Prepping Antique Furniture for Painting

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Painting a piece of antique furniture might be considered a sin by some. It’s possible that funky old table you found at the thrift store is a valuable piece of furniture, which a coat of paint could completely ruin. Before you break out the sandpaper check a few details to determine if the piece is a legitimate antique – 100 years old or more. Before the industrial revolution all furniture was crafted by hand, and handmade furniture has imperfections.

In antiques the dovetails used to join drawers may not be the same size or be perfectly spaced and decorative legs may not all be identical. Round table tops may be “off round” due to the natural process of shrinking and drying over time. Look for nails with square, thin heads or screws slots slightly off-center. Search for saw marks; circular marks indicate the piece was made after 1850 and straight marks indicate an older piece. Consider having an expert look at the piece if you’re still not sure. Once you’ve determined the piece is a good candidate for painting gather your supplies and roll up your sleeves!

Begin by taking the piece apart where reasonable. For example, remove drawers and hardware and remove the leaves of a table. Use a wrench or screwdriver to loosen bolts and screws. Not only will this make it easier to prepare the piece for painting but also it will give you a chance to look closer at the furniture and see if any repairs are needed.

If working with unvarnished wood:

Sand all the surfaces to be painted with fine sandpaper. Give everything a light sand in the direction of the grain. The point is to rough up the wood so it will be more receptive to paint. Wipe down the furniture with a damp cloth or tack rag to remove sanding dust.

If working with varnished wood begin sanding with coarse paper, working in a circular motion. Use medium-grit sandpaper to remove most of the varnish. Finish with fine sandpaper, sanding with the grain until the last traces of varnish are gone and the wood is smooth. Remove sanding dust with a tack rag or damp cloth.

Spread out the drop cloth to provide a clean place to work and to protect flooring. Apply painter’s tape to indicate where the paint will stop and start. The tape will create a cleaner edge and will help you remember which areas should not be painted. Take the time to apply the tape straight and neat for the best results.

Roll on a coat of oil-based primer with the foam roller. An oil-based primer will help paint adhere to the wood. Use a small paintbrush to get into corners and tricky places. Don’t apply the primer too thick and clean up drips as soon as they happen. The primer may look uneven as it dries but don’t be concerned. Allow the primer to dry according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Take a picture of the piece to the paint store with you. Having a photo may help you decide on the right color. If you want to use the piece as a focal point, select a color that contrasts with the walls and other décor. If you prefer that it blend into your existing furnishings choose a lighter, more neutral color.

A coat of paint is an inexpensive way to bring new life to an old piece of furniture. Once the paint job is complete and the paint is dry you can reassemble the piece and make any small repairs that may be needed. Now it’s time to put your new masterpiece to work and enjoy it.

Lindsey enjoys fixing up old furniture in her home whenever she gets the chance. In her spare time, she blogs on behalf of Sears and other brands she loves.

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