Monday, October 2, 2017

Refinishing old furniture

When refinishing  old furniture, the preparation of the wood is critical, regardless of whether you are going to paint or revarnish.. Old furniture is mostly finished with varnishes, lacquer and shellac. Most of these are oil based and therefore, present a problem when applying water based paint. The first step I take when painting an older piece of furniture is determining what type of paint is already on the piece. Is it oil-based or is it water-based?
Determining if it’s a water-based or oil product is important. 
Old table refinished in white and yellow

Oil can be painted over water paint BUT water can’t be painted over oil. If you try to apply acrylic paint over oil paint, the paint will not adhere properly and yellow marks may show through on the surface!

Once you have determined the type of paint, it helps you to decide on the proper paint and primer that you will need for the project. 

Here’s a quick and fast way to find out if your piece of furniture is painted in acrylic or oil.  This technique will also work on walls, doors, cabinets, baseboards or any other painted surface!

1. Add some rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover to a cotton swab or a clean rag.
2. In a discreet area, wipe the surface back and forth with the rubbing alcohol.
3. If the paint starts to rub off and you see white or faded streaks, you know this has been painted with a water-based product.
4. If no paint comes off, then you know it has been painted with oil based products.

As a general rule the following steps should be followed when painting old furniture:

Step 1 – Clean and sand'

Mix sugar soap with warm water and wash down the work piece. When dry start to remove old finish. Test with 150 grit sand paper to see if the finish can be removed easily. If not, you might have to use a chemical paint stripper to do the job. Where the old finish is still in a good condition, it is not necessary to remove all the finish. Just remove the gloss and then use a finer sand paper such as 220 grit to smooth down the surface. Wipe the wood with a damp cloth to remove the dust.

Step 2 – Fill cracks and holes

Use wood filler to fill holes and cracks. Bigger holes could be filled with wood epoxy to provide a stronger patch. Sand it to a smooth finish. This step might be repeated when the under coat is applied because small scratches and dents will then be more visible.

Step 3 – Seal and prime

When painting with water based paint, it is important to first seal the wood to avoid yellow stains seeping through when you apply the paint. Use water based clear sealer. When dry, sand with a 220 grit sand paper and then apply a multi-purpose undercoat. The work piece should now be ready to apply the first top coat. Remember to sand the undercoat with 220 grit sand paper.

Step 5– Apply top coats (at least 2)

Water based enamel paint is ideal to use as a furniture paint. Some brands are thicker and are non-drip. Whatever the case, the paint should be thinned with water (10%) to make it easier to apply. Do not try and cover the wood in one thick coat. Rather put on 2 or 3 thinner coats and you will get a much smoother finish. Also remember to sand with 220 grit sand paper between coats. 

If you are thinking of refinishing old furniture as a home business, you should have a look at "Refinishing Old Furniture - start a home business" .

Friday, February 3, 2017

How to Apply the Dragging Technique to Furniture

Dragging is a paint technique that can be applied to furniture by dragging a darker color over a lighter base color. The effect is similar to the strie paint effect and shows thin stripes over the base coat. The dresser shown here was originally finished in a dark brown varnish. It is made from veneered wood and although still in a good condition, I wanted to give it a fresh look and decided to paint a base coat in an off-white color and add a bit of character by dragging a light grey color over the base coat. 

Dresser in white and light grey drag effect

This is what is needed:
Universal undercoat (white)
Off- white good quality Latex as a base coat ( I used Happy Ending from Plascon)
A light grey in any water based Acrylic paint ( I used Night Jewels from Dulux)
A water based scumble glaze
A water based sealer ( I used Plascon’s Glaze Coat)
A Strie brush or a brush with stiff bristles
A soft paint brush

The procedure is as follows:

Step 1: Remove the handles and clean the wood with sugar soap.
Step 2: Sand the surface with 220 grit sand paper – take care not to sand too much because the veneered layer is very thin and can easily be sanded through to the particle board sub -surface.
Step 3: After removing dust, apply one coat of Universal Undercoat. Let it stand overnight to dry.
Step 4: Apply two coats of the base coat. Sand between coats with 220 grit sand paper to get a smooth surface.
Step 5: Mix the light grey with the scumble glaze in the ratio of 1 part paint, 1 part scumble glaze and 1 part water.
Step 6: Use a brush with stiff bristles to apply the mixture. Only do a small area at a time. Dip the paint brush lightly in the paint and wipe most of the paint from the brush. Apply the paint in long strokes to leave a a streaky layer of paint. Repeat to get a proper covering of paint.
Step 7: Take a dry soft brush and brush over the wet paint to remove excess paint and to blend it into the base coat. Wipe the brush clean with a cloth after each stroke.
Step 8: When the paint is dry, apply one coat of clear water based sealer to protect the surface. I used a semi-gloss sealer.
Step 9: Fit the new handles.

In the picture below I have zoomed in on the top to show the paint effect. It is not very clear but gives an idea of the striped effect.

Dragged paint technique
As an alternative, the total surface can be covered with the glaze mixture. While the paint is still wet, take a piece of rolled up mutton cloth and drag over the paint to remove some of the paint. Take the strie brush and drag to create a striped effect.

For a more rustic look, take a piece of 150 grit sandpaper and drag in the direction of the lines. Wipe off the dust and seal with a sealer.

Tip: If you do not have a strie brush, take an old brush and cut away some on the bristles with a sciccors. The idea is to get an uneven spread of paint and a streaky appearance.
First do a test run on a piece of card board to get the hang of applying the paint.

