I need to strip it first or just sand it? Also should I sand off all of the varnish or just sand it until it’s smooth (with some varnish still remaining)?

    p.s. LOVE your blog and your beautiful pieces.

  • For the folk who wanted to know about how to get an oil-based finish out of a latex paint, there are additives that should help accomplish that. A big part of the difference is that oil dries so much more slowly. The additives increase drying time without diluting the paint. (If you can’t find them or don’t want to use them, you can thin the paint with water–but, of course, you might need an extra coat or two for good coverage.)

    On the other side of things, if people are looking for a less polished, more hand-painted look, skip the roller (obviously). But you don’t have to paint everything with a brush! Use one of those edgers (Sur Line makes them, and I’m certain others do, too). They load paint like a dream. I painted the bookshelves and snack bar my husband and I built with this method, and it was relatively fast.

    For S*: I don’t think you need to strip it *unless* the varnish is chipping. Then, at the very least, you should probably take a putty knife and scrape at it until the varnish stops flaking. Then sand and clean and proceed with Barb’s instructions.

    I’m in the middle of dealing with this on the woodwork (base moulding, crown moulding, door and window casings, door jambs, doors–everything!) throughout the entire house my husband and I bought a few months ago. The previous owners did a terrible prep job, so their paint adheres terribly. That means we’ve got to get their paint off if we want ours to stick. Those annoying lazy buttheads.

  • stacy, thank you so much for your sweetness! if your piece is already painted brown, you can just lightly sand it to make sure that the paint is secure. make sure that it doesn’t start peeling away when you sand it, because then your top coat will do the same thing:) once you know that your paint is secure then go ahead and paint the top coat and distress. you don’t have to prime, but there is a new paint by behr that is a paint and primer in one that would be awesome for your project! hope that helps! have fun!

    sally, i’m so sorry …but this is one out of three secret sauce colors:)

    lindsey, i always apply my stain with a chip brush, and then wipe the excess off with a lint free rag.

    amanda, thank you so much! i think instead of me finding them.,…they find me! it’s kind of crazy! :)

    heather, i use special walnut on everything…….and never change! BUT, if you are worried that it will be too dark you could just choose a lighter stain.

    s*, well, this could be a little tricky! if the varnish is not really thick and shiny you can just sand and paint. most of the time this is the case, but if there are many layers of varnish and you feel like sanding is not enough prep for the surface i would go ahead and strip and paint. my gut is telling me that stripping is probably not necessary. i would not do any scraping or gouging as that will lead to major sanding and surface issues.

    thanks so much to all of you for the great feedback, and the kind words…..you are gems!


  • I’m a little late to the party, but does anyone have a recommendation for a particular type or brand of roller cover? Mine always seem to fuzz no matter what I do, which is so frustrating!

  • Hi Barb

    I found your site after much searching – this is the most useful stuff I’ve seen about painting old furniture. It would be great if you could help with a problem we have…

    We have a writing bureau which has a yew veneer lid (we think that’s all) and when we applied primer/undercoat (after light sanding) a big yellow stain appeared through the undercoat. It seems yew veneer is prone to producing a lot of resin which will show through paint.

    I don’t really want to sand down the whole lid and then use stain block. Is there an alternative?

    I really hope you can help with this.

    All the best


  • hey barb

    i have a question. would you still recommend using a roller as opposed to a brush to apply paint if the piece is not entirely flat or rectangular? what if the legs are curved? would the roller still be best? or does it only really work well on a piece that is flat and parallel mostly?



  • Hi Barb,
    I just painted the built-in bookcase in my living room and I m noticing that the paint easily scrapes off if you rub your fingernail over it. This is a problem since it’s a bookcase that gets lots of use. The built-in is pine and it looked/felt like it had a satin or matte polyurethane applied to it. It was very rough though so I didn’t think it required any sanding. I painted it white using Behr Premium Plus Ultra: paint & primer in one. I put a coat of Minwax Polycrylic topcoat on all the horizontal surfaces in hopes it would prevent the tackiness that often causes books etc to stick to bookshelves I’ve painted in the past. Should I have applied this to the entire built-in? Do you think it would have prevented the paint from scraping off? I thought it was the lack of sanding so I sanded the doors before painting them but that didn’t make a difference. Paint still scrapes off. I’m surprised the primer didn’t bind to the surface better. Any suggestions for what I should have done differently? Thanks for your help!

  • Thank you so much for all your work on this piece! I just found your site, and I’m going to be combing through your before/after series like crazy! You’re so patient and kind, answering all your reader’s questions. You’re an angel.

