Trash to Treasure, Using Spraypaint to Refinish Curb-find Furniture




Introduction: Trash to Treasure, Using Spraypaint to Refinish Curb-find Furniture

About: I'm an architect by day. I love doing projects by night, both on my own and with my kids

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.


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Step 1: Assessment, Clean & Dissassembly

I have 3 pieces that Ive chosen to refurbish for this instructable. I was going to do one but I couldn't pick which one.
Assessment, Cleaning & Disassembly I have as 3 separate steps, and it helps me to think of it that way but I do them simultaneously before I ever take the pieces inside. I learned the hard way to really check a piece out. With items that you pick up from houses, pieces will often be stored in a attic or garage for years before finally being discarded. Apartment dwellers usually don't have storage space (or very limited) so things they throw out come directly from their living space. I made the mistake of taking a dresser into my living room and opening a drawer to find a mouse living there. lots of screaming later, I learned to check things outside before bringing them into my house or garage.

when looking at a piece, take out all the drawers, exam the inside of the case and flip the piece over. Cleaning and disassembling a piece also helps to get a good feel for the overall quality and all the steps that it will take to get the piece ready for paint. By doing this all on the same night it minimizes any surprises down the road and you've got a good idea of what needs to be bought. I have a pretty minimal budget for this stuff. my wife has this habit of insisting that silly things like food are more important than wood and tools. by having a good idea of what I'll need to buy right in the beginning, I can plan and schedule so that I'll have what I need, when I need it.

Someone commented about being careful to not paint anything valuable. This is a very valid point. Before painting a piece look it over carefully. if you think it might be valuable then it's worth doing some homework before you start sanding. I usually try to do some research, not only to find out about the piece but also to help determine "market value"
here's a site that gives some good tips.
I've had 2 pieces that were worth saving. one I kept as is and polished it. the other piece was for my in-laws. that piece I refinished. I replaced the hardware with modern hardware to give the piece a modern look but kept the original hardware in a box so that if it gets resold it can be put back to original.

One of my biggest pet pieces when I look at pieces that people have painted over is when they don't take the time to dissassemble a piece and simply try to mask around the hardware. When you look closely, you can always tell. This is one of the biggest differences between a $500 showroom piece and a $50 garage sale item (if your lucky). Don't be lazy. take the time to remove cabinet doors and hinges. if possible take out glass panels. don't try to mask around the hardware. if you tell yourself that "oh, no one will notice"...guess what.....they will.

so now lets look at the pieces.....I take careful notes as I go thru a piece, along with taking pictures. The pictures become a handy tool later for sketching ideas. I use the notes I take to develop a list of all the steps that will be involved.

PIECE 1 - The Card Table
this is a small 2 drawer side table. the quality and joinery are good. other than some minor scratches and dings the finish is ok. Don't like the drawer pulls....gonna have to think of something there. not really diggin the base but I don't have any ideas there. hopefully after some color it'll look good. fingers crossed. there is a mildew stain and crayon marks inside a drawer. looking like the drawers will have to be painted. top has some marks from paper sticking to it, and has some cigarette burns but overall is ok. Upper drawer rail is cracked. should be easy to glue. I was drawn to this piece because of the drawer design. Very Brady Bunch. reminds me of a deck of cards. Some color, design and new fancy hardware will really make this pop....hopefully in a good way.

PIECE 2 - The Ashtray
This is a circular post table with a dish ashtray top. the leg is loose and wobbly. doesn't look like it was cut square, so probably wobbled when it was brand new. the construction is crude. this looks like it was a high school wood shop project. don't want an ashtray so I'll want to give this a new top. I grabbed this from a neighbors trash. he's actually a rock musician. think I can find some inspiration there.

PIECE 3 - The Piece of Junk
third piece is a small bathroom cabinet with a metal top. this has been painted multiple times by hand. the paint is thick and sloppy. it's missing the middle shelf. the shelf supports are tongue and groove which I don't really like. the bottom shelf and inside the drawer has about 8 layers of contact paper. great. i hate contract paper. the metal top has to go.
this piece has really seen some better days but with some work will really sparkle. this piece will take the most work. To be honest a lot of times I'll pass over a piece like this but I thought this would be a good one for an instructable because it's going to be most in depth and should have the most dramatic before / after.

so that's my task....the good, the bad & the ugly.
Did I mention that it's July 6th and the contest deadline is July 31st. Did I also mention how most of my pieces take a long time and now I've got 3 in less than a month. certainly a lot of room for failure here. Ipad here I come......

Pretty self explanatory. just a few notes

1. vacuum
2. scrub brush
3. sponges
4. old tooth brush
5. scrapers
6. soap/water
optional items:
Goo Gone
Mr Clean Magic Eraser
Clorox Cleanup

The first step with cleaning is a once over with a vacuum. The is mainly to get rid of cobwebs but also any other loose debris.

When I clean the first thing I do is go over it with just mild soap and water and good scrubbing pad. You'll be amazed at how much a little scrubbing with clean up a piece. Clean the inside, back and bottom as well.
I've recovered several pieces that if the previous owners had given the piece a good scrubbing they would never have thrown it away.

