Painting kitchen chairs?
August 21, 2010 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Should we sand down some wooden kitchen chairs that have a natural finish before repainting them?

My wife and I just acquired some used kitchen chairs. They're pretty standard- a light wood with a natural finish on it. Look just like these ( They're pretty cheap, and not in the best of shape, so we would like to paint them.

Two questions- Should we sand off the finish before painting them? Also, what kind of paint would you suggest using? I've read that oil based paint can actually give a better finish. Is this true?
posted by kraigory to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't.

The problem is they might have a polyurethane coating or something (that's more likely with cheap things), that would keep the paint job from lasting as long, but would take a lot of work to get off too. Still, if they don't show lots of spots and the plastic isn't rubbing off, I'd go ahead and just paint (and not be disappointed if the job only lasted three or so years.)
posted by Some1 at 1:56 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Should we worry about using a certain type of paint that is compatible with the polyurethane?
posted by kraigory at 2:00 PM on August 21, 2010

It's probably a sprayed on laquer. Painting on that stuff as-is is going to be iffy as the paint won't have anything really to hold onto. Take some 220 grit sandpaper and rub it down, not to take off the finish, but to break the surface down. Don't worry about all the little cracks, just do a decent job of getting everywhere you can until the surface is dull. You might need to do some misting with water to keep the sandpaper from getting clogged (use wet/dry paper). You might want to hit it with a primer coat of Zinnser first, just to make a reasonable chemical bond too.

If you have a spray gun (e.g. wagner power painter) it'll make priming and painting a lot easier... more light coats are much better than fewer heavy coats, and painting lots of fiddly dowels on those chairs with a brush is a PITA.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:07 PM on August 21, 2010

clarification: prime with Zinnser after sanding. If you do wet sand, use very little water (as I said, just misting with a spray bottle). Be sure to wipe off all the dust thoroughly before you paint.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:08 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, polyurethane is unusual on mass-produced furniture because it takes so long to dry. Lacquer is fairly standard, though other fast-curing finishes such as catalyzed / "conversion" varnishes and some newer waterbased finishes are used too.

What you want to avoid is latex paint that's intended for walls, because such paints tend to remain soft, impressionable and vaguely sticky indefinitely. Assuming you'll be painting with a brush, enamel is probably the way to go. Lacquer, especially colored lacquer, is more of a specialty product and is best applied with a spray gun.

I would clean the chairs carefully and give them a light sanding with fine-grit paper so the new paint has something to hang onto. Like Some1 says, completely stripping the old finish is probably more work than it's worth.
posted by jon1270 at 2:19 PM on August 21, 2010

There are a few ways you could do this, but when I'm painting finished wood I've gotten the best results from a light sanding then sealing with shellac (specific Zinsser link as while I second seanmpuckett here, just realize that they've got dozens of different primers and sealants) before painting.

Generally, oil-based enamel will give a more durable finish, but the trade-off is needing paint thinner rather than water for cleanup, stronger odor, and slower drying time. Regardless of paint type, the secret to a longer-lasting finish is NOT glopping on paint and trying to cover everything completely at once, but doing two (or even more) thinner coats of whatever finish you choose allowing at least several hours (ideally overnight) drying between coats - I'd probably do a satin-finish oil in this case, and after the initial sanding/priming do three coats (probably overkill, but that's how I paint) with light sanding after the first two.
posted by jalexei at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2010

seanmpuckett has it right - I've used that method to paint many a mass-produced garage sale find. I've only started doing it over the last 5 years or so, so I can't assure you that it would be permanent, but it's good enough for a few $5 side chairs.

I've used latex paint and it's been fine, btw. Regular interior "wall paint" is fine unless you want to go into professional furniture restoration.

Also agree with jalaxei about a couple or three light coats.
posted by Sara C. at 4:26 PM on August 21, 2010

seanmpuckett no doubt has the right way to do this, and it really does depend on the results you want. What has happened to me though, is once you start sanding this kind of furniture, you get little 'beeds' all over it. I guess that is lacquer, but it is definitely a pain so, unless it is already coming off, I leave it alone.

I guess it depends on how much work you want to do (I'm lazy), how many tools you have (I find it easy to spend more on DIY stuff than premium items would have cost) and, for me hardest to deal with, whether or not you have a place to keep the works in progress.

Really good furniture, well taken care of should last for almost forever. (I've got some things I try to treat that well.) Things from Target or Ikea won't no matter what you do. With my garage sale finds (and gifts for college students), rough painting will make it four years, it seems. And doing it twice before they fall apart isn't that big a deal. But, yeah, it does depend on what you want. (I don't like Latex paints, obviously because I don't prep the wood well enough.)
posted by Some1 at 6:52 PM on August 21, 2010

For a washed-out / shabby chic / objets trouve / Scandanavian look why not sand them kind of approximately and then apply a wash of emulsion or water-based eggshell - you've probably got half a tin somewhere, ideally in a white or off-white. Dry in no time and easy to do.
posted by tigrefacile at 8:29 PM on August 21, 2010

Some1: the finish "beads" I think you are describing are a technique issue. Friction heat from rubbing hard & fast softens the finish and it gums up into blobs. A light touch with the sandpaper, patience/going slow and a little dampness can help keep that from happening.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:42 AM on August 22, 2010

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