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  • Writer's pictureMellow Deco

Furniture refinishing - How to prep furniture for painting

1923 Valspar Paint advert

Fail to prepare and prepare to fail

That is a great quote and true in so many areas of life. We'll just talk about one; furniture refinishing. We've all seen claims by various paint manufacturers that their paint needs no prep. Sounds wonderful? So, you've found a lovely piece of furniture, you've got your no prep paint – you're good to go, right? Well, let's consider another scenario – you've found a fabulous outfit from a great brand – 'Put it on and you'll be instantly transformed into someone elegant/glamorous/trendy' say the ads/influencers/celebs. It arrives and you joyfully rip open its beautiful packaging; but you wouldn't dream of putting it on straight after a long, hot and sticky day in the office, or a busy day gardening, or right after your 5 mile jog. The outfit, no matter how good the brand is, won't stay looking fabulous for very long if you wear it like this.

1930 Duco Paint advert

It's no different when it comes to refinishing furniture. Yes, you may be desperate to get your paint brushes out and transform your piece of furniture, but is painting without any prep really a good idea? If you've purchased a vintage piece of furniture, do you know where it's been kept? What products were used on it? For instance, it may have spent some time in an old barn or warehouse – it could have been exposed to insects, animals, dust, damp, oil, mould. It may have been owned by a heavy smoker and over the years has accumulated a residue of nicotine. It could have been lovingly polished with furniture polish for decades and built up many layers of product. Or maybe it has been treated with a wax to repel moisture or fingermarks.

Cleaning dirty furniture.  Prep furniture before painting

In all of these cases preparation would be important to ensure that your chosen paint adheres properly and, just as importantly, will last. Even with furniture that appears to be in a pristine condition, preparation is still required. Often a thorough cleaning will be all that is necessary*. If there is mould, then obviously an appropriate removal and prevention treatment would be needed. Sometimes after cleaning, a light sanding to scuff the surface will help the paint to adhere to the surface. In the case of wax though, more preparation is required. Firstly cleaning would be necessary, then the wax would need to be removed with white spirit or a wax removing product (though there are some paint brands that you can use over wax – cleaning would still be required first).

Removing old finish from furniture.  Prep furniture before painting

You now may be thinking maybe it's better to just remove the old finish. Sometimes using a paint remover to strip off the old finish is the best solution. However, if you wanted to sand off the old finish, again, cleaning first is key. If there is any grime or product residue, then sanding without the correct preparation could mean you are potentially sanding it into the wood grain - the same is true of a wax finish – which again can mean issues with your paint job down the line.

1927 Duco paint advert

Once you've cleaned your furniture, now you're ready to paint, right? Well, maybe, but there are a few more things to check before you can lift your paintbrush. Have a good look to ensure there are no areas of damage to the wood/veneer that need repairing or removing. Is there any filling to do? Any loose trim or decorative mouldings that need fixing? Look for any evidence of woodworm and, if found, you will need to treat this. If you are going to be using a light paint colour, then, depending on the type of wood, you may need to use a specialised primer** to stop any of the wood tannins or knots 'bleeding' through into your paint finish. All of these issues should be resolved before you start painting.

1926 Duco finishes advert

This might seem like a lot of work, but it's definitely worth it. You'll have a lovely, clean and sound piece of furniture ready for its transformation, which you can enjoy for many years to come.

So, fail to prepare – prepare to fail! Happy painting!!

*In our next blog we'll go through some of the products we use when preparing our furniture for refinishing.

** Zinsser B.I.N is a shellac based primer which will prevent issues with bleed through. This is to be used before your chosen paint.

The vintage paints adverts are courtesy of

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