Asked on Aug 26, 2012

Furniture painting tips for a beginner?

ReneeLiz WeissSheila R


I'm a complete novice at home DIY! Anything bigger than a sewing/knitting/crafting project intimidates me, so I was hoping to get some furniture painting 101 tips.
I just moved back home after graduating college, and I'm in the process of rearranging my room with the free spare furniture lying around the house. My bedroom set of dressers and sidetable is already white, so I was thinking I should paint the Ikea bookcases white to match.
I'm also using a smaller, white bookcase as a makeshift room divider for my little office corner, so the back of it is showing. It's some kind of cheap chipboard that is just installed to keep books from coming out the back.
So my question is, do I need to prime any of these surfaces with anything before painting white? And would a paintbrush/roller + paint or spraypaint be better for a smooth matte finish? Any helpful tips/tricks that I should keep in mind?
Thanks so much! :)
11 answers
  • Lindsay @ Makely
    on Aug 26, 2012

    Hi Lisa! You'll definitely want to prime the Ikea bookcases with a really good primer that's safe for use on shiny surfaces. I love Zinsser Bullseye 123 (latex) or Zinnser Cover Stain (oil) for laminate surfaces like that. Then, you'll be able to use latex paint on top. Just remember that the primer won't be "cured" for about seven days and the paint for about a month, so use them lightly in that time to give them time to harden. Use that primer on the chipboard back of the little bookcase, too, to keep the paint from soaking in. I personally am not a fan of spray painting (from a can) big pieces since it's hard to get the finish even all the way across. I always suggest using a high density foam roller and latex paint. I hope that helps!

  • Peace Painting Co., Inc.
    on Aug 26, 2012

    You can prime with commonly available '1-2-3' primer using a mini flock or flock-foam roller. This will allow you to put on any top coat using the roller too. You will have to brush a little in the corners first and will have a nice finish. Take them outside if you can so you won't have to smell the primer. Even tho it's water base, it still has alot of chemicals. Best, Charles

  • Shari
    on Aug 26, 2012

    I agree with Lindsay, priming is desirable. But, before priming, I would first wipe your furniture pieces down with a "liquid sandpaper" (aka "deglosser") product to give them a little "tooth" for the primer to grip to, and then use at least one thin coat of primer. Many people will absolutely insist you must sand the shiny finish off your furniture before you paint but I have found that is NOT necessary if you use the liquid sandpaper and a good quality primer. My primer of choice use to be the Zinsser Bullseye 123 but a little over a year ago I tried the Valspar Multi-purpose Latex Primer (in the blue can and sold at Lowes) and I like it even better than the Zinsser. Again, I have to agree with Lindsay about trying to paint furniture with canned spray paint. It won't give you a nice finish and it's just way too expensive. By the time you buy enough cans of spray paint, you could almost invest in a basic airless sprayer for around $100. An airless sprayer will be super fast, give you a professional, smooth finish, and you are not limited to the color choices offered in canned spray paint. However, an airless sprayer is not mandatory to paint furniture. You can certainly get great results with a paint brush and/or roller too. I am not a professional but I have painted probably no less than 30 pieces of furniture in the past 5 years for my previous and current homes. If you are interested, I put together a basic "Furniture Painting 101" tutorial ( ) and within that tutorial I have a link to another blogger who did a very informative and helpful furniture painting tutorial. Don't be intimidated. Painting furniture is not hard. If you take your time, you should get very good results. Good luck and happy painting!

  • If the surface of the shelves and sides are glossy, after cleaning them well, I would suggest that you use a sanding sponge or a 3-M pad on them. Just to degloss them as much as you can. This will give the primer something to bite into making the finish last longer so not to chip off to fast.

  • KMS Woodworks
    on Aug 27, 2012

    As a furniture builder I notice the bookcases in the first pic do not have "backs". This can lead to premature of a early failure if these are not secured to the wall. ( as if they were used in an free standing configuration) the "back" on a bookcase even the very thin 1/8 to 1/4" ones prevent the side and shelves from "racking" This can lead to a collapse if heavy loaded. If you do not have a full piece back as a minimum you should install a pair of diagonals. 1/4 Luan plywood is cheap...(about 20 bucks for a 4 x 8 sheet) and this would make some great "backs" for the also paints well after being primed.

  • Paint-N-Plus
    on Aug 30, 2012

    Shari hit the nail on the head,You need to degloss before you prime.This removes some of the shine and allows your primer to get a good bond.This is where a good job starts.You can use what we professionals call a (mini roller) to put your primer and paint on, its about 4 inches long and works well on things like this.I would prime about 30 mins after you degloss,Will be ready for paint the next day.You might want to lightly rub some sandpaper over it just to remove any rough areas.Be sure to wipe all your dust off before you put your finish on. Good Luck

  • Lisa I
    on Aug 30, 2012

    Thank you so much for all of the helpful tips and tricks!! Hopefully I'll get to working on these soon and I'll let everyone know how it goes! (And @KMS Woodworks, my dad's to blame on throwing out the cheap backs that came with in the IKEA packaging because he thought they were unnecessary! :( I think he was trying to avoid helping me install them haha. I definitely want to make some backs out of that cheap plywood, so I might be back asking for help with that!)

  • KMS Woodworks
    on Aug 31, 2012 should show your dad this posting...and make him go get the thin ply...

  • Sheila R
    on Sep 3, 2012

    Thanks for the info this helps another furniture painting newby!!

  • Liz Weiss
    on Jul 4, 2015

    Lisa for the back of the other bookcase showing I would go Lowes and by their paintable wallpaper in breadboard. It's great I use it all the time to hide ugh ly surfaces. It's easy to use.

  • Renee
    on Aug 18, 2016

    When you paint, the first thing is to spend the time to prep your surface. You can cover ugly, but a bad surface just gets uglier. Glossy paint shows imperfections. So I would not use it, go matt. Then use your brushes properly. They aren't scrubbers ;) go with the grain and always in the same direction. Sand lightly between coats and remove the dust. A fine grit is best, again go in the direction of the grain/paint. A several thin coats are far better than one or two thick ones. Rinse your brushes a couple times. If they get all goopy and scraggly they lay down a rough layer of paint. Oh, and buy some good brushes. I find that good brushes can compensate for less expensive paint but the reverse is not true. I hope this helps. And cheers to you it is so fun to create your own special space!

Your comment...