TWO Ways to Refinish Furniture (with Pros & Cons for Each)

3 Materials
1 Week

Want to upgrade your bathroom vanity or kitchen cabinets? Or are you looking for a unique piece with a pop of color? I love using paint to spruce up a piece of furniture or revamp a room. After a few projects I have narrowed down two effective ways to refinish furniture and would love to share my findings with you!

This first project was a dresser for my daughters nursery. When I found out I was having a girl, I immediately knew I wanted a pink dresser for her room. I thought this would be easy to find but to be honest I didn't see a whole lot of options. Money was also a factor and the furniture I saw in stores seemed cheaply made with a price tag that didn't match the quality.

So I went to my local ReStore and found this ugly duckling. It was $50! and SOLID wood. I could tell it was good craftsmanship and I could see past its rough exterior to the beauty lying underneath.

This piece we refinished the "right" way. I say right because the second method is the "lazy" way but both have proven to be effective techniques. If you choose to go this route you need to sand, sand and sand a little more. Luckily for me, I have two parents that go along with my shenanigans and did the sanding for me (also I was pregnant and they didn't want me breathing in the dust) but the work is tedious.

Be prepared to spend a sold 3 hours sanding your project depending on the size of the piece. You will also need a good sander. I have heard great things about the DeWalt Palm Sander, which is a very affordable at $50 for the unit. There is a larger unit that is cordless by DeWalt which I am sure will save time and is a good investment if you plan to do many projects but as long as you have an electric sander you will be able to make it work.

I was not as picky about sanding the curved edges to the original wood. I found that scuffing it up with a sanding block was sufficient in getting the paint to stick.

Another thing to keep in mind is the mess! Expect a lot of dust so wear protective gear and do this project outside.

The good thing about sanding the furniture down to its original wood is that the paint goes on really well and sticks basically forever. You don't need primer, you don't need great quality paint because anything will stick to the rough surface. When its time to paint, I used a 4 inch foam roller. This is important for furniture to get a smooth finish. A typical fabric roller is great for walls because they are pours and you can get into all the crevices, but for furniture this is no good because it will leave a texture.

It's been 3 years since we painted this beauty and she still looks brand new and is still a focal point in my daughters room.

Now on to the "lazy" method. We recently bought a house and the bathroom wasn't too bad (compared to the long list of items I would like to gut) but I did think the dark brown vanity that was chipped and had ugly hardware had to go. Well not go go, just get a face lift. This time I couldn't wheel this baby outside to give it a good sanding and didn't want dust all over my house! Plus, unlike my pink dresser, I could tell this vanity was not real wood and there were areas that seemed like particle board. I worried it wouldn't hold up to rigorous sanding. So for all those reasons I decided just to paint it, whats the worst that can happen, right?

Now here is the important part! If you go with this technique, the material is VERY important! Initially I used cheap Bayer paint without priming first and that was a BIG mistake. If there is nothing for the paint to bind to it will bind to itself and then come off in sheets! So priming first is a must since the paint can't stick to a smooth surface without the primer. I used Sherwin Williams Extreme bond primer and then their high gloss paint. Make sure to wait a full 24 hours in between each coat so that it is completely dry.

Again I used the foam roller for both the primer and the paint to get a smooth finish. Some additional supplies include the typical painting items: roller frame, drop cloth, paint tray.

The only other item I am particular about is the Purdy Angular Trim Paint Brush, 2 inch with short handle. This is my favorite painting brush. Maybe it's odd to have a favorite paint brush but I do! The short handle and angle make it so convenient for getting smooth edges and lines without taping. I personally hate to tap!

So in conclusion, sanding is great for the finished result that looks perfect but is absolutely more time intensive. Not sanding will save you a ton of time, but you will HAVE to use good quality paints and primer otherwise it will not last. After both projects, I think each refinishing technique has its charm and although I feel sanding may have ever so slightly more lasting results, the sheer amount of work necessary would make me lean towards using better quality paint and forgoing the sanding on future projects.

Suggested materials:

  • Extreme Bond Primer   (Sherwin Williams)
  • DEWALT Palm Sander, 1/4 Sheet (DWE6411K)   (Hardware Store)
  • 4" Mini Foam Roller   (Hardware Store)
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Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?

  1 question
  • Stephanie Miller Stephanie Miller on Feb 26, 2020

    Did you use the primer as the finish coat? Or did you paint over the primer? If so please tell me what paint did you use and the finish?


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  • Victor L Marrero Victor L Marrero on Mar 10, 2020

    I will try this some day. It's easy way to remodel without high cost

  • William William on Mar 10, 2020

    Basically I just lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper or a green kitchen scrubby to remove any gloss. Doesn't matter if it's wood or not. Then I prime with Kilz primer. Usually two coats. Then paint with my color. Acrylic latex paint. Seal with three coats of water based polyurethane.