If you’re anything like me, you probably have a piece (or two) of furniture in your home that’s made from a dark wood shiny veneer. It’s still in good shape but looks so dated. And it’s also a pain to paint because of the slick surface. I’m going to show you how to prep and paint that furniture with a paint gun – and the results will amaze you!
It’s week 3 of my One Room Challenge master bedroom makeover and this week was all about painting furniture.
As I mentioned in my master bedroom design plan last week, I’m saving some money on this remodel by reusing the end tables and book shelves that were already in the bedroom.
However, to make them go with my new moody, modern bedroom, they really needed an upgrade! That mahogany wood veneer just doesn’t cut it anymore.
So that means some painting projects. I decided gloss black paint would be just the thing.
The one problem with re-painting existing furniture is making sure that the paint sticks. I don’t want it to be peeling in a few months time…with my eclectic, deco, glam style, chipping paint is definitely NOT the look I’m going for.
I’m also probably the only person in the world who isn’t a fan of chalk paint (which they say sticks better than regular paint)…so I’m using some latex black paint (Valspar Dark Kettle Black) that was left over from my den makeover. One less can of paint to buy!
The trick to getting a good finish is a good start. The prep work is everything!
The main steps to prepping a piece of furniture is to sand and prime it.
Sanding removes the top of the old finish and priming it seals the surface.
So let’s get started!
1 | Sand Furniture Without Getting Sawdust Everywhere
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I have never had very good luck with liquid sanders*…the kind you rub on and then wipe off, supposedly taking the old finish with it.
This is not to say that they don’t work, it could be operator error (ie. I might not have done it right). If anyone has any tips on how to make them work, I’d love to hear them!
But in any case, I didn’t even attempt to use them for this go around.
So we went for the good old manual sanding effort instead. And by “we”, I really mean my mother…
The end tables had a fair number of details that needed to be hand-sanded.
Using a fine grit sanding block with an angled end makes it easier to get into those grooves.
The fine grit takes the finish off without gouging into the surface below. And it doesn’t really generate too much mess…which is always a bonus.
If you don’t have a sanding block, 220 grit sandpaper will work, too. It’s just a little harder to get it to sand into the grooves evenly.
In both cases, you want to sand in the same direction of the wood grain (if there is one). Otherwise, you may end up with scratches on the furniture that you can see when it’s painted.
However, there were also some fairly large flat areas that could be sanded with an electric sander…a much faster but messier way to sand.
I use a DeWalt random orbit sander* for sanding furniture since it is easy to use without leaving gouges in the wood.
To use it correctly, don’t press down on it as you sand and let it move in small circles as you move from one end of the furniture to the next. The furniture finish will be removed in no time!
The only problem is all of the sawdust it spews everywhere. Using it in the garage is bad enough, but trying to use it indoors is impossible!
Dust Collection Option #1
In the past, I have tried hooking up a shop vac* to the sander but it never seemed to get all of the sawdust. Eventually the dust would start to rise out of the shop vac canister. And every once in a while the hose would come off the sander at the worst possible moment…resulting in the same mountain of dust covering everything.
Dust Collection Option #2
Then last year, I took a woodworking class and learned how the professionals sand furniture WITHOUT getting dust everywhere! This method works so well you can even do it in the house!
Okay, I should say professionals that aren’t working in their shops…then they usually have a fancy dust collection system built in.
But as far as portable dust collection, I think this is the best thing since sliced bread.
So what is it you ask?
The Festool HEPA dust collector*. I will warn you now that they are pretty expensive! But if do lots of DIY projects like I do, I think they are worth every penny!
It works like a vacuum but has a very powerful suction engine and a HEPA filter. When you attach it to your sander, it really works to collect ALL of the dust! The end of the hose is rubber and fits very snugly into the dust bag tube for my sander, so it never falls out in the middle of sanding.
There are different models and sizes available, but I have the CT-26E*. It has large-sized wheels that make it very easy to move around, is compact enough to store away under my work bench, and my favorite part…has an automated power outlet. If you plug your sander into this outlet, and switch the dust collector to auto mode, the vacuum will automatically turn on when you start up the sander, and switch off when you stop.