Soft brush and drag brush
 Shown in the picture is a soft dry brush for removing excess paint and blending and an old brush with the bristles cut with a scissors to get a streaky paint stroke.
More paint techniques can be found in my book "How to Spray Paint Furniture"

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Painting kitchen cabinets can be a relative easy and straight forward job provided that you follow the basic steps as discussed below. These are general guidelines but kitchens are manufactured in different materials such as MDF (medium density fibre) board, laminated particle board and hard wood and each can present different problems when paint is applied. The finishing on cabinets can also be of a wide variety such as varnish, furniture oil or wax and other clear finishes such as lacquer. Each of these also need to be treated differently before applying paint. It makes sense to do a bit of research before you jump in and start painting. I have been painting all kinds of kitchens as part of my business and published a book “PaintingKitchen Cabinets – a do it yourself guide” in which you will find everything you need to know to paint your kitchen cabinets.

Painted kitchen cabinets
1. Stripping and cleaning
This is the first step and all doors and drawers should first be labelled before disassembled. Also remove all hardware and hinges before cleaning. Cleaning is vital because kitchen cabinets collect a lot of dirt and grease over time that must be removed before you start painting. I use or All Surface Prep.

2. Fixing and Repairing.
If you have cabinets that are damaged or have dents or scratches, you should now do repairs. Dents, holes and scratches can be filled with wood filler and sanded to a smooth finish before proceeding.

3. Sanding
I list this as a separate step because of its importance. No matter what type of existing finish you are dealing with, sanding is absolutely essential to get a smooth finish or when paining smooth finishes such as melamine, to roughen up the surface to provide a key for the paint to stick to. Start off with a 220 grit sand paper and finish with a 360 grit paper. Also always sand between coats with a 220 grit sand paper. If you have a lot of cabinets to paint you should invest in an electric orbital sander.

4. Priming
If you are painting a new surface, it is best to apply a wood primer. On previously painted surfaces you can use an under coat. The general rule is that a under coat is always a primer but a primer is not always an under coat. Different surfaces may require different under coats but in general it is best to use  a multi surface undercoat such as  Rust – Oleum Bulls Eye Multi Surface Primer. This is a water based product that is easy to apply and brushes and paint equipment is cleaned with water and soap.

5.Best paint for kitchen cabinets
You are now ready to start painting. The question is what type of paint will be best for kitchen cabinets? In the past most kitchen cabinets were painted with oil based paints but in recent years there was a shift to more eco-friendly water based paints. I would suggest a water borne Alkyd paint such as Benjamin Moore’s Advance range of paints. Other manufacturers such as Dulux also have a specialized kitchen paint.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Painting Kitchen Cabinets - Plan Before You Paint

Do not believe people who say that you can paint kitchen cabinets without preparation. Preparation is the key to getting a professional looking end product. Time spent on preparation will be time well spent.
Before you jump into painting make time to plan the job and resolve issues such as:

Choosing a paint color. This is a personal preference but as a general guide pastel colors go well with differe kitchen styles. Bold colors such as red, blue etc. can be more difficult but it remains your choice. If you are unsure of the color, get a sample from your paint dealer and test it before you decide.

Painted kitchen cabinets
Where to paint. Get a convenient space (such as a garage or basement) to do the preparation and painting. Remember it is going to take you the best part of a week or two to get the job done and you don’t want to move all your stuff after each painting session.

What paint to use. This issue will be discussed in more depth in chapter 4. Not all paints are the same. My advice is to stick to well known brands and do not buy the cheapest you can get. Your best choice will be a water based acrylic paint that is suitable for kitchen cabinets.

How much paint to use. To determine the volume of paint required, you will have to calculate the square footage/meters to be painted. The best way is to measure the total visible area and multiply by 2 (Length x width x 2) to cover the inside of doors and drawers. The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Measure the length of the top cabinets (in inches) and multiply by the height and by two (for both sides).

Step 2: Measure the length of the bottom cabinets and multiply times the height times 2.

Step 3: Ad the two totals and divide by 144 to get the square feet that needs to be covered.

The directions on the paint can usually indicate the area that can be covered by a liter of paint. Try and buy enough paint from the same batch to ensure color consistency. Keep surplus paint for future touch ups.

Numbering the doors and drawers to be painted. By numbering the doors and the corresponding cabinet boxes, the re-assembling of the doors will be easy.

Getting tools and equipment together. Apart from brushes, rollers, masking tape etc. You will also need floor covering such as plastic sheeting or a drop sheet from your paint dealer.

Before you can start painting the following should be done:

Disassemble doors and remove hardware

All the doors and drawers must be removed. Make sure that you have numbered the doors so that they can be replaced in the same positions. Remove all handles, hinges and other hardware. Put these in plastic bags and number each plastic bag the same as the door so that they don’t get mixed up.

Clean up

This can be a messy job but it is essential to clean doors, boxes etc. It is amazing how much grease and dirt collect on kitchen cabinets over time. Use a strong detergent such as TSP or sugar soap. Wash with a firm brush or scrubber. Rinse with clean water and let it dry completely before the next step. Remove as much as you can from the kitchen boxes and also clean the insides. Most boxes are white on the inside and do not necessarily have to be re-painted. Cleaning the insides will be more than enough.


To protect areas such as floors, walls, countertops, appliances etc. proper masking is vital. Make sure that adequate floor covering is put down. A drop sheet or a plastic sheet is ideal.

Repair cracks, dents and scratches

Since you are painting the cabinets, watermarks will be covered by the paint but other blemishes can now be fixed. Use wood filler to fill dents and scratches and when dry, sand to a smooth finish with 220 grit sand paper. Re-glue wobbly door frames if necessary.

Pianting kitchen cabinets can be a major project and making the wrong decisions may cost you dearly. In my e-book  "Painting Kitchen Cabinets - a DIY guide" you will find all the information ypu will need to avoid costly mistakes.