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How to Spray Paint Wood Furniture

Do you have some worn wood furniture in need of a makeover? You can easily update pieces of furniture inexpensively with spray paint. Read this guide to learn how to spray paint wood the expert way.

Blue, green and purple spray painted wood chairs in kitchen. iStock

Everyone has outdated pieces of furniture floating around in their homes: they’re well-made or they may have sentimental value, but their color or finish is outdated. Updating these pieces of wood furniture with paint is inexpensive and is a very satisfying process.

How to Prep and Spray Paint Wood

The process listed below for prepping, priming and painting wood furniture is simple, straightforward and will be problem free, given that each step is done thoroughly and completely. Your reward will be a durable, beautiful piece of wood furniture.

Prep for Painting

Prepare a suitable worksite. Prepping, priming and painting outdoors will allow for great ventilation, but you’re at the mercy of the weather—and bugs, dew and other factors as well. Inside a garage is the next best option.

Cover the floor and any nearby items to keep them dust-free. It’s also important to have proper lighting when painting in an enclosed space.

The first step involves a process known as “sand, vac & tack,” or SVT.

  • Sand: First, remove any loose finish from the piece by scraping and sanding areas where existing finish is flaking or peeling off. Then scuff sand the entire piece of furniture lightly to give the surface some “tooth” so that the new primer can adhere.
  • Vac: Use a shop vac with brush attachment to vacuum up dust.
  • Tack: Remove any residual dust with a dampened microfiber rag.

Steps for Spray Painting Wood Furniture

  1. Aerosol spray paint is readily available in a wide color range and is inexpensive, and easy to use— a small investment for a good result.
  2. Once your work area and furniture are prepped, spray the piece with the bonding primer. Start by flipping the furniture on its top and spray the bottom first.
  3. Start pressing the nozzle a few inches before you are over the piece, then make long, continuous passes. releasing a few inches after you pass the piece. Starting and stopping in the middle of the furniture may lead to lap marks and drips. Overlap each pass 30%-50%
  4. Once the primer is dry, SVT only if the furniture is rough, otherwise start the enameling process. The same general idea applies: long, continuous passes for even coverage. Pro Tip: Don’t try to “one-and-done” it. Apply at least two coats for a rich, even finish.

Using a Professional Sprayer

Man using professional sprayer to paint primer on wood chair. iStock

If you want a truly professional-looking finish, use a professional sprayer. There are two main types of pro sprayers: HVLP and Airless.

HVLP sprayers

HVLP (high volume, low pressure) uses a turbine to create air pressure. The paint goes into a cup gun, and air blows by, picking up paint and sending it out the nozzle. HVLP sprayers are delicate, controlled machines that take a bit of experience to master.

Airless sprayers

Airless sprayers are the other option. Using no air, they pressurize the paint, sending it through a hose and tip specifically made to atomize the coating. Airless sprayers can apply more paint than HVLP sprayers and in a wider area. The capacity is much larger—you can spray out of a five-gallon bucket if you wish.

With either sprayer, work bottom to top, long continuous passes overlapping 30-50% each pass. You cannot beat the finish with pro sprayers, but they do come with a few downsides, namely initial price and cleaning. Two entry-level pro sprayers to start with are the Airless - Graco Magnum X5 and the HVLP - Wagner Flexio 2000.

Which Primer Works Best?

Primer choice is important. If you choose the wrong one, your painted finish may chip, scratch, and peel in short order.

Primer can be applied with an off-the-shelf aerosol rattle can, or with a sprayer. Canned off-the-shelf primer yields a great finish but be sure to choose one labeled “bonding” or “adhesion,” so that the primer binds to the wood. One great option is Rust-Oleum Universal Bonding Primer.

Or, look for a similar bonding or adhesion primer in a quart or gallon-sized container and use an HVLP (high volume low pressure) or airless sprayer to apply. More on the difference later.

Pro Tip: Do a scratch test. Apply primer to a small area and allow it to dry overnight. Attempt to scratch it off with your fingernail the next day. If nothing comes off, you have adhesion. If it can easily be scratched off, you need to find another primer.

Best Spray Paint for Furniture

What’s the best furniture spray paint? Enamel, a hard-drying paint made for furniture, trim, and cabinets, is a bit less forgiving but much more beautiful, durable, and long-lasting than a satin finish latex wall paint. Try Rust-Oleum Universal for aerosol application.

Two great picks if you’re going to use a sprayer: Sherwin Williams Emerald Trim Urethane Semi-Gloss and Benjamin Moore Scuff-X Satin.

Materials and Tools Needed