DIY Furniture Question
March 10, 2014 11:22 PM   Subscribe

I want to paint this. For various reasons, stripping it first is out. How to get the best paint job?

My in-laws generously gave us this little wardrobe for the baby. I would LOVE to repaint it, but we don't have the tools or space (or time!) needed to strip it first. On top of this, my husband is still... *ahem* stripping - by hand - my last "project" (or rather, "my" last project!). What can I do to ensure a paint job that lasts at least a couple of years? Is there primer, a particular kind of paint, etc. anyone can recommend?

I've read a bunch of DIY articles = confused. If absolutely necessary, I could probably rough the surface up - but no way is it getting 100% stripped. Please note that I have not seen this in person, so I cannot comment on how smooth the varnish/stain is or what the quality of the surface is. In-laws are antique dealers who regularly refinish furniture - they buy clean pieces with good bones but Father in law said we'd probably want to paint it; he will tell us the "correct" way to do this and will not recommend short cuts or alternatives.

It looks like this inside, and is about four feet high. I'm thinking of using these forest critter door knobs. Gender neutral paint scheme recommendations welcome; thinking about using chalkboard paint in some of the panel areas.

Thank you!!
posted by jrobin276 to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you're going to attempt a refinish, then you really should strip it which is out for you. Based on the photo, it looks pretty good. I'd give it a scrub with oil soap then hit it with some furniture polish. Put on your adorable knobs. I'm guessing it will look good enough to showcase in the babies room.

And if the in-laws complain, then you have your excuse ready to go. "It's such a lovely piece that we didn't want to do a sloppy job. We're waiting to refinish it until we have time to do it right."
posted by 26.2 at 11:53 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Cleaning well and roughing up the surface sufficed for the last dresser I finished; it's holding up great after ten years in a kid's room. Use a good primer; I recommend Zinsser Smart Prime.
posted by metasarah at 2:05 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've never personally used it, but I know several people who have painted furniture with chalk paint (not chalkboard paint), which doesn't require much prep work (but does involve waxing after painting).
posted by candyland at 4:19 AM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I painted an old dresser using some kind of indoor paint in a small can (ie, probably the wrong paint) from the hardware store. I did this in the neighborhood of nine years ago now and it still looks fine, except for the spot where I tend to store kind of scrapey things, where the paint surface is a little warn. I didn't even prime. I did two careful coats with a small brush. I have been quite happy with the result, on the whole, although I'd sand and prime if I were doing it anew.

I have re-painted a number of things in my old, crumbly house. To me, the main reason to strip stuff is in the interest of all the future paint jobs - fifty million layers of paint isn't a great look.

But personally, if I had a small, simple cabinet to paint (especially a cute but not especially distinguished piece like that - don't get me wrong, I love those half wardrobes and would steal it in a minute) I would sand it well, prime and paint. I would expect that you might not get the world's most flawless paint job, and you might need an extra coat, but I think your results will be fine. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, here - we're not talking about a 19th century armoire.
posted by Frowner at 4:50 AM on March 11, 2014

I came in to also suggest chalk paint, but candyland beat me to it. I haven't used it myself, but my Facebook stream has recently been full of friends who are crowing about the ease of painting new-to-them furniture without stripping it first.
posted by instamatic at 5:07 AM on March 11, 2014

All you need to do is clean it thoroughly (TSP or the phosphate-free alternative) to get rid of old wax and oil, then lightly sand it to make the paint adhere, then prime it & paint it. Chalk paint looks nice but gloss enamel is more practical from a cleaning up point of view.
posted by mr vino at 5:30 AM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Mr. Vino has it. I'll further elaborate:

1. Clean with TSP substitute (I don't think we can buy TSP anymore) It's a degreaser.

2. Sand to rough up the finish. You do this with sandpaper or a sanding block. You just scruff a bit all over the wardrobe. You don't sand the finish off or anything, just rough it up so paint will stick better.

3. Take some tack cloth and wipe down to get the dust from the sandpaper off.

4. Prime it. I like Kilz or Zinsser for this. Use latex, not oil or shellac. Latex is easy to clean up, oil and shellac, so not.

5. Paint it. I'm with mr vino, a nice, high gloss paint is the way to go, so easy to clean! Use a fine brush for the detail and a 4" cabinet roller for the flat surfaces.

6. Don't paint the inside.

Total time for this project, including time for drying between coats, about 4 hours. Total work time, about an hour.

This won't be hard at all!

It does look nice as is. If you like the stain, wash it with oil soap and see if you like it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:42 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used this Young House Love How to Paint Furniture Tutorial on a stained wooden table with good results. If I were doing it again, I would do more than one coat of primer, however, because the stain kept bleeding through the paint (which meant I ended up doing extra coats of paint).
posted by pril at 6:09 AM on March 11, 2014

I'm thinking an ivory grey-ish color for the doors and sides, and a darker grey or natural top. Leave the inside natural. This will look great with those darkened brass doorknobs. I'm thinking like the colors in this nursery. Be sure to put some bright pops of color throughout.

