How to paint furniture

There are many different ways to paint furniture, with different effects and techniques. Some companies will claim you don't have to do preparation, but as we strongly disagree with that in most cases, we will explain here all the different preparation methods and things to look out for, as well as some useful paint effects and finishes. (book mark this page now, before you forget)

Recommended tools and products used in our tutorial:

These round brushes aren't essential, but they give a great finish when doing corners like the inside of drawers etc. We have provided a link to a brush that we use due to the great natural bristles. We prefer natural bristles to synthetic for painting as its easier to load the brush up with more paint, plus later down the line, if you wish to try the dry brush technique, we feel natural bristle is far superior. 
A great combination of natural bristle and synthetic bristle in a selection of sizes. We feel synthetic works well for varnish finishes as they are much more fluid and tend to leave less brush stroke marks. The natural bristle brushes are great for paint work. just make sure to remove any loose bristles before painting!
Zinsser Primer is a fantastic product! It is useful for so many things! It is a shellac based paint which has stain blocking properties and will stick to anything! As long as your item is clean, apply a thin coat of Zinsser B.I.N and you will be able to safely use any paint over the top of it.
This paint can be tricky to get the hang of at first as it dries incredibly fast and can get a bit tacky if you start going over yourself to much. It has a very potent smell and fumes also, so you will need a well ventilated area to work in. 
This product will allow you to paint anything in no time, and will even seal all those pesky wood knots that have a habit of bleeding into your paint.

We love this varnish due to its "dead flat" nature. You can barely tell there is any varnish on there at all. It is a great varnish for protecting paint work, but wouldn't recommend it for finishing table tops or surfaces that are in constant use.

When applying the varnish, use a synthetic brush. It will appear milky with bubbles at first, but don't panic, that dries completely clear. you'll love it!

"Chalk paints" are not something that we are in full agreement with. We have tried and stocked many brands, but due to their "needs no preparation" marketing we chose alternative methods. However, the pigments in "Autentico" and "Annie Sloan" paint are exceptional and makes painting the brighter colours so much fun! Two coats and it looks a solid representation of the colour advertised. The whites however, naturally are not as strong and will require 3-4 coats but this is the same with most brands. Try the Antique Turquoise by "Autentico" the pigments are so vibrant and look great matt and satin alike.


Our basic furniture painting tutorial:  (Scroll down for more advanced techniques)

1) First of all we need to prepare the item for painting. This step all depends on how committed you are to the project. The most effective preparation you can do is to sand of the majority or all of the previous finish, i.e. varnish or lacquer. We recommend using the Metabo Orbit Sander for large surfaces and a Mouse Multi-Sander for the more intricate details. Once sanded, dust off with a brush and cloth, then remove the finer dust using a Tack Cloth .
If the wood has knots, its best to seal these now. Zinsser Primer & Sealer  will block these well, just apply a thin coat to each individual knot and allow to fully dry.
If you don't have the time to sand the item completely, you can rough it up with some coarse 100 - 60 grit paper, which keys the surface slightly, allowing paint to stick a little better. Then Remove all dust and grease. Sugar soap is a great way to remove all grease and dirt. (Don't apply too much mind, as the grain of the wood will raise, just a damp sponge will do.) Then using Zinsser Primer & Sealer , apply a thin coat all over and allow to dry fully.
We also recommend removing all handles and iron work at this point. Its far easier to remove and reattach, than painting around and masking.
2) Stir your paint well! It doesn't matter what brand of paint you are using, this is a crucial step. People often skip out this step, which can lead to the paint flaking off over time. Either turn the tin upside down and shake well, or use a paint mixing stick.
3) Choose your preferred size paint brush, and check for loose bristles. There's nothing worse than fishing bristles out of your pristine paint finish! 
4) Dip the brush into the paint, only covering the bristles half way. Try not to get any paint near the metal of the brush, as paint can get stuck there and drip out annoyingly unexpectedly.
5) When applying the paint, try to lift the brush from the surface as little as possible, this will help create a fluid brush stroke effect without leaving abrupt lines at the end of your strokes in the paint. All brush stroke marks that are left, are nearly always exaggerated with finishing effects, like wax or varnish. So it is a good idea to get into the habit of leaving clean brush strokes. Keep all brush strokes in the same direction, and if possible, keep them in the same direction of the wood grain.
6) Apply two or three thin coats of paint. Depending on the style you are going for, sanding lightly between coats with fine (220-grit) sandpaper will help gain the effect of a very fine, smooth finish. However this is not always needed, if going for a slightly, or rough distressed look.
Scroll down for finishing techniques and special effects

How to give your item a distressed aged look. 

