Painting the Flats: The First Step of the Finished Look

Your piece is repaired, primed, sanded, and wiped clean. Now you get to give it the look you envisioned. Though details are attention grabbers, it’s quality backgrounds and crisp lines that keep you looking. These are the first areas to paint.

Take a few moments to consider the shape of the piece: where Inside meets Outside, Flat meets Edge, Centre meets Border, Straight meets Curve, Inner Angle meets Outer Angle. Then choose the order in which you’ll work,  keeping the following goals in mind:

web3-backPaint simple large expanses first.web4 insidePaint interiors first. recessed-area-webPaint recessed areas and walls first, then outer contrasting borders.priming completedPaint awkward spots first.   latch afterPaint the expanse before the raised detail.

Rule of Thumb: You don’t want to reach across freshly painted areas to get to others. The paint may be dry but it’s still soft, scratches readily, and picks up debris easily. Therefore the top surface is almost always done last.

finished primer brushChoose your paintbrush. I have always favoured an angled brush because it works so well in corners. But you may prefer a simple straight edge. I also prefer a small brush – rarely larger than an inch – because it has smaller strokes and less paint on the brush. I am unusual in this regard so feel free to choose larger.

02-left-side-painted-webPosition your piece at a comfortable height with the working surface flat in front of you.

Rule of thumb: BACK – SIDES – FRONT – TOP

When one colour is to meet another, carefully consider which colour goes on first. Generally speaking, paint lighter colours first and try to have colours meet at defined edges

Get started!

A quick aside on paint brush strokes. I don’t understand why they are so often seen as evil. If properly applied, faint brush lines are the mark of a patient painter who takes pride in technique. But these lines must be even and straight, without changes in direction, without ridges, without gaps, without blobs and drips.

Fill your brush 1/3 to 1/2 full only… and remember these pointers:


Start where it’s dry and lift your brush where it’s wet. Putting your brush down in a wet area produces a blob of paint that needs smoothing out, plus the mark of the brush where it contacts the paint.

Move in one direction only. No criss-crossing. No angles. No curves or circles. No happy faces! All of these lay paint down unevenly which a second coat cannot erase.

Thinner is better. It smooths out better. It layers better. It reduces blobs and drips.

Generally move from the centre to the edge, with the brush moving over the edge into space.

Regularly check for drips and lightly brush them away. Pay attention to the edges. It’s easy to forget when you’re working away on the top… but if you don’t catch them now, you’ll be sanding them down later.

In recessed areas, paint the base first, then the walls. Start at the edges and move to the centre, then go back to the edges and up the walls to prevent pooling. Pay particular attention in the corners using very little paint on your brush.

When you’re done, let it dry overnight and examine it. You may want to run a very light fine sandpaper over the surface to remove tiny imperfections in smoothness.

No matter what the paint can says, you will ALWAYS need a second coat. The colour will be brighter and more consistent. And despite your near-perfect initial application, there will always be spots that you missed.

Move on to the next area and watch your masterpiece develop before your eyes!


Painting: An Introduction

rainbow box finished exteriors blue half moon chest finished drawers orange-wine table top detail blue-white bench inner side yellow side table detail

I’m talking about the final paint job here. Repairs are done. Stripping and sanding is done. Primer is on and had a few days to cure. You know exactly what you want to do.

You can fiddle with the preparatory work. But when it comes to painting, you need to get it right. Flat surfaces must be smooth. Edges and detailing must be precise.

You don’t need to be a born artist to do this. It’s a skill that can be learned. But it takes practice and it takes patience.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give is… TAKE YOUR TIME.  Don’t try to do the whole thing at once. Take breaks. Work on sections. Leave it overnight. Or two nights.

Next. Don’t get caught doing physical gymnastics to get at all the angles while your piece sits in one position on the floor.

finished left side interior  using the work surface  work surface bins with plywood

 Put it at eye level. Raise it so that you can paint while sitting on a stool. It’s a heck of a lot easier on your back and legs.

 Position overhead lighting so that shadows are minimized. Tip and turn your piece as you work.

 Move your stool around the piece as you paint. If this isn’t feasible, turn the piece so that each side is facing you as you work.

 Paint the top surface LAST. Turn your piece upside down first to paint the legs so that you when you turn it upright you can lightly sand any debris off the top.

 Work systematically. Side 1. Side 2. Back. Front. Inside. Legs. Top. Or whatever order works for you.

 Don’t try to handle a section that is wet, or even tacky. YOU WILL REGRET THIS. One smudge or fingermark will remind you of your mistake. Cuz now you have to repaint that area.

These are the general points. Next post… the specifics!

Why I Don’t Do Chalk Paint

Don’t misunderstand me. I am awed by beautifully painted furniture of any kind. The gentle colours of chalk paint are lovely, and it’s commonly seen in furniture makeovers. But it isn’t for me. Here’s why…

Chalk paint is a cover-up. The whole intent is to cover the piece easily, without sanding, without scraping, without getting down to bare bones. It’s to be completed quickly and smoothly, with exquisite results.  And that’s okay… but one of my great loves in this business is actually digging down to those bare bones, then inspecting the piece, learning how it’s put together, how life’s knocks and repairs have altered it, how it might be changed into something bright and new. If I don’t know what problems lie beneath, then I don’t know how refinishing might affect it.

Chalk paint adds a layer (at least) (and not including waxing). Therefore, if you choose to paint over existing paint, then the thickness is going to increase. It means you’re limited to painting surfaces that don’t slide against each other, like drawers. And I love to paint drawers, both the insides and the outsides. It gives some added surprise and happiness as you slide them in and out!

