barb blairbefore & after basicsbefore and after

before and after basics: dry brush painting

by Barb

Hello, hello! It’s time for Before & After Basics again and today I want to teach you a little trick that I love to perform on furniture called dry brushing! It is a relatively simple technique that goes on quickly, but the results look like it took hours to create.

Oh, and before I forget, I’m taking requests today! So if you have any topics that you’d like to see covered in this column please leave a comment with your request and I’ll get to work. Let’s get to painting! –Barb

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


  • paint brush
  • paint
  • sanding sponge
  • rags
  • drop cloth
  • water-based poly


1. Make sure the piece you have chosen for this project is completely sanded down and dust free. I personally always choose a dark wood piece for this type of project, because the contrast is so much better. Just a little nugget of wisdom for you!

2. There are a couple key elements to this project — the amount of paint on your brush and speed! Barely dip the very tips of the brush into the paint and wipe or dab a little bit of the paint off on a rag before applying to the surface. The success of this finish depends on the wood NOT being completely covered.

3. Quickly apply the paint to the section you are working on with light-handed back-and-forth strokes. When I say “light handed,” I mean don’t insert a lot of pressure when first making contact with the surface, as doing so will leave a heavy paint spot. Continue to work your brush back and forth until the whole area you’re working on is covered. Make sure you really work the brush quickly in the corners because stopping creates heaviness. Keep your hands and brush moving!

4. Step back and stare at the area you just completed. Do you feel any spots are uneven or heavy? If so, take a rag or your sanding sponge and work those areas until they are blended. Again, remember to maintain a soft, light touch at all times. The paint will be wet during this process so you won’t have to work hard to blend.

5. Continue Step 3 until you have covered the entire piece. You will be amazed at how quickly this process moves!

6. Once you’ve finished the dry-brush technique and any sanding you feel is needed for blending, apply two coats of water-based poly to protect all that gorgeous work you just completed!

7. Add hardware and any other finishing details.

That sounds like a walk in the park right?! Now get to work!

See you all next week friends!

Note: Process shots were recreated from another piece, but the “after” photo is a piece that I just finished using this process. — Barb

Suggested For You


  • We have struggled with a dining table and getting a finish that can withstand some water glasses and trivets. Is there a poly finish you like? Or is there a sealant or wax that you like to apply regularly to help protect it? We tried a poly finish at one point that was too thick and was hard to apply with a brush. We ended up with a gloppy, brush-stroke table top that we ended up re-stripping.

  • Such a neat effect! Are there certain paint colors that work best for this? I realize that this probably depends on the tone of the wood, but do you generally stick with neutral colors?

  • Can amateurs reupholster? (& if so, how?) I see so many beautifully remade chairs on D*S before&after, and I don’t know if they’re all paying the rather unappealing fees to get them professionally done, they happen to be pros themselves, or they are just regular people tackling it.

  • HELP! I found a wardrobe from Ikea made of Particleboard, Foil. Is it possible to paint this type of material? If so, what method would you recommend?

  • HELP! Do you have any recommendations on how to paint / refinish an Ikea wardrobe made of Particleboard, Foil?

  • Topic Suggestion: Since limed oak seems to be all the rage these days (see Restoration Hardware’s recent total transformation), I’m wondering how hard (or toxic) that is to do….something for a diy’er?

  • Hey Barb! I have a quick question… If you want to paint a table top what do you need to use to protect it from heat from pots/plates? A neighbor told me that you shouldn’t paint a table top because it can release fumes from the products you use on it. I figured regular paint and a poly would work but I just want to make sure before I ruin something and have to double the work. Thanks!

  • What do you suggest for a piece that has already been painted? I have a secretary desk that was painted black, do I stripped the black or can I use it as if it was a black wood contrast?

  • I’m with Meg (1st comment). I’m a VERY inexperienced (well, a DIY virgin to tell the truth) DIY’er, but I want to paint a much-used dining table and would love instructions, especially how to finish with an attractive yet durable surface. I’m picturing a quite dark color, which I assume may be more difficult than lighter colors? Thanks!

  • I have a beautiful yet worn teak secretary, and your “refreshing wood” post was helpful, but how to I selectively stain those parts which are “bleached” almost white and still get an even finish?

