When I first started painting secondhand furniture back in my teens, my youthful impatience meant that the most thought I put into it was what was the cheapest tin of cream gloss I could get down at Wilkinsons. My next criteria was whether I could get away with just putting one thick coat of the stuff on, and to hell with sanding, brush marks and stray brush hairs that would fall out from my equally cheap brushes and stay embedded in the paint for all eternity.
Part of that was to do with a youngster’s budget. But I’ve always been an impatient sort, especially back then. Always eager to race to the finish line rather than enjoy the process itself. It’s a trait that manifested itself when I first started sewing too. Over the years though I’ve become more interested in taking the time to get it right, with each stage of a project. Be that sewing, painting furniture or whatever else I decide to apply myself to. So that I don’t spend the rest of my time, thinking I should’ve taken the time in the first place! (We’ve all been there right? That dodgy seam that it’s too late to unpick now because, heck, it wouldn’t notice once it’s finished, right? But WE know it’s there, and it’s mocking us for our slap dashery every time we look at it, mwah ha ha ha ha … 😉
So, the process I’m about to share is not a quick one. It involves (yawn) allowing paint to set hard overnight, and (double yawn) sanding between coats and such like. BUT, when I take the time to follow this process properly, I’m only ever chuffed with the finished piece. In fact, when I’m sure there’s no-one around, you could catch me running my hand over bits of furniture….ahem…everyone does that don’t they…? : /
So here goes. My top tips for a finish you’ll want to keep running your hands over again and again……
Stage One – Prepping and sanding
1. Remove all hardware. Handles, hinges, drawer runners, door catches. The lot. (seriously who can be arsed to paint around them?!)
2. Keep all screws and fixings together in a safe place
3. Wearing a mask and eye protection (Please at least wear a mask. I made myself VERY ill a few years ago because I didn’t bother) Go at it with your sander (or sanding block if you’re not as lazy as me!) like a thing possessed! I start with a 180 grit pad and depending on how effective that is I’ll either stick with it or try a slightly more or less coarse grade of pad. If you go too coarse you can end up grinding ridges into the wood. NOT a good look. You’re sanding just to take the surface finish off so the primer paint has something to adhere to….
Kinda like this….obviously darker stained/varnished woods will look slightly different, and untreated wood will require very little sanding at all….but you get the gist….
1. Once you’ve finished sanding you’ll need a lint free cloth dampened with white spirit or turps
2. Dust off any excess sawdust with a brush then wipe down thoroughly with your damp cloth
Here’re my bedside tables all ready for priming…
Stage Two – Priming
1. Dismantle what you can. Take doors and drawer fronts off for painting etc. It’s much easier to paint them and then put them back on than it is to cut in around door edges, drawer carcasses etc
2. I never fork out for specialist primers. IMHO they’re pricey and not necessary (melamine primer is one exception though. That is genius!) On wood furniture I always use humble ‘ole matt emulsion as a primer AND as topcoat. For use as a primer you want it watered down a bit at approx a 3:1 ratio of paint to water. You’re aiming for a consistency similar to Salad Cream! Just stick it in a big jar, add the water, put the lid back on and give it a vigorous shake. I also like to use sponge “brushes” as you don’t get the brush marks in the paint like you do with standard brushes. But at this stage it’s not vital as the primer will get sanded smooth in the next step.
Paint the piece with 2-3 coats of primer allowing to dry thoroughly between coats and letting the final coat of primer set overnight. Then before you move onto the next step remove all jewelry (if you haven’t already) as until the paint is sealed in the last step, you can mark it quite easily with rings, bracelets etc. I’ve even had coloured nail varnish make a mark (I’m a glam DIYer oh yes sireee!)…
1. Your primer coat will have very fine bits of dust and grit in it when you look closely or run your hand over it. We don’t want that! You’ll need a 280-400 grit (fine) sandpaper. Start finer, and go down a grade if you need to.
2. With a gentle sweeping/circular motion, gently sand the surface. Constantly running your (ring free!) free hand over it as you go to gauge the smoothness you are achieving. You’ll be amazed at how little effort is needed. The paint will come off like chalk, so be gentle, especially on the edges and corners, as you want to avoid sanding back to the wood as much as possible. Once you’re done, dust off any powdery paint with a brush and wipe down with a slightly damp cloth.
3. This technique uses matt emulsion as a top coat too. (the latter stages of this technique do not work with any other kind of emulsion other than matt emulsion. Or with kitchen/bathroom formulas) Water it down a little (about 6:1 this time) in a large jar. Shaking vigorously again. Watered down paint is much easier to work with. It goes on more smoothly and the brush marks are less obvious. Again, using a sponge brush reduces the lines in the paint even more.
4. I decant my paint into a plastic food storer a little at a time so I can stick the lid on between coats and don’t make a mess of my paint jar every time I put the brush in and out.
Stage Three – Top Coat
1. When adding your top coat brush the paint on first in one direction (across in this instance)
2. Then gently drag the brush (without additional paint on it so it’s damp only) in the opposite direction, at right angles to your initial brush strokes…
It’s tricky to photograph the effect this has. If you are able to enlarge this photo then you may be able to see in more detail. Hopefully you can see that the second downward stroke smooths out the more obvious brush lines…
I prefer to do 3 light coats of topcoat rather than 1 thick one…
Stage Four – Finishing (aka “where the magic happens!!”)
This is the part that really makes the piece look super delicious and worthy of lots of stroking…ahem. Ok, maybe that’s just me. Anyway….
1. Using a 400-600 grit (very fine) wet and dry sandpaper, wet the sandpaper and the surface you are sanding with clean water, and in gentle small circular motions sand the surface. You’ll see the paint start to mix with the water and make it cloudy. Go gently!
2. Wipe the liquid away with a lint free cloth and marvel at the magic!
Again, tricky to photograph, but hopefully you can see how the brush marks have blended into eachother here. (Try enlarging this photo if you can) This is after just one go with the wet and dry sandpaper. You can repeat this step until you are happy with the finish but be careful not to sand all the layers of topcoat back…
Once finished, allow to dry thoroughly and then wipe down with a clean, lint free cloth.
1. With a wood balsam, rub a generous amount into your surface in circular motions..
2. Buff with a clean, lint free cloth or according to product instructions. Allow to set hard overnight before placing anything on the surface.
3. This is the stuff I use. It smells just divine. (Beeswax, linseed oil etc) Approx £3 from our local hardware store or…hang on…I’ve just realised you can get it at Tesco’s for £2.20!! Buggar!
You can repeat this step as many times as you like. Just leave a few hours inbetween to allow each coat to set after you’ve buffed it. The more coats of this you put on, the harder and more durable your finish will be…
Just look at the sheen on that! I much prefer the sheen that a beeswax/balsam finish gives to that of say, a clear varnish, and it’s unbelievably durable too. No brushmarks, and often a “clear” varnish isn’t actually clear at all and can alter the finished colour of your piece with a slight yellowy tinge…the balsam finish is quicker, easier, smells nicer, and you can keep using it every month or so to preserve your the beauty of your finished piece…
…and there you have it. My own personal method of revamping tired old furniture with a simple tub of matt emulsion. No fancy paints or messy varnishes. As Alexander would say…Simples!! 😉