Use a scrub brush and even an old toothbrush to get into all the nooks and cranny's. having a dirty surface is the easiest way to ruin a new paint finish.

with many curb-finds the previous owners were smokers. for that what I'll do is first scrub with soap and water. This is usually enough on the finished surfaces. It's the unfinished areas, like the back and bottoms of drawers that really soak up the smell. For that I'll scrub the piece with vinegar and hot water. this has to be to ALL surfaces inside and out. I'll let the piece dry then I'll sprinkle liberal amounts of baking soda in the drawers and on top and put it in my garage for a week or so. after a week I'll wash it again with soap & water. If it still smells, I'll do it again. I've only had to repeat once. My wife is very sensitive to smells so I make sure to detox a piece before it ever comes inside.

For mold/mildew I'll scrub it with bleach and water or Clorox Cleanup. mold, mildew and bleach are pretty nasty stuff so where a mask and gloves for this. Once the mold/mildew is gone, then scrub with soap and water.

Disassembly, is pretty straight forward. remove all handles. remove drawers and doors. remove anything that it is going to be replaced. take apart anything that will need to be repaired.

One thing that I do is i keep a piece dissassembled until the very end. having a piece taken apart makes it easier when your working with multiple colors....little less masking.

Often I'll find problems that I don't know how to solve. Either it's beyond my abilities or beyond whatever time frame I'm willing to commit. Before abandoning the piece I'll do some research on the internet. I have yet to find a problem that hasn't been written about. Somewhere out there, someone else has already wracked his (or her) brain and written about so you don't have to. In some cases those problems are deal breakers but it's only after doing some research will I make that call. Let's face it, thats one of the reasons that Instructables exists. So that people can pass on their experience to make it easier for other people facing the same problem.

Step 2: Strip, Sand & Surface Patch

For the most part I prefer not to strip a piece.  I've found that yo can do an awful lot with sanding and surface patching.  but of course thats not always the case.

for me there are 3 methods for stripping depending on the severity of the surface.

1.  citrus strip.   this is the less toxic stripper agent.    This is my preferred method for stripping.   It's not perfect.   if you have a lot of layers it'll only get thru the top couple so it can tke a long time to strip a large piece.   it's good if you just need to get off a little so that you can prep the surface for paint.

2.  heat gun.   this is a very time consuming indeaver but it's very effective.  the thing about the heat gun is that there will be a lot of residual paint that will need to be sanded away.   this can be used in combination with citrus stripper.  use the heat gun to take off the majority,then use the citrus stripper to take off the residual.

3.  chemical strip.   as a general rule I don't use chemical stripper.  it's pretty nasty stuff, that I just don't feel comfortable using.  I've only used once.  I had a piece that had been kept in a garage before being thrown out.  something has been spilled on the top that was really nasty.  To this day I don't know what it was.  chemical stripper was the only thing that would get the stuff off.

for 2 of my pieces all that was needed was sanding.   the bathroom cabinet was a different story.   it had multuple layers of paint that has been put on by hand.  it was very thick with heavy brush strokes.   it had pooled around the hardware.   At first I was hopeful that I could sand enough to take off the brush strokes but it was just to much so I ended up using a heat gun.   It took a long time but was well worth it.   After the heat gunning was finished I went over the piece with paint scrapers and then a lot of sanding. 

There is no more important step for surface preperation than sanding.  For a spray paint project it's not necessary to get the piece back to bare wood.  What your really looking for is a smooth surface surface where at least the outer most finish layer has been taken off.   Start with course sand paper like 100 grit then go to 150 and finally 220.  Make sure that you sand out any marks created by previous sanding steps.  You need to really get into every knook and cranny.  After sanding I go over the piece with a vacuum and then a tack cloth.    Repeat this process after priming and repeat as required.    If your priming bare wood, the primer will raise the grain of the wood so you'll have to go over the piece multiple times.
I used a random orbiting sander along with a detail sander and then hand sand  what the power sanders cant get to. 

Step 3: Repair

This instructable isn't about woodworking so I won't get into this to deeply.
Repairing is exactly what it sound like.....repairing. 
Beyond cosmetic & style issues, there are often deeper reasons why a piece was thrown away.  Problems that the previous owner felt was beyond their ability to fix.   unless your a very experienced woodworker (which I'm certainly not), these problems can seem equally challenging. 
Before throwing in the towel and tossing the returning the piece to the curb take some time and do some research.  It's been my experience that there aren't any issues that you will face that someone else hasn't also solved and written about on the internet.   This is where sites like Instructables are so great (and how I found instructables to begin with)
do your research and let other peoples experience help you.  In most cases, seemingly insurmountable obsticles can be overcome relatively easily with a few simple tools.

For me my tool kit consists of:
cordless drill
various screw drivers
chop saw
circular saw & cutting guide
jig saw
various clamps
pocket screw jig
random orbiting sander  (ok, this is for sanding, not repair, since it is a power tool I'm listing it here)

there are very few things that I can't do with those few tools.   I'd love to have a full shop with all the fancy tools but that's not my reality.

