Using Enamel Paint on Furniture: 7 Key Tips

Enamel paint is great for furniture due to its resilience: it holds up against heat, moisture, and wear and tear very well. It also comes in a wide range of colors and sheen and is widely available at hardware stores. 

However, like any paint, it has its problems. For instance, it’s slow-drying and may take up to a week per coat to fully cure. It can also be difficult to clean up. 

Suffice it to say that enamel paint doesn’t always behave like other paints. Understanding how to handle it before you dive into your next project can save you lots of headache. 

In this post, you will learn the essential tips, techniques, and best practices for using enamel paint for furniture. 

Tip #1: Choosing the best enamel paint for your furniture

There are two main types of enamel paint: oil-based and water-based.

Oil-based enamel paint produces a glossy finish that’s appealing to many. 

Oil-based enamel paints dry longer because it is thicker. They also dry top-down, so the surface may be dry to the touch, but underneath may still be wet. However, once fully cured, it is extremely tough. So, it is best for cabinets, drawers, tables, and other furniture that gets lots of use. 

One drawback is that Oil-based enamel can sometimes crack over time as the weather fluctuates. In contrast, water-based enamel paint is more durable against humidity and changes in weather once fully cured.

Overall, both types work well for indoor furniture. As a general rule, oil-based enamel paint is generally better for frequently used furniture since it cures very hard, making it incredibly durable.  

Some great enamel paint brands for furniture are Sherwin Williams, Behr, and Benjamin Moore.

Related: Can Wall Paint be Used on Furniture

Tip #2: Use a respirator mask or paint outdoors

Enamel paints tend to be extremely high in VOCs emitted from paints and other manufactured products. These chemicals can be harmful to your health when you are exposed to them in high concentrations. Additionally, enamel paints tend to give off an extremely strong smell due to their chemical composition. 

All that said, it’s especially important to work outdoors when working with enamel paints if possible. If working outdoors isn’t an option, at the very least, work in a well-ventilated indoor space with a respirator mask. These measures will help you avoid breathing in the VOCs emitted from the paint.

Related: Can Wall Paint be Used on Furniture

Tip #3: Read the paint label to see what thinning agent is best

Paints such as some enamel paints tend to have relatively thick viscosities. The viscosity of these enamel paints can be difficult to work with. 

When applying the paint by hand, it can be challenging to spread thick enamel paint evenly. When applying the paint with a paint sprayer, if the paint is too thick it will clog the sprayer. 

The solution is to mix in a thinning agent. A thinning agent essentially reduces the viscosity of your paint, making it more liquidy and easier to spread. However, different types of enamel paint recommend different thinning agents. Some recommend turpentine while others recommend acetone. Simply read the label of your enamel paint to see which thinning agent you should use. 

Additionally, there are products designed to make paint flow and spread easier. For instance, Penetrol (available here on Amazon) is a great product to use with oil-based enamel paint (and other oil-based paints). 

Note that too much Penetrol can make your paint runny, so use it with caution. Always read the label guidelines before use.

Tip #4: Apply thin layers of enamel paint

As mentioned, enamel paint is thicker than most paints, especially without thinning agent. So, it may be tempting to just apply paint thickly to complete your project in one coat. But this will only lead to uneven layers or even air bubbles within the paint. 

Doing two thin layers of enamel paint ensures that the finish is completely even, smooth, and professional. Additionally, two or more coats of paint tend to make furniture more resilient. 

Tip #5: Sand after priming and first coat of paint

Although it will add some time to your paint job, sanding between coats can do wonders for your final product.

Without adding a thinning agent, enamel paint can be quite thick. This can make it easier for brush marks to show up in the finish. By lightly sanding the surface you can diminish any unevenness or imperfections in the paint. 

Simply wait for the paint to cure. Then, lightly sand the surface with a fine-grit sanding block. Once finished, the surface should be perfectly smooth. Remember to clean the dust after every sanding.

Tip #6: Peel off any painter’s tape while it’s still wet 

Painter tape is the best way to mask off parts of your furniture that you don’t want to paint. After laying down the painter’s tape and painting your piece, you can peel off the tape and expect a sharp, clean line between the painted and unpainted surfaces. 

With latex and acrylic paints, you can get away with removing your painter’s tape hours or even days after painting your furniture. 

Not with enamel paint though. 

Enamel paint (particularly oil-based enamel paint) dries very hard and is prone to cracking. If the enamel paint has dried on your furniture piece and you try to remove the painter’s tape, the tape might lift up some of the dried paint with it. In turn, the paint line will look cracked, jagged, and uneven. 

To avoid this, remember to remove the painter’s tape within an hour of painting your furniture. If the paint is still slightly wet, you can ensure a crisp paint line.

Tip #7: Invest in good-quality paint brushes or rollers.

Buy the proper brushes for your type of enamel paint. Use synthetic brushes for water-based paint and natural bristle brushes for oil-based paint. Brushes with natural bristles will absorb more paint, so avoid using them for any water-based medium.

High-density foam rollers are great for both water-based and oil-based enamel paint. Opt for a roller when applying paint on bigger surfaces like cabinets, tables, and drawers for an even faster application.

Final words: When to consider other paints for your furniture

Enamel paint is great for many reasons, and one of its greatest draws is its durability. Naturally, it’s great to use on furniture in high-traffic or high-use areas of your house.

However, it’s certainly not the only good paint to use for furniture. A few other excellent types of furniture paint include: 

  • Chalk paint 
  • Mineral paint 
  • Acrylic paint 
  • Milk paint

Good old latex paint is also an excellent choice. Latex paint isn’t quite as resilient as enamel paint, but it’s widely available, much more affordable, and much easier to work with. As a rule of thumb, you may want to defer to using latex paint for furniture unless you absolutely need the extra durability that enamel paint gives you. 




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