Home Improvement

12 Tips for Painting and Redoing Furniture Like a Pro

August 8th 2014

Redoing vintage pieces of furniture is in right now. Giving an old bookcase new life with a bright coat of paint or staining a dresser to recycle it and make it work for your decor is an easy project that can make a big statement in any room.


Whether you want to restore an old piece to its original beauty or give something a new style, these tips will help. This project is perfect for any do-it-yourselfer, whether you consider yourself a guru or not.


Whenever you work with tools, paint or stain, wear gloves and safety goggles. If you are using chemicals, work in an open area so the fumes will disperse and won’t be dangerous to your health.

Choose Whether to Restore or Redo

First, decide whether you want to try to bring the piece of furniture back to the way it originally looked, or retain its style, or give it a complete makeover. Maintaining the style means using paint or stain that matches the piece’s style and period and simply restoring it to make it look like new, without changing its style.


On the other hand, you can redo a piece by painting something that was otherwise stained or completely changing the style of it by making alterations, changing hardware or adding elements.


Think about the style in your home and where you will put the finished product as you decide what to do with it.

Envision the Finished Product

Now, start envisioning what you want the finished product to look like. Unlike some DIY projects, making changes to this kind of project in the middle of the process is hard to do. Decide now what colours you want to use, what you want to add and what you want the finished piece to look like.


You can look at pictures in magazines or online for inspiration on style and colours and then try to tie your design into your home’s style. 

Choose the Right Colours

The best way to choose paint or stain colours is to pick up some paint chips and then lay them on the piece of furniture. If you can, place the piece where it will be when it’s finished so that you can draw on the other colours in the room and the amount of light it gets.


Look at the samples throughout the day to catch it in different lights and compare them to the style and colours already in the room. Then if you want, you can even purchase a few sample cans to test on the piece so you can get an idea of what it will look like.


Remember that you can use flat, satin or glossed paint or even use a technique like distressing the surface to add character to it.

Don’t Forget Hardware!

The hardware, like the knobs and drawer pulls, of a piece of furniture add a lot to its personality. Decide if you want to keep the current hardware, repaint it or buy new pieces altogether.


If you are restoring the piece you will most likely want to stick with the original hardware or something that has the same style. If you are going for an updated look, use hardware with a more modern style.

Prepare the Piece for Refinishing

Now, put the furniture on a tarp or drop cloth and get ready to refinish it. Remove all the hardware and take out drawers or shelves whenever possible. Use paint stripper to carefully remove the existing finish. Now, use an orbital sander to work out any imperfections.


Look over the piece and identify any holes, cracks, chips or dents. If the damage is small, you may be able to smooth it out with a sander. Otherwise, use wood filler to repair it.

Don’t Skip the Primer

If you are using paint, you need to use primer too. Primer is one of the things that will make your piece look like it was done by a professional. It will help you cover dark wood and can even help hide small scratches that the sander couldn’t remove.


Use primer as per the instructions on the package and let the furniture dry completely before you start painting.

Read the Instructions!

Always read the instructions on any products you use. Strippers, primers, paints and stains all come with very specific directions and if you want your piece to look good, you need to follow them exactly.

Work with the Grain

When you strip, sand, paint and stain furniture, it’s essential that you work with the grain. This is especially true if you are using stain. If you don’t do this, the finish won’t look smooth and might not stain the wood correctly, giving you a less than professional look.


For very large pieces of furniture, use a paint sprayer system to apply an even coat quickly and easily.

Small Details Count

Small details like trim, appliqués, borders and leg shapes make a big difference. If you are painting the furniture, think about using a contrasting colour or slightly different hue to make these details stand out. Again, this will speak to the overall style and personality of the piece so whether or not you do this will depend on what kind of look you are going for.

Consider the Inside

If you are refinishing something like a dresser, hutch or desk, remember that the insides of drawers and cupboards will be seen occasionally. Consider either finishing these areas the same way you are treating the rest of the piece or using matching shelf liners to give them some personality.

Use a Paint Protectant

Furniture has to be able to withstand daily use and the occasional bump or scrape. Protect your finished piece with a coat of polyurethane to keep it looking its best. Always follow the instructions that came with the protectant you are using.

Work Patiently

Many parts of this process require patience. After you apply the primer, paint, stain or polyurethane, you will need to wait before you apply the next coat. The piece needs to be completely dry before you can put drawers and shelves back and install hardware. Patience and careful work will lead to a more beautiful finished product!


Redoing furniture is a great way to give an existing piece of furniture a new look or makeover a thrift store find. Get creative and choose colours, finishes and hardware that add personality and give you a unique, custom piece of furniture.

About the Author

Lauren King

Lauren works in our Ecommerce Team, with over 6 years of experience at HSS. She brings product knowledge and is able to give her advice on the right tool for the job no matter how big or small.

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