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For a fast, economical way to breathe new life into an old piece of furniture, give it a coat of paint. Follow these easy instructions for how to prep and paint wood furniture for beautiful results.
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Remove the drawers, loose shelves, and hardware. If you want to paint the interior, remove the back, if possible. Repair any loose joints and putty dinged or damaged areas. Sand dried putty with a 220-grit sponge.
If you see screws on the inside front of a drawer box, the drawer may have a removable front piece that will be easier to paint than the entire drawer. Remove the screws to see if the front can be lifted free. If you have more than one drawer with a detachable front, label the fronts and drawers to help with reassembly.
If the surfaces have an existing finish that's already smooth, sand them with a 220-grit sanding sponge and wipe them clean with a moist cloth. For slightly rough surfaces, sand with a 180- and 220-grit sanding sponge, and wipe clean.
Using painter's tape, mask off any areas you don't want to paint, such as drawer boxes, the interior of the cabinet, or hardware and hinges you can't easily remove.
Whether you need to prime depends on the type and condition of the surface. Always prime and sand bare wood or damaged surfaces that have been patched.
Brushing in the direction of the grain, apply a thin coat of primer and let dry. An angled sash brush is handy for reaching into corners. Sand the primed surface with a 220-grit sanding sponge and wipe clean. Apply a second coat of primer, if necessary, to ensure a smooth base for your paint.
To condition a brush before applying latex primer or paint, run water over the length of the bristles and shake the brush to remove any excess. (For oil-based paint, use paint thinner.) This also makes the brush easier to clean.
Check the surfaces for smoothness and fill any additional flaws or damage as needed. Sand smooth, prime, and let dry.
Set up your project in a work area away from direct sunlight and strong breezes. Allow enough ventilation to carry away paint fumes. Leave enough space for you to walk completely around the object you're painting. Vacuum sanding dust and debris around the area where you'll apply the paint -- especially the floor and overhead lights. Allow the air to clear so it won't leave dust on your freshly painted surface, and then gently wipe off any dust that settled on the wood surface.
Shine a portable and adjustable light at an angle on the surfaces you'll paint. Angled lighting throws shadows that help you find surface imperfections, runs, or drips.
Plan your painting steps. If the item is small enough, consider tilting it on its side or end to paint surfaces one at a time while they're horizontal.
Use a synthetic-bristle brush for latex paint and a natural-bristle brush for oil-based paint. For flat surfaces, apply paint using a 4-inch foam roller, taking care to avoid drips around the edges. If you mix brushes and rollers, check that the surfaces will look the same after the paint levels and dries by inspecting your work in the angled light as you go.
Brush back and forth only enough to spread the paint and always in the direction of the wood grain or along the length of a previously painted surface. Once it goes on, additives in the paint help it level out any brush strokes -- when you stop brushing.
After the first coat dries, check the surface for drips and runs. If you find one and the paint has dried thoroughly, carefully sand it off. If you see paint collect on your sandpaper, stop immediately to keep paint globs from scratching the surface. Another technique is to lay a utility knife blade flat on the painted surface near the dried bump in the paint. Carefully tilt it until the edge shaves off the bump without damaging the surrounding paint. Then add another thin coat to conceal the repairs.
Paint dries from the surface down to the wood. A painted surface that feels dry to the touch may not be ready for sanding or recoating, so follow manufacturer recommendations for drying times.