Trash to Treasure, using spraypaint to refinish curb-find furniture

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I've been wanting to do an instructable for a long time but was finally motivated by the Krylon Spray paint contest and a shot at an Ipad. As this is my first instructable I apologize if I ramble. There's a lot I want to put into this so I know that this is going to be very wordy. I'm trying to write this as I go instead of at the end.

This was written for the Krylon Contest but I've just entered it into the Green Living Challenge Contest. To be honest I don't think this deserves to win. Spray paint is a wonderful product but it's not green. What I'm doing is very green, upcycling stuff and keeping it out of the landfill is very green but to be truly green there are probably better ways that I could go about doing it. Although I don't think this should win, I'd be ok with second place :)

As a hobby, i enjoy refurbishing curb-find furniture and turning trash into show pieces. I take a lot of pride giving value into something destined for the landfill. I've done a lot of pieces where it's made to blend with the room decor and all that but where I have the most fun is doing really wild, bold, and fun art pieces. With curb find furniture there is a freedom that you just don't have when working on an expensive family heirloom. You can go crazy with color and patterns. Experiment. If you screw up so what? What have you lost? I also love using spray paint. The first pieces I did were with a brush and roller but I prefer the smooth finish that spray paint gives you. It's fast, bold & very forgiving. If you screw up, simply paint it over and move on. If you decide you don't like a color....change it. You can be trendy because it's easy to go over in a few years when styles change. I have to confess that for large surfaces I use a spray gun but I really prefer spray paint. there's no setup or cleanup time. just grab a can, shake and your good to go. When I first started doing "fun" projects they were for kids but I've found that grownups like them just as much.

There are many how-to websites and articles on refinishing furniture. they all read about the same....lightly sand then paint. It's never been that easy for me. To get a really high quality finish takes a lot of steps and preparation. I don't want my pieces to look like you simply took a old dresser and spray painted it. I don't like Shabby Chic. You'll never catch me sanding edges to make the paint look old and the only time I'll use the word "distressed" is when I'm having a bad day. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just not me. I want pieces that are sharp, crisp and bright. It's the difference between painting your car with.....well....spray paint (no offense Krylon) , versus having a pro do it. Both cars may be red and look good from a distance but it's readily apparent which is which when you get close.

When I first heard of the Krylon contest I was going to do one piece. At the time I had 3 pieces that I had recently collected. I didn't have a clear vision for each piece and couldn't decide on which piece to do for the instructable so I'm doing all three and make this more about the process instead of the end results. There are lots of tips and tricks that I use along the way that I hope people will find useful. I think these techniques can be applied to whatever project your doing. No matter if your piece is big or small or what your end goals are, the steps are basically the same.

here are the steps:
1 assessment
2. clean
3. disassemble
4. strip
5. sand
6. repair
7. surface patch
8. prime
9. surface patch
10. base color
11. surface patch
12. brain storm ideas.
13. masking
14. accent color / pattern
** repeat 13-14 as required
15. clear coat
16. automotive polish
17. hardware

there are 17 steps there. Surface Patch happens 3 times. this is because many scratches & marks are not apparent until you get some paint on the piece. so it's important that as you build up layers that you inspect and patch things that you missed the first time or that maybe you didn't completely eliminate. Only 3 of those steps are painting (the same number of steps as surface patch), prime, base color, accent colors. The wonderful thing about spray paint is that, with a little care, it's incredibly easy and very fast. it's everything else that takes all the time. As a working professional with a family, house, dog and the whole bit, I have very limited time to give to projects. I can only work in hour chunks. It can take me a few months to finish something. I don't know if that's bad or good, it's just the way it tends to work out for me. By thinking of things as individual steps and knowing where I am in the process helps me from getting discouraged along the way.

time percentages:

83% surface prep

15% masking

1% painting

1% polish / hardware


My biggest enemy is myself. I get impatient and rush things. that's when I make mistakes that end up taking more time to correct than if I had done it right the first time. that's why I keep this list. I won't let myself move on until the step is complete. That's also why my pieces take a long time and why I wont' let myself have a deadline. (except for this instructable....) This sounds like lots of work and it is. With maybe the exception of repair, depending on your carpentry skills, none of the steps are hard. it just takes some time. For me it's therapeutic. it's very stress relieving. i can forget about the days troubles and just loose myself in what I'm doing.