  • I would love to see a How-To on using fabric or paper as an accent (ie inside shelves, drawers, etc)

  • my dog chewed the wood on the bottom drawer of a beautiful, wooden antique bureau i have when she was a pup last year and i haven’t figured out the best way to tackle it without damaging it further or cheapening the look! help! :)

  • Hey Barb,
    I love your tutorials! I was wondering if you could post one on removing old veneer. I have an old secretary that I want to re-do (I want to stain it not paint it) and believe it is currently coated in clear veneer. I’m too afraid to mess with it though and mess everything up. Please help! Thanks for all your contributions!

  • I would like to find out about sanding or stripping a wood piece with details. My main concern is how to get stain off legs with lots of indentations and details or the face of chairs with embellishments. Do you just give up and paint over? What is the best way to get the stain off?

  • How about replicating that old laquer look. I’ve seen the look on old doors…it looks kind of like the sealer has yellowed a smidge and sort of cracked. I have no idea if it’s laquer or something else but I love how it looks. :)

  • Kara – There is an awesome tutorial on Design Sponge about stripping. Search for Before and After Basics – Stripping Furniture. Use Citristrip. It’s an amazing gel stripper.

    And if I accidentally double post this… sorry. >.<

  • Hi Barb! I was given 2 lovely old wooden library chairs from a neighbor. They have the shiny varnish and the neighbor’s daughter painted them white which is flaking off to reveal the varnish AND the seat has places where the wood split. Where do I begin!!??
    Mary Ann

    • Mary Ann, Hmmmmm….it is hard to be exactly sure, but my gut is telling me that you need to strip them down. I would use Citristrip on them, and as far as the places on the seat where the wood has started to split, I would see about using wood glue down the cracks and then using a furniture on either side of the chair to push the seat back together. Leave it that way for 48 hours so the clamp and the glue can do their thing!

      kara, when stripping a piece with a lot of details you will want to have a few small dowel rods that you can sharpen in a pencil sharpener or toothpicks for getting into all of the nooks and crannies! You can also use steel wool, and small wire brushes in those areas as well. Hope that helps!

      ariel, when you have an uneven surface like that it is best to try to sand the whole thing down and then use the teak oil on the whole piece. If there are huge differences in the color of the wood that a light sanding will not fix you may be looking at a much larger project to bring the wood back. You can always try matching the stain of the piece to apply to just those areas before you use the oil on the entire piece…..but that could be tricky.

      meg, susan, & jem, You want to make sure that a table top that will get lots of use has good protection, and even at that, you still need to remember not to set glasses and hot items directly on the surface. I would suggest a satin finish oil poly on the top. At least 2 coats for needed protection. There is a great one by armour seal available at Woodcraft stores.

      laura, I personally find that grays, creams and white’s work best for this particular finish. But there are no limits! Try whatever you like!

      jo, this paint color is by behr called elephant skin

      jenni, particle board is very hard to paint. You will want to make sure that you use a really good primer such as an oil based Kilz that will provide great bonding strength! There are certain oil based primers that you can then paint latex paint over.

  • I would love to know what to do if stain that you have applied to wood gets tacky. Thanks!!!

  • Topic request: i would love to get some tips on how to create a wood panelling effect, 3/4 room height, for not too much money (relative to the real thing!) would love to do it in my dining room, painted.

  • I saw some chairs in a shop in SoHo that looked like they were just bare wood, but I assume the wood must be protected in some way. What’s the best way to protect wood but leave it as natural-looking as possible?

  • Wallpaper! How to remove and to apply. I would love to take down the HIDEOUS wallpaper in our spare room and reapply something sweet and feminine. Thank You.

  • I love these thursday posts! I’d love to see something about veneering…I have a great old waterfall dresser that has peeling veneer on the top….I have aspirations of refinishing it but just haven’t taken the plunge yet!

  • Wow, This is beautiful! So casual, yet it gives a texture without a lot of work!
    Ill have to try it out. I am curious to know how to get the look of distressed where you can see a color under the paint and then the wood also. Im new to this stuff but saw a beautiful table with that style someplace and loved it!

  • Thank you so much Barb. I’m loving this series there is so much around our house that I’ve put off doing until now.

    You are going to inundated with requests… sorry but I too have one.

    Not sure if this comes under your theme, but I have a very old dresser and the drawers have timber tracking and they’ve worn through. So I was wondering if when you restore your cabinets etc to add new tracking or just replace the timber support? And how… where do I start?

  • I have an old antique vanity that needs a lot of work, like pealing veneer and a ton of stripping and fixing. I am going to have to chip that veneer off and I too need some advice about how to take it off without damaging what’s underneath. If you need a reference picture go to my blog and look at the vanities page. It’s the old tri-fold mirror one. I’m terrified I’m going to ruin it.

