How to Paint Wood or Laminate Furniture
The guidelines for painting real wood and the ones for painting laminate are ‘very very’ similar. If you are painting laminate cabinets, please take extra note of the details in red.
This is ALSO a lot of verbal diarrhea – IMPORTANT verbal diarrhea, so don’t be afraid to grab a glass of wine and get comfy!
Most projects are easier to sand with power rather than by hand – you’ll create more flyin’ dust, but save yourself some serious sweat. If you don’t have a palm sander, use a sanding block (150 or 220 grit initial sand / 400 grit in between coats if you’re so inclined). Check out The Mouse if you’re in the market for a great and affordable sander.
Tack cloth or clean lint-free rag
To clean off the dust from sanding
High quality 2 – 2 1/2″ brush
Approx $10 – $15 – don’t be cheap (wink wink)
- For large pieces, you might want to use a standard wall roller for all of the flat surfaces (roughly 10mm nap) with a roller tray and handle. DO NOT buy this in a kit UNLESS it states that it is ‘Lint Free’ and even then make sure to give it a good rub-down and even a quick rinse before you use it.
- For smaller pieces, you can use a 4″ roller (with handle and tray). For an uber-smooth finish, you can use a foam roller. You need to be a reasonably good painter to use a foam roller as you will a) have to apply at least 2-3 extra coats as it puts paint on very thinly and b) you will need to pay close attention during application to smooth out any and all lap lines.
- The alternative to the above foam roller is a 4-5″ fabric roller. This is my fave choice for painting furniture (I find microfiber to be very linty). The best roller I’ve found is at Home Hardware (2 pack fabric roller). I’ve tried almost every brand and it seems to be the most lint-free.
Not necessary, but consider using it if you live in a low humidity area or if it’s a dry day. If your paint dries to fast it won’t be able to ‘self-level’ and you’ll have to rely on your own technique to achieve a smooth finish (which isn’t always easy). Paint Conditioner will increase your drying time allowing a quality paint to assist you in the levelling process – Floetrol Paint Conditioner)
The Best Paints for Furniture and Cabinets (non-chalk paints)
Advance, by Benjamin Moore
This amazing paint by Benjamin Moore is lovely to use as it levels nicely, leaving a smooth and even finish. Because this is a ‘Waterborne Interior Alkyd’ you get many of the benefits of oil paint (great thick application and smooth finish) and the easy clean-up of latex paint. Check it out here on my kitchen cabinets that used to be maple.
Once this paint has cured (most paints cure within 2-3 weeks) you get a hard and durable finish. For ultimate adhesion, apply a coat of primer before using Advance.
Behr 2 in 1 Home Depot
Behr 2 in 1 is almost always my go-to paint. When you use this in the eggshell finish, you get a low-luster, yet still wipeable finish. The satin finish is a wee bit shiny for my tastes but would work great if you’re looking for a bit of sheen and supreme wipe-ability.
This paint goes on like a dream, is easy to use for amateurs (as when it’s applied evenly it doesn’t drip easily) and dries quickly and evenly as it has great self-levelling qualities when given adequate drying time (like any paint). If you’ve sanded well you won’t need to use primer, although I usually put a coat on anyway as I don’t want to take any chances. I used this on my old oak kitchen cabinets and distressed them as well.
CIL Furniture Paint (Melamine Finish) Home Depot
If you’re looking for a shinier finish this is great paint for you. While it applies slightly thinner than the above paints, it dries to a silky smooth and shiny finish. However, if you are an amateur painter you need to be careful as this paint drips very easily and you have to really get a knack for the depth of your cut-in’s and rolled on coats of paint in order to stay on top of it. You also have to constantly check your edges that you’ve rolled or brushed up to as the paint tends to gather and then drip. I know that makes it sound terrible, but in reality, this is a great paint for a sleek finish.
How to Paint Furniture
Clean with warm water and mild detergent
Kitchen cabinets are different from bathroom cabinets due to the fact that there is more grease and oil around the kitchen. For that reason, you’ll want to wipe your cabinets down very well with a damp cloth with some detergent on it – paying particular attention to the cupboards around/above the stove and directly around the handles (where your greasy/oily fingers will have touched a lot)
Once you have wiped your cupboards down, you need to wipe it down once more with a cloth without detergent so that you get any soap residue off.
Some painters like using TSP (not my personal fave) but for those of you who are so inclined…
If you choose to use TSP, make sure to wipe all of the tsp off with clean water as it is a chemical. If it’s left on the cupboard it may cause your paint to not stick and may also bleed through the paint finish. TSP is not only a degreaser but also a mild etching agent so be sure to wear gloves!
