Introduction: Chalk Paint Refinishing for Beginners

Chalk paint is pretty popular lately, I'm sure you've seen it around. We were looking at building a couple new tables and then staining them, but once I added the cost of all the features we wanted it just wasn't worth it. So we decided to look at cleaning up and refinishing a old used table. We found 2 that had the same design, a kitchen table and a end table. We spent a total of $40 to buy them both and another $100 total to refinish them, so all in all it was actually a pretty good deal and now we have recycled 2 old pieces into unique and gorgeous pieces that ever one talks about when they see them. Whether you prefer stain or paint on wood, there is no denying that chalk paint can give some very unique looks and finishes.


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Step 1: Clean Your Furniture Piece

The first step to a great finish is to give it a deep cleaning. There is a lot of information out there that says you don't need to, but believe me when I say you do. It takes only a few minutes to clean the piece and can save you a big headache later. You can use TSP, all purpose cleaner, degreaser, or even dish soap and water, paired with a shop towel, rag or depending on the level of dirt the scour side of a sponge.

The reason for cleaning first is this is a used or old piece, and if you picked it up second hand, you don't know it's previous life. It will have many years of funk on it, could be smoke, could just be human oils, could be dog slobber, even coffee stains. All of this we want to remove so it doesn't bleed through our paint later on and cause staining. We also don't want to grind any of that into the piece further by sanding.

Step 2: Fix Problems Spots (optional)

The reason I say this is optional is because if you are going for a rustic distressed look, you may want to leave any nicks and chips in it to add authenticity and character to it when finishing. I prefer to start fresh and add distressing myself so I can control it.

If you choose to fix you'll want to look the whole thing over and find dents, chips, nicks, scratches, splits and gouges. If you have delaminating wood you'll also want to glue that back down so it doesn't keep peeling, CA glue is great for this because it dries so fast. Any other defects can be fixed by applying a small amount of wood filler to them. If it has a gouge out of it, a good quality wood filler will be able to fill the gouge while drying nearly as hard as the surrounding wood. For larger problems you may need to glue in a new piece of wood and finish that back to match. I'm not covering that however, if you know how to do it then I'm sure you can figure out all of this, for most people that is above what they feel comfortable with.

Step 3: Sanding

Now is every bodies favourite part, sanding! Sanding is considered mechanical adhesion, and it lets the paint bite into the layer your applying it to instead of just laying on top. There is a lot of info out there that says you don't need to sand, but I guarantee if you could see those a few years later they are having delamination problems. Start by sanding back off your wood filler with a orbital or palm sander with 120-220 grit sandpaper until it is smooth and you cannot feel the problem spot anymore.

Then blow the whole thing apart, remove what you can. If you can remove a table top from the frame it can help painting the undersides, as well as smaller pieces are easier to handle. If you have handles, hinges, drawer slides, any kind of hardware go ahead and remove it all. We can get full coverage with the paint this way, and it avoids getting paint on something you might want to reuse.

After that sand the whole piece with 120-240 grit sand paper or a fine sanding sponge. I much prefer the sanding sponges as they are inexpensive, can be smacked to clean them out, and they are soft on the hands. Make sure to sand everywhere, top, bottom, sides, inside, anywhere you will be applying paint. Don't neglect the little creases either, that's where the paint will start peeling from in the future as it wasn't prepped right. The harder something is to sand, the more important it is to sand it.

Step 4: Final Clean Before Paint

This is very easy and is your last chance to inspect your piece before applying paint to make sure it is all good. Cleaning off sanding dust doesn't require any special tools or chemicals, but it's something I get asked about fairly often.

Take a rag or shop towel, get it good and wet with water, ring it out so it isn't dripping but is still fairly damp. Then just wipe all of the dust off, flipping the towel as it gets full of dust to a clean side. Once the whole piece is wiped, give it just a few mins to air dry, or you can wipe it again with a dry towel as a final wipe.

Step 5: Painting (1st Colour)

I know painting is fairly self explanatory, but chalk paint applies a little different than latex paint. It is super thick, and very opaque in the can, and dries very quickly. Also you may need to apply a primer first depending on the wood type or finish you are going over to prevent tinting and staining.

Get your brush full of paint for the bottom 3/4" to 1" of bristles, then wipe it off on the can lip, get some more paint on your brush and apply a fairly heavy coat to the spot you are painting. You want it almost running off, then go back and brush it out only brushing a few times so you don't thin it out by just wiping it off again. It dries very fast so once it looks good, just move on, don't keep wiping it because it will smear. If you missed a spot just ignore it and come back to it on the next coat. Also make sure to not paint too large a area as it will start drying on you. When applying I prefer to have my last wipe with the brush go in the direction of the wood grain, or tooling marks (like a lathe) to give it a more authentic look as you will see the texture come though.

You'll definitely want to make sure you move fast while painting, but not soo fast it gets sloppy, you'll find your own groove and pace for yourself and the piece you are working on. Apply as many coats as needed to get solid colour coverage, typically 2-3, but I have had to apply a 4th before (I should have primed first).

