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RAISE your hand if you have this or something like it.  This piece, circa the early 1980s, was part of my husband’s first ever bedroom set.  His great-grandmother bought it for him.  Isn’t that sweet?  It followed him for most of his life, and then it starting following me when we moved in together.  Just look at it in all of its wood/particle board/brass hardware glory.  It’s enough to make a person want to drop it off behind the Goodwill and never look back.  But not if you’re a DIY warrior.  Which you are, right? Or at least could be if you put your mind to it?  If you need convincing, just look at what you could turn this guy into with a low-cost hand sander, a quart of paint and new hardware:

Color: Valspar Ocean Slumber in High Gloss
Hardware: Lola & Company Green Glass Polished Chrome Spa Round Knob

Let me tell you how to do it up.  Since I didn’t do step-by-step photos of big blue here, I am going to walk you through the transformation of my bright red nightstands instead.  Before shot look familiar?  These were part of the same bedroom set as big blue.

STEP ONE:  Gathering Supplies  Here is what you’ll need:

  • Hand sander (like this one from Home Depot)
  • Screwdriver (for removing and installing hardware)
  • 60 and 220 Grit Sandpaper
  • Oil-based primer (white or gray depending on your top coat color)
  • Latex paint in color of your choosing (1 quart)
  • Water-Based MinWax Polycrylic in Clear Gloss (1 quart)
  • Small paint brush
  • New hardware (optional, but usually recommended!)

Note:  If you want to change the placement or size of the hardware (which I did NOT do on the nightstands so you wont see this step in the photo tutorial) you also will need a power drill, a level and tinted wood filler.

STEP TWO:  Sand It Baby!  If you are working with a piece of furniture that has a really shiny finish do not skip this step.  I’m telling you.  Listen to me.  If you are thinking to yourself “I’m not going to sand because it’s too much work and takes too long,” then don’t waste your time reading the rest of this post or painting your furniture for that matter.  It will look bad if you don’t sand it.  Period.  Maybe not at first, and you’ll be all snarky and think you’re Master of the DIY Universe as you stand back admiring your pretty new decor.  But just you wait, after a little while the paint will start to dent, chip and then come off in big flakes because you haven’t given it a proper home.

Remove all of the hardware, fire up your little hand sander and let ‘er rip!  I usually use 60 grit/coarse sandpaper for this step in the project.  Go over the surface of your piece in even passes until all of the shine goes away.  The point of this step is to give your primer a rough surface to grip.  It will look something like this when you are done:

You’ll notice that my piece isn’t even in color.  That’s fine because the primer will cover up these imperfections.  The more important thing is that the shine is long gone before you start to prime.

Note:  If you are going to move or replace the style of hardware, this step is trickier and takes longer.  You will need to fill each hole with a big glob of wood filler and let it dry for several hours.  Once it is dry then sand the wood filler down so it is even with the surface of your piece.  Repeat this step as necessary until you have a completely smooth surface.  With the assistance of a level, mark where you want your new hardware to go with a pencil and then drill the new holes with a power drill.

STEP THREE:  Primer Time  After sanding, cover your piece with a coat of oil-based primer using a paint brush.  For best results, let it dry over night before moving on to the next step.  I like to use oil-based primer for furniture that is going to get a lot of use because it dries harder than latex primer and provides maximum adhesion power.  For this project I used Behr tinted primer for maximum coverage because my top coat would be deep red.  When working with oil-based primer, you should first dip the brush in paint thinner to make cleaning the brush easier when you’re all done.  For more info on cleaning paint brushes, check out this post from Ask the Builder

STEP FOUR:  Sand Again  Give your piece another quick sand with your hand sander using a very fine grit sandpaper.  I like to use 220 grit for this step.  This will eliminate any brush lines and give you a silky smooth surface before you apply the top coat.

STEP FIVE:  Paint   Using a small foam roller, apply several thin coats of latex paint until you’ve achieved your desired coverage.  Make sure you let your piece dry completely between coats (at least two hours).  I like to use latex paint for the top coat because it dries faster and it is much, much easier to clean up.  Keep in mind it’s 100% fine to use latex paint over oil-based primer, but the reverse is not the case.

While you can use a paint brush for this step, the foam roller will help avoid bubbles and brush lines, giving your piece a professional looking finish.  Another tip for achieving a sleek lacquer-like finish is to use semi-gloss or high gloss paint, which is what I used for both of the projects featured in this post.

After you are done painting let your piece sit for two or so days.  Seriously.  Just forget you ever saw the thing for at least 48 hours.  It will look so fabulous and you will be so proud of your DIY prowess, so this part will require great willpower.  The longer you let the paint dry the more likely you are to avoid nicks and dents in your piece.

STEP SIX:  Polycrylic  For ultimate protection and shine, you can go one step further and apply a super thin coat of MixWax Polycrylic (in clear gloss finish) with a small paint brush.  The directions on the back of the can advise to apply more than one coat, sanding in between each coat for best results.  I’m usually happy with the results after only one coat, but you can judge how you think it looks after your first coat dries.  Again, for the absolute best finish, let your piece dry for a few days before putting it into service.

STEP SEVEN:  Accessorize  After your paint or Polycrylic is dry, it’s time to install your new hardware!  A tip that I will share to help you avoid frustration when the finish line is so near is to make sure that your hardware fits before you even start painting.

You’ll often find the screws that come with new hardware are either too long or too short to actually work with the pre-drilled holes in your piece.  If the screws are too long then you can buy a few washers to account for the additional length.  If the screws are too short then you’ll need to buy new screws or find some that you already have in your toolbox that will work.  When I don’t re-drill holes for my piece, I always take the old hardware with me to Lowe’s or Home Depot to make sure that the new stuff that I am buying matches the old stuff.  That way you can avoid multiple trips to the store for different hardware or more supplies to make what you bought work.  It also helps to ask the experts who work there if you are buying the right thing.

STEP EIGHT:  Enjoy!  Take a step back and enjoy your hard work.  You saved money, got a piece of furniture in the exact color you wanted and helped save the planet by giving something old a new life!  For more ideas for giving old furniture new life, check out these fabulous furniture makeovers over at the Better Homes and Gardens website.  If you need advice for your own project or want to share something you’ve done, please give me a shout!