  • I know its not exactly what you normally do – but before and after wallpaper installation pleeeease? Or at least installing wallpaper on furniture (i.e the backs of open shelving for a cupboard?)

  • We currently have cabinets that have a wood trim and white front..all formica . we have contemplated painting them and not feeling that it will look nice.. do you have any suggestions to jazz them up?

  • I am eternally grateful to a friend of mine who showed me this web page – DS – I’m from South Africa and find it difficult when you use products from America as I would not know the equivalent here in sunny SA – perhaps you could elaborate on the contents of the products used so I can get my hardware people to source similar products for me – e.g. the wax product you used to “antique” a chest of drawers/table (not sure here what it was anymore). Love your projects and can’t wait to see whats next!!!

  • Hi there!

    I was wondering how you’d go about distressing overly shiny metal details.

    I’ve bought a “new old” toilet roll holder (Edwardian era molding but made now) and am trying to make it look “old old”. The plaque that goes on the wall is just so polished and gleaming there is no way in hell I’ll hang it up as it is! :-)

    I reckon it’s nickel-plated (or even chrome). So far I’ve tried yogurt (which normally does wonders for stone and copper) and tried to stain it with tea, but nothing seems to help – as soon as I wipe it, it’s back to its old gleaming self. Eughh.

    Help please!

  • Yet another great post, folks – thank you.

    I just picked up a roll of lincrusta-type wallpaper ($3 clearance!) and wonder what I can do with it? Any ideas on painting/staining? It’s far too little for a room, so any ideas about other uses?

  • Hi Barb, I have a bedroom set of old rustic Mexican style furniture. It’s pine and I would love your thoughts on how to re-style it to make it into something new for my guest room.

  • I inherited a beautiful wood inlaid with lots of drawers and cabinets dresser. My please help me is and there has to be others with the same problem. It smells so badly of MOTH BALLS that I can’t use it – great to look at, just don’t put anything it it! I have used wood cleaner, boxes of baking soda, for a month I filled ever drawer with unscented cat litter; which made the cat litter smell like moth balls! The inside of the drawers are all stained lovely wood. Do I need to bite the bullet and paint the entire inside of the dresser, and if so what do you suggest I paint it with – like do I need to prime then paint? thanx Barb

  • I have a Request:
    There is a little sidetable at the bottom of this post http://www.mrs-adventure.com/2010/10/inspiring-decor.html finished in grey and white. THe blog author makes it sound like its leafed, but it doesn’t really look like it to me. ANyways, I am looking to learn how to create this look with grey stain and white paint. Is it possible?
    Tami: lincrusta wallpaper (score!): line a drawer with it that people will see a lot, or a glass shelf where you keep special things. I’m using mine to line the back of my medicine cabinet spray painted copper and faux grunged a bit.

  • Barb, thanks again for another great tutorial…so funny, I’m actually doing a piece today using this technique (that I’ve read about on your blog ages ago) so this was a great refresher! Keep up the amazing work!!

  • I would like to know how to pimp my living room ceiling. It is heavily spray textured. I would like beadboard or something smooth and clean. Thank you! MJ

  • More thanks!!! Barb, you’re the best. Love these! The dresser I bought to re-finish was “temporarily” put to use as is, and every day I feel like I need to start, but in addition to the regular stuff there is some veneer repair – I’d love a more in-depth look at veneer repair issues. Also, the drawer track thing mentioned would be great. I’d also love to see a how to on a really problematic piece that takes some extra work to get it beautiful. AND :) the dresser I need to work on has keyholes / key mechanisms in the top drawers – how do you clean those up? Broken pieces on legs? hahah I could go on and on.

    All the best,

  • Hi Barb!
    I second Kara’s question. I read the stripping tutorial and it seemed to me that the technique would be easy for flat surfaces but I’m having trouble translating that to the piece I have. It has a ton of detail work and I’m wondering if you use another tool to tackle that. I’m not sure how to get around the curves with the flat paint scraper. Thanks!

