Answering Furniture Painting and Finishes Questions

A woman spray paints furniture.

If you are looking to paint your furniture, the following questions may be on your mind. Here are answers to a few common questions.

Q. I would like to paint my son's crib white for my daughter who will be born next month. How do I do this, and what kind of paint and primer should I buy? Do I sand and then prime? Do they make non-toxic paints for baby furniture? Can I buy them at home centers? Do they work well?

A. In order to paint the crib, strip the old finish off for best results. Otherwise, wash it with TSP or scrub with mineral spirits and scuff sand it with a green Scotch-brite pad. Prime with Zinsser 123, and paint with semi-gloss latex. You can use Valspar from Lowes, but Pratt and Lambert, Benjamin Moore, or Sherwin-Williams all make good products as well. Two finish coats for durability. All modern finishes are non-toxic once cured. Allow four to seven days after the final coat of latex for it to reach full hardness.

Q. What do people do to get that worn paint Shabby Chic look with estate sale/garbage finds without subjecting their families to lead paint poisoning? I love the look and have several pieces of painted furniture that I planned on re-painting for the shear sake of keeping the paint from flaking or dusting off harmful lead. If you want to keep the aged look, is there some sort of sealant that is safe?

A. If the old piece is painted, then rather than sanding through the old paint (possibly lead) to distress it, paint it and then add a topcoat wash, of either stain or umber paint/glaze, to age it. If the old piece is stained, you can paint and then sand to reveal the wood/stain underneath with no worries. If you like the current look of the old painted piece, seal it with clear low gloss polyurethane.

Q. I'm installing a maple unfinished countertop on my kitchen island and would like a darker finish than the natural maple. What kind of stain would work for this application? I will be following up with mineral oil or tung oil.

A. Maple does not take stain well. You might consider some of the products with the stain in the finish to impart the color you want. The color does not stain the wood; it just looks as if it had, more or less.

Q. Is it possible to paint a piece of furniture using only a brush, yet still get a nice smooth result, i.e., not be able to see brush strokes once it's done? Ideally, I'd just use spray paint, but no way in the house, and it's 20 degrees out. And a roller doesn't fit the contours well. Maybe one of those foam brushes, with no bristles?

A. It is possible. You will need a top quality brush, paint, and sandpaper. Sand after the primer coat and between finish coats. Use a sanding block to give you a flat surface after sanding. You might need to thin the paint a tad to have it flow optimally. Some colors flow better than others un-thinned.

Make sure that the temperature of the piece and the surrounding air follow the recommendations of the manufacturer of the materials. Allow sufficient time for each coat to fully dry before sanding. Practice makes a lot of difference in this task.

You might achieve better results early in the learning curve by using alkyd paint. Except for the mess, trouble to clean up, and the smell, alkyd paints tend to flow out a tad better. If you are experienced painting with a brush, it won't matter so much.

Q. I have a 30 year old white French provincial dining room that is in great condition, except for the white paint, which has yellowed with age. I am interested in refinishing it to a cherry or mahogany color using paint. Do I have to completely strip the white paint off, can I just sand it, or can I just wash it and paint over the existing paint?

A. If you want to paint it a cherry color, just clean it thoroughly with spic and span or mineral spirits, knock down any sheen with a green Scotch-brite pad, then prime and paint.

Q. Any suggestions regarding the type of finish to use on Purple Heart wood? I have heard that it will brown if the proper finish is not used. In addition, any finish suggestions for Quilted Maple?

A. Lacquer finishes work well with most woods, and Purple Heart is especially suited for lacquer. Lacquer works well on most woods. I would use it on quilted maple as well. Deft makes a good brushing lacquer, if you are not equipped to spray lacquer. Hydrocote makes a water-based lacquer substitute. I would be inclined to consider the Deft lacquer over the Hydrocote for first time users. Lacquer is a material that burns easily, so be sure to follow the precautions on the container for a safe environment and technique for applying lacquer.