How to Paint an Old Piece of Stained Furniture

So you found a cool old table at a yard sale, and you love its shape, size and style, but you hate the color of its stain. It won’t fit into your home, and from past experience, you know that re-staining it is more work than you’re willing to put in.

Well, we have a solution. You’re going to paint it. Here is how to do that:

Sand It

Start off with an 80-grit sandpaper on a sanding block to knock the stain off the wood. You’ll really need to put some elbow grease into this, but using the coarse 80-grit will help. It’s going to be difficult to get all the way through the old varnish, but give it a good shot. Rough up that bad boy real good. Make it so it is no longer shiny.

Is it roughed up and dull? Good. Now it’s time to use a finer grit sandpaper. Go over it now with a 100-grit to smooth things over. Make sure to do a thorough job, here, but keep in mind you’ll be changing grits once more.

On the tabletop, especially, it’s important to finish the sanding job with a 220-grit paper. Use long, smooth strokes and move with the grain of the wood, not against it.

You’re not going down to bare wood, but you should have some showing through, and the remaining varnish ought to look … sanded.

Clean It

Using a rag dampened with rubbing alcohol, clean up all the dust. You’re using alcohol because it will evaporate quickly, as opposed to water, which will want to soak into the exposed fibers of the wood. If you lay down paint over wet wood, you’ll have problems.

But do be sure to get all the dust off the table. You want a clean, solid surface.

Prime It

Get and etching primer, and prime your table.

Sand the Primer

Once the primer is dry, lightly go over it with the 220-grit sandpaper to remove any ridges and bumps that may have been left there during the priming process. If there are low spots, add some more primer to fill them in. Remove the dust.


Once the primer is dry, apply your paint. Add a coat and let it dry according to the instructions on the can. Then add another coat and repeat. Odds are, you’ll need three coats. Let it dry.

Seal It

At this point, you have a couple options. You might choose to go with a polyurethane sealer, which you brush on like paint. This is the best option if you’re concerned about little nicks and scratches appearing on your table as you use it. But if you’re looking for more of a casual, worn-in feel, get a good furniture wax, and wax your table as you would a car. This wax will need to be re-done every so often, so keep that in mind, but it will protect your furniture and render a softer look.

And that’s it. If you have any tips, let us know in the comments. And, of course, show us your projects!