Refinishing Furniture FAQ

To My Fellow Ambitious DIYers,

It usually isn’t until mid project when our super simple DIY takes an unexpected twist, or we encounter an unforeseen hick-up. It’s in those ‘what do I do!?’ moments we frantically Google to see who has figured out the remedy. I love being a resource for you in those ‘oh no’ moments and, thus, compiled a list of common refinishing questions. Let this page serve as an ever-evolving guide to assist you in your furniture flipping, refinishing projects.

How to refinish furniture FAQ

Q: Do I need to prep a surface before chalk painting?
A: Yes! Chalk paint may say no prep required, but if you want your paint to last it needs something to adhere to. This means priming or lightly sanding your surface so it can best receive the paint. Taking the time to prep your surface properly makes all the difference in the finish.

Q: When do I need to use a primer?
A: Priming is best when refinishing a piece with intricate wood carvings where it would be near impossible to sand everything evenly. You will want to prime rather than sand when working with a red wood or mahogany. The tannon in these woods will eat through layers and layers of paint, so it’s best not to open up their pores. Use a primer if your wood surface is super shiny (like it has received a few too many coats of lemon pledge in its lifetime). Additionally, priming is a great solution when going from a dark wood to a light paint color. This will likely save you at least one, if not two coats of paint!

Q: When do I need to sand a surface?
A: Sanding is best when you are refinishing a solid wood surface, an uneven surface, or working with a piece containing layers of peeling paint. I usually use a 120 grit sandpaper to lightly scuff up a surface before painting. 120 grit won’t hurt your furniture but it will rough up the surface just enough to give the paint something to grab onto. If you are sanding through layers of paint you will want a 60 or 80 grit sandpaper.

Q: Is chalk paint worth the extra money?
A: 1,000 times YES!!!! Chalk paint is much thicker than regular interior paint which means less coats. A good chalk paint has self leveling properties, which means as the paint settles and drys it hides brush strokes and small imperfections in your surface. To me, using chalk paint is much more enjoyable and I appreciate the even coverage it provides. So yes, I would pay a bit extra to use a better product, every time.

Q: When is a piece NOT worth refinishing?
A: Shoot, this is a tough one! Honestly it boils down to how much you want it. Some projects will deceive you with the amount of care they need. The biggest factor I would consider is if the piece is made of solid wood. Wood can be worked with in a number of different capacities so there is a greater likelihood of saving and successfully refinishing it. See my post about what woods to stay away from to answer this in greater detail.


Q: What are different top coats compatible for chalk paint?
A: There are lots of different top coat options. For pieces that don’t get much everyday use I would recommend a clear wax and/or dark wax. For a horizontal surface like a tabletop I recommend painting on a clear top coat in a matte or satin finish. Personally, I go with matte because it fits my farmhouse, cottage style, but that’s a matter of personal preference. Painting on a clear coat will give you better coverage than a spray. Just make sure whatever top coat you choose is WATER based if using over chalk paint. Remember to keep water base with water base and oil with oil, because as we all know, water and oil don’t mix!

Q: Do I need a top coat when refinishing a piece of furniture?
A: YES, always use a top coat! This step is what allows your paint to remain in excellent condition over time and survive a move (or three). It’s similar to painting your nails, the paint lasts longer with a top coat. Make sure that the top coat is the very last thing you do so the seal isn’t compromised (i.e. do any sanding, touch ups or drilling of holes BEFORE the top coat is applied).

Q: Do you recomend sanding in-between layers of paint?
A: Sure do! I know it can be scary to take sandpaper to your pretty new paint, but by using a 120 grit and just lightly rubbing it across the surface with your hand this removes all the little dust particles that inevitably dry in your paint.

Q: Why does my wood not take stain evenly?
A: Wood has such a personality! Start by a good, even sanding. Then make sure to condition your wood before staining. This helps put moisture into the really dry pores and allows your stain to soak in a bit more evenly. Think about a spray tan, if you have ever had one you know to put lotion on your hands, knees, and elbows because they absorb more color, right. Same concept with wood. Some places in your wood just absorb more stain. Sand, condition repeat until you are happy with the final product.

Q: How do I get rid of that old smell in a vintage piece of wood furniture.
A: Start by making sure there isn’t any living mold or mildew on your furniture. Then mix 1 part water and 1 part vinegar in a spray bottle and spritz your furniture. Let this air out and dry completely. This should kill and living mold or mildew and remove the old stench. Do the sniff test and potentially give it another all over spritz with the water/vinegar mixture. If it STILL smells, Dixie Belle Paint makes a paint on product called ‘Like a Boss” which seals the wood up pretty good. A coat or two of paint will also help!

Q: How do I get that chippy paint look?
A: Milk paint is the best paint for achieving the chippy look, but some DIYers are not a fan of using this product. If this is you, take sandpaper to your paint and hand distress, or use an electric sander for more of a roughing up. You could also use a latex or oil based paint and then use your water based chalk paint as a second coat. These two bases won’t like one another which makes for more chipping when you go to sand.

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