How to Prep Wood Furniture to Paint

How to prep furniture

The first step to a great paint job, is learning how to prep your wood furniture. This article teaches you step by step what is necessary, and what you can skip when you prep your wood furniture for paint.

It’s not the most fun step. It’s not why you got into the furniture redo game. But it is a step that pays off when you do it correctly.

Prepping your furniture before you paint is what makes the difference between cracked, peeling paint and a smooth professional finish.

After you’ve worked hard to find a quality piece of wood furniture the next step is prep it well.

I’ve tried the paints that claim “no prep”, and I’m not buying it. While it’s true some paint might need less prep, all furniture needs some prep. If you want the end result to look great and last, it’s worth the time to properly prep. Let’s talk about what’s necessary and what you can skip if you have a “no prep” paint. 


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sandpaper paint brush primer tack cloth

Start by removing all hardware and putting it in a labeled bag. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. 

Clean it Well!

Now it’s time to give your furniture a wash. This step can not be skipped! If you slap a coat of no prep paint on without cleaning I promise it will not look good. Dirt and oils collect on furniture that will cause your paint to not adhere properly. So wash that baby down.

I always give a good cleaning before I sand to get the major gunk off. Then you’ll just need a quick wipe down after sanding. 

 My all time favorite cleaner is Krud kutters tsp substitute. It does not need to be rinsed off like many other cleaners do. Another great option is a white vinegar and water solution. 

Spray your rag and work your way down from the top to the bottom. Use a toothbrush to clean off any fine details. 

Give it a Sand

I recommend giving a light sanding even if you are using “no prep” paint. A completely smooth surface doesn’t give the paint anything to bond with, so we need to scuff up the surface a bit. 

sand dresser

Using 150-180 sandpaper, give the piece a light sanding. Always sand the same direction of the grain. Work your way from the top to the bottom. Don’t sand all the way to bare wood, just enough to remove any shine. 

Wipe off the dust with a wet towel or you can use a shop vac. 

Time to Prime

The last step to prepping is priming. If you are using a no prep paint, you can skip this step. I still recommend doing one coat of primer if you are painting a light color. 

One of the worst feelings is finishing a piece of furniture only to find yellow or brown spots bleeding through the paint. The dreaded tannins. 

Red woods are the worst culprits although I’ve had trouble with other dark wood as well. Tannin bleed through is the most common when you are painting white or a light color. 

The best tannin fighter is a shellac based primer. I use BIN. Shellac primer is the most expensive, but I’ve never had a bleed through with it. 

If you are painting a dark color or not worried about bleed through, Bulls Eye 123 primer is also great.  

But Wait, Before You Prime Use This!

Tack cloths are a very important prep tool that will help you get a flawless finish. Seriously, these are a furniture flippers best kept secret.

Wipe your piece completely down again with a tack cloth just before you apply any paint or primer.

The trick is to wipe lightly so you remove all the dust and lint but not hard enough to leave a sticky residue.

They are very cheap and one cloth will last many projects if stored properly in a sealed bag. 

After your piece is wiped down, start priming a light coat working in small sections. Primer isn’t meant to cover completely, it’s okay for the wood to show through.

Prime your piece from top to bottom always looking a little behind for drips. Smooth those out quickly, but avoid over working the primer once it’s dried. Try to prime in the same direction, and don’t worry about brush strokes. The paint will hide those. 

priming dresser

Hardware Prep

If you are planning to paint your hardware, don’t forget to prep them too. Soak your hardware in a good cleaner. I use a mixture of krud kutter tsp substitute. 

soaking hardware in krud kutter

Give them a good scrub using a sponge or cloth. After they dry put the hardware in a cardboard box to spray. 

Using a hardware primer helps ensure a long lasting finish with no chips or cracks. I use bin 123 spray primer. Spray in a light even coat. Let dry to the touch, then turn hardware to coat the rest of it. 

Let dry thoroughly then your hardware is ready for paint.


Prep Work Complete!

Primed Furniture

Now that you’ve taken the time to properly prep your furniture you can be confident your paint job will look professional and last. Once you prep a few pieces you will get the steps down and it goes by quickly.

Move along to the fun part now, painting your furniture. Have you had success with “no prep” paint? Let me know in the comments below. Happy prepping!