Sand with approx 150-220 grit sandpaper
You have to do this whether you think you need to or not. On wood cabinets, this will either break any existing lacquer up or remove any minor blemishes that will make your new finish appear uneven. On laminate cabinets, this will give the paint something to sink it’s ‘teeth’ into – rather than just a smooth and flat surface.
Use a tack cloth to remove any dust/residue.
It is vital that you remove excess sheen as this is what will prevent your new paint finish from sticking properly. While you don’t need to grind it down to consistently bare wood (unless you are restaining), you do need to give it a really good ‘exfoliation’. Any normal 5′ vanity should take no more than 15-20 minutes to sand.
400 grit sandpaper is for sanding in between coats which is OPTIONAL, but does provide a smoother finish in the end. Do not do this until each coat is ‘completely and utterly’ dry – otherwise, you risk gumming up your paint.
- If you are sanding laminate cabinets/cupboards you need to sand thoroughly, yet lightly as you don’t want to break through the laminate finish or you’ll be in biiiig trouble. Just scuff it up, rough it up and then wipe it off.
High Quality Primer (Zinsser 123 or Kilz)
Situations in which you ‘could/should’ use Primer…
- Painting Laminate Cabinets/Cupboards or high-use furniture. Will the above paints stick DARNED well? You bet! But deep in its heart, laminate is not a porous product. I’m always more inclined to give laminate products the best foundation that I can
- If you are using a paint that isn’t included in the list above as I haven’t experienced all brands and cannot comment on the application/durability of those brands
- If you have raw/exposed wood. Primer will make it so your raw wood doesn’t absorb as much paint – meaning less coats
- If you have knots in your wood furniture you will want to seal those knots with an oil based Primer like Bin Alkyd Primer
Photo via Artez Photography
If you are planning on distressing your cabinets/furniture, please read this!
If you are planning on distressing your cabinets or furniture the primer will show when you distress the edges if you choose a paint colour other than white (which is not usually a desired look) You can get primer tinted, but no darker than a medium tone. Your cabinets would need to be no darker than the primer in order for it not to show through once it’s sanded/distressed – kapiche. I know it sounds complicated (write to me if you’re confused and I will clarify…)
To avoid this look you need to sand the piece as described in Step 2 – but add a little extra love to your efforts. You can then use a 2 in 1 product like Behr 2 in 1, which has primer built-in. This way, when you distress the edges only the wood will show underneath the dark paint.
Anyhoo, back to the main topic….
While there are so many primer choices for so many different wood products, the 2 brands that seems to cover all products while still performing well are Benjamin Moore Advance and Zinnser Bin Primer which will both cover a multitude of sins.
I’ve been told that it’s smart to use an oil-based primer on oak cabinets. I found this out ‘after the fact’ and had used latex primer and it worked very very well. Also, if you have any knots in your wood you’ll want to seal these with an oil based primer or even better, a lacquer, rather than a latex product.
To apply the primer, brush in the tight areas and then roll on the primer with the 4″ roller on smaller areas and the wall sized roller for flat panelled areas to reduce lap lines. 1 coat is just fine!
Use a high-quality paint
Do your brushwork first. Brush in all of the details and tight lines. Wait until that is completely dry or catch it when it’s still totally workable and then roll over the flat areas with your roller. Cut in as close as you can to your brush lines to smooth them out. 3 coats is usually quite enough if you are using a quality paint – don’t be chintzy and do 2 coats, you can almost always find places where the original finish show through regardless of the paint you use.
If you are painting laminate cabinets or very smooth fronted wood cabinets, you need to take extra care to smooth out your lap lines. Laminate cabinets usually don’t have the grain and texture on them which help to ‘camouflage’ heavy lines.
Wax or Poly
I have yet to Poly a piece (except a few pieces that I’ve Chalk Painted) although you can if you are overly worried. All of the pieces (over 50) that I’ve painted have held up very well – as well as a factory finish or wood finish would.
Now if you use one of the above paints and your furniture has a) moving pieces like drawers or b) doors or other moving parts that rest on other painted parts, you will want to apply a light coat of wax to those areas. This will prevent the paint from sticking to itself, however, the wax isn’t for the main surfaces.
I’ve completed many painted wood projects in my own home and in my client’s homes. Please check out these photos below for some fab examples!
Painted Church Pew
See the whole project here…Painted Church Pew
Painted Maple Cabinets
See the whole project here…Maple No More – My Painted Cabinets
Homemade Wine Cabinet
See the whole project here…My Big Beautiful Painted Wine Cabinet
I hope these ideas help you along your way – Happy Painting!
Remember, these are just tips and ideas: For more information, talk to your local paint provider.
Kylie M Interiors Interior Decorating and Design Blog. Budget Friendly. Online Color Consulting and E-Design. Based in Nanaimo BC, serving the whole darned World!
