How to Fix the Five Most Common Furniture Makeover Mistakes

Working as a furniture painter and Amy Howard at Home retailer, I frequently get asked things like:

Why did my paint chip/crack/flake?

Why is the finish streaky?

It hit me that almost all paint problems can be boiled down to five common mistakes. Heck, I did these too before I knew better.IMG_3882

1 – Using too much wax.

It seems instinctive to wax like we paint, using lots of product and applying until it looks wet. But that only leaves a heavy finish that’s hard to buff and ends up streaky.

The correct way involves a light touch and less product. Think of a dry brush motion, not a grinding motion. Take a 2” flat or round brush and apply a small amount of wax, offloading onto a paper plate or piece of cardboard to remove excess.

Hold your brush perpendicular to the surface, barely skipping the bristles across the surface in a cross hatch, back and forth motion (think X’s instead of methodical horizontal strokes).

I tell my students to use the touch method to make sure wax is going on their piece. It will feel slightly wet, but you probably will not be able to see it. Do not think you need to keep adding until you can see it! Cover the surface and move on.

Once you’ve applied the wax, let sit for 10-15 minutes and then buff with a clean, lint-free cloth. Now you should see a beautiful sheen with no streaks. If you do end up with streaks, let dry for 24 hours and buff with extra-fine steel wool (000 or 0000 grade).

2- Picking the wrong paint type for your project.

Chalk, acrylic and milk paint are all fabulous products formulated especially for furniture makeovers. However, since each one has certain characteristics, it’s important to know some basic rules about the three and how they differ.  For example, milk paint can crackle and chip, chalk paint leaves brush strokes and acrylic paint is self-leveling for an ultra-smooth finish.

So think about how you want your furniture to look when you’re done, while keeping in mind what sort of finish you are starting with. For a chart that goes into detail about the differences between chalk, milk and acrylic paint check out my blog post HERE.

(I have a FREE download that walks you step-by-step through which paint will work best for your project.  To get it, sign up for my weekly emails at the bottom of this post.) 

3 – Not prepping properly.

I know, I know. You’ve been told over and over again that no prep is needed when using chalk based paints.

I teach the minimal prep method.  What did grandma say? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Start by cleaning your piece thoroughly with a degreaser (such as Simple Green). And here’s what I mean by thoroughly.  If the rag is still dirty, your furniture is still dirty! When you wipe and pull away a clean cloth, you’ve officially cleaned your piece.

While you’re at it, pull out the drawers and clean inside. Clean the underside and back side too. These places won’t see paint, but you’ll feel better bringing a sparkling clean piece into your house.

Now that your furniture is clean, take a medium grit sanding block and very quickly go over the surface of your piece. All you are doing is roughing up the surface, just to remove any sheen and give your paint something to grip. Should take 10 minutes max. You can skip this step if your piece does not have a shiny topcoat, but if it does, please sand.  (Remove sanding dust with a tack cloth before painting.)

Minimal prep: still way better than stripping, sanding, priming and then painting!

4 – Not practicing on a sample board.

You know exactly what you want your piece to look like.  Maybe.

Painting a sample board leaves no surprises and has saved me oodles of time, especially when I’m playing around with layering colors or doing a wash or wax technique. Also, I might think a certain color or look is what I want in a room. A sample board confirms that choice.

Unless you are doing a finish that you are familiar and comfortable with, save yourself some time and do a sample board first.

5 – Using too much paint.

What happens when you’re in the middle of painting and suddenly just want this project over?  Or you wrongly believe that your first coat should be completely opaque?  You start slopping that paint on.

Please don’t try to get your whole piece painted in one coat!  Several thin coats are way better than getting too heavy handed. Lots of paint can result in drip marks.  (Sanding and repainting.)  Also, thicker coats can dry strangely and unevenly, sometimes leaving cracks.  A surface that is too thick is also more prone to chipping later on.

Next time you tackle a furniture makeover, remember these five tips and take some time to plan and prep.  You’ll be rewarded with a durable finish you’ll love for years to come!

one step paint amy howard


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