Chalk paint has a matte finish. But I like glossy. Really glossy. It’s fun and it’s unexpected in today’s world.

Chalk paint needs waxing.  Waxing takes time and experience to get it right. It produces a surface that continues that same matte (dare I say “dull”) look. Did I mention I like glossy?

Chalk paint might not be as sturdy when protected.  Can it handle little people throwing stuff at it in quite the same way as well-cured Varathane? Will it take water spills? I certainly know you can’t draw with chalk on it if it is has a protective coat applied.

Chalk paint colours are limited. Yes, you can intermix.  But I have all the world’s colours at my fingertips. It doesn’t matter what brand I use.

Chalk paints are expensive.  Yessiree. Go out and compare.

Chalk paints invite shabby chic and distressed styling.  These aren’t my style. I figure if you’re going to go to all the work of refinishing an old piece into something new to love and use for a while, why try to make it look like it’s already beaten up? The look is so ubiquitous now that it’s lost its edge.

No doubt I’ve tread on toes and upset readers. But I’m a perfectionist and I love perfect little details. I can do this with my little pots of paint and my assortment of paintbrushes.  Then I can protect it all with a solid varathane finish and watch it shine. Who could ask for anything more?

My Guide to Tackling that “Diamond in the Rough”

Here are the basics… those steps I take to create something new from a “hunkajunk” I’ve found.

1. I examine it. 

Closely. Although I’m getting better at picking out problem points before I buy, I usually end up giving it the once-over long after I’ve acquired it. This occasionally gives me nasty surprises but more commonly just shows minor blemishes or wounds that need a little TLC. Chipped corners, knots, stains, nail holes, peeling veneer, loose handles and hinges, and other bumps and lumps.

  centre damage1  wash stand inside before  coral arch top chest back wall damage  coral cupboard inner shelf food stains before

2. I strip it.

Every vestige of paint and finish from the entire piece, including any glued-on paper or fabric. I scrape and I sand ’til I’m down to bare bones. Then I sit back and stare at it some more.  Are repairs needed? Stains that could potentially bleed through? Colour that won’t cover well? Damage that will require disguising instead of repair?

 blue white desk drawer front stripping  coralarch top chest painting part removed  stripper final section stripping centre shelves

3. I repair it.

Using glue or nails or screws or filler, clamping as necessary. I wait patiently for everything to dry.

left corner sanded  coral arch top chest clamp repair details  corner repair 2  

4. I prime it.

Every spot to be painted… with two coats if I’m worried about bleed-through. Then I let it cure for at least 2 or 3 days. More about primers here. My primer of choice is Zinsser BIN Primer.

Ivory Chest primed  blue white desk primer on  blue half moon chest primed  all parts primed

5. I hand-sand it.  

The entire piece, gently, to remove the grain raised by the primer plus any debris picked up along the way. I must be able to run my fingers smoothly over all the flat surfaces, bevelled edges, and carved details of the piece.


6. I vacuum it.  

I find a small brush useful for sweeping dust from corners and carvings.

shop-vac  primer brush

7. I damp-wipe it. 

With a damp cotton cloth (old cotton socks work really well). Then I let it dry completely.

bin of cotton socks

8. I paint it.

A pretty detailed area! More about painting in a post of its own.

      orange-wine table front  blue-red side tables  blue-white bench  yellow side table

9. I protect it.

With 3 coats of Varathane Diamond Wood Finish. More about that in this post. Then I let it sit for a couple of days before I even touch it. Why take a chance with that fresh glossy gleam?

         purple side table  finished washstand yellow cupboard interior


Well, 10 points would have been a great number…but I’d have had to make one up!

Painting the Hardware

  latch before     latch after

metal knobs before    metal knobs after

wooden knobs before     wooden knobs after

I use the term “hardware” to include everything that can be removed from the piece I’m working on… meaning handles, knobs, hinges, screws, magnets, decorations of any sort. It can be wood or metal or plastic or something completely unknown.

It’s tantalizing to leave these where they are and consider painting around them. THIS. NEVER. WORKS. It just makes a mess. Removing a piece of hardware allows you to clean it up and refinish it any way you want. And the spot it came from can then be stripped, sanded and painted without concern. Besides, a beautifully painted handle or hinge adds a nice touch of class to the end product. Continue reading “Painting the Hardware”

Choosing Decor to Refinish

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Other priorities had taken over, like children’s weddings and summer gardens! But life has settled down again and I’m back at work. I want to spend a bit of time outlining what makes me choose a piece to refinish…  apart, of course, from price (we all like cheap, don’t we?). Continue reading “Choosing Decor to Refinish”

Using Varathane Diamond Wood Finish as a Tough Protective Coat

diamond wood finishI have stripped all the woodwork in my 170-year-old home of its varnish, paint, coal dust and grime. I’ve applied more quarts of oil-based Varathane than I care to count, then sat back to admire the smooth glossy beauty of the restored finish. I was immediately drawn to the idea of high gloss Varathane on my painted furniture.  But twenty years have elapsed and as a society we are now loath to use oil-based products. In fact they’re rapidly being removed from market shelves.  Plus that glorious golden yellow that mellows over time would distort the bold colours of these painted surfaces.

In recent years, Varathane has offered a water-based  Diamond Wood Finish promising durable, crystal clear protection.  Despite initial skepticism, I gave it a go and have been delighted with the results. Protecting painted surfaces has its challenges.  Continue reading “Using Varathane Diamond Wood Finish as a Tough Protective Coat”