Saturday, May 23, 2015

How to Paint Old Oak Drawers

As you know I am always going on about how great paint is to transform your home and your furniture but I really think 

Paint. Is. Magic.

Paint is such a great way to update old tired furniture and you know what? so is sanding. I know everyone hates sanding but I just love to sand. With old oak furniture, especially old dressing table like the one below, I like to leave the tops timber. Sloughing off all the old grime, varnish and marks and then refinishing with a clear coat or wax will really bring the original wood grain back to life.  It just a pleasure to do.

I found the drawers above on Gumtree. I forgot to take a full before photo and I'd already started sanding the timber top when I remembered that I blog and really should document my work a little bit better. Just imagine that the top was the reddish/brown of the drawer fronts. These had a lot of dings and water damage so I did a lot of sanding. I used my orbital sander to make it quicker and easier but you could also sand by hand if you have the patience of a saint. 

Here are my tips for achieving a glass like surface when sanding timber:

My tips for using an Random Orbital Sander

The fast and random motion of a ROS will allow you to sand without leaving scuff marks on your surface, however you can do a few things to assist this. Here are my tips for using this versatile sander:

  1. Wear a dust mask
  2. Clean out the dust box regularly or use a vacuum
  3. Keep the sander moving with the grain of the wood
  4. Be careful near the edges to not sand them too far down and go over the edge
  5. Don't apply too much downward force, let the sander do the work, you are really just guiding it.
  6. Start with a lower grit disc to strip off the old finish. I start with 80 grit as I find that removes a good amount of old varnish quickly without scratching the surface too much. Work through the grits until your desired finish (smoothness) is achieved. Don't skip grit grades. I will change sand paper grit grades around 4-5 times depending on the timber I am sanding.
  7. Wipe down your sanded surface regularly as you work.
  8. One you have a very smooth surface, wipe with a tack cloth, wax then apply a polishing disc to your sander and polish.  You can also do this step by hand.
  9. My last tip is when buying power tools, buy the best one you can afford/justify as you generally get what you pay for and when I buy tools I'd prefer to buy once and have it last a long time.

To paint your piece, start with it upside down. (You will probably want to turn it upside down on a towel or old piece of carpet to protect the top surface. Sand and clean your piece. If it's anything like this piece you'll probably have to deal with some spider webs.

Take the drawers out and if you are changing the handles now is the time to putty up any old holes and drill new ones.

Once your piece is repaired and clean then prime. If you are using chalk paint or any other self priming paint then your first coat of paint will act as a primer. I always start painting on the legs and then the sides of a piece. I leave the front till last when you are "in the groove" of painting as this is what will be most visible.

Once the first coat of paint is dry you can give the piece a light sand to make the finish extra smooth.  A lot of people will skip this step but it's up to you and what you want the finish to be. (Your first coat will probably be patchy as below but that's okay, keep on painting)

Apply your additional coats of paint. I use long brush strokes and feather the paint so I can achieve a very smooth finish. There are so many different ways of applying paint but this is what works best for me. If you want a more textured look, you may want to use a cross hatch method of painting and also drag your brush back through partially dried paint. This will create a lot of brush marks and stippling that will be great for antiquing with dark wax - it will create little crevices for the dark wax to settle in.  For this piece however I wanted a smooth look.  

Don't be surprised with light colours, red of black that you may need to do more than two coats of paint to achieve a good opaqueness...especially if you are top coating with wax, as wax always makes the paint a little transparent.

Once you have finished then wax, sand and distress. how much you distress will be a matter of personal taste. Personally I'm not a big fan of over the top distressing. I like just a little natural wear and tear around the edges.

Reapply your hardware (or apply your new hardware like these gorgeous chrome cup handles I chose for this piece) and stand back and admire your work.

If you have any problems when you are painting your old furniture such as bleed though or sagging - I'm talking about paint sagging not 47 year old body parts sagging :) - you may like to read my blog post tutorial - dealing with common paint problems.  I've complied a big list of common problem and my solutions for them. I hope this all helps you in your DIY endeavors for transformation your home and filling it with beautiful old second hand furniture.


  1. Thanks Fiona; it's always a pleasure to read your tutorials- worded well, and easy to follow. The little dressing table looks really cute!

    1. thank you Elisabeth, that's good to hear. glad to help

  2. I appreciate your step-by-step instructions and practical information.

  3. The grain on that wood is divine :) Love your tutorials Fiona!

  4. Fiona, just wondering if you have any tips on how to avoid those little swizzle/swirl marks which often occur when using the coarser grades of sandpaper. I have a few different types of sanders, and the ROS always seems the worst for doing this. Then it's a real challenge to get those marks back out again. Any suggestions?
    Thanks very much, Liz.

    1. Liz it will either be you are applying too much downward force, you don't have a good enough sander or your grit it too much. check out this blog i wrote
      cheers fiona

  5. Fiona help, my mum gave me a dark oak corner bench and chairs covered with tapestry material. I want to update it inwhite paint. Any ideas?


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