I learned long ago to accept the fact that at some point in every project I'm going to do something stupid.   I call this my "Inner Idiot"....Don't think I'll repeat here what my wife calls it.......
On this project my Inner Idiot showed up after I finished stripping the bath cabinet.   After stripping the cabinet with a heat gun, it was late in the evening.  I didn't want to take the piece inside becuase it had a lot of loose paint chips that I was to tired to deal with, so I left outside overnight.   It wasn't supposed to rain for several days but of course it did.   For the most part the piece was ok with the exception of the bottom shelf where the rain water puddled.  Also the door panel was trashed.  I had left it laying flat and the water puddled and warped the board.   When I first saw this I was tempted to panic but I stayed calm.   I've been here before....a lot.
after inspecting the pieces I made a list of options....

1.  toss the piece and change the instructable to 2 pieces instead of 3 and pretend it never existed.....tempting.
2.  leave the panel as is and incorporate the warping into a "design feature"......kiss the Ipad goodbye. 
3.  try to sand the panel smooth.....don't think that will be possible.
4.  cut out the panel and replace it.
5.  purchase a premade kitchen cabinet door from the home center.

after thinking about it a lot, I thought that option 5 would be the best. I didn't think a replacement door would be very expensive. this door isnt a crazy size and it's a very simple panel design.  The next day I put the panel in my can and went to work, intending to go to the home center that night.  When I went out ot my car after work I didcovered that during the heat of the day the door panel had expanded and all the glue joints had popped.   All I had to do was cut a new panel and glue it up.


There is an artwork to masking and is the key to getting clean edges and crisp lines.

One projects I use both green tape and blue tape.  I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use green tape when I'm masking an edge that will come in contact with paint.  ALWAYS.   It's important to note that even green tape isn't enough on it's own, there are some other steps to get a good edge that i'll get into later.

The blue tape I'm using when I'm simply covering an area to protect it from overspray.  Areas that I'm not going to be directly painting but I still want to protect.

I'll get more into masking when I get into taping off the patterns.

Other tools.....
Brown Kraft masking paper.   I love this stuff.   it's cheap, it's easy to work with and easy to tape.   Many people like using newsprint but I've had problems with it bleading thru so I don't use it.

This stuff is awesome and is one of the greatest time savers.   This is what I use to mask drawers when I only want to paint the face.   I'll wrap the drawer box with plastic wrap.  I'll completely wrap it multiple times so I'm sure it's completely covered.  The plastic wrap sticks to itself so there's no need for tape....although I still do if it may be a few days before I'm done with the drawers.   The only taping that is done with plastic wrap is to seal around the back of the drawer face.  for this I'll use blue tape.  
For large area I'll use an old plastic disposable table cloth.  I tried using an old shower curtain once but the paint didn't stick to it well and when I removed it the paint smudged on my hands and on my furniture piece.   I wasn't happy about that.

When I mask larger areas I always use a double tape method.  I'll first go around all the paint edges with green tape. Use a 5 in 1 tool to make sure your tape gets fully onto corners and along edges.  Once the edge is established I'll then mask off the remainder of the area using brown paper and blue tape.   The blue tape I'll old 1/4" off the green tape edge. 

If your masking needs to stay in place for multiple days it's very important to go around the edges every time before you paint.  tape will work loose over time (especially in heat and humidty) and it won't be noticed until you peel off the tape and find the bleads.  I take a 5 in 1 tool and tap along edges to make sure the seam is tight.  if an edge has come loose and you run your finger along it the tape may crease away from the edge.  depending on the crease you can pull up the tape and reaply or replace the tape completely.  

Sometimes what you want to paint is beyond what you have the ability to tape, or stencil.  so then what do you do?  Before you give up there is a method that car painters use that may be worth doing.    What you can do is go to a sign printer and have them print you a vinyl mask using low tack adhsive.     this is a techneque that custom car painter use.   I've only done this once when I wanted to do a honeycomb patten (I wish i had pictures of the piece).   Sign printers aren't cheap but they can do some really complex patterns that you would never think possible with spray paint.   the next time I do this I'll do an instructable on it.  there's an art to applying the mask that is more than I can get into here.   I tried using a vinyl decal once as a paint mask but the adhesive on it was so strong that it was very hard to remove and it left a residue on the piece that I couldn't remove with damaging the paint.   If you want to use vinyl decals don't use them as a mask.

 Although this seems like a nobrainer, there is a techneque to removing tape to avoid damaging the paint.  When removing tape don't pull straight up.  if you do that your far more likely to pull up some paint with it.   Gently pull the tape at a harsh angle away from the top coat edge.   take your time with this. 


When I spraypaint there are a lot of things that I keep in mind.  


between every coat I lightly sand the surface then wipe it down with a tack cloth to get off any dust.  When I sand I'll first feel & inspect the surface.  If the surface is smooth then I'll use fine steel wool to rough up the surface.    I use size 000 steel wool.  This is not to be confused with an "SOS" pad.  This steel wool you get from a home center.    I like to use it to smooth out the little ridge that you get along the tape edge that you get between colors.   

shake, shake & shake some more.   Shake your spray can at least a full minute before painting (longer if you havent used the can in a while)  It's a real pain but there's nothign worse than your paint coming out chunky because it wasn't properly shaken.   KEEP THE CAP ON THE CAN WHEN YOU SHAKE IT!!!   I had the tip fail on a can once and as I shook and it splattered paint all over me and all over the piece I was painting.  Not a happy day.
A tip that I've heard that I've used a few times is to put your paint cans in a bucket of hot water prior to painting.   The idea is that you get better flow if you warm up the can & thus get a better finish.    To be honest the only time i've done this with primer paint where the can hadn't been used for a while (over a year).   I shook the can for a while, the sound of the ball just didn't sound right.  I was getting spray but I was worried about it dying or sputtering, so I warmed the can.   I'm honestly not sure if this helped or not.   All I can say is that it painted fine.

with sanding you can use a simple dust mask with rubber bands but with painting, especially spray painting you need a good quality mask.  The mask I have cost $30 and is best money I ever spent.  Your lungs will thank you.