Thanks so much Kylie for all your great ideas and advice.
I would love to know more about chalk painting and if you have made your own DIY chalk paint
and used it for projects with wood and other materials like metal or Ikea furniture finishes.
And speaking of Ikea stuff, have you done any ” Ikea hacking?” I know many of us would love ideas, advice
and paint colour suggestions, that match their white colour to trim details we could add to make the pieces look more custom built.. I currently need to build and unify the Hemnes line for a TV console table on 1 side of a fireplace and bookshelves on the other.
Hi! That is so funny that you brought up Ikea because I’m just working on a post (a few weeks out) on Ikea paint colours/ideas/etc… – thank you for the confirmation that it’s needed!!!!
And I do love Chalk Paint and haven’t tried my own recipe – I’ve heard mixed reviews on it….If you look at my Painted Furniture projects you’ll also see that I’ve done a ton of projects with paints like Behr Ultra 2 in 1 – I find that for ‘longevity’ these paints are pretty darned good – I’m just not as excited about the maintenance of waxed pieces – although the finish is freakin’ amazing!!!!!
I love your work, just beautiful. I am going to attemp to paint an old bedroom dresser and wardrobe that is made out of wood laminate. It has a high gloss finish, not sure how to sand it as not to wreck it and what kind of paint to use to avoid peeling.
Thank you Sue, sorry for the delay. You can absolutely paint this furniture! Chalk Paint is great as for high gloss pieces you can scuff sand with 220 grit and then Chalk Paint, wax and Bobs your uncle! If you want to use a product like Behr Ultra, you’ll want to sand with 220 grit and really rough it up. You’ll essentially be breaking the surface up without breaking it ‘down’. Behr Ultra is awesome, but for extra shiny you might want to start with a quality primer as well just to double-things over and be sure….
Hi Kylie! We are mid-process in painting our kitchen cabinets white, and I was wondering about the wax topcoat you mention. Do you have a specific brand you recommend? I talked to the person at the paint desk at Home Depot, and he looked at me like I had 3 heads. Any help pointing me in the right direction is greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Hi Stephanie! The wax is for the inner workings if you are painting a piece where paint meets paint – otherwise these surfaces can stick together. The wax will keep things like old drawer glides moving smoothly. And while a lot of older men do like to put a wax on furniture, often it’s unnecessary as todays paints are so darned hardy (excluding Chalk Paint where you really SHOULD wax all of it). Recently I painted my island, I chose the Zinsser HIGH adhesion primer (which was stinky but AMAZING!) and then tried the Benjamin Moore Advance. We’re pretty rough and tumble around this house and NOTHING has even come CLOSE to chipping/wearing off/scratching – I swear it’s bullet proof – and that’s with minimal sanding! So my point really is that if you use quality paint you shouldn’t have a problem! If you are looking for a wax for any inner workings, then make make sure that its compatible with whatever topcoat paint you are using. I’ve had several client just use plain old beeswax, keeping things healthy and organic!
Sorry for my delay in thanking you, but….thank you! I really appreciate you responding to my comment, especially on a weekend. We have followed your advice in this article, and our cabinets are coming out great so far!!
Awesome possum! Thanks for letting me know 🙂
Hugs, Kylie (and I replied to your other comment too, hope it helps!)
Hello Kylie, I recently build desk from mdf boards. I painted that with primer-sealer and on top of that 2 coats of CIL melamine finish. It looks really nice but it looks like it is very easy to scratch. Paint is only couple of days old but you can leave marks on it just with your finger nail. I wonder if I can put something more resistant on top of that so it won’t scratch since it desk or I just have to wait more and paint will get more hard.
Thanks in advance
Hi Alexandra, believe it or not, but paint (particularly on furniture) can take up to 3 WEEKS to cure properly! If you used quality products and did the right prepwork (which it sounds like you did) it should hold up okay once it’s really cured – a pain I know, but time should help!
Hi! I am new to your page and I’m pretty sure I’m addicted now! LOL. I love reading/watching your color reviews and have been learning SO MUCH! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.
I do have a question I hope you don’t mind helping me with…… I’m wanting to update my bathroom cabinets by painting them–but they are Cherry. I have heard cherry can be a difficult wood to paint due to tannins staining or bleeding through the paint later. Would the paints and primers you mentioned in this post prevent this? Someone had said I should shellac them first…then sand and paint. But I’m clueless. I noticed you mention painting oak cabinets in your blog–but no mention on other types of wood… I’ve heard cherry and mahogany can be tricky to paint due to tannin…..So I wanted to ask you what your opinion is on this…..any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated. I would rather paint than refinish/stain……but not if its going to have issues w/bleeding though. Please HELP! Thanks!
Great post. I’ll apply these tips when starting my new project! Thanks for sharing.