Monday, November 11, 2013

How to Paint Burnt Wood

I was recently asked by a client to rescue and paint a beautiful cabinet that had been involved in a fire. 

how to paint over fire damaged burnt wood

The cabinet was stunning but charred on the top and on one side and also the top had come loose on one side. It is an extremely heavy cabinet and and probably been lifted one too many times by the top surface rather than from underneath. Too much weight for the timber dowels to hold.

how to paint over fire damaged burnt wood
I had already done a fair bit of sanding before these photos were taken
I first repaired the piece using big clamps, heavy weights and Liquid Nails. When you are re-gluing timber joints it is necessary to not be impatient. Liquid Nails needs around 7 days to reach its maximum strength. I suggest you clamp or brace the joint for 24 hours and then be gentle with the piece for a week. Also when you are moving furniture it is always good to carry from underneath and not from the lip of the top surface.

how to paint over fire damaged burnt wood white cabinet

To paint over burnt timber you need to:

Wear a mask to ensure you aren't inhaling anything dangerous.

 Sand well to ensure that you remove any flaking fragments of charred timber.Sand as much of the burnt wood off as possible. I used my orbital sander with a coarse grit. When using an orbital sander make sure you let the sander do the work and don't press down hard, else you will get whirl marks in your timber. You will not need to sand back to the good unburnt wood completely. Just concentrate on removing any loose pieces and getting a solid surface. Once you are happy with the surface give a final sand with a medium grit.

Wipe down thoroughly to remove all the dust, preferably with a tack cloth but a damp cloth will also suffice.

Depending on the depth of the burns, you may need to build up the timber with some wood putty. I didn't need to in this case.

The most important step in painting over burnt timber is to prime your piece. I used two coats of Zinsser BIN Shellac but any oil based stain blocking primer will do. Follow the drying times on the primer tin. It will most probably be around 2 hours between each coat. You will need to clean your brush with mineral spirits.

Paint your piece as normal. You can use any paint over the primer that you wish.  For this piece I used a custom mix of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and Acrylic Paint. You can see my guide for painting furniture here if you need any tips.

I then gave the whole piece two coats of wax for sheen, durability and ease of cleaning.

This is the burnt section below. You can see a slightly darker timber where it is distressed but the wood grain is perfect and showing through the paint as requested by my client. Notice also the lovely sheen that the top coat of wax gives to the surface.

The whole cabinet came up beautifully and the white paint really picks out the details that were not as noticeable before.  My client wanted it fairly heavily distressed but very natural.

When painting handles on a piece that is going to be distressed, I like to not fully paint the handles. It is easier to not put paint in all the crevices in the first place rather than remove the paint with distressing.

This cabinet is fantastic. In the desk part, there are lots of little drawers that go in those cubby holes. My client wanted the inside left timber and I love the contrast.

You can see in the above photo that I have waxed the timber in the top section but not in the below. Timber needs feeding. It makes such a difference to how your furniture looks and wears. I polish my timber furniture at least once a month. If you aren't as obsessive about furniture as I am, I would do it at least yearly. My client said she would polish the inside of the cabinet once it was home as it was very windy and dusty the day it was picked up.

So hopefully you never have a fire or have to paint over burnt wood but just remember it is possible!

Fiona x


  1. so so pretty! i love how that piece turned out.

  2. No wonder your client was happy, your work is stunning. Beth x

  3. gorgeous. you have been busy as usual

  4. This is really an awesome thing to consider that the white color always looks really good on old wood or this is the best option to give the antique look to furniture. This is what I can see above as the white color really suited to the design of the table.

  5. So beautiful, you have a way with explaining things that make it look so simple .online beds company


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