The "distressing" process does seem very counter productive, as effectively, you are undoing all your hard work. However, finished results can give an authentic aged look that can highlight the shape, carving and mouldings on your furniture item.
Before starting, ensure you have given your item enough coats of paint all over, and make sure it is dry before beginning the fist step.
1) This is an artistic finish, so it really depends on the style you are going for, but i would recommend using 100 grit sand paper. This is rough enough to cut through the paint and a little of the top surface of the furniture item to reveal bare wood.
Place the sand paper into a sanding block, or fold and use directly with your hands.
2) Now, start to analyse the item, and think, if it had been around for 100 years, what parts of it would get the most wear and tear or usage. For example, the base will tend to get scuffed by feet, corners and edges have the smallest surface area and are more prone to wear and tear. Areas around the handles will always get touched. These are all the areas that you need to focus your distressing technique.
3) Its always a good idea to do this step with good ventilation, a dust mask, and if indoors, a hoover to hand. Start by gently running the sandpaper against the paint in the areas you have picked to distress. I usually try to keep this motion all in one direction as it gives a smoother distressed look, but like i said, this is an artistic finish and you are the artist!
Do this in all the areas, just to highlight how much you are looking to do. This is a good opportunity to adjust how much you would like to distress. 
Once happy with the areas you want to apply this effect, begin sanding a little harder. Sanding harder in areas of most "potential use". Again, in this step, I would expose some of the wood under the paint in the most used areas.
4) Remove all dust. If  you have a small brush accessory for your hoover, this works great! If not, with a soft bristle brush, dust of all the removed paint and dust. Now with a tack rag or a very slightly damp cloth, wipe the item all over, removing any fine remaining particles.

5) Seal the item. As you have begun the "distressing" effect, without sealing the paint, more paint can flake off as it is easier to distress naturally with your own usage of the item. So to keep the item looking exactly how you want it, either seal with a wax or varnish at this point to finish!

Crackle Effect Finish

1) Apply a base coat of paint to the project surface, and let it dry. The base coat will show through the crackled top coat, so choose paint colours that contrast nicely.
2) Brush a coat of "clear crackle-finish medium" onto the piece. The crackle glaze usually takes 30 minutes to an hour to dry.
3) Apply your chosen top coat paint, loading the brush with enough paint so that each section can be painted with one motion. The crackling begins immediately on the first layer of paint it comes in contact with. Avoid over-brushing, which will just cover the crackle effect.
4) Now finish and seal with a varnish or wax.
If you don't want a two tone effect, a lovely way to show of the crackle glaze, is to cover your dominant colour with the crackle glaze, allow to dry and then cover with a dark wax. Once the wax is set, use a small bit of clear wax on a cloth to rub away excess dark wax, leaving just the dark wax in the cracks. This technique looks very authentic and elegant. Plus it doubles up as a finish, and just requires buffing up with a woollen cloth to seal.

Dark Wax Aged Effect Finish

The purpose of using dark wax on painted furniture is to give the effect of a patina, which will make your item look naturally aged and antique.
There are several ways of creating this effect with wax, but here is the one we feel gives the best results:
1) Make sure your painted surface is completely dry.
Use an old paint brush to apply the dark wax, making sure you get right into all the corners, details and carvings. Do not apply a thick coat as this will make the next step much harder for you.
This doesn't have to be a particularly neat process, as this is just the starting point.
2) Leave the wax to set, usually about an hour.
Now apply some clear wax to a clean cloth, preferably a lint free cloth, and start applying it to the item over the dark wax. The purpose of this is to remove most of the dark wax, just leaving some in the grain of the paint and the detailing and carvings. How much you remove is up to you. Keep rotating the cloth in this process, applying more clear wax.
3) Once your happy with the effect, allow the wax to set.

4) With a soft woollen or cotton rag (old scarfs work great...not the furry ones though!), gently buff the wax to a shine. The buffing process is important as it gives the item a smooth surface and allows any spills or drips to just run off it, and makes it a little more durable.

Dry Brush Painting 

So, first of all, lets explain what dry brushing is. This is a technique that involves using a very small amount of paint on your brush, with the moisture dabbed off onto paper or an old rag, leaving a dry paint substance that gives a mottled aged effect on application.

how we do it:
First pour a small amount of paint on the underside of the paint can lid or small container.

Gently dab the tip of a dry paint brush into the paint then dab it onto a paper towel to remove any excess paint. You want to keep the tip of your paint brush “dry” and not wet with paint. At the beginning, its best to start with just a small amount on your brush, and add more as you become more confident and comfortable with the technique. It is a slow process to begin with, but at least its just one coat right!

A good indicator for the right amount of paint and contexture is the bristles on the brush, if they are separated and not stuck together you will be fine, but if there is still enough paint there to hold the bristles all together, you will need to dab off a little more paint until they separate.

Use short, quick brush strokes in different directions to give it a textured, non-uniform look. To be honest there's no right or wrong way to dry brush, so get creative with your painting! You can even add in a few different colours or use different shades of the same colour to create a beautiful layered look.

This is very European technique and can be seen on plenty of French and Belgian furniture. It also looks great with a coat of dark wax or patina glaze to bring out the texture.