March, Project No. 1: How to Paint Furniture (or, In Which I Learn a Great Deal)


March 3, 2011 by Leah

I’m a little project-oriented this week. I don’t know if it’s because spring has sprung or if it’s because my mom and step-dad will be visiting for a while starting on Saturday.

At any rate, I was switching out runners on a hutch that sits by our front door yesterday (I’m performing an experiment to see if Dawn dish soap really gets ancient stains out of cloth and the runner on the hutch was a prime candidate for testing) when Aaron, looking at the new runner (bright yellows and reds, very springtime-y, quilted by my mom), said, “that sure makes the hutch look shabby.” So I said,” Maybe I should paint it. How about the same blue as our bedside tables? That’d be cool!” Aaron agreed. Thus project No. 1 of two major projects I undertook yesterday was born.

The last time I did any kind of furniture redecoration, I decoupaged the top of the desk in my room when I was 15. I’ve actually taken this desktop with me everywhere and even now it is sitting on top of the desk I currently use. As cool as I still think it is, decoupage did not prepare me for stripping an old hutch.

Let me preface this tale of furniture abuse by saying: Aaron brought the hutch to our marriage, and I hope it was not any kind of heirloom. I assume he would have mentioned it if it was.

Hutch, after some initial exploratory sanding

So, yesterday I briefly read about how to paint furniture on the internet, went to Lowe’s, and picked up my supplies. (Yes, I bought the biodegradable trim trays and drop cloth, but really, what’s the point if they’re going to have hazardous waste on them?!) I came home, donned my Habitat for Humanity outfit (jeans and shirt covered in paint and tar) the only safety glasses we had in the house, which are construction safety glasses and not chemical safety glasses, and thick leather gloves. Then, I sacrificed a metal mixing bowl to the operation (in order to store the paint stripper), painted on the stripper, and waited 15 minutes. (In the meantime I forgot what I was doing and that I had paint stripper on my gloves and tried to brush something off my cheek and OMG paint stripper on a  recently windburned face HURTS. On the plus side, I’d read the directions and ran for the soap and cold water.)

The results (on the hutch, not my face) were awful! The finish only came off in weird streaks. Aaron (who was home for lunch by this time) pointed out that perhaps the fact I was using a plastic kitchen dish scraper (also sacrificed to the operation) instead of a dedicated paint scraper was problematic. I refused to heed this idea and left the whole operation to take Duke to the vet (just for a recheck of a sprained foot, he’s fine).

When we got back, lo and behold, the hutch looked diseased. All the finish was coming up in great blisters and it was easy to scrape off. I concluded the paint stripper just needed time to do its work. It was a little gross with the finish coming off in strips and clumps, but it worked. I sanded down the almost-naked wood with a sponge sander and proceeded onto priming the thing, which was where I realized that slats could end up being the bane of my existence. So not fun. But, I finally finished priming, let it dry, wrapped it up in the drop cloth, and left it outside overnight (in the rain, naturally).

Being wrapped in the drop cloth meant that there were little bits of previously-scraped finish sticking to the primer when I unwrapped the hutch this morning, but they were nothing a sanding sponge couldn’t remove. The big problem was that I had primed the sliding doors with them closed, i.e. flush against the edges of the hutch. They were stuck.

After some ill-advised tampering with a Swiss army knife, I finally turned the hutch on one side, kicked the sliding door where it met the side of the cabinet, turned it on the other end, repeated the procedure, and the doors were free.

Painting was the least laborious part of the process (although, because I was doing it, it was messy). I didn’t do a perfect job, but I’m okay with that. The color is a little brighter than I imagined it would be, but that’s also okay since our living room is dark (or maybe we can put the hutch in a kid’s room down the line).

The hutch, painted

So, the verdict? I’m not sure I will be doing a lot of furniture painting. Now that I have some supplies and some experience, I suppose it might be easier. My brilliant mother-in-law told me there are places that “dunk” furniture to remove finish for not much more than the cost of a can of paint stripper, which DEFINITELY sounds like the way to go next time.

For a DIY project taken up on a whim, repainting the hutch wasn’t cheap. Here are how the costs broke down:

Paint stripper $9.86
Dropcloth $3.78
Trim trays $1.86
Sanding sponges $8.96
Two brushes $8.22
Primer $8.98
A quart of paint $14.48
9.75% tax $5.47


$61.61 and some hazardous waste. (How does one get rid of that stuff stuff, anyway? I’m just planning to stuff mine in the shed on the patio for the time being.) I’m not even sure I like it better than I did when it was just wood.

Still, we did get a slightly brighter corner out of it.

Hutch, doing its job


3 thoughts on “March, Project No. 1: How to Paint Furniture (or, In Which I Learn a Great Deal)

  1. Aubrey Clark says:

    To answer your question about hazardous waste disposal, most city dumps have an area for just that purpose. Dropping off hazardous waste (as opposed to regular garbage) is usually free.
    I’ve been slowly repairing an antique dresser and I’m almost at a point where I want to either paint it or stain it. I’ve thought about getting a heavy drop cloth (reusable) instead of a plastic one, any thoughts on that?

    • leahkathlyn says:

      If you are planning to continue redoing furniture, aren’t moving soon, and have somewhere to store tinge dropcloth I’d go with the reuseable one. The paint stripper I used was, apparently, evaporable and the paint itself would dry. If you’re just testing to see if you like redoing furniture or would have to store the dropcloth in your bedroom, I’d go the disposable route. Thanks for the info on hazmat disposal!

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