Obviously, for this to work, you need a sander that has a dust bag or hose attachment option (most electric ones do).
And it works best for sanders that have holes in the bottom. That way it can suck up the dust directly as it is created.
The dust collector works great for sanding dry wall or cutting concrete as well as pretty much any other power tool that has a dust bag. For me, not having to clean up after doing these kinds of jobs more than makes up for the price of the vacuum!
2 | Remove Residue
After all of the furniture has been sanded, make sure any remaining grease or oil has been removed from the surface.
Krud Kutter* does a great job of this.
Spray it on and let it sit for about a minute, then wipe it off. It was amazing how much extra oil and varnish came off on the rag!
Make sure it is completely dry by waiting an hour before continuing to the priming stage.
3 | Prime The Furniture
Adding a coat of primer paint helps to make sure the paint sticks and covers up any stains that might bleed through the paint.
For wood that has been finished before, I like to use Kilz latex primer*. It is water based which makes it fairly easy to clean up.
However for unfinished wood, a shellac-based primer* works best. It provides the best adhesion, seals the knots in the wood and makes sure any moisture or resin in the wood does not cause issues with your paint. It is a little more difficult to clean up, so you can go with an oil-based primer instead if you prefer.
When the primer has dried, give the furniture a light sanding to remove any rough bits. This will make your final paint finish smoother.
4 | Use A Paint Sprayer Without Getting Paint Everywhere
My favorite way to paint furniture is to with a paint sprayer.
The finish is always smooth, it’s faster and it gets into the nooks and crannies much better than a paint brush or roller would.
As with any paint spraying project, doing two or three thin layers works better for a smooth surface (with no drips) than one thicker layer.
To be honest, paint sprayers haven’t always been my favorite tool. But I finally found a spray gun that works! (And I have tried a lot of them.)
The Homeright Finish Max electric paint sprayer* is my new best friend! It’s an HVLP spray gun that is easy to use, sprays evenly and is easy to clean up. No separate air compressor required!
The only problem with spray painting is that the paint goes everywhere!
Fortunately, Homeright has a solution for that, too. They make a painting tent*. You put down a drop cloth and put up the tent which only takes a few minutes.
Then move the furniture in and start spraying…the paint stays in the tent! Brilliant!
For this project, it was nice enough outside to set the tent up on the deck (although I have used it in the garage on other occasions). A few minutes later, my end tables were no longer mahogany colored and look so much better already.
The fold down screen on the front of the tent helped to keep the bugs and pollen off of my wet paint.
This is pretty important around here at this time of the year…my outdoor patio tables are green on the top because of the pollen build up and I’m not going for a green tint on my painted furniture.
With no rain in the forecast, I was able to leave the painted furniture outside to dry for 24 hours.
With gloss or semi-gloss paint, I like to wait that long to make sure it is dry before putting on the next coat.
After a second coat of paint, my end tables look brand new!
5 | Spray Paint Accessories Without Making A Mess
Finally, I wanted to add some accessories to my end tables to make them a little more modern. And I don’t think a DIY project is done unless a little spray paint is involved.
Doing this inside of a box helps to keep the paint from going everywhere…something like the paint tent only on a smaller scale.
Then we attached them onto the corners of the table drawers with screws to give it a little more industrial feel.
7 | The Finished Look
Without giving away the whole room, here’s how the side table looked after the room was finished. So much better than the originals!
Well, I’m sure you’ve heard enough about painting by now…and we’re still not finished, so I need to get busy!
And if you want to see the finished project, you can find my master bedroom makeover HERE.
Other furniture Painting Tips you might like
- How to paint wooden furniture without sanding
- How to paint metal patio furniture
- Black lacquer bar cabinet makeover
- Spray painting tips for a smooth finish
Have comments or questions on how to paint veneer furniture with a paint gun? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on April 18, 2018 but was updated with new content on June 2, 2022.