When i'm painting the inside of drawers, I have to lean over and look down into the drawer.  The sides of the drawer will trap the spray paint overspray and create this "cloud" of paint.  I'm sure this has a name, I call it the "cloud zone".   Most of the time I don't like using goggles so I can better see what I'm doing but when I have to paint within the "cloud zone" I always wear goggles.  The kind which seal to the sides of your face and will keep that paint dust out of your eyes.   This is also where it's critical to wear a good quality respirator mask as opposed to a simple dust mask.  You don't want to be breathing the cloud.

I prefer to use a spray handle when painting.  I get much better control & my finger isn't killing me when I'm done.
Unless I'm painting vertical trim or vertical stripes, I always paint in horizontal pass's, releasing the trigger between each pass.   Krylon paints really work well for this because they have the adjustable nozzle which can be set for either horizontal or vertical painting.
Overlap each pass by about a quarter of the area.   This is where it's critical that your can has suffficient paint to completly cover the area that your painting without pausing.   With each pass the wet paint will blend together and the pass lines will vanish.   If you pause to exchange cans in the middle of a surface your previsou pass may set enough that they're will be a visible line where one can ended on the the next began (especially if you had to take a couple minutes to shake the new can).  If the coat that your putting down isn't the final coat that's not really a problem because the next coat will blend out the edge.
Be careful when you remove the spray handle because you can accidently spray...yourself in the face......yes.....I did that.  for the record.....spray paint does not taste good.  point the can away from yourself and away from your work when you pop off the handle.

do thin coats and build up the pain in layers.   move at a steady speed without pausing until the spray tip is past the edge.  Thin coats dry faster than thick coats so usually an hour is plently of time between coats.   don't worry if your first few coats don't completely cover. patience. just keep adding thin layers until you get a good coverage.
If you get runs, don't panic. let the coat dry thoroughly, sand out the runs and keep going  (re-prime if required)

Keeping the can approx 6 inches and perpendicular to surface, make steady horixzontal or vertical pass's.  start and stop the trigger outside of the piece.  if you start the trigger on the piece you'll get a glob of paint and runs.  release the trigger beween each pass.

When you paint, move your arm, not your wrist.  when you pivot your wrist it changes the distance the the spray can is away from the surface and the can is no longer perpindicular.  you wont get even coverage and this will often cause orange peel.

with each paint stroke the wet paint will blend into the previous stroke.   If you run out of paint in the middle of a face and you have to pause to get and shake another can, the previous stroke may dry so that the new stroke wont blend out and there will be a visible line.   If this is an early coat that's no big deal becuase subsequent coats will cover this but you don't want this on the final layers.

Save your low cans.  Use those for smaller areas.

Always paint in a well ventilated area and always always always use a high quality mask. 
I paint outside with the piece elevated on a table so that I'm not bending over.  I prefer to paint with the surface vertical.  If the horizontal surface is small (small table top), I'll go ahead and paint it horizontal.   If the horizontal surface is large I'll flip the piece on it's side so that the surface is vertical.

I paint outside in my back yard.  Because of this the sunlight is not hitting all sides evenly, so what I do is place a board on a small table and put the piece on that.  As I'm painting I will rotate the piece so that whatever surface I'm painting is in direct sunlight.   When your painting the same color as the previous coat and the surface is in shadow, it's very difficult to tell the wet edge between pass's so that you get an even color wash.

I absolutely love painter pyramids.   When I first heard of these I thought they were stupid, then my local hardware store put them on sale so I got some and now I swear by them.  There is nothing worse than getting a run on something and it puddling up where the piece sits on the table and dries like that.   With pyamids you don't have to worry about that.   One thing to be careful about with pyramids is that you don't bump the worksurface when your piece is proped up.   Your don't want your piece to go tumbling down and ruin your paint coat.  I learned that the hardway.   It that does happen, it's really no big deal.  just wait for the coat to dry completely, sand off any smudges and keep painting. 

How to deal with "orange peel"
Often with spray paint you'll get a sandy texture on the surface. This is caused by holding the spray can to far away from the surface. The spray paint will clump in the air and dry before leveling out, leaving a sandy texture on the surface. When this happen simply sand the area until it's smooth using a fine grain sandpaper. If it takes agressive sanding to get the texture off, re-prime the area before applying color.

you don't need to do this between every coat but when your done painting for the night, take each spray can and do a quick spray holding the can upside down until no paint comes out.   This will keep the nozel clear and prevent clogs and splatters.  
if you have a nozel that does clog, rather than tossing the whole can, grab a nozzle from another can to use.

