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Home > Projects & DIY Toolkit > How-To Articles > Painting Furniture

Painting Furniture

Paint seals and protects the wood, but the process can also magnify imperfections. That's why proper preparation and technique are so important. To achieve a professional quality finish you must sand the wood smooth, repair all defects, and prime the surface before painting. You should also use the highest quality paint and brushes to obtain the best results. Lowe's is happy to provide this information as a service to you.

Tools & Materials


  •   • Rubber gloves
  •   • Protective eyewear
  •   • Tack cloth
  •   • Clean, soft cloths/rags
  •   • Synthetic bristled brush
  •   • Electric sander (optional)
  •   • Dust mask


  •   • Sandpaper
  •   • Fine synthetic steel wool
  •   • Denatured alcohol
  •   • Water-based paint
  •   • Water-based, enamel undercoating primer

Sand the Surface

Always sand with the grain of the wood.

  •   1. To produce smooth surfaces, always sand with the grain of the wood. The material should go through at least three sandings with successively finer grit sandpaper. Start with 80 grit, move to 150 grit and finish with 220 grit. Use a tack cloth to remove dust between sandings.
  •   2. Raise the grain in the wood by rubbing it lightly with a damp cloth. Allow the wood to dry, and sand the raised grain smooth with 400 or higher grit sandpaper or synthetic steel wool. Use a tack cloth to remove any sanding dust.
  •   3. Use a lamp or flashlight to set up a raking light (a light that shines on the project's surfaces at a steep angle). Apply a light coat of denatured alcohol to each surface as you inspect it. Alcohol increases the bare wood's sheen and highlights any areas that still need sanding or smoothing. Rub out any rough spots with synthetic steel wool. Wipe the material with a clean tack cloth to remove any dust.
Good idea: Use a sanding pad to smooth curved, rounded or contoured edges. Sanding pads are more flexible than sandpaper and can conform to match contoured surfaces.
Never use steel wool in conjunction with water-based finishes. Slivers left behind may react with the finish materials and leave rust stains.

Prime and Paint

  •   1. Use a high quality synthetic bristled brush to apply a light coat of water-based, enamel undercoating primer to your project. Allow the primer to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. Check the project one more time with the raking light and repair any imperfections.
  •   2. Use a synthetic bristled brush to apply a light coat of latex (water-based) paint to your project. Allow the paint to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions and recoat with paint until you are satisfied with the finish. When painting, it is always better to apply two thin coats than one thick one, to avoid runs, drips, sags and other potential paint problems.
  •   3. For more protection, you can add a topcoat to your paint with two layers of water-based polyurethane.
    •   • Apply a thin coat with a synthetic bristled brush.
    •   • Allow the polyurethane to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.
    •   • Sand the topcoat lightly with 400 or higher grit sandpaper or synthetic steel wool. Remove any sanding dust with a tack cloth.
    •   • Brush on a second light coat of polyurethane and allow it to dry.

Choosing Paint

When painting indoors, use paint marked as "Interior" or "Interior/Exterior." Exterior paint is not for indoor use. Plus it doesn't dry as quickly and has a stronger odour - an important factor inside the house.

Sheen is the term used to describe the degree of light reflection a paint has. Usually the less sheen an interior paint has, the less stain-resistant it is. Different manufacturers may have various trade names for them, but in general sheens are classified as "Gloss," "Semi-Gloss," "Satin" and "Flat."

  •   • Gloss is the toughest. It's also an easier surface to clean, which makes it a good choice for areas of high traffic or constant use. Gloss is most often used on a home's wood trim, baseboards and kitchen and bath walls. Gloss paint will, however, show imperfections in the surface more than other sheens.
  •   • Semi-gloss paints are also durable and easy to clean, but have less shine than gloss. They are just as suitable for woodwork, kitchens, baths and other high-traffic or high-humidity places.
  •   • Satin offers a good combination of easy-clean and moderate sheen.
  •   • Eggshell is a smooth, low-sheen finish that has less sheen than satin. It is ideal for living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and dens.
  •   • Flat paint is considered non-reflective and a good choice for large wall and ceiling areas. It also hides imperfections well and spatters less when applied.

Semi-gloss and satin are typically the best sheen choices for painting furniture.

Painting Tips and Considerations

  •   • Always use quality paint. Paints with higher concentrations of solids cover better, flow more evenly and help hide or reduce brush strokes.
  •   • Use the right brush. Synthetic bristle brushes are for latex (acrylic or water-based) paint and natural bristle brushes are for solvent-based paint.
  •   • Always use a primer. Primer adheres to wood surfaces better than paint. Primer also helps stop or reduce the effects of acids, pitch or tar that can migrate out of the wood and stain through your paint.
  •   • Brush with the wood grain. Brushing with the grain helps the paint flow more evenly and reduces the appearance of lap marks.
  •   • Allow the paint to dry completely between coats. Paint that hasn't dried fully tends to have higher surface tension and restricts your paints flow.

Tools, products, materials, techniques, building codes and local regulations change; therefore, Lowe's assumes no liability for omissions, errors or the outcome of any project. The reader must always exercise reasonable caution, follow current codes and regulations that may apply, and is urged to consult with a licensed professional if in doubt about any procedures. Please visit our terms of use.

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