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I have a wood desk with a shiny finish (varnished) that I would like to paint white. What do I need to do? Do I have to sand it first? Thanks much!
There are chemical de-glossers which will prepare the slick varnish to accept new paint. I personally prefer giving a scuff sand with fine sandpaper. This gives the new paint better adhesion. Be advised that the new finish will always be somewhat chip prone compared to a finish that is applied over bare wood.
A sprayed finish will be superior in appearance to any brushed finish. If you do not have access to spray equipment, a surprisingly good finish can be obtained using spray cans. Either way, you will want to give a complete prime coat of white primer. Primer will bond better to the old finish and give a finish with "tooth" that will grab the final enamel and help keep it from running.
When spraying, you want to use long strokes, overlapping the strokes by about 50%. You want the paint to flow together without a stripey look. If it looks stripey while wet, it will look worse when dry.
A trick I use when using spray cans is to heat them in hot water. Run your tap until it is as hot as it gets (about 125degrees), then put the can in the water for several minutes. This will raise the pressure in the can, making it spray better. Heating also makes the oil paint flow better.
If you decide to brush on the new finish, stick with an oil finish. Oil dries much harder than acrylic/latex paints. Oil also does not have the gummy feeling that acrylic paints have. Use an oil enamel undercoater followed by a coat of oil enamel with at least a satin sheen. A nice soft bristle brush and a foam roller will aid in getting a good finish.