As a general rule I always elevate what I'm working on so that I'm not bending over to paint.  I get more control and a more even finish.   Obviously with large pieces like dressers this isn't possible, but even those pieces I'll elevate a foot or so.

For my worksurface I have an old wooden card table on which i've set a 4x4 piece of plywood.    I like the plywood because I'll occasionally need to screw something to it in order to hold it steady for painting.    Usually for the pieces I'm doing this one surface is enough.   Because I'm doing 3 projects at once I wish I had a much bigger surface because i can't paint everything at once.  I have to paint a couple parts, let them dry, set them aside in order to paint the next part.  

Step 6: Prime, Surface Patch, Prime, Surface Patch Again, Then Base Coat White

Priming is pretty straight forward.  Once you've sanding and surface patch'd your pieces spray with a light layer of primer.
Prier to spraying be sure to wipe down the surface and go over with a tack cloth. 
allow enough time for the primer to dry before adding the next coat.   between each coat carefully go over the piece and look for more defects that need patching.  check the previous patch's and see if their visible.  For me I find more defects at this stage than I do before.   really use a critical eye.

one thing with primer is that you want to coat to be cover everything evenly so that it becomes a good base for the color coats which come next.   go over any dark areas where it wasn't sprayed evenly.

My preference is a heavy duty gray automotive primer.   It goes on relatively thick, it'll stick to anything no matter what your goign over (bare wood, latex, oil, metal, etc).  It will fill minor surface irregularities and is sandable.   Because it's gray, as opposed to white, it takes an extra coat of white base color to cover but I'm of with that.

With primer I'll sand between each coat by hand with 220 grit paper.  I run my hand over the surface and feel for any irregularities and sand those areas until smooth.  


After all the surface patching is done and the pieces are fully primed it's time for the base coat.

I've developed the habit that no matter what the final design is or the final color scheme, my base coat is always white.

This is the foundation that i will then build on with color.

With brighter color spray paints, especially the more translucent colors like red, yellow & green, the base color will effect and change the top color.  If you paint red over black, it will look different than if you paint red over white.

often times when I'm doing a piece, at this point in the process I still wont have a final design, so I'll often paint a piece white and then put it away for a while until inpiration hits. 

make sure that you lightly sand betwen coats.  What I do i run my fingers over the surface and feel for any uneveness.  Anything I feel I'll lightly sand.   Once I've sanded all the rough areas I go over the entire piece with fine steel wool and then a tack cloth.   this was your surface will be perfectly smooth and you'll have good adhesion.

Step 8: Let the Designing Begin...finally

Now that the white base coat is done, i can turn my attention to design.   With some pieces I know right away what I want to do.   Others I'll have some ideas and a direction and then there's the ones where i have absolutely no idea what I want to do.   When that happens i don't worry about.  I just focus on surface prep, priming and getting a base coat.   I'm always designing in my head so often if I have no idea when I start, I'll have a pretty good idea by the time I get to adding color and pattern.

There's so much brainstorming that goes into a color scheme that I thought it was worth talking about.

For me I just can't spit out a desing and start masking.   there's a lot of thought that goes into something. 

Who am I doing this for?   Often I don't have a specific person in mind, but I will have a "general person".   Either and adult, child, boy, girl, etc.   For my peices I only have a specific "client" for 1 of the 3 pieces.   The tray table I grabbed from my neighbors garbage.  They have a boy who plays with my son so I decided to do the table for him.  I thought he'd enjoy having the table that he's was used to seeing in the house be converted into something just for him.   His father is a rock musian so I'm taking inspiration from that.   In looking at the table and thinking about music, the table leg kind of reminds me of a guitat fretboard (neck).   In talking to the boy I find out his favorite colors are red and blue.    So now I get onto google and do image searche's on "red guitar" and "blue guitar".   With red guitar there is really only one iconic guitar that comes up again and again....Eddie Van Halen guitar.    Not much comes up with Van Halen it is.   So that's my inspiration for that. 

One interesting note:  In looking for guitar images I came across an image of Eddie Van Halen wearing red/white camouflage.   Really dig that pattern.   I don't think I'll be using that with these projects I'll definently be using that sometime.   I already have my next 2 projects after these 3 (a piano bench and a armoire).  maybe I'll use that for one of those.  If I do I'll try  to do a short instructable it involves a masking techneque that I won't cover here.

For pieces where I don't have a "client", what I do is think about what I like about a piece and then try to find things that highlight these features.  For the "Card table" i liked the spade detail which was on the drawers so that's a no brainer that I'll do a pop of color to bring out those.   The bottom is kind of funky.  It's tall and disproportianate to rest of the piece.   My first instinct is to take it off and build something new but i don't have any ideas for so I decide to "make it dissapear" and paint it black.  That leads to choosing a black and white color scheme with pops of color on the drawers.  Top and sides are smooth......time to go looking for patterns.....
I did a google search on "paint patterns" and found a couple ideas that i think I'll try to incorporate.  the first is a herringbone pattern that I think will be very cool for the top.  the second pattern is a series of overlapping rectangle that I think will look cool on the sides.   I don't want the patterns to fight each other so i think that pattern will be more.