    • jennifer, The little dowel rod that I had in the material section is for all of those little tiny hard to reach areas. You can also use tooth picks, small wire brushes, and steel wool on those detailed areas. Hope that helps!

      lisa, oh my! moth balls are crazy strong aren’t they?! I kind of categorize them right up there with cigarette smoke. It is REALLY hard to get rid of. I have tried everything you have mentioned, and then some. I will give you two more things to try: Fill all of the drawers with newspaper and see if the paper will absorb the smell. You can also buy a good old fashioned bag of charcoal and place several pieces in each drawer to absorb the smell. If neither of those things work, and you decide to paint the interior I would prime with a Kilz stain and smell blocking oil primer and then paint. Sometimes even that tactic doesn’t work though. If you have not had the piece long may be see if airing it out over time will work. Good luck!

      melissa, has the stain gotten tacky over time? Or is it a piece that you have just completed? Normally it takes a good 48 hours for stain to completely dry, and if you missed the step about wiping off the excess after about ten minutes, it could stay tacky longer in those places where the stain is heavier.

  • Love these posts, I catch them every week!
    Topic suggestion: Reupholstering furniture. My suspicion is that a tutorial on that would be super long, and that there are many different options and issues associated with reupholstering furniture. I’d love to have some ideas to get me started, or maybe a series of posts over a couple of weeks would be better. Maybe an intro course, then a more advanced one ;)

    Thanks for all the info you have shared through these posts!

  • Thanks for this post, Barb—I have a very similar little secretary, so it was fun to see that piece re-done in a different way. Also, that tip on using newspaper to absorb unwanted smells is a great one—I have to go try it immediately! I love this series, so thanks a bunch.

  • I love, love the vases. Where did you get them and what are they called so I can google them. Thanks ;)

    • annie, amanda hooked you up like a pro! that is the only source that you can find these vases right now. I thought they had been discontinued, but I think they have lots of stock to sell through.

      amanda, thank you :)

      susan, I have removed veneer several times off pieces that are going to get painted, and I chisel it off and then sand the underneath surface very smooth to either paint or do a paper application. It would all depend on what you are doing to the piece afterward. But , either way the removal of old veneer is a labor of love. :)

  • Painting old furniture is a great way of giving it renewed life. I get a lot of people asking me about painting their existing kitchen. It’s amazing how you can transform your tired looking kitchen for a few hundred euro.

  • I cannot tell you how much I enjoy these make-overs! They are so inspiring, I feel like running out to the Goodwill RIGHT NOW! I particularly enjoyed the kitchen make-overs!

  • Your makeovers provide SO much inspiration! Thank you ~ if you’re still taking suggestions, I’m wondering how to give a wood frame that distressed driftwood feeling. Can it be done without paint? I’m thinking that after stripping and sanding, you’re sort of stuck with that color and can’t go lighter unless you use paint. Maybe milk paint or your dry brush technique…

  • BARB!!! Where do you get your GORGEOUS knobs?????? I’m so in need of these exact ones… Pink Rose Knobs! On a deadline pls respond ASAP! Thanks!


  • I have found that spending a bit of time in antique/junk stores and garage sales is a great way to let your creative juices begin to flow. Take a look at friends’ garages, attics, etc. and see if they want to trade something with you. Don’t hurry. Try to visualize pieces. Look at home items as you might view your clothing items and play with creating something new. There is no right or wrong here.

  • I have an old end table with the leather inlay on top. Can I paint the whole table including the leather part and if so, is there anything that I need to do to it prior to painting?

  • Could you tell me what the paint color is in the photo just above step 3? I have several tables and I am getting ready to refinish them a sort of a rosy greige for a barnwood or driftwood looks. All pieces are stained dark cherry with poly on top with the bases painted high gloss black. Should I strip the pieces completely or just the black bases?

  • Hello, Barb! I have new bedroom that is all white and dry brushing would be great to antique it up. I have not painted before. Do I need to sand the furniture or can I paint directly on the finished product?

  • Hi,Barb!!
    I have a piece that I want to look just like the piece above,what color of paint did you use? the color underneath looks just like your piece,do we have to sand the whole piece? I love it exactly what I want!!! Thanks for your help!!

  • I have an old metal pot that I would like to paint with the old fashioned speckled look – any ideas on how to achieve this?

  • Barb- I have gone thru tons of examples and instructions regarding dry brush painting, but yurs is the first that addressed a top coat . My problem is that the polycrylic instructions say to sand prior to using, but if I sand my dry brush using a sand block with 320 paper, it ruins the fine brush marks I was trying to retain. I wondered if the polycrylic would adhere to the surface if I do not sand. Can you provide more details regarding prepping for top coat? Thanks so much for your great instructions. Your emphasis on light pressure initially is what I wish had been included in other instructions on dry brushing when I first started.