Updated: Jun 3, 2019
You've found a great piece of furniture that would be PERFECT, if it didn't have so many damn flaws. Do you fix the issues? Paint right over them? Ignore the piece completely because you don't know where to start? Trust me... I have been there, but prep work doesn't have to be completely terrifying and overwhelming.
Let me help you.
*This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you wont pay a penny more, but I'll get a small commission. Commissions allow me do awesome things...like keep the lights on in my studio. Thanks!*
The most common question I get is whether or not someone should prep their furniture. For me the answer is always YES, PREP YOUR FURNITURE!! There's always a ton of controversy on prep work so this is just my humble opinion and at the end of the day you do what you want.
Now, I know there are a ton of paint brands that tell you to just wipe off your furniture and start applying paint. Most people think if the paint sticks then they are all set and good to go, but that is far from the truth.
The truth is most paint brands have pretty good adhesion, but what I am concerned with is what's going on UNDER that paint.
Think of the top 3 places you purchase used furniture from to paint. Let me guess... garage sales, thrift stores, and Facebook Marketplace. OR you found it on the side of the road. Am I close? Thought so!
Most people don't even consider prepping their furniture because the piece looks like it's in good condition. Just because something looks nice...doesn't mean it's not hiding a dirty secret underneath. That can be applied toward furniture and most of my exes.
What I like to do when buying a piece of furniture is think about all of the past lives it has lived through. Here are two examples:
Antique Buffet: Bought from an estate sale for $100 - Solid wood, dark brown color, ornate details - No damage that you can see - Looks bright, shiny, and new even though it's 80 years old.
This buffet sounds fantastic! A quality solid wood piece with ornate details for $100?! YES PLEASE! There's no damage and everything looks nice... so why would I need to prep?
Think of the buffet's past life. Who owned it?
I immediately think of my grandmother. Her entire house was FILLED with antiques that she loved - probably more than me. She would polish her furniture with Pledge EVERY SINGLE WEEK like clockwork. I imagine the person who owned this buffet probably did the same.
So what does this tell us?
1- The entire piece is COVERED in oily residue. Pledge is a furniture polish that has silicone in it. Silicone causes resistance to paints.... 40 years of pledge causes even more resistance. You're going to need to scrub that piece down a couple times and sand off the glossy varnish.
2- The piece is an antique and dark wood. It's probably mahogany or cherry wood, which quite frankly can be a pain in the ass to paint over. The biggest issue when painting over antiques is bleed through from tannins in the wood. (And rude people on Facebook who tell you NOT to paint over antiques. LOL) You are going to need a shellac based primer to ensure you avoid this nightmare...and possibly a few drinks.
Pine Kitchen Table: Bought from Facebook Marketplace for $20 - Solid wood, used condition with surface scratches - Looks slightly discolored - Smells like smoke - Lady you bought it from said she only had it a few months but she needs a bigger table for her family of 6.
A solid wood dining table for $20?! That's a steal! Sure it has a few problems, but a couple coats of paint will cover all that up right? It's already worn down so paint would probably stick to it...so why do I need to prep?
Think of the table's past life. Who owned it?
This table is telling us a TON of information. We just need to pay attention to the facts.
1- The table is cheap. If someone is listing a piece of furniture for $20 it probably has some issues.
2- It is coming from a household with kids. Kids are wonderful...but they are also gross. They probably have touched that table a thousand times with their grubby little hands. That means oils (and who knows what else) from those hands are all over that piece. Plus whatever dirt and grime that was already there.
3- The table smells like smoke and is discolored. I would bet you that table was in a smokers house, which means there's a build up of not only dirt, grime, and oils... but NICOTINE, and a coat of paint won't cover up those smells.
4- The table has definitely had at least two owners. This means you have no idea about the history of the piece. It could have been in a household that smoked 24/7. It could have been cleaned with silicone based cleaners or even worse never cleaned at all. All that nasty stuff is probably saturated into the surface. You're going to need to do a DEEP cleaning.
5. It's a pine table. That means more tannins and a chance for bleed through! Let me introduce you to your next best friend... shellac based primer.
Those were two very different examples but I hope that got you thinking. We never really know the history of the second hand finds we buy. I would much rather you hate me for telling you to prep than you wasting your time, effort, and resources on a piece only to have issues down the road.
Not too long ago I hosted an online workshop that was all about prep work. It was also completely FREE.
The workshop included: - Several hours of LIVE instruction. - Recorded so you could watch again later. - Full supply list with all of my favorite products. - Bondo tutorial (how to make minor and major repairs using Bondo). - Everything you need to know about prepping furniture - sanding, cleaning, priming, removing odors, covering stains, etc. - Common mistakes to avoid when buying used furniture.
If this post got you thinking more about prep work, and you're ready to tackle some projects... sign up HERE for the free workshop.
Once you've prepped a few pieces I promise it get's easier! You will be a pro in no time! If you're looking for some fun classes, check out the links below.
I have two options for classes. A membership group for $39.99/month with over 30 classes in my class portal, two new classes each month from me, one from a guest instructor teaching things like woodworking or upholstery, etc., and new classes sent to you each month so you never lose them.
I also have a more affordable option. I offer “pay what you can” classes which are donation based. It one class per month, usually one that has already been taught in the membership group at some point. Classes are available for 60 days to watch online and there’s a printable with all the instructions for each class.
I also included a link to a free furniture prep workshop I have.
Until next time,