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I am going to walk you through the steps to re-new a piece of furniture with water based products, to create a wonderful one of a kind piece of furniture that will be functional, durable and beautiful.  I have not ventured into lacquer and high volume/low pressure sprayers to get the finish you find on store bought furniture.  That is on the bucket list, but it is costly, and I don’t want to be creatively stifled, so I use the good old fashioned brush and roller. 

This is how I start!

Step 1:  Find a piece of furniture.  Maybe a small chest, table or nightstand for starters; you don’t want to start with something too big, if you find out you hate all the prep work to get to the end result, you will NEVER finish it and then it will be sitting in your garage.  Then you may find yourself divorced with only a mammoth piece of unfinished furniture to your name.

Step 2:  While on the hunt for your piece, look closely at its construction.  You don’t want to go to all of this trouble for a piece of junk that no matter what pretty thing you do to it, it’s not going to hold up.  Open the drawers.   See how they slide.  Look for the glide to be made of wood and under the center bottom of the drawer, no metal glides like you find on kitchen drawers.  It’s not that they don’t function well, it’s more of testament to the rest of the piece’s construction.  Look for dovetailed drawers, mortise and tenon joints, etc.   Check if the piece is sturdy, and make sure it’s wood.  Don’t be too hung up on solid wood or veneers.  Veneering can be a very labor intensive process that is costly.  It is how some of the most expensive and beautiful pieces are made.  See if you can find a brand name inside the piece and if you are unsure Google it.  Pick a simple piece that will have integrity but isn’t so fine, that you would reduce the value of it by painting it.  Remember that you are rescuing an old beat up piece from the landfill, not your grandmother’s Duncan Phyfe table and Chippendale chairs.

Mortise and Tenon

Mortise and Tenon

Dovetail joint

Dovetail joint

duncan Phyfe tablechippendale chair


Step 3:  Select the color, finish, hardware, and any other details that you would like on your piece.  Pinterest and Houzz are great places to look for ideas.  Your paint color and brand is the only thing that doesn’t need to be the best quality or the highest price, since it is going over a fantastic primer and being top coated with a durable clear coat.

Step 4:  Buy good tools.  They make life easier.  Spend $10 to $15 on a straight or angled brush for all paints.  Brands like Purdy, Wooster, Corona, make great brushes for all types of painting.  Get a large canvas drop cloth.  In my apathy about details early on, and impatience, it took me a few years to make this connection.  Unfortunately my garage floor looks like graffiti done by a 9 month old.  If you have saw horses and an old flat door, that can work as a table to put the piece on while you are working, or you can do it like I do–yogi style on the ground in all sorts of contorted positions.  Good lighting is very important so pull the piece out onto the driveway or invest in garage lighting.  Lastly, a hand sander:  I have had a couple but the one that I really love is the Dewalt Rotary Hand Sander.  It runs about $75 and a value pack of various grit sanding discs is around $20.  My only issue with this tool is that it doesn’t get into corners.  Wire brushes can get in the tight spaces and tack cloths (dozens of them) will clean up all of the dust after sanding.dewalt sander

Step 5:  Remember that we are painting this piece, so we don’t need to sand it to bare wood, just rough it up enough and take off any part of the finish that is lifting and give the surface some tooth.  I like my pieces to look distressed, so I don’t use a lot of putty to fill in gouges and damage unless it looks like I totally pulled it out of the garbage.  If this is the case use putty, allow it to dry well, and then sand until you can’t see the seam where the putty and wood meet.

Step 6:  Now is when it starts to get interesting…by this point the drawers and stixhardware should have been removed, everything wiped down with a tack cloth, and it’s time to prime every surface you are planning to paint.  I usually do the back of the piece, too, if it has a decent piece of wood on it.  Stix Primer is the only one I use!  It is fantastic at making paint stick to any surface: formica, metal, wood, etc.  The only place I don’t think it is recommended is outdoors.  A brush or sponge roller is great for application, and don’t expect it to be an even pretty finish.  It won’t be.  A simple, thin, uneven coat will suffice even if it looks ugly.  Read the label on drying times, but as a water based product, I have been able to apply the first coat of paint 3-4 hours later.

Step 6:  Wipe any dust off again, and apply first coat of paint.  Wait the specified time, and wipe off and apply second coat of paint.  Once this is dry, if you plan to do any glazes or hand painting, this is the time.  I like to make glazes with other latex paints that I have lying around in my garage with Floetrol or an acrylic glazing liquid so that it has a little slower dry time and you can manipulate it longer.  A spray bottle with water and damp cloth can help to remove excess glaze and leave it hanging up in the grooves.  Acrylic artist paints can be used for the image that you may like to paint, stencil, or trace on the piece.  Then I like to glaze again over the image so that it looks gauzy like an impression.

Step 8: After all of the fun stuff, comes two to three coats of a water based polyurethane.  Two things to remember, it can’t be sprayed or rolled, in my experience.  It must be brushed on.  Each coat should have three or four hours to dry before using steel wool over the whole piece to smooth out any dust particles that may have landed in the drying polyurethane.  Then apply a second coat, and wait.  Usually, I will do a third coat to the top surface if it is a table or dresser since that is the area that will take the most abuse.  I steel wool between each coat but not after the last.  Occasionally a wet/dry 1000 grit sandpaper can be used, but this is something I have yet to perfect and end up with the finish that I like the appearance of.

*Here are the two brands of acrylic polyurethane that I recommend:   Benjamin stays clear verathane diamond finishMoore Stays Clear Acrylic Polyurethane  (Satin finish for distressed pieces)  and Verathane Elite Diamond Finish.  I have used Varathane in Satin finish, but I am told it comes in flat finish that I would like to try.

Benjamin Moore’s is best used over mid to dark colored paints, as it will gray a bit if you have a drip line that you’ve overlooked, or it collects in any grooves.

Varathane Elite Diamond Finish seems to turn a little milky if it is heavy in the grooves or a drip line, so I use it on white or light finishes.

Here is your shopping list:

  1. A small piece of furniture
  2. A design story for your piece
  3. Hardware
  4. Drop cloth (large)
  5. Good Brushes-1 or 2 that feel like a good size in your hand—not too             heavy.  Wooster, Corona, Purdy
  6. Electric sander.  I like the Dewalt rotary sander.  Don’t forget the correct sand paper or discs for the one you buy.  Of course you don’t need an electric sander.  A variety of sanding blocks will work well too, it just takes more stamina!
  7. Steel wool, tack cloths, stir sticks,
  8. Quart of paint in the color you want, and quart of acrylic glazing liquid.
  9. Quart of Stix Bonding primer
  10. Quart of Verathane Elite Diamond Finish, or Benjamin Moore Stays Clear in the finish of your choice, and depending on your paint color.  Remember B.M. for darker colors, Verathane for Lights.
  11. Time, Lighting, and patience.