For the bath cabinet I did a google image search on "painted cabinet" and found a painted armoir that I really liked.  It used multiple colored stripes on the raised panels which was reated on the interior.  The interior also has a nice surprise of circles which I liked.

so that's my inspiration.    I'm not sure if it's a good idea to show the inspiration because what if my end result doesn't stand up.   I'm writing this instructable as I go so as I type this I haven't started any patterns yet.  I really hope I can pull this off.  i should also mention that it's July 22 and I have to be done by the end of the pressure :)

Step 9: Adding Patterns & Color - Guitar Table

Now that I have a good base coat of white on everything it's finally time to start adding color and pattens. 

I as build up layers of color and pattern, I go from lightest color to darkest.    Many of the brighter colors are tranclucent and the base color will effect the top color.  This is especially true with reds and yellows.

I was going to talk about adding color to my 3 pieces in one step but it got hard to follow so I'll split it up to each piece starting with what I'm now calling "The Guitar Table".   

The focal point of this table will be the Van Halen top.    In replicating the pattern I want to use a mix of 1/4" and 3/4" masking tape and I've already hit a snag.   I've gone thru and called all the local art, craft & hardware stores and nobody carries 1/4" masking tape. This is a problem. The only place I've found is a paint store that supplies auto painters but they only have daytime hours and I can't make it.   Normally I would just order the tape off the internet but the competition deadline is hanging over my head so I gotta come up with plan B.   After thinking about it for a while  I have an idea. i use 1" tape.... A 1x piece of wood is 3/4" wide....   If I screw a utility knife to a 1x I can cut a 1" tape roll and end up with 3/4" and 1/4" tape....
Oddly enough my improvised tape cutter actually worked pretty well. I used scrap wood so no cutting. the only snap was after I screwed down the utility blade I lined up the tape only to discover that my scripe was only going to be 1/8" wide. my 3/4" board was either wider or my 1" tape was less than an inch. I didn't bother to figure out which. Luckily next to this contraption I happened to have a pile of cut up yardsticks that were 1/8" wide. so I layed a bunch on the plywood, lined up the tape and cut my striping. it worked great. it took about 15 minutes to patiently cut 1/8" into a roll of tape which so far has been more than enough 1/4" & 3/4" striping. There were a couple rough edges (not nearly what I thought I would have), so after I taped the stripes I did go around with an xacto and clean up the tape edges.

I've seen a lot of telivision programs and how to websites that show taping a straight line where the person traces a line and then carefully runs the tape along the line 1" at a time.  The method that I use is to use tension to let the tape estable the straight line.  When I tape a line I'll make a tick mark where I want the line to start and stop.  I'll stick about an inch down at the beginning.  I'll then roll out enough tape for the entire line.  Pull the tape tight I'll carefully line up the bottom and tack it down gently.  I'll then press down the tape inbetween being careful to press perpindicular to the surface.  If the tape is loose and you press at an agle it'll throw off the line.    I've used this techneque to do 9 foot vertical lines on walls.     The trick is finding the right tension.  to much tension and the tape will come off.  to little and you wont have a straght line.
For this table the tape lines are random so what I do is tack down one end, pull the tape tight and tack down the other end.

Now that I've masked the stripes, the green tape still isn't enough to insure a clean edge. There are a lot of tricks out there for edges. The method that I use, is once i've masked the edge, I'll first paint the edges with the same color as the color I'm masking. In this case I'm masking off white stripes (one of my favorite bands.....), so I'll first go over all the stripes with white. This was the white paint will seal the edge and any bleading that happens will be white and invisible. Once I've gone over it in white, I can then do the red color with confidence that there wont be bleeding. In between painting the white seal coat and the red top coat and visually inspected all the stripe masking to look for any bleeds. when spray paint works it way under tape oftent he force of the air spray will rase the tape and give it a "ruffly" appearance. Because you haven't yet applied the new color you have a get out of jail free card and can simply remask any problem spots and move on. I also went over all the edges with a finger to assure good adhesion. You especially have to be careful where masking tape cross's. there can be a litte bleed line at the crossing so you have to be carefully to go over that edge really well. Now that the primary color is done I removed the mask lines and then masked for the black lines. To do this I first did "layout lines" with tape. After I was happy with the layout and applied tape to either side of the layout tape. i then carefully trimmed out the layout tape with an xacto. This i really took my time and was very careful with the xacto that I only cut the tape and didn't cut the paint below. To do this you really need a sharp blade and almost no pressure. take your time and let the blade do the work. any pressure and you'll score the paint.

Step 10: Adding Patterns & COlor - the Card Table

For this table I've decided to go with a bold black & white color scheme with a pop of color on the drawer spade details.
The top is going to be a black & white chevron pattern.  For the sides I want to a overlapping rectangle pattern.     I'm worried about the rectangle pattern taking attention away from the top so I want this to be softer so I decide to use off white for the rectangle line.  Photo's should tell the story there.