  • I just came across your site today. I am having a hard time getting back to work as I keep getting distracted by your beautiful work and amazing tutorials. Thank You for sharing so much information. You seem so patient and kind. Have a great day!

  • Rene, Oh dear! I think if the stain is coming through the paint you are definitely going to have to sand and prime the piece with a stain blocking primer. I know it is a pain, but it is the best way.

    Lisa, you can use a roller on a piece that has a lot of detail as well, or you can use a brush for the really detailed parts and a roller for the flat parts. It is really up to you, but ot answer your question, a roller will work on detail too!

    jill, hmmmm. a couple things that could be suspicious here are what was on the surface of the bare wood before you painted it, and then definitely the minwax on top of the paint. paint itself just does not hold up well by itself and will scrape off. i would highly recommend applying the minwax to the entire thing, and if it is going to get tons and tons of use , you may want to use a satin oil based poly to ensure a really hard surface that will hold up to lots of wear and tear. also, make sure that you give the paint a sufficient amount of time to cure before a lot of use. paint can feel dry to the touch after a few hours but will remain soft for at least a week.

    lynn, awwwww…thank you so much! I really appreciate that! :)

    bridget, i am so glad that you are enjoying the column! thank you so much for your sweet words!


    • sarah, what a gorgeous piece you have here! you will have so much fun with this project! I would absolutely recommend using wood glue to glue down any loose veneer parts and then wood filler to fill in the missing area. Sand well, until your surface is completely smooth. You will also want to prime this area before paint, as the wood filler will take the paint differently than the wood. have fun!

  • Awesome tutorial… One question though: I’ve noticed when I use a foam roller it tends to leave little bumps. It drives me batty so I use a brush to smooth them out but the paint dries soooo fast that I end up smudging it. How do you control the bumps by the roller and should I be using my brush to smooth it out? My OCD is driving me nuts here please help! :D

    • Susan, sometimes the roller can leave little bumps or air bubbles in the paint, but they should smooth out as it dries. You would not want to use the brush to smooth them out because that disrupts the smooth surface. If you would like to email me with the type of paint that you are using and a few more details maybe we can narrow it down! :) barb@knackstudios.com

  • I have a Craigslist find, super shiny finished dresser I’d love to repaint. Can I just sand and paint or do I need to strip it down first?

    • coco, unless the varnish is super think and gunky you do not need to strip it down. just sand it down really well with fine/medium sand paper , and you should be good to go!

  • Barb,
    You mention that you usually use at least two of the three finishes. I’m preparing to paint with a satin Behr primer/paint combo and I intend to use the special walnut oil stain on top. I’m considering using a water-based satin poly as the final finish. Can I use water-based poly over a oil-based stain or would you suggest just using a wax or something else instead — or is a final finish unnecessary?

    Also, a dedicated post on the steps and nuances of sanding a piece would be great. I find sanding so challenging. Thanks!

    • cecilia, sorry I am late in seeing this comment! You would not need to use any other finish over the stain. If you did want to use something for added protection I would suggest a clear wax. The water based poly over the stain, will not work well. i’ll keep the sanding post in mind! :) thanks for the suggestion!

  • LOVE LOVE LOVE Your pieces! In the last couple of years I have done some furniture painting but they never look as nice as yours. I know these questions will make for a long post so I apologize in advance.
    I like the more “flat” look on furniture but need the protection of the gloss for clean up and kid-proofing. Will the stain and a wax finish work with a flat paint to create this protection?
    Because I like the look of the stain over the paint is the best 2nd finisher wax? If so is this just applied in a circular motion and then “buffed” off? How long should it then cure?
    One of my first projects was to paint our cabinets white, we primed all of the cabinets and then did 2 coats of paint. I find chips in the paint that go down to the original wood. To fix this would it be best to sand them down, paint with another coat of the paint color? Then what is the best protectant to really harden up the surface for everyday use?
    Thank you SO much! I have you bookmarked on my phone so I can take you with to all the home improvement stores, or I would forget everything!

  • More questions for you Barb, and thankyou for the helpful post. I’m preparing to paint an antique wardrobe for my daughter’s room and have a couple of issues.

    1. The wardrobe already has a coat of very poorly applied paint in a dark pink shade (I’m aiming for a light pink). The surface of the paint is very bumpy. Should I sand it down until it’s smooth and apply the primer/paint/stain/wax over the top? Or should I strip the wardrobe completely?

