How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint A-Z

Should the furniture be sanded before painting with chalk paint? This is the one question I get asked most often and my answer is, that it depends. While many chalk paint brands say their paint doesn't require sanding, I always err on the side of caution, especially considering I sell my painted pieces. But there are some instances where I absolutely won't sand and so here I'm sharing tips on how to prep furniture for chalk paint from A to Z.

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint A-Z

I hope you find this tutorial helpful whether you're about to paint your first piece or have a few painted pieces under your belt. You ALWAYS want to have a good bond with the paint.

If you've been following the blog for a bit you know that I have a workshop in the basement of our home. I also live in a cold winter climate and so good ventilation is always a problem. For these reasons, I use low to no VOC (volatile organic compound) products.

Affiliate links are included so you can see what products I use or recommend for prepping furniture. See my disclosure policy.

Clean the furniture before painting

Vacuum all the cobwebs inside, underneath, and on the back. My preference for cleaning furniture is 1 part white vinegar to two parts warm water with a drop of dawn dish soap. Wipe down all the surfaces with a damp rag.

Remove the drawers and/or doors before painting

Some people prefer to keep the doors and drawers in place when painting furniture. Unless the piece is really old and there is a chance of not getting the hardware lined up again, I always remove them.

Label the back of each drawer with chalk so you know which belongs where (ask me how I know about this important this step).

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint - Label The Drawers

Remove the hardware before painting

Unless you plan on painting the original hardware (which I've been known to do on occasion), remove the knobs, pulls, and door hardware. Place them and the screws in a tub or tray so they don't get lost.

Raise the furniture from the ground before painting

Raise the furniture from the ground before painting so it's easier to paint along the bottom. My preference is these 3-wheel furniture dollies so the furniture can be moved around as I work if need be. Another option is raising it with paint cans or blocks of wood.

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint - Raise It!

If you suffer from back or knee pain like I do, a hydraulic rolling mechanic stool will be your best friend. Raise and lower it as needed and scoot around the furniture as you work. Note: you want one with a short stem that doesn't restrict how low you can go. No more constantly getting up and down or kneeling on a hard floor.

Fill any imperfections before painting

Fill any holes, deep scratches, and dents with wood filler. My preference is this non-shrinking filler compound.

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint - Fill The Holes!

Do NOT sand furniture if...

  1. You suspect it may have been painted with lead paint. Painted pieces from the late 70's and back are more likely to contain lead. There are lead test kits available should you want to test first. I personally err on the side of caution unless I'm 100% certain.
  2. It has a smooth Arborite or high gloss enamel finish.
  3. The wood is cherry or mahogany. Sanding will open the grain and cause the tannins in the wood to bleed through the paint, especially if you plan on painting a light color.

How to prep furniture that CAN'T be sanded 

For smooth Arborite or high gloss enamel surfaces, prime first before applying paint with either a brush or foam roller. My go-to primers are Bulls Eye 123 Primer or Slick Stick.

To hide stubborn stains or wood that may cause paint bleed, my go-to stain-blocking primers are Bulls Eye 123 Primer Plus or clear BOSS, especially if you will be painting a light color like white. You may need to apply two coats. If a pinkish hue appears after the first coat of paint, apply another coat of primer in those areas. Both of these stain-blocking primers also help to remove odors.

How to prep furniture that CAN be sanded

Note: You'll notice the photos included in this post is of a previously painted piece. I knew it was safe to sand because I was the one who painted it many years ago with latex paint.

Wrap 150-grit sandpaper around a sanding pad and rough up the surface to give the paint some bite.

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint With Sandpaper

You may need to bring out the big guns and sand with either an orbital sander, palm sander, or mouse sander. My preference is a mouse sander because I like how it feels in my hands, it can easily get into tight corners, and I feel like I have more control. However, if it's a rather large piece, I'll use an orbital or palm sander.

You can see in the photo above that my mouse sander is well used and a bit of a relic. Time to consider replacing it.

Remove sanding dust before painting

Wipe the furniture with a damp cloth to remove sanding dust. Remove lingering fine dust particles with a tack cloth.

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint - Remove The Dust!

Cover holes on the drawer fronts

Place tape over the hardware holes on the inside of the drawers to avoid paint seeping through and clogging the hole or worse, seeping into the inside of the drawer.

How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint - Cover The Holes!

Now you're ready for the fun part, paint!

Tip for testing paint bond

Should you decide to heed the chalk paint brand's claim that their paint does not require sanding, here is a tip to test whether it bonded well with your furniture. Do the fingernail test after 24-hours. Scratch the paint with your fingernail and if it comes off, then you need to do more prep.

If you have any questions about prepping furniture for chalk paint, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below or press the Contact Me button at the top of the blog to send me an email. I always enjoy hearing from you!

Visit my tutorial page for more helpful tips.

To Sand Or Not To Sand? How To Prep Furniture For Chalk Paint

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  1. Hi Marie-
    I'm new to furniture painting and just discovered your website. I love all of the content and information! I have a question about preparing a piece for paint. While washing the small side table I'm going to paint (with tsp), the stain from the piece is coming off on my rag. The table appears to be maple (1960's) with a medium toned stain and varnish. Does this mean that I need to prime the piece first? And will I be able to distress it without bleed through complications? It's a little spindle table that I plan to give a beachy look with a white distressed finish. Any advise would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Lynne

  2. Welcome Lynne, I'm so glad you found us and that you like what you see! To answer your question, I would give the table a light sand with 150 grit sand paper to smooth the finish and remove any mess from the tsp cleaning. Considering you plan on distressing the painted finish, I would recommend priming it first with a "clear" primer. Following the directions on the primer for dry times, etc. You should be good to go with no paint bleed. You might want to consider wet distressing before the paint dries rather than with sand paper after the paint has dried. Press the Contact Me button at the top of the blog to send me an email should you have further questions. I'd be happy to help!

  3. Hi Marie

    Really enjoying your site. I do have questions - every site I've looked at regarding prep for chalk paints seems to assume the piece is a makeover, as in previously finished. I have a new unfinished pine sidetable (a trial piece to see how it goes). I want a solid finish (Rust-Oleum Linen White, to be specific) similar to your original piece in this article.

    I will sand it first. What grit do you recommend? Should it be smooth, like 220 grit, or a bit rougher to bond?

    Should the pine be treated with wood conditioner or primer? One site suggested a pre-paint mix of linseed oil and turpentine to seal the knots.

    I understand the depth of coverage can be varied depending on number of coats and if the paint is thinned to whitewash level.

    Is polycrylic a better finishing choice over, say, Minwax finishing wax?

    Btw, I'm in Canada. Some of your recommended products aren't available here. I'm happy to go through your affiliate links, and did for the furniture dollies; they reroute to US sites, so I don't think I'll be able to use them. Sorry. Anyway, hope you can help.

    Thank you.

    1. Hello Myrkr, I'm glad you are enjoying our blog. I would be happy to answer your questions and provide more guidance but my answers would be too lengthy to write in the comment section. Could you email me by pressing the Contact Me tab at the top of the blog and I'd be more than happy to answer your questions and help in any way I can.


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