How to Chalk Paint Furniture: The Ultimate Guide

Chalk paint is one of the most popular, if not the most popular type of paint for upcycling furniture. Its lovely soft matte finish can transform a weathered old piece of furniture into a charming new version of itself.

However, although chalk paint can breathe new life into a dresser, nightstand, desk, or other furniture, the application isn’t quite the same as traditional latex paint. 

It’s important to understand the characteristics of chalk paint and the key rules of thumb to follow when using it on furniture. 

Fortunately for you, this guide covers practically everything you need to know about how to chalk paint furniture.

Tools and supplies for chalk painting furniture

There are some essential tools and supplies that you need to chalk paint furniture, and fortunately, they can be purchased for under $50. 

Cleaning solution

Cleaning your furniture is an important step in the furniture prep process. The following cleaning solutions are great choices: 

  • Simple Green: An all-purpose cleaner is a powerful cleaning solution that is also kind to the environment.
  • Dish soap and water: Just like you can use dish soap to clean gunk off of dishes, you can use dish soap and water to clean grease and dirt off wood furniture.
  • White distilled vinegar: White vinegar is a powerful cleaner and disinfectant. Made from acetic acid, vinegar can dissolve dirt and grease. 

Cleaning cloth 

A microfiber cloth is needed to soak your cleaning solution and scrub down your furniture before painting it. 

Phillips head screwdriver (if needed)

A Phillips head screwdriver is key for removing the hardware from the drawers. You will need to remove the hardware to sand, prime, and paint without any barriers in the way. 

Wood filler or Bondo (if needed)

Wood filler or Bondo All Purpose Putty may be needed to fill in any gouges, scratches or dents in your furniture. Whether or not wood filler or Bondo is needed depends on the condition of your furniture. 

Bondo tends to be a hardier solution and is best for relatively more severe damage while wood filler is better for lighter dents or scratches. 

Sandpaper

Sandpaper helps to roughen up a surface, creating a texture that the primer can strongly adhere to.

You may be able to get away without sanding in some cases, but you will almost always get the most durable paint finish if you prep your furniture by sanding it. 

Use fine-grit sandpaper (120-220 grit) to roughen up furniture before priming. 

For sanding between coats of primer or paint to eliminate brush strokes, you can use 400-grit sandpaper, although this step is optional. 

Primer (strongly recommended)

Primer isn’t completely necessary all the time. However, for the most durable finish possible, it’s important to apply primer before chalk painting. 

A good multipurpose water-based primer like Zinsser 123 is perfect under most circumstances. 

However, if the raw wood is high in tannins, a heavier-duty stain-blocking primer like Zinsser BIN is your best bet. 

Tannins are essentially a tree’s sap that can be visible in raw wood. When tannins bleed through paint, usually a yellowing-brown stain forms. Simply put, tannins can ruin a paint project.

The following types of wood are high in tannins:

  • Oak
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Mahogany

Stain blocking, shellac-based primers prevent tannins from seeping through your primer and paint. 

Chalk paint 

Ah yes, the most important item- chalk paint. Choosing the right chalk paint can be quite overwhelming at first. 

Annie Sloan is the brand that officially invented chalk paint. You can purchase it through independent retailers. 

However, there are other brands that have their own version of chalk paint. 

Given that chalk paint is a specialty paint, hardware stores often have a limited chalk paint selection. However, Lowes and Home Depot have Rustoleum chalk paint in stock, which is a great choice. 

As for online shopping, through Amazon you can purchase a few chalk paint brands including, Country Chic, Dixie Belle, Shabby Chic, Retique It, and a few others. 

The container size of chalk paint that you should purchase obviously depends on how much paint you need for your piece. To put things in perspective, a quart is enough for two coats of paint on a medium-sized dresser. 

Paint brushes 

You will need a few brushes for your project:

  • One for applying primer
  • One for applying chalk paint
  • One for applying your top coat 

Round head paint brushes with natural bristles are a popular choice among chalk paint enthusiasts. Natural bristles mitigate brush marks, as does the circular-shaped head. 

This same type of brush is also popular for applying finishing wax.

However, you can use practically any paintbrush to apply chalk paint. Just keep in mind that the better the quality, the smoother the finish will turn out. 

Small pail or paint tray (optional) 

It’s often more convenient to use a small pail or paint tray to carry your chalk paint. You can pour just a bit of chalk paint into your container at a time.

Sealer/top coat 

Chalk paint is prone to scuffing and can be rubbed off without a protective finish. A top coat ensures that your chalk paint furniture is protected from wear and tear.

Most chalk paint enthusiasts prefer finishing wax for their furniture. The flat wax finish compliments the soft matte finish of chalk paint.  