For this top I wanted to do a chevron pattern.   I did some digging on the internet to figure out how to do it.
basically you just devide up the area into a rectangular grid.  the chevron is created by making diagonals from gridpoint to gridpoint.  After measuring the top I came up with a grid pattern using a feet/inch calculator app on my phone.  to lay out the grid on the top I measured along the edges and made tick marks with a pencil.  I did this on all 4 sides.  i could have used a straight edge and drawn pencil lines accross the top but I was worried about scratching the surface since the chevron pattern would not hide the grid lines.  I used a chalk line to make the guid lines.  Once the grid lines were established taping the chevron was just a matter of running tape diagonally from point to point..being careful to hold the tape to the "white" side of the pattern.   I ran the tape a couple inch's past the grid line then used a razor scraper trim the edge.  to trim the tape simply align the razor scaper on the cut line and pull up quickly with the extra tape.  tape will cut clean right on the line giving you a clean edge.

Step 11: Adding Patterns & Color - the Bath Cabinet

For the Bath Cabinet my inspiration is a photo of a childs armoire that i found on the internet.  I liked that it had patterns both inside and out.   Now that the entire cabinet has a good base coat of white it's time for pattern.  

For the bath cabinet, the inspiration image had circles painted on the interior which I liked. I couldn't find a premade circle stencil that was the size that I wanted. the circles were either to big or to small so I decided to make my own. I bought some stencil sheets from local craft store. I rumaged around my house to find a circle that was the size I wanted. settled on a coffee cup lid. I then traced as many cirlces as would fit on the stencil sheets and cut out with a xacto. The circles I sprayed with Krylon low tack adhesive spray and stuck those onto the base white color.  With the low tack adhesive I was able to pull up and rearange the circles until I was happy with the pattern.  Just like with tape the first step is to seal the edges so I sprayed around each circle with the base white color. Then painted the primary color (pink). When the circle stencils were removed the white basecoat became white circles. I only had 1 circle that blead a little. For the next layer I used the stencil sheet that the circle had been cut out of.   I cut each "hole" into a seperate piece then taped kraft paper around the stencil, sprayed with low tack adhesive and applied to the inside.  For these because my circles overlapped the white circles, to seal the edges I first sprayed each circle with clear coat and then the color.  I could only do 1 circle per side at a time so I had to repeat this until I got all the circles I wanted.

On the panels of the bath cabinet I'm doing multicolored horizontal lines.  For some pieces I want a very precise striping pattern and will carefully measure and layout the stripes.   In this case the stripes are a "texture" and not constrained to a specific measure which makes it much easier.  These seem complicated but it's really pretty simple. My meathod is to start with the lightest color and build on top of that going from lightest to darkest. My lightest color is yellow so after carefully masking the edges of the panel I paint the entire panel yellow. After the base stripe color has dried I then mask off where the yellow stripes are and paint the next color, in this case green. My stripes are 1" wide and I'm using 1" tape so to layout the lines I use little pieces of tape along the edge. no measuring required. Once the green has dried then I simple mask off the green and add the top color of blue. By workign from light to dark, each stripe takes less paint.


There is a little known secret to getting a perfect finish with spray paint..  Automotive Rubbing Comound and Polishing Compound.

Despite all the precautions and your best efforts, you can still have some rough edges where the paint has bleed. When this happens, don't panic, spray paint is easily touched up. Simply mask off the effected area and apply some paint to clean up the edge. As always work in multple thin coats rather than a heavy coat.    be careful and be patient.  Often times this touch up comes at the end of a project and I can get impatient to be finished.   You don't want to have to touch up the touch up. 
Sometimes the area that I need to touch up is very difficult to mask (which is most likely why the bleed happened to being with).   When this happens I will do touch up by hand with a brush.   Most spray paint makers will sell little jars of paint to match the spray can but don't bother with this.  What I do is spray a small puddle of  paint onto a disposable plastic plate then, using an artist brush, I'll dip it into the puddle and touch up the effected area.   You have to use paint thinner to clean the brush.  To be honest most of the time I'll buy a cheap brush and throw it away when i'm done with touch up.

During the beginning steps when things are rough this isn't as important but as you get closer and closer to the finish line, take the time to protect your pieces, especially if I have to put somethind aside for a while to focus on something else.  For smaller items I wrap kraft paper around thepieces to protect from accidentle scratchs.   It takes a while for spray paint to fully cure.  The paint is more volnerable to scratch's during this time.  For larger items like dressers I have a collection of old sheets and blankets that I use to cover stuff.  BE SURE THE PAINT IS DRY BEFORE COVERING!!!    While I'm working on items I store them in my garage and back porch to keep the spray paint smells out of my house.  While I do this I make sure to keep the pieces off the floor.  I would hate for something to get damaged because of an accidental flood (my kids have this habit of leaving the porch door open letting in all the rain).

I'm a big believer in applying a clear coat over my pieces.   I don't do it very heavy.  just a couple coats.   It's a good way to protect complicated patterns.   DON'T FORGET TO LIGHTLY SAND BEFORE APPLYING CLEAR COAT .   Just like with your other coats you need to lightly sand before applying clear coat.   For this I'll generally only use steel wool, then go over it with a lightly damp rag and a tack cloth.  

Once you've clear coated then it's time to polish.    Using automotive polish compound is the secret to getting that perfect glossy finish.  DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU WANT A SATIN FINISH.
Run your hand over the piece.  Do you feel a ridge where stripes happen?  does your finish feel sandy?   If your surface is sandy then I'll go over it with automotive rubbing compound.   This is also what i use to blend out stripe edges.  