You'll need to degloss, absolutely. TSP or an alternate done by a non-pregnant person. Strip? You can probably get away with not. Sand? If there are any bumps in the finish you'll only magnify them with paint. Priming is basically always a good idea since you don't really know what the finish is. Kilz is good at getting latex to stick to oil/shellac based products.

You'll want to be sure to use high gloss paint, or get latex enamel paint or cabinet paint. Here's a blogger using latex enamel paint and a non-toxic stripper. Here's a different post about cabinet paint. They each have different thicknesses and drying times. Thickness is important when painting standing objects. Longer drying time lets the paint level out more. Thats a good segway to:

You'll want to decide if you're going to paint it standing (faster/lazy), or take the doors off (more assured good results/fairly annoying). An issue with painting furniture is drips, especially inset panels at the bottom will get a bit thicker coating of paint unless you're careful. So I'd take the doors off and set them on a few paint cans or painters pyramids.

Foam rollers can leave a texture, bristled brushes can leave streaks and stray hairs. You'll probably want to buy a big box of chiseled edge foam brushes. All take a bit of practice but can have good results.

I'm not sure if all of these products come in a low/no-VOC formulation, but thats what I'd use for anything going in a nursery. You might have to go to a specialty paint store for this instead of Blue or Orange.

When dealing with old furniture, put the hinges and screws back where they came from—don't count on them being interchangeable. You can number each hinge spot with pencil and put them with their screws in individual baggies with numbered notecards.
posted by fontophilic at 6:36 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Alternatively, how about seeing if a local handyman will strip & paint it for you? That might mean throwing a few bucks at it, but it would also mean you're getting a pro job while not risking your little jrobin breathing in chemicals or paint fumes.
posted by easily confused at 7:00 AM on March 11, 2014

If you are really dedicated to painting without sanding at all, you want a primer called 1-2-3.
It's a tough primer you can use without stripping or sanding. Mind you, you will get better results if you sand it lightly with 220 grit sandpaper first. But if you just want to paint it, use 1-2-3 primer and then paint with latex paint. If you get a latex paint meant to paint floors it will stick better. Paint for floors has more and tougher binder, the stuff that makes the color stick to the surface. This helps it resist wear and scuffing, which is your major concern if you are painting without stripping or sanding. It smells much stronger when you paint it though.
The 1-2-3 is not very opaque, the primer coat will be very streaky. Don't worry about it, it isn't there to look good, it's there to give the paint something to stick to. You can have the place you buy the paint/primer tint the 1-2-3 to match the paint color you're using, it will help cover in fewer coats of paint.
Also, 1-2-3 sticks to shiny surfaces because it's full of chemicals, and it smells like it, too. It will also stick to your skin more than regular latex paint. It washes off skin, but it can take a few days.
posted by Adridne at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I wouldn't paint it at all.

That said, there's a huge difference between "stripping" and "roughing up."
posted by rhizome at 11:56 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Crackle paint would work... I'd rather strip, though.
posted by Leon at 12:22 PM on March 11, 2014

Fast and easy substitute for milk paint I learned from a local artisan.

Wipe it down with a degreaser.
Paint with Behr FLAT indoor latex in the desired color. Be sure you get the kind with built-in primer.
After it is good and dry, hand sand just a little on the corners to distress it.
Give it a coat or two of Minwax polycrylic. I use the satin finish. The flat latex gives the look of milk paint and the polycrylic does the job of the wax.
posted by tamitang at 1:59 PM on March 11, 2014

Many years ago, my mom bought us a wrecked player piano that we endeavored to restore as a family. It was painted, as Jean Shepherd would say, a lighter shade of goat-vomit green.

This is my plea to you - if you sand it or strip off the existing finish and expose deep wood pores, please use nothing but latex paint/primer.

We stripped off the paint using all kinds of nasty chemicals and no amount of stripping or sanding would change the fact that the gorgeous mahogany underneath was tinted green.

Ultimately, it's your furniture to do with as you please, but I have a very strong love for the beauty of wood grain and avoid work that is a one-way trip.
posted by plinth at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!

I'll wait until I see it, but if my antique-dealer in-laws are suggesting painting it it's probably for good reason. They are decidedly not "shabby chic" or "vintage" but mostly deal in proper antique items of historic value (WWII Memorabilia and jewelry). When I say "refinish" I mean "restore to original" - not cute-ify it. They don't deal in furniture much anymore (getting older), but occasionally pick up stuff like this to hand off to family. We have lots of very nice solid wood furniture (unpainted!), so we'll see. If I paint it, I promise to use latex primer/paint ;)

I'll look for 1-2-3, chalk paint, etc. but I'm in Australia... we'll see!
posted by jrobin276 at 7:40 PM on March 12, 2014
posted by squirbel at 1:17 PM on May 31, 2014

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