However, you can also use polyurethane and polyacrylic to seal your chalk-painted furniture. These are liquid top coats that harden when they dry. 

Chalk painting furniture step by step

Prepping your furniture is often the most labor-intensive and time-consuming part of the furniture painting process, even though it doesn’t involve any actual painting. 

Nevertheless, proper prep is extremely important to eliminate imperfections and to ensure chalk paint finish is as durable as possible. 

Step 1: Clean your furniture

Prepare your cleaning solution. Again, you can use dish soap and water among other cleaning solutions. However, our go-to solution is Simple Green. 

Using Simple Green straight up can be overkill. It’s good to dilute it with water. 

For a relatively weak Simple Green solution, it’s best to do 1 part Simple Green to 10 parts water. If your furniture is particularly greasy or dirty, use a strong solution of 1 part Simple Green to 1 part water.

You can use a pail or tupperware container or bowl to hold your solution. 

Simply dunk your cloth into the solution and soak it for a second. Pull it out and strain your cloth with a few twists until it’s still soaking but not dripping. 

Wipe down your furniture completely, one side at a time. Be sure to really scrub deep into the corners and grooves of the furniture. 

As the cloth starts to get dirtier as you pick up grime, regularly rinse the filth and release it into a separate bucket. Dip the cloth back into the solution and reapply to your furniture. Rinse and repeat… literally. 

NOTE: Although it might seem counterintuitive to clean furniture before sanding, it’s an important first step. If you don’t clean your furniture, you can potentially sand grime into the grain of the wood. 

Step 2: Remove the hardware (if any)

From here, use your Phillips head screwdriver to remove any drawer pulls from your furniture. For greater efficiency, you can use a drill.

Place the screws and hardware in a bin or somewhere where you won’t forget about them. 

Step 3: Fill in any gouges, holes or dents

Inspect your furniture and look for any areas of damage. Look for any knicks, divots, gouges, chipped edges, or scratches severe enough to show through the paint. 

These are the spots that you will likely want to patch up before sanding. 

For minor areas of damage, like minor dents and scratches, fill these areas with wood filler. Treat severe gouges or dents with Bondo, a relatively hardier solution.

Step 4: Sand your furniture 

For the most durable paint finish, you should scuff sand your furniture no matter what. Even though chalk paint has great adhesion, furniture painting projects always just turn out better after standing. However, it’s particularly important to sand your furniture if it meets the following conditions: 

  • It has a gloss, stain, or wax finish
  • You’ve applied bondo or wood filler
  • It is already painted and the old paint is flaking off 

Start by lightly rubbing your sandpaper back and forth with the grain of the wood. Any grooves or edges may require a more delicate approach and you may need to fold the sandpaper in half to sufficiently sand certain grooves or corners. 

A palm sander can make a huge difference in terms of how quickly you can sand your projects. 

To rid the furniture of wood dust from sanding, it’s important to wipe it down. Use a damp rag to wipe it down and remove any wood dust. 

Once you have wiped down your furniture, give it at least 30 minutes to dry before moving on to next steps. 

Step 5: Apply primer

Some say that priming is optional under some circumstances. But again, for the most durable finish and best paint adhesion, applying primer before chalk painting is key. 

Use a brush or roller to apply a thin, even layer of primer on your furniture. 

Note that many stain-blocking primers tend to be very difficult to remove from brushes. If applying primer with a brush, opt for cheap paintbrushes that you don’t mind throwing away when the job is done.

Allow the primer to completely dry before painting. It can take a few hours for the primer to dry but check your primer’s label. 

PRO TIP: 

For those who prefer a smooth, professional finish with minimal imperfections, brush marks in the primer can be a concern. 

To get rid of these brush marks, you can lightly sand your primer with 400-grit sandpaper. Be sure to use a slightly damp tack cloth to remove the dust you’ve created from sanding before moving on to next steps. 

You can also lightly sand this way to remove brush marks between coats of chalk paint as well.

Step 7: Apply the first coat of chalk paint

At this point, you should be completely done with prep, which can be the most laborious part of the chalk painting process. Now you’re ready to apply the paint.  

People often wonder if there is a specific approach for how to apply chalk paint that differs from regular latex paint. Ultimately the process is very similar: 

Start by popping open the lid of your chalk paint can. Use a stirring stick or similar tool to sufficiently mix up your chalk paint. From here, pour a bit of chalk paint into your painting tray or pail.

Dip the head of your paintbrush into the chalk paint. You only need to submerge the bristles of the brush into the chalk paint about a centimeter. 

Begin brushing the paint onto the furniture surface. Freely brush your chalk paint on; you don’t necessarily need to apply the paint in one direction. 