redswhinez2 years ago
THIS. IS. FABULOUS. I looked at every single page...I LOVE that 'ace & chevron' cabinet, it's brilliant. Seriously, do you sell this stuff? Dunno about changing the knobs...I think the simplicity of the knobs works well with the rest of the piece...they don't detract. I don't have the time, patience or space to do what you do but you do it WELL! Cheers!
dimtick (author)  redswhinez2 years ago
the chevron cabinet is actually my favorite piece. i've done nicer pieces but that one's my favorite because i had no idea what to do with it when I started. just went with the flow and let it evolve.
my latest project doesn't have all the bold colors but I'm really happy about it because of where it started and where it's ending up. still working on the doors but will be publishing when complete.
chipper353 years ago
I dearly love this instructable!
dimtick (author)  chipper353 years ago
This is a rather belated comment, but that top-most piece, with the Spade-looking embellishments on the front......! I'm into magic, and that reminds me of a big magician's illusion!
Ivette283 years ago
You are a very creative person!!!
Lokisgodhi3 years ago
Not to rain on anyone's parade, but The US is experiencing a bedbug epidemic. A piece of furniture you find on the street and bring home could wind up being the costliest project you ever undertake.

You're better off starting with something from a unpainted furniture retailer.
dimtick (author)  Lokisgodhi3 years ago
That's an excellent point and one of the main reasons that I avoid picking upholstered furniture from the trash.
I don't think I explained it well enough in my write up but when I get a piece, I clean it thoroughly inside and out before bringing it inside. this includes removing drawers and cleaning the inside of the case, the underside of the drawings, and flipping the piece over and cleaning around the base.
not only does this eliminate any threat of spiders, bugs, etc. it's also a great way to get a handle on the condition of the piece and what it will take to bring it back to life. I'll take notes as I go, including a list of any repairs and parts that will be needed.
That's the thing, the first few larval stages of bedbugs are incredibly small. All you'd have to do is miss a few and it could cause an infestation.
dimtick (author)  Lokisgodhi3 years ago
You've gotten me worried so I've been doing a lot of research on bed bugs ans other pests. from what i've read the method that i use for cleaning with bleach cleaner (Clorox Cleanup) should be effective at erraticating bed bugs as long as you clean all surfaces and get into every crack and joint.

refinishing discarded furniture can be very rewarding hobby. not only are you saving money but your keeping stuff out of the landfills as well. With a little care, other peoples garbage can become your treasure. When I see furniture that others have painted the common criticism that i always have is people taking shortcuts and not taking the time to do all the necessary prepwork in order to insure a quality result. The threat of bed bugs and other pests really brings home the necessity to not rush the initial steps so that you not only have a beautiful piece but a safe one as well.

duggerpato3 years ago
Amazing job on the furniture. As for going green, don't worry about a little spray paint. As far as I'm concerned you could empty every can you have and it won't have even a .0000000000000001% affect on the world's environment. Your immediate environment would be unpleasant for a while, but the planet won't care. Or maybe that's just the coal miner side of me talking :)

Yes, the number was made up, like the statistics for global warming :) I remember the ice age we were headed for in the 70's and the hole in the ozone layer that was going to kill us all in the early 90s. I am in favor of not impacting our local environments, and leaving them better than when we arrived when I go camping, but it's all a fad in my opinion. **said the coal miner helping supply a plant burning 20,000 tons of coal a day**
mncamper3 years ago
Truly an inspiring instructable! I rummaged through the garage for supplies, bought a few cans of spray paint and repainted my ugly old end table. Turned out alright & was a fun learning experience. I can't wait to do it again. Thanks for posting this!
sunshiine3 years ago
I love this design! So beautiful. You are really good at what you do! This is a very nice instructable. Thanks for sharing.
Lindie4 years ago
Love your pieces. Great work! Good luck!
ZoDo4 years ago
Wow really amazing. Voted
dimtick (author)  ZoDo4 years ago
Ace Frahm4 years ago
If you're gonna make the shelf glass, you could make the front door glass too, and maybe light the interior with LEDs under the top, It'll look great at night.
dimtick (author)  Ace Frahm4 years ago
I really like the idea of LED's. that would be cool.
zipknitter4 years ago
These are nice and really look nice but bring to mind a friend who did the same thing with furniture he picked up on the curb and ended up redoing a sideboard that he found out was worth $10,000.00 if he HAD NOT refinished it.. So people, make sure you do not have a fantastic antique or collectors piece of furniture before you start to strip and redo it. It will pay you to check it out--- literally.
dimtick (author)  zipknitter4 years ago
that is an excellent point zipknitter. If a piece has a manufacturers mark on it and is clearly well made then I'll research the piece before I do anything. I usually don't repaint pieces where the finish is nice. those pieces I'll restore and keep them as is.
It's my goal to add value to a piece, not take it away.
bunee4 years ago
I want to thank you. I've been wanting to attempt a bold, colorful, contemporary project such as yours. There are so many shabby chic, distressed projects out there, but I longed for the crisp paint job you've (so competently) explained. I have some furniture in my garage just screaming for a paint job. Maybe now, at some point, I'll be able to get a car in there. I'll check out the voting.
dimtick (author)  bunee4 years ago
thank you!!
I gotta warn you that once you get into this, new pieces seem to keep showing up and you never get any closer to getting your garage back.
I did 3 pieces for this instructable and in that time I got 4 more so now i'm worse off than when I started.
Oh, so true. Yesterday I found a free recliner on someone's sidewalk and by the time I got the truck to go get it, it was gone. Good thing, cuz I would have had to move the car out of the garage to make room for it along with all the bike parts, etc in my collection. :)
wow!!! this is impressive & I am particularly grateful for your exact instructions. I voted for you & I do hope you win...you deserve it!!
Thank you for all the trouble you went to. I have become one of your followers.