    2. I live in a small flat in Germany with very limited space. Our weather is looking pretty miserable for the for the foreseeable future. I could paint the piece on our balcony, but this risks exposure to damp and even freezing conditions. Otherwise, I can paint the piece inside, but this risks exposure to central heating, not to mention we’d have to live with the fumes. Any suggestions for a winter project in a small space? Or should I be patient and wait till spring?

    Danke! Ally

    • mavis and frank, I would definitely sand the piece down, and if you feel like the surface is smooth enough to accept a coat of new paint then go ahead and prime/ paint. If the surface is just crazy rough and you feel like the roughness will show through, then I would strip it down before repainting. As far as working indoors in the winter. It is best to paint in a controlled temperature environment and one that is well ventilated. So if either of those options is not available to you, I would definitely wait until Spring where it is warm and the paint go on so much better, and you can breathe fresh air while you are doing it :)

      bryanna, thank you so much for your sweet words! I hope these answers help, and I’m so sorry that I was so late in getting back to you!
      stain and waxes over flat paint work great. You just need to note that the flat paint surface is more porous that eggshell or gloss surface and will soak up whatever goes on top of it. I would suggest a wax finish if you like a flat look for a nice matte shine. applying the wax over the stain is fine, you will want to use a lint free rag for application and I like to work it in with the grain of wood and not in a circular motion. It gets hard to blend when you work in circles vs. with the grain of wood. You let the wax dy for about and hour and then buff. Cure time for wax is normally just a couple days. With our cabinets you could try to repair just that one area by lightly sanding and touching it up, but if it is too bad you may need to lightly sand the entire surface and repaint….but I would try touch ups first! Then in order to protect them I would apply a couple coats of water based poly, but with painted cabinets that get a lot of wear and tear it is hard to keep them perfect.

  • I absolutely love this piece and I’d like to do a copycat
    on a dresser I have. I’m new at this and my dresser is an ivory
    color, would I need to paint a coat of darker paint under the blue
    so when I distress the dark paint will show rather than the

  • This is an awesome tutorial, and an awesome piece of furniture!!!!
    Thanks for the tut, and you are really wonderful to answer all of the questions… great questions… great answers!
    This is going directly into my Pinterest! :)

  • I LOVE that paint colour too! And the paint colour on the wall. What are they? I would LOVE to use them in an upcoming project.

  • I am moving into an apartment with my husband and we have lot of cheap furniture. I was thinking of painting these pieces to match with the decor to create some homogeneity in design. However, as I read I am getting confused. Can I really paint cheap pieces of furniture? We don’t want to spend money on new ones. But I can’t even tell differences between wood and veneer, if my things could be painted. How do I determine if my piece is o,k to paint? And if so, would this technique work on any piece of furniture or just wood?

  • Ok, I’m just so beyond confused! I’ve read on several blogs that people use the poly on latex paint. But I’ve asked staff at Lowes and Sherwin Williams what they recommend to use if I want to paint furniture and they always give me a “what are you talking about?!” look when I mention I want to use poly on top of regular water based wall paint. Because blogs never specifically say what type of paint or poly is being used. And I’ve read and have been told to basically never mix oil and water based products. I’m so confused! What is this secret polyurethane that everyone is using?!
    I’m desperate at this point because I’ve painted my stairs with wall paint thinking if furniture can hold up to latex paint then stairs should be fine. I’ve gotten big NO NO’s from “paint people”. Can I poly over them at this point?……This question might slowly be driving me insane….Please any help would save me

    • laura

      i’ve used poly (regular kind at lowes) on just about everything i’ve ever used. but i’ve never used oil-based paint before. it’s hard to find, pricey and less safe than water based. i’d advise sticking to water based paint and you’ll be fine to use any poly. but depending on how much you use whatever you’re painting, you may not need poly. i’d only do it on outdoor furniture or things that get heavy use (floors, etc)


  • P.S.- I did read earlier posts and saw mentions of paint and poly, I suppose I’d like confirmation because of the many different comments I’ve read. Water based latex wall paint + regular water based polyurethane = OK?

  • A million times thank you Grace! I went ahead and polyed the stairs and they look great. None of the peeling and bubbling that everyone else told me would happen. Thank you so much for putting my mind to rest! You and everyone at D*S are fantastic, love every bit of you all!

  • Hi Barb. Thanks for this fantastic tutorial. I just finished a side table using your tips and I have a quick question:
    When you use your brush to cut into the corners and crevices, is there a trick to keeping those lines crisp and avoiding paint gathering there?
    Thanks so much!

