Save Money & The Planet: How To Make Old Furniture Look Nice

Paint it!

You may have guessed from our earlier announcement that we’ve been quite busy with DIY home projects recently. We are also big fans of second-hand furniture. For our new home, we decided to only buy high quality items (no more particle board!) I discovered just how easy it is to improve old wooden furniture by painting it.

This plan relies on starting with high quality, sturdy furniture. The color, finish, scratches, etc don’t matter. The structural integrity does. 

 Method 1: Regular Paint

I started with two sturdy wooden dressers that were woefully scratched and dinged.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters and clean.
  2. Use wood fill to repair the worst of the chips and dings. Let dry.
  3. Sand and clean again.
  4. Paint! I used Behr Ultra Premium Plus, which is a paint and primer in one. I applied a total of four coats, each of which has to dry for 24 hours. The first two coats were very then primer coats, focusing on knots in the wood and areas with the wood fill product. The second two coats were much heavier, applied with a roller.
  5. Finally, I added two coats of polyacrylic to the top for protection, since these will be our bedside tables.
  6. Finishing touches – I replaced the chipped wooden knobs with white laquer knobs, and lined the drawers with yellow & white paper to make them more cheerful.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 5 hours over ~7 days

Total Cost: $140

Pro Tips: Make sure to let each coat of paint dry fully before re-coating and applying polyacrylic. Shelf paper liners & new knobs were inexpensive but really nice touches.

Items Needed: 1 quart of Behr Ultra Premium Plus Semi-Gloss in Tropical Seas. Elmer’s color-change wood fill. Painter’s multi-tool. 1 small can Minwax polyacrylic protective coat. 2 rolls of shelf paper. 18 white knobs with screws. Foam or detail brush. Roller, handle, and paint tray. Sanding block.

Method 2: Spray Paint

I started with six dining chairs that Simon had reinforced and two red kid’s chairs, all from craigslist.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters, then clean.
  2. Set everything up outside on tarp/cardboard.
  3. Prime. I used 4 cans and applied many light coats of primer.
  4. Paint! I used 12 cans for everything. Again, lots of light coats 10-15 minutes apart.
  5. Clear coat – optional. I sprayed on gloss finish after the paint for durability.
  6. After everything had dried thoroughly, I added on little feet (glides) that nail in to the chair legs to prevent scratching.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 4 hours in 1 day

Total Cost: $80

Pro Tips: Spray paint works best when applied in a slow, sweeping motion as many very light coats. All of my items looked patchy until about the fourth coat, and I was still picking up detail spots 10 coats in. Choose an appropriate weather day to spray outside (50 – 90 F, low humidity) and wear protective goggles and face mask. Take the time to set everything up away from anything you don’t want sprayed, and use lots of tarps and cardboard to position items. If you do get paint on your skin, acetone (nail polish remover) will get it off.

Items Needed: 12 cans Rustoleum 2x Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Gloss Seaside. 4 cans Rustoleum Flat White Primer. 3 cans Rustoleum clear coat gloss. No-scratch feet for chairs. Sanding block.


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