How to Paint Over Varnished Wood


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paint_over_varnished_wood_pinterestWhile painting over varnished wood may seem like an impossible task—using the right tools and proper technique can cover the outdated surface and give it a fresh new look.

We have for you seven easy steps to follow and a list of all the tools you need, so you can paint your varnished wood without making any mistakes. Trust us, the last thing you want to do is destroy your trim or furniture because you tried to take shortcuts or didn’t use a proper guide.

First, lets go over the materials you will need for this project.


Step 1: Preparing and cleaning

The furniture you’re about to paint might have some hardware on it. This hardware can include handles, knobs, and metal trimming. Remove all of these before starting the process.

Also, clean the furniture using an excellent household cleaner. A fantastic cleaner is Dawn Dish Soap. There is no need to use hazardous chemicals for cleaning as they may remain on the surface leading to fish-eye and paint bonding issues. Protect your hands by wearing disposable gloves when cleaning the surface.

Simply take a scouring pad, rag, or brush and scrub the surface of the wood. Keep in mind, cleaning is not for removing the gloss from the wood—it is to remove grease and dirt. Once you’re done cleaning, allow the wood 15-20 minutes to dry.

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Step 2: Filling

After the wood or timber has dried, the next step would be filling all the fissures, cracks, holes, and imperfections. You can use putty filler for this. You can get Elmer’s E887Q Stainable wood filler or Abatron WoodEpox. Both are inexpensive and will get the job done. Apply the putty filler with a scraper or a putty knife like the knife from Titan tools or Warner so that it is applied thoroughly and evenly. After applying the putty and ensuring your wood is nice and smooth, prepare to sand your wood.

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Step 3: Sanding

The next step after filling would be sanding. Sanding aims to remove all gloss from the surface. You should not try to remove the varnish altogether but only to slightly etch the surface.  A 180–240 grit sandpaper is recommended for this. The higher the girt of the sandpaper, the smoother the finish would be. Sanding in the direction of the grain can make this step more effective. After sanding is complete, wipe away all dust from the wood using a piece of a damp cloth.

Our favorite tool for sanding is the Miracle Eraser Strip ‘N Sand Paint Remover Stripping Block. It’s a durable sanding block that is specifically designed for jobs like these. Not only is the Miracle Eraser Stripping Block perfect for removing varnish, but it molds itself to the exact shape of the surface you’re sanding. This make it easy to sand in cracks and crevices that traditional sandpaper wouldn’t be able to reach. However, if you already have sandpaper lying around and don’t want to spend the extra money, you should be fine.

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Step 4: Washing

Next, you must wash the sanded surface with a Trisodium Phosphate Cleaner. This will remove any remaining dust after sanding and will also cut off latent oils from the surface. Do not try to skip this step! Not only will skipping this step potentially ruin your paint job, it will shorten the life of your furniture.

Step 5: Protection

You may want to cover the portions of wood that you