First things first! Unpainted furniture, unfinished furniture, and bare wood furniture are all used interchangeably on this site, and these other terms are synonymous with unpainted furniture, so don’t think you’ve ventured into the “wrong place” if you see one of the other terms used!
One of the great things about unpainted furniture is that you can do so many things with it. The sky really is the limit, and the added cost in supplies to put your personal imprint on your new cherished piece of furniture is minimal for what you get back. Namely, a stylish, attractive piece that’s the perfect addition to whatever room it’s sitting in. A piece of unpainted furniture is a blank slate, and you can put a piece of yourself in it by what you choose to do with it, so don’t be afraid to get creative!
Since you’re on this page, I’m going to assume that you’ve made the decision to paint your new piece, rather than stain it (though if you’d like some information on staining see the article entitled Staining Wood Furniture), and if that’s the case, we’ll get right to the specifics!
The first question you need to find an answer to is what do you really plan to do with your new piece? Are you going to paint it a solid color? Two tone? Leave it as truly unpainted furniture, save for a border, and if so, will you use store bought stencils, or hand paint your own design? Having a clear idea of what you want your end result to be is of paramount importance before you ever start working with your new piece of unpainted furniture, as this will save you a great deal of hassle and rework later on!
Instead of trying to answer every possible question in every possible circumstance as it relates to your unpainted furniture, I’ll outline the general process and some thoughts for your consideration, in hopes of making your project go more smoothly.
Whatever your plans, I recommend spending a bit of time outlining the specifics of your project to your local paint professional and getting his (or her!) input and advice, especially if this is your first project involving unpainted furniture. A few well placed questions will save you time, frustration, and money, and may prevent you from inadvertently damaging your piece!
The first consideration when formulating your plans would be what room your piece of unpainted furniture will occupy. Bathrooms, for example, are typically painted with gloss paint because it’s better suited to high moisture environments, so if your furniture is bound for the bathroom, you’ll likely want to use glossy paint. On the other hand, if it’s a decorative piece for the living room or bedroom, you will likely lean more toward finishing your unpainted furniture with flat or satin finish paint, so as to better blend with the room. Of course, if you’re looking for a blend of durability and attractiveness, then a semi-gloss paint may be the direction you choose to head in, but remember, durability is only half of the equation! You also want to choose the right paint for your décor. You don’t want to choose a type of paint that will leave you with a “look” you’re not satisfied with, or make your furniture look out of place.
Once you’ve settled on paint type and color, it’s time to ask yourself if you plan to do any border work on the piece. If so, then the follow up question would be whether you want to make use of store bought stencils (can be found in home stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot, but also in art shops like Michael’s. Sometimes, you can strike gold at retail chains like Wal-Mart as well).
Of course, if you or someone you know has a bit of artistic talent, a hand painted border can really add a nice, elegant touch and make your piece of unpainted furniture truly unique.
After these specifics have been worked out, it’s time to turn your attention to the mundane supplies you’ll need, like a fine grit sandpaper for sanding (we typically use #320, but do experiment with this!), primer for laying down a good undercoat and giving the colored paint a good surface to adhere to on your unpainted furniture, and brushes. You’ll probably need at least two brushes, but depending on your specific piece of unpainted furniture, you may wind up needing more (example: a 2-inch (or bigger!) brush is fine for painting the side of a chest of drawers, but if you plan to add scrollwork and other detail painting to your unpainted furniture, this would definitely require one or more smaller brushes).
A word here about sanding. When sanding a piece of unpainted furniture for staining, I always recommend hand sanding for best results, but this is less of a consideration when painting, and a belt sander should serve you well and save you time. Still, if, at some point down the road you decide to strip your unpainted furniture and stain it, you may wish that you had hand sanded after all!
Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a clearly defined plan and discussing the particulars of it with your local paint professional before starting to work on your unpainted furniture project. That’ll guarantee you the best possible results!