Step 6: Masking & Painting a Top or Large Panel

Once your first colour is good and dry you can add a second, or highlight colour. If you are applying both colours on the same piece, you'll want to make sure you mask them off.

Painters tape is what you would use for this as it has less stickiness or tack, and it typically gives a sharp line. If you don't have any, you can use regular masking tape by taking a couple of steps. Rip off a strip and stick it to your clothing. This picks up lint and reduces the tack of it so it will be safe to use over your other colour without peeling it up later. Also, start by applying one corner of it down, then holding the other end of it pull it straight and lay that down. This will help you pull a long straight line as opposed to pushing it along with your thumb and having it wander all over the place. Finally, push the edges down to give yourself a crisp divide line between the colours.

To paint the top, or even a large side panel of shelf can be tricky to get a good finish as it is already drying before you finish. I've found the best way is to determine the direction you want your "grain" pattern going. Then with a bunch of paint on your brush paint edge to edge, full width but only 3" or so wide. Then start another 3" strip from side to side below that and so on till you are done. This avoids wanting to paint side to side but stopping in the middle, then starting to paint the other half and meeting in the middle. The first bit of paint you apply will already be drying and you'll end up with massive brush marks in the middle where you ran wet paint into dry paint that won't self level.

Step 7: Remove Masking

With all your coats of paint dry, I usually add a hour extra before removing my masking to make sure it's all dry, we can remove masking. To remove it lift up a corner and start pulling back against itself slowly. Don't get into a hurry here as going too quick will pull up paint and then you'll have a mess to clean up. Pulling it against itself will help the tape cut the paint and give you a nice sharp clean line between the colours

Step 8: White Washing (optional)

With my top a solid colour I can white wash it now, and this is where having a simulated wood grain pattern with the brush strokes will pay off.

Start by making a 50/50 mix of paint and water in a cup, you don't need much. With it good and mixed get your brush sopping wet and start brushing it on in the direction of our grain pattern. As your brush gets empty, soak it again and keep going until it's all covered in white wash. Then immediately start wiping it off with a shop towel in the same direction from end to end. Try not to stop or start anywhere on it, go from edge to edge in long sweeping patterns and DO NOT make circles or stop and change directions while still touching it. As your towel gets wet with wash, flip it to a dry side so you don't end up smearing it it all over. If it starts to dry on you before you can wipe it off, just add more wash to that spot and wipe again. Only wipe a certain spot a couple times, don't keep wiping for the sake of wiping. Once it looks good to your eyes, just stop. If you keep going back and adding more white to spots and wiping it will eventually look splotchy because you did spot touchups. There is a thing as doing too much.

Step 9: Distressing (optional)

If you are wanting a rustic distressed antique look, now is the time to add it. But there are some considerations to take. Try to keep in mind if the piece was sitting and being used for 50-60-70 years, how would it have naturally picked up scratches a wear? Would people have rubbed on it from sitting or leaning? Hit it with shoes or vacuums? What about general use and jewelry rubbing paint off in certain areas and not others? Don't just scrub paint off everywhere for the sake of adding distress to it, if you think it through and simulate a natural wear pattern it will come out looking much nicer and more authentic (notice a theme here).

Take your sanding sponge again, or sand paper and start sanding. Give most of the piece a general sanding to wear your final paint coat down and look aged, again don't sand too much. Stop periodically and wipe it with a dry rag to remove dust and get a good look at it and once it looks good, stop. Then after inspecting the piece to determine where the edges would be worn, sand and scuff the edges and corners. Take care to sand these softer as the paint is generally thinner on edges.

Step 10: Finishing

Now you have to determine what type of finish you are going for. Antique aged, and distressed looks will probably want to add a highlight colour to make the look even more authentic, but this is a spot many people have made a mistake on. There are many manufactures that make a highlight coloured wax. If you go this route make sure to add the clear wax first and let it cure, then the coloured wax. The clear wax acts as a sealer so the coloured wax doesn't change the colour of your paint, it just sits in the low spots and acts as a highlight giving a authentic look. If you just apply the coloured wax, it will literally act like another colour and stain your paint, altering it's appearance.

If you are going for a new look you'll just want to topcoat. You can clear coat or wax. There are chalk specific of both, but I prefer the wax. The clear coat can go from perfect to yellow in a heartbeat if applied too heavy, virtually ruining the piece and would need to be fully stripped and removed to fix and then you are at square one all over again. Although, it is a semi-permanent topcoat requiring little upkeep. The clear wax is the safest and most natural looking as it is what would have been used back in the day, but it will require upkeep and reapplication from time to time. The wax will also deepen the colours slightly, making it look more rich.

Step 11: And Done!

I hope your project turned out awesome! Let me know what you think, or if you have any questions and I'll get back to ya! You can tag me or email me directly!

Thanks for stopping by and have fun!