A little bit of chalk paint can go a long way, so continuously brush the chalk paint along your furniture surface until you can’t spread it out anymore before reapplying.

Once you have completely covered your furniture in the first coat of chalk paint, wait until it has completely dried before moving on to the next coat. It can dry to the touch in under 30 minutes but it can take a few hours to fully dry. Check the label of your chalk paint product for specific details.

PRO TIP

You will immediately realize how thick chalk paint is as you apply the first coat. The thickness of the paint makes for excellent coverage, but the downside is it can be difficult to spread the chalk paint around your furniture surface. 

You may even notice the paint “dragging” as you brush is back and forth, meaning the layer of paint you’re applying is too thick, and you can no longer feel the bristles of the brush against the surface of the wood. 

If the thickness of the paint is an issue for you, you can certainly thin the paint out. The best way is to lightly mist your paintbrush with a spray bottle of water before passing it over the surface you’re working on. This helps to simultaneously thin and spread the chalk paint you previously applied.

Step 9: Apply the second coat of chalk paint

Apply the second coat the same way that you applied the first. 

There should be a noticeable difference in the shade of color between the first coat and the second coat. Naturally, this is how you can easily tell which areas you still need to apply paint to as you go.

Once the entire piece has been painted with the second coat, wait at least 24 hours for the piece to fully dry and cure a bit before applying the top coat. 

Step 10: Apply top coat 

As previously mentioned, you can use polyurethane, polycrylic, and a few other finishes, however, furniture wax is the most widely used option for chalk paint. For this tutorial we will be using chalk paint wax. 

Lightly dab your wax brush into the wax. With light brush strokes, freely apply the wax onto the furniture’s surface. Regularly reapply wax to create a thin layer of wax on the entire surface of the furniture. The goal is to cover absolutely every inch of paint. 

Use a lint free cloth to remove any of this excess wax. Swiftly wipe your furniture with the cloth. Pay close attention to any corners or crevasses of your furniture since wax tends to build up in these areas. 

After you have applied your chalk paint wax, it can take about 24 hours for the wax to dry but up to two weeks for the wax to fully cure (reach its maximum hardness). 

To allow the wax to cure, be sure to leave the furniture in a well-ventilated, clean, dust-free area if possible. Any dust settling down in the air can taint the finish. Fingerprints can also be noticeable, so refrain from touching the piece. 

Step 11: Reattach hardware 

Once the top coat has fully cured, you can reattach the hardware. Simply take each piece of hardware and screw it back into place. 

PRO TIP

Are you unenthused by the current hardware on your furniture? Maybe it’s outdated or perhaps it’s heavily corroded. Either way, you may want to consider replacing it. You can easily modernize your furniture simply by replacing the hardware with a fresh new set.

There is a wide selection of hardware at hardware stores such as Lowes or Home Depot, as well as Amazon. 

Consider new hardware as an option before putting the old hardware back into place.

This step should conclude your chalk painting project. Take a step back and admire your finished work!

Advanced chalk painting techniques

Distressing

Distressing is basically strategically scuffing up your painted furniture so that it looks like it has been worn down over time. It’s a method often used for “antiquing” furniture. When done tastefully, it can really bring a nightstand, end table, dresser, or practically any other piece of furniture to life. 

Most DIY folks like to wear down the edges of furniture such as the sides of drawers, table corners, and similar areas. 

There are two ways to distress: sanding and wet distressing. 

Sanding just involves using sandpaper to lightly scuff up your furniture. The roughed-up edges of furniture can give your furniture a weathered but charming look. 

Wet distressing is done typically with a damp sponge or cloth. The water essentially breaks down the paint a bit, and when rubbed on furniture enough the wood will start to peek through slightly.

There is no best way to distress. The method you use purely depends on whatever look you want to achieve.

Dark wax

Similar to distressing, dark chalk paint wax is another way to create an aged look in furniture. By applying just a bit of dark wax around the edges of furniture, you can make a piece of furniture look slightly worn down. 

Dark wax looks particularly stunning when it’s applied to grooves of decorative engravings in furniture. You can really make ornamental engravings pop out when a bit of dark wax is locked in the grooves of ornamental wood designs. 

Blending and layering 

Layering is basically the process of applying a coat of chalk paint and then a different color on top of that first coat. Blending is the process of “blending” these two colors together. 

With good blending, you can essentially make the furniture look like it naturally gets darker in certain areas, such as drawer faces. 

People often use a black or white second layer of chalk paint to make furniture look lighter or darker in certain areas such as drawer faces. However, you can layer and blend with practically any color combination. It’s a great way to give chalk-painted furniture some depth. 

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