One of these days, when I have completed something that I think is worthy of putting in here, I will do that too....meanwhile, I am enjoying the eye candy.
dimtick (author)  Laura Boivin4 years ago
Thanks Laura!!!

I wrote this instructable as I went. When I started I didn't have any end design in mind. so my thoughts for you are to not worry about whether or not something is worthy. just have fun. you have complete freedom. Go for it.

I've already got 4 more pieces to do....a large armoire (that one gonna be a lot of work), dresser, piano bench and a small magazine rack. these I'm going to do one at a time, not all at once. that was to much for my limited space and time.

I'm thinking that my next instructable I'm going to do a "as-you-go" piece. I'll post it as I go and be able to get advice when i hit the inevetable road blocks.
gonna be taking a break before starting that. rushing these latest projects to meet the contest deadline has burnt me out.
bew8004 years ago
Wow ! These are gorgeous! And you are a patient person. I love your write up, very detailed with lots of hints,suggestions and pictures . I've never heard of the rubbing compound so anxious to try it. Great instructable and I will vote for you.
dimtick (author)  bew8004 years ago
the rubbing compound that i use I got at an autoparts store. it's used by car painters but the same tricks apply to anything painted. for me rubbing compounnd and really fine steel wool (size 00 & 000) are the keys to getting a really smooth finish. i use steel wool to smooth out the little ridge that you get where you masked between 2 colors. rubbing compound will take out that "sandy" texture that you often get with spray paint.
gotta be patient so you don't harm the paint job. I just keep running my hand over the surface. whereever it feels rough I'll work on thoce area until its all smooth. steel wool will leave little metal shavings all over so you gotta dust the piece really well when your done.
I'm hoping on selling one of these pieces so I can get my next tool....a electric polisher

benz_z4 years ago
you got my vote its really through my attention span didnt last long enough for me to read it in one go but i got back to it i really enjoyed it dont stress out about me telling you i got distracted its just me (and my generation) like right now im thinking about snowboarding... at the end of july. im rambling hope you win
dimtick (author)  benz_z4 years ago
to be honest, I can't read it in one shot and I wrote it.
MadMooby4 years ago
Be careful....Eddie Van Halen is the kind of guy who would sue you for using his guitar image without his permission.

I'm not kidding.
ynze MadMooby4 years ago
I bumped into an interview with Eddie v H on dutch radio, a couple of weeks ago. He didn't seemed that bad... :) He's a painter these days, no less!
Brilliant instructable! Very comprehensive write up, and your work is superb. It's inspirational. I voted - hope you win!
dimtick (author)  scraptopower4 years ago
Thats means a lot

Im gonna post some updated photo's tommorrow

artfulann4 years ago
What fabulous finishing tips - I'm eager to try the polishing compound!
lebowski4 years ago
Nice work!
dimtick (author)  lebowski4 years ago
(like your dog picture)
cnash9624 years ago
LOoOoOove it!
dimtick (author)  cnash9624 years ago
flyingpuppy4 years ago
Those are gorgeous! Love the Moroccan flavored-one and the blue daisies! Adding this to my faves.
dimtick (author)  flyingpuppy4 years ago