Remember that your not trying to effect the paint.  all your trying to do is smooth out the top coat.  Use a soft rag with the rubbing compound.   don't use paper towels.   the courseness of the paper towel can effect your finish.   I use old t shirts which I rip up.  You can also get a box of cheap rags from the hardware or automotive store.

A random orbiting sander is one of the most useful tools for furniture refinishing.   Not only for sanding the existing finish to get it ready for paint but also for polishing.   For most random orbiting sanders you can get a polishing pad for it.   make sure that the pad has rounded edges so that you won't hurt the piece when your getting into corners.   After youve rubbed
NO PRESSURE!!!!!!!!!!!   LET THE POLISH DO THE WORK.   YOUR NOT SANDING.....YOUR POLISHING!!!!!!   After all the work it took you to get here, don't blow it now.
once you've wiped off all the polish, wait a while then go over again with a soft cloth.  there will often be this white haze on the finish which is just polish that you didn't get the first time.

Spray paint takes a while to cure.  That's what the smell is.  The "off-gasing" is the paint curing.   This can take a week or more.  You'll know when it's done when the piece no longer smells.   I keep items out on my back parch until it's fully cured.  I won't move it inside until it done curing.


Installing hardware is always the very last step.  It will effect your finish quality if you try to polish around handles and hinges.

For pieces for my kids I have done the common route of taking the existing handle and painting it with chrome spray paint.   That's fine for pieces that your not planning on selling anytime soon.   If you do get to a point where you want to sell the piece then I make sure to replace the painted hardware with quality stuff.  My kids have this habit of growing and no longer wanting the fire engine desk that I spent a month making.   Fire engines aren't cool anymore?  Do you think a fireman is to old for fireengines?  Do you think they don't have fires on Cybertron?  Maybe I'll take that desk and give it to that boy that drives you crazy.  how would you like that?.......what was I talking about?   Deep breath Chuck.....Deep breath Chuck......

As a general rule  I do not buy handles from hardware stores.   I try to get all my handles online.   You really don't pay much more for hardware on the internet versus your local hardware store.   For most peieces because I'm only dealing with a few handles, I'll usually order 3-4 different handles and then return the ones that I don't like.    Don't rush this.   Finding the righ handle can take a long time.   Like other steps this is also where I do google search's.   I'll browse thru websites of high end furniture and see what handles they use.
If i do buy from a hardware store I'll get from the higher end handles that aren't part of the normal rack.   Often the first physical contact that a potential buyer will have with your piece is when they grab a handle to open a door or drawer.  


You can kiss your buyer goodbye if you use a handle has stamp ridges on the back instead of being solid.   Also add Loktite to hardware screws.   A wobbly handle will kill a sale just as fast as a cheap handle.

After all the effort that it's taken to get here, don't cheap out now. 

For my cabinets I'm under a time crunch so instead of the internet I'm have to use the hardware store.

If you have to drill new holes, take the time to make a jig so that the holes are perfect.   Be accurate.   

Nobody likes a sticky drawer.  a simple tip is to rub down the drawer gluide sufaces with wax.   This will dramatically improve the drawer movement.  

Modern dressers that use drawer guides incorporate drawer stops to keep the drawer from falling.  Most old furniture has either not gluides as all or a wooden or metal gluide located in the center under each drawer.   These drawers have no built in stop so a child can open the drawer and have it fall on them.   As a rule I always add drawer stops to anything I do for kids.    If I know its for a baby or toddler then I'll add drawer/door stops and a safety strap if it's a tall dresser.  A safety strap is a specially made strap which is screwed to the wall so that if the infant climbs on the dresser, the strap will keep it from tipping over.   Beyond just being a good idea, this kind of attention to detail are the things that buyers notice.

Step 14: And Now a Look at Where I Ended Up.

So here's where I ended up.
Well I've finished two out of three.  There is still a few things that I'll do to add a few finishing touch's.   I've had to rush a little to get this out for the Krylon Contest.

so what are my conclusion......
Spray paint allows you to paint a dresser in a day and if that's something for your use that's fine but if you want to sell it, forget it.   A buyer can tell the difference between a Saturday afternoon face lift versus a quality furniture refurbishing.

It's my humble opinion that you get more enjoyment and can take a lot more pride if you take the time to do something right.....or at least to the best of your abilities without taking any short cuts.    If you think about what people look for in quality furniture and what it takes to create that,  it's usually something that anyone can do.   When it comes to finishing there's not much that a custom shop can do that a person can't.   

So I hope you enjoyed my first instrucable.   I'm sorry for being wordy.

and now for the plug.  


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    41 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Wish I'd read your tips about spray-painting years ago! I've been holding the can too far away from the objects all along. Also the paint can handle is genius little tool that I don't know how I lived without all these years!


    7 years ago on Step 14

    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!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    7 years ago on Step 2

    I dearly love this instructable!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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**


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I love this design! So beautiful. You are really good at what you do! This is a very nice instructable. Thanks for sharing.

    Ace Frahm
    Ace Frahm

    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I really like the idea of LED's. that would be cool.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.