Do you have a piece of old furniture that you’d like to paint? In this post you’ll learn quick tips to paint wood furniture without sanding and how to determine if your wood furniture has lead based paint.
When I first moved out of my parents home and went off to college, I was on a strict budget for decorating my apartment. I knew that I could make my place nice and as an art major I was pretty familiar with painting various objects already. Off I went to the local Goodwill and thrifts for my furnishings and came back to paint and sew. Here’s a fun shot of me back in the day, and the wall behind me was decorated with a thrifted bed sheet that I tie-dyed. Purple and yellow…which definitely aren’t my colors now, haha! On the bed I had an Indian style bedspread from Pier One and a sheepskin throw. Fashion-wise I recall bleaching out my bell bottoms and fringing the ends. Style comes back in every 30 years and just take a look now at some of the sites like Anthropologie or the Coachella Festival and you’ll see what I mean. But I digress to talking about painting wood furniture.
When I shop for used furniture I look for pieces that have the authentic old paint when possible. It’s difficult to replicate the look of paint that has been on a piece for decades and often quite easy for me to distinguish when a painted surface is new. The table below is one that I found years ago hiding in a corner of an antique shop like a forgotten jewel. I adopted this half table orphan for $10 and love the white paint that is all chippy and shabby. Surfaces like this really speak my language and the paint is likely oil based and possibly would have lead in the mix. So let’s touch on lead based paint and what to do about that…
How Can You Tell If You Have Lead Based Paint
It’s safe to assume that any furniture painted before around 1960 would have lead based paint. Don’t be alarmed about it though, and DO NOT sand it unless you take it outside and wear basically a full hazmat suit and respirator! You probably don’t want to do that though. I have a couple of recommendations instead if you want to mingle old painted pieces into your home.
Can You Paint Over Lead Based Paint?
If you are concerned about lead being in your old pieces, you can purchase an inexpensive test kit that will tell you. Find that HERE. If your piece does test positive for lead you have choices.
- Do Nothing – This is what I do, since the lead doesn’t leach out and I have no babies who might teeth on it or dogs who might naw on it.
- Seal It – If you see paint peeling off, then it’s time to coat it with a sealer. THIS SEALER is a particularly good one and will prevent any issues and go right over your painted surface.
- Prime It First – If you are going to paint over furniture a safe bet is to prime it first. THIS is my favorite primer by far and we use it in our home when we paint over any old paint that might be oil based or have lead.
- Paint Over It – Yes you can paint right over old painted furniture without sanding. You will need something called a DEGLOSSER and you can use this on OLD KITCHEN CABINETS to prep for new paint as well! Find my favorite Deglosser HERE.
How To Paint Wood Furniture Without Sanding
Unless it’s a piece of furniture that you have painted before, you likely won’t know if the existing paint is oil or water based. If it’s water based you can repaint it with whatever you’d like. Where you’ll run into trouble is if the current paint is oil based and you are planning on updating it with water based. Not impossible though, you’ll need to take some steps to prevent the paint from peeling. Oil resists water but water does not resist oil.
- I purchased the nightstand above years ago (a matching set of two) and it had the factory finish on at the time. I have repainted it several times since, but the first rendition I knew that I needed to prep with the lacquer finish it had. I didn’t sand it, and instead chose to prime with a stain blocking water based primer. Before attempting to paint wood furniture without sanding, be sure to clean off your furniture. I like to use a tack cloth, but you could use an old white t-shirt. If it’s grimy use TSP mixed with water to remove the dirt. I could have easily used a deglosser as mentioned above, but in painting LIGHT COLORS over DARK COLORS a good primer prevents bleed through.
Above is the nightstand today in a beautiful shade of blue called Mystical Blue by Benjamin Moore #792. It’s regular semi-glass wall paint, that’s right…WALL PAINT! I have been painting my furniture with wall paint for over 30 years and never have had an issue with durability. This took two coats to get the look that I love and the only prep work that I did was to clean the furniture off.
There is no sealer or wax needed and it should hold up well to all of the abuse that it might be giving going forward.
Favorite Types Of Paint For Wood Furniture
- LATEX PAINT – It’s my favorite because it’s inexpensive and durable and I like the smooth finished look. There are many brands these days that are low VOC so less paint smell and they dry quickly. For intricate furniture or to make the job go faster you can opt to use a paint sprayer. I have the Wagner Flexio Power Sprayer and have used it often to paint chairs.
- Chalk Paint – Honestly I’m not a fan and have used several types of chalk paint. It’s a texture thing for me and I’ve seen far too many “shabby chic” renditions that are more on the shabby than the chic side. It’s expensive and if you prep I just can’t see paying the price. That’s a personal decision that you’d have to make though.
- Milk Paint – YES…I do LOVE milk paint! One of my favorite pieces of furniture is my family room coffee table that I painted with milk paint about 25 years ago. The finish is like butter and I waxed it only ONCE upon completion. Milk paint is the one paint that I feel CAN take on the appearance of “old paint” and stands up to abuse galore.
There really is not a BEST PAINT for wood furniture and it’s a matter of preference. Experiment and see which you like to work with and what you feel gives you the best look. If you enjoy painting and repurposing furniture, here are a few other posts you might like to see and questions are always welcomed!