The One Thing I Wish I Knew Before Painting My Thrifted Furniture

Your refinished piece is only as good as the prep—and post—steps you take.

Orange Faux Bamboo Dresser
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

There are plenty of reasons to shop antique and thrifted furniture over what's available in catalogs and online—the lower prices and one-of-a-kind nature among them. But going thrifting can sometimes take a little bit of imagination to see past what a piece of furniture looks like right now and envision what it could look like with a little work and creativity.

When you're shopping for large wooden furniture (we're talking dressers, chests, tables, bookshelves—you name it we'd thrift it), try to see past scratched finishes and stains you think are horrible. Because with wood, you can always sand it down and start fresh from the beginning. To completely strip and restain wood is a fairly involved process involving serious sanding and staining and more sanding and staining. We'd more than encourage taking on that project (matter of fact, we bet you'll love the end result so much you'll want to refurbish another piece ASAP), but if you're looking to start DIY-ing your furniture with something a little simpler—and much more colorful—you should try painting your next thrifted find.

If you're a beginner at both, paint is usually a bit more forgiving than stain when it comes to getting an even finish, minimizing brush strokes, and eliminating drips. Plus, the preparation process for painting wood is usually simpler. You don't have to sand the furniture down to the original wood to be able to paint it. However, there are a few very important steps you should take before going to town with your brush—and after—that I learned the hard way with my recent paint projects.

The amount of preparation necessary before painting really depends on the type and state of finish on your piece. Overall, you want a clean, smooth, matte (read: not glossy) surface to paint on. So if your piece was previously painted and is chipping at all, you should sand those surfaces completely or else the new paint you put on top will also chip. If the wood is rough at all, you should sand it so it's smooth when you run your hand over it. If you're painting a piece that's finished with a glossy or even semi-glossy wood finish, you will want to use a deglossing product to remove the finish before painting.

WATCH: Painting Legged Furniture with Joanna Gaines

After each coat of paint dries, you should lightly sand out any bubbles or drips, again so the surface is smooth when you run your hand over it. When you've got the color and finish as you like it, you should seal the piece with a top coat, a step I learned was pretty important after not sealing a dresser and nightstand I recently repainted. Without a sealed surface, the tops of both of these pieces are more porous and harder to clean. Additionally, corners and edges are more susceptible to paint breaking or chipping, especially if they get regular wear, like where the main dresser and drawer meet. As opposed to the oil-based polyurethane you'd use to seal a stained piece of wood, it's recommended to use water-based polycrylic on painted furniture (the finish is completely clear as opposed to polyurethane which has a bit of a yellow tint). Once you finish your piece—which, yes, will probably take a few days—it will be prepped to last you many, many years, or at least you decide to change the color again.

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