What kind of paint do I use on wood furniture?

Updated February 21, 2017

Painting wood furniture is a sure way to either dress up or renew older or pressed wood varieties. A few guidelines and applications are available for different types of paint on wooden furniture, but the underlying factor for using any kind of paint, be it oil- or latex-based, all comes down to surface preparation.

Prepping the Surface

Surface preparation is the key to achieving an attractive finished product, and the first step is sanding the piece smooth.

Three steps are involved: sanding with a rough 100-grit sandpaper, moving next to a 200-grit sandpaper, and then making the wood glass smooth with 400-grit sandpaper. Always follow the direction of the grain, whether you hand sand or use an electric sander.

Wipe dust away with a damp cloth, and go over any rough spots afterwards. If there are any nicks or dings, fill those in with a paintable wood filler. Allow this to dry, and sand it smooth.

The next step is painting with primer. Ideally, use a synthetic brush for this application. For the best results, apply two coats. The primer will smooth out any imperfections left and will neutralise any colour variation in the wood that might seep through a regular paint. Just allow the first coat to dry per the manufacturer's directions, which will usually be about 4 hours duration, then apply the second coat.


Recommended for easy cleaning and eye catching looks, water based gloss and semigloss latex are the paint of choice when painting furniture. Truly, any paint like eggshell or flat can be used, but they smudge easier and are more difficult to clean. A glossy paint brings out the shine and the detail of your furniture, making the beauty of the piece stand out.

Brush this paint on with a thin coat to prevent any runs or drips, and for best results, plan on adding a second coat. Any latex paint will work, but a higher quality paint will give higher quality results.

The Finishing Touch

You can leave your masterpiece painted the way it is, but for the utmost in shine and protection, consider putting on a finishing coat of clear polyurethane. Once dried, polyurethane will resist spills, scuffs, nicks and dings, which will keep your painted furniture looking like brand new for years to come.

Polyurethane is easy to apply; merely brush it on as if your were painting, and allow it to dry per the manufacturer's directions. For an even more durable finish, put on two or three coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before brushing on the next one.

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About the Author

Dale Yalanovsky has been writing professionally since 1978. He has been published in "Woman's Day," "New Home Journal" and on many do-it-yourself websites. He specializes in do-it-yourself projects, household and auto maintenance and property management. Yalanovsky also writes a bimonthly column that provides home improvement advice.