Who’s ready to paint?? We’ve talked about priming your furniture, we’ve talked about what IS in Wise Owl paint and what so amazingly is NOT, we’ve talked about the two awesome badass chicks that run this incredible company...and it’s ALMOST time to dip that brush in and have some fun, but first, a necessity….
Let’s talk about that awful four letter word that we all despise: PREP.
Prep work is a beast that most of us hate to tackle, and plenty of folks skip altogether. But if you want your beautiful paint job to last...prep work is a non negotiable. I don’t care what any paint brand tells you, you NEED to prep. (And yes, I am fully prepared to receive major backlash for saying this, and I don’t care...I’m unwavering when it comes to prep work. Period.) Depending on the condition of your furniture, your prep work can vary quite a bit. You might get away with 20 minutes of light cleaning or it might take a whole week of work. You need to assess your surface, come up with a game plan, and jump in.
There are four main steps of prep work: Cleaning, Repairs, Sanding, Priming. Some projects require all 4, some are fine with just 1. You can never do TOO MUCH prepping, but you sure can cut corners and pay for it later. If in doubt, go above and beyond. It’ll make your painting a million times better, I promise. Let’s break these steps down and get to it…
-Cleaning: This is the one prep step that is absolutely necessary, NO MATTER WHAT. Dirt, grime, grease, oils, residue, cobwebs…they all can cause major headaches with your paint (the finish, the adhesion, the durability, etc). If you are dealing with a brand new piece of furniture, straight from the factory, made entirely of raw wood, with no sap, no splintering, no issues what so ever...you can likely get away with a dusting. But just about every other scenario will require some sort of actual cleaning products. Depending on how dirty your piece is, you may go the gentle route with warm water and some dish soap or a little more hardcore with an all purpose cleaner (I have two major preferences: LA’s Totally Awesome Cleaner from the dollar store - cheap, tough, but super stinky and not eco friendly or Whip-It from Walmart/Sam’s Club/Amazon - plant based, strong enough to eat straight through paint, eco friendly and non toxic). If your piece has a wax coating or was previously cleaned with Pledge or a similar furniture polish, you’ll want to grab Mineral Spirits and a scrubby pad or even better, steel wool...get to scrubbing and that top coat will melt away. If your piece has a somewhat shiny finish, a good deglosser can help dull it and give your furniture a little more tooth for your paint to stick to. I personally try to stay away from harsh cleaners like TSP. TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) is actually banned in plenty of states, thanks to its crazy dangerous nature. It can cause difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, vision loss, and skin irritation. It can lead to oxygen depletion in water sources (so think twice before washing it down the drain) and if used to encapsulate lead based paint, it’ll do a good job of converting that lead dust into lead phosphate, which is great for removal...and awful at the same time because lead phosphate is a possible carcinogen. I just steer clear.
No matter what your approach, it’s important to get your furniture in the cleanest shape possible…..and then wash it one more time. Yep, I know, I know. But you need one more quick cleaning with plain water to get any possible cleaning product residue off before you move forward. So give it one last rinse before moving on.
***One more little tip about cleaning. A lot of folks choose to clean as a LAST prep step after they do repairs and sand. I completely understand that you’ll have to clean that sanding dust, wood glue residue, etc off in a bit anyway, so cleaning twice seems stupid. But if you sand BEFORE cleaning, you can actually cause more issues in the long run. Let’s say your furniture was cleaned with Pledge. If you don’t remove the Pledge first, and just jump right in with your palm sander, the heat and pressure from your sander can actually melt the wax coating on the furniture and push it further INTO your wood. This means you’ll have a much harder time removing that coating later, and dare I say, it may never come up. Clean twice and save yourself the stress.***
-Repairs: Now is the time to fix any defects. Starting with the absolute basics, give your piece a little push...is it wobbly? Are the legs all sturdy or do they need their bolts and screws tightened down? If you have a little give, tighten that bad boy up. I’m a huge fan of wood glue and brad nails to reinforce sides, backings, etc. If the veneer is lifting, inject a little glue under the surface and clamp, clamp, clamp. If the sides are pulling away, glue it, tie it all down with ratchet straps, and throw some nails in to lock it up. For major separation, I prefer to drill holes and glue in dowels for extra durability and strength. (I love this kit! Its five bucks and comes with a drill bit, guard, and dowels so everything will fit perfectly) If you’ve got chips or divots in your wood or veneer, fill with wood putty or bondo (I prefer the automotive bondo, and actually skip the wood bondo.). Pull your drawers out and tighten all the slides down with a screw driver (If they are broken, replace them now before you start painting! You can get replacement kits at any hardware store). If you have missing details, trim, feet, etc...make a mold of the existing pieces and match it up! You don’t want to glue trim on AFTER you’ve finished painting, so take the time to get it in proper shape now!
-Sanding: This is step that may or may not be necessary, depending on what you are dealing with. You may need to sand for two main scenarios...smoothing it out and roughing it up. If your piece has splintered edges, scratches, or imperfections, you can sand it all smooth to create an even canvas for your paint. If your piece is super slick and shiny, sanding can rough it up and give your paint more tooth to grip on to. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is really adhesive, but it won’t stick to a high lacquered surface, so scuff it up, make it ugly, and give your paint a fighting chance. Start with a rougher grit sandpaper and gradually work your way up to a finer finish. You don’t want to just attack a dresser with 80 grit and walk away...you’ll have a super rough, damaged surface, and it’ll show through your paint finish. Work up to a 220 grit to get a smooth surface that still has enough grip for your paint. (If I’m planning to stain instead of paint, I prefer to go all the way up to 400 grit for the most even surface.)
-Priming: I did an entire series of posts about priming (I’ll link them down below), but the main thoughts are this...If you are worried about tannins or stains bleeding through your paint job, prime. If you are worried that your paint won’t stick to a slick surface, prime. If you are painting a super dark piece bright white, prime. If your furniture stinks, prime. If you are painting with enamel, prime. If you are in doubt, prime. Wise Owl Primer is a piece of cake to work with...its water based and low vocs...it goes on just like paint and will give you the best chance at a quality finish.
I hate seeing posts that make major assumptions, saying that your piece just needs a quick cleaning before you can paint. Each piece of furniture is different and each will require different levels of prep work. For me personally, I tend to go a little above and beyond with my prep work because I sell my pieces professionally and I NEED them to last the long haul. Take the extra time to properly prep your piece, no matter which brand of paint you are using, and you’ll have a far better experience painting, guaranteed.
And as always, if you are in doubt, send me a picture!!! I’m happy to look over your piece, assess it as much as possible, and come up with a game plan to get it in the right condition before you pick up your paint brush.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-Clean your piece no matter what
-Repair any damages or blemishes before you start painting
-Sand to smooth rough areas and rough up smooth areas
-When in doubt, prime!
Next up…..we gonna paint, baby!
(This post contains a couple affiliate links. These links don't cost you a single penny, but they help pay my bills. As always, I absolutely stand behind the products I recommend!)