Upcycling for Beginners: Painting Furniture

DIY Level: Beginner

Upcycling is a term that you’ve probably heard before, which, like many of us is yet to leap into success. If you’re looking to try your hand at a DIY project, but don’t know your spanners from your staplers, then we’ve got the perfect beginner job to help you take your first steps towards home improvement independence (and have you hammering the nails into your home in no time).

The most basic of upcycling tasks is furniture painting, it’s a job that isn’t too complicated to complete but will introduce a few DIY phrases and techniques that may be new to you, and it’s the easiest way to spruce up a piece of furniture (and the room in which it lives).

Painting old furniture (1)

A Rough Guide to What You’ll Need:

(This may vary depending on the piece of furniture that you’ve chosen)

A piece of furniture (to be painted)
Your chosen paint (or two!)
Dust sheets, or any kind of protective sheet equivalent
Stencilling kit, or any special effect extra of your choosing

Upcycling Stage 1: Priming

Before you begin, make sure to lay down some protective coverings for your floor, an old sheet or dust sheet will suffice.

Priming is arguably the hardest stage of upcycling furniture because it requires the most elbow grease and has the least amount of visual payoff, but it is the most vital stage!

The current surface texture of your chosen piece of furniture will affect the weight of sandpaper that you’ll need to use; as a general rule, the rougher the wood, the coarser the sandpaper you’ll need. If the furniture that you’re upcycling is already varnished, this will need to be removed completely – you can either use a noxious solvent or lots and lots of sanding. Remember to have a cloth to hand to wipe away the dust, (a damp or microfiber cloth will work perfectly).

Tip: Always sand in the direction of the wood grain to accentuate the natural pattern.

Once the surface of your furniture is smooth and free of splinters, it’s time to start applying the primer. Paint reacts differently on different surfaces, so primers ensure the paint hold and don’t flake off. Once applied, leave it to dry!

Upcycling Stage 2: Painting

upcycling for beginners - DIY painting furniture

Now, this is the fun bit that we all came to the party for!

Using a good quality brush; it’s time to start applying your chosen paint. Make sure to pay attention to detail here and take care to reach every nook and cranny by using smaller brushes designed for the job; for larger surfaces look into mini roller kits for a quick and sleek finish.

Tip: Always paint in the same direction for an even coat without leaving marks.

It’s good to know what type of finish the paint you’ve picked will dry as; we’ve put a quick guide below, but the paint pot itself should have more in-depth information.

Paint Type Finish
Chalk Matte, textured, rustic
Gloss High shine, glossy
Silk Sheen, semi-shiny
Eggshell Sheen, semi-matte


Now it’s time the leave your upcycling project to dry completely; do not rush this stage as any smudges, nicks or snags will stay permanently. Once your piece of furniture is dry, you’ll be able to assess if it needs another coating (or two).

Upcycling Stage 3: Special Effects

upcycling - distressed furniture (1)
[Photo Credit]
This stage is for any intermediate DIY project goers on the page, who feel confident enough to go the extra mile and ramp up their upcycling style.

If you’d like a distressed, vintage look to your finished project you can take some time to sand areas of your choice – try not to go overboard and stick to areas where it would naturally occur.

Tip: By painting two different colours, it will reveal a chic contrast when sanding areas of the top coat away.

Alternatively, you could add a few decals or a pattern to your DIY project by using a stencil kit, or you could take your upcycling even further by trying your hand at decoupage. If you’re upcycling a dresser or chest of drawers, you could change the handles or knobs – it will dramatically change the aesthetic of the piece.

Upcycling Stage 4: Finishing

The last step when painting furniture is to seal your hard work with a clear varnish or wax.

Whether you choose varnish or wax is up to you, but it’s best to do some research on different types to see which is best for your DIY project and also the types of finish they give. For instance, oil-based varnish can ‘yellow’ the colour, whereas acrylic won’t; dark wax (hint in the name) will make your project darker, but this finish will help achieve a distressed or antiqued look.

Likewise, waxing will take a little more effort as it will need to cure before requiring to be buffed into the wood; varnish will just need to be applied and left to dry.

Did you like or try this guide? Let A Fancy Home know on Twitter by getting in touch! If you’re looking to make more DIY changes to your home, but you’re worried about the cost, check out Easy Home Decorating Ideas on a Budget.