  • Just finished priming my pieces. Do I have to sand before painting or can I go ahead and start…?

  • Great tutorial. I got many of my questions answered that I could not find answered on other tutorials. I have painted a a desk with a bookcase attached. I was not sure if I wanted to finish with a poly coat. Your post gave me the information I have needed. Thanks!

  • I finished the stain coat over the top of my paint…the dresser is PERFECT and I love it! My only concern – it’s been about 24 hours and the stain is still very tacky. I left a little more stain on than you show on your piece but I’m hoping that doesn’t extend the dry time by too much. I know you stated at least 48 hours of drying time, but I guess I’m anxious to use it! Have you ever had a piece take longer to dry?

  • I read through all of your replies, Barb…and the one thing you didn’t answer is “What color paint did you use in this specific project?” I am painting a hutch and this is EXACTLY the color I’d like to use. Could you share? Thanks so much for the tutorial. I’ve painted a few pieces of furniture, but none this big and none seen as much as this will be…I feel much more confident having read your piece. I hope you’ll share the color!! :)

  • Hey Barb,

    If I stain walnut over white paint does it look yellowy? Also you said leave the stain on over the distressed corners– how do you really wipe off the stain everywhere but there? If you leave the stain on for about 15 minutes won’t it penetrate the sanded areas, so you just wipe it off everywhere? I am going to give it a try this weekend. Thank you so much for the idea as I am staining the top of my coffee table top and painting the bottom white and was wondering how to get the distressed areas to look the walnut color of stain versus the now totally sanded color. Thanks!

  • Hello. I love your work, thank you for the detailed tutorial. I am just wondering where you found those beautiful knobs for your piece? I’ve been searching everywhere and I haven’t found anything even close. :(

  • I love this tutorial!!
    I do have a few questions all related to the staining step though.
    When it comes to using stain as a finish, does the shade of the stain matter & how long do you leave the stain on before you wipe it off? And how do you just leave the stain on over the distressed corners while wiping it off everywhere else?

  • Hello! I have a question. :) I recently took up the hobby of painting murals, and a lot of animal print stuff on furniture. I use Acrylic paint ~ Usually Apple, or Americana….. A lot of my stuff is zebra stripes. I start out by lightly sanding if needed my piece of furniture, priming with Kilz, and then painting with a latex satin paint as my base. Then, I use my acrylic black paint to make my zebra stripes. I usually don’t get around to putting on the clear top coat (water based) until 3 – 7 days later. No matter if it’s been 3 days or 7, my black zebra stripes always start to bleed onto the white background with the first swoop of the brush. My brushes are nylon, and nice and soft, and I’m not pressing hard either. Any suggestions on how to make the black not bleed or smudge onto my lighter background color? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Love this site btw! :) TIA

  • When you say “line your drawers with paper”…what kind of paper are you refering to?

  • It drive me CRAZY that everyone keeps asking questions that have already been answered in earlier posts…people, READ THE POSTS and you will likely find the answers you are looking for. :) Poor Barb has answered the same questions multiple times!

    Barb, I love, love, love your work!! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise! I have just bought my first project piece and plan on using this tutorial to refinish it. THANKS!!! Chris

  • I would love to see more of your before and afters and know what exactly you used on each peice. Such as you used satin latex paint, primer-oil or latex, miniwax, special walnut stain, etc. If you sanded, or just primed. I have a little experience, your tutorial has answered so many of my questions already! Thank you.

  • I want to do the EXACT same treatment to an old dining room table i inherited from my parents. I was wondering some specifics on this project: I’m assuming the blue is flat paint, but can you verify? What color blue is that? What color was the stain you used—is it a darker blue or it is wood-colored? Thanks!! Looks awesome.

  • Thanks for putting your process out there! I was wondering if you have any tips on safety when sanding old furniture (i.e. pre lead paint ban furniture). I was just was working on some old chairs this past weekend and halfway through sanding them (they were coated in old stain/varnish) and I/the back porch/all the stuff on my porch were coated in dust I thought I wonder if there is a safer method or if this has been fine for everyone else. Thanks

  • Barb, like so many others can you please tell us the name of the blue paint used on this piece. I a chest of drawers that would look great in this colour and also I have just painted my bedroom furniture a dark chocolate colour which I love but what poly should I use. I don’t want it to be too shiny looking. Thanks so much for this tutorial.

  • This post is my bible, and Barb, I aspire to do work as beautiful and professionally loved as yours. Thank you so much.

  • I read through all the questions &, since this post is still active, let me repeat what Barb has said many times – THE PAINT COLOR IS HER SPECIAL BLEND & she prefers not to share the exact contents. Take a picture to your paint store & ask if they can color match. They might come close.

  • I’ve read through all the posts and I may have missed this if it was answered before but I have a couple of questions. I painted an old dresser (after sanding and priming) with two coats of Olympic One semi-gloss paint. Will putting a poly coat on top keep it from getting worn sooner than not putting a poly coat on, or does the poly coat just give it a nice sheen? Also, how long should I leave the drawers OUT Of the dresser before I put them back in, so that the paint doesn’t scratch/stick? I only painted the faces of the drawers, not the sides, and as it is a very old dresser it has the rails on the bottom it rides on, not the glides on the sides.

    Also, thanks SO much for the idea of putting wallpaper inside as drawer liners! I had never thought of this, and have been looking at liner paper and didn’t really like any of them…..using wallpaper gives me so much more to choose from!!

  • Thanks for this great tutorial! I love the idea of using a stain over paint and I can’t wait to try it. :)

  • Is it possible for you to add to your post the name of the color to this project? I have been reading now for 1/2 hr and I still don’t see the name. I am sure you already answer this question, I am just a air head and don’t see it!
    Thank you

  • Hi, i have been painting and distressing some small pieces of furniture and now have one that has some details in the wood i would like to highlight a bit aftyer painting. I am not sure how to do this – would using stain on those areas give a subtle highlight? i don’t think i want to use metallic. any ideas welcome

  • do you have a certain stain color you would recommend using? will it change the color you painted on the piece? great tutorial!!

  • Absolutely beautiful! Amazing job! I would also love to know the color that you used on this piece… If you would be willing to share :) Also, I have never used wax on a project before. How do you use that? Just after you paint and stain?

  • Loved this tut. Thanks so much for sharing this. I had never thought to stain over paint, but I gave it a go and it was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks!

  • Come on Barb!
    We are begging like dogs… let us know the code/name of paint.
    After all ” Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”
    Thanks for the tutorial

  • love the information , what i want to do is add some feature stripes on a piece of furniture that i have made and is painted and waiting to get varnished . I’m looking for something like a magic marker but in a grey or silver tone. does anybody make this?

  • for all the people wanting to match the color just take a photo of it and take it to your paint store and they can computer match it for you, at least at my paint store they can!

  • For the love of Pete, what is the color? I wouldn’t trust matching a photo of it. Oh, yeah, thanks!

  • Actually they can match up to 99% accurate. I’ve done it at Sherwin Williams and it turned out perfect.

  • Hi, ladies have been asking for the color you used on your project, I haven’t been able to find it anywhere in you answers to comments.

  • Why does paint deposit on my sanding sponge when I sand in-between coats. I am using water based Zinsser 1-2-3 with flotroel added and let dry for 24 hours. When I go to sand within two or three strokes my sanding sponge is covered with paint that I have to pick off with tweezers. I’ve never encountered this before. Is it the flotroel, is it the insane Florida heat? Do I need to crank the a/c to remove moisture from the air?

  • Back to why you use stain over paint…. Thank you. I started a project and wasn’t sure where to go because I had many of the same questions. But your dedication on responding to all sorts of questions helped hugely. I’m on my last coats of paint and can’t wait to apply stain. Thanks.

  • hullo we have had our oldish furniture professionally painted and is still peeling of 6 to 8months after job was done .paint used was of glossy nature . why is it so .

  • I bought a shabby chic cedar chest. I want to know how to care for it? Everything I’ve searched for tells you how to do shabby chic. I don’t want to do it, I want to know how to care for it. Thanks!!

  • Several people asked for the COLOR name? Can you please share that info?

    It’s a beautiful piece, great job! Please don’t forget the COLOR?

    Thanks ;)

  • Please tell me anout your too coats again. If you use stain what would actually seal the furniture? You mentioned you usually use two topcoats……More MORE PLEASE!!!

  • I’ve painted my dresser and now my drawers are too tight to fit back into place. What can I do?

    • Janis

      Hmm…sounds like an issue of too many coats? You could use some sandpaper to sand down any sections where the dresser might be sticking. But have they fully dried? Or perhaps it’s the humidity in the air making the wood swell?


  • Hi Barb,

    One more thing! What do you mean by, “wipe off excess with a clean lint free rag leaving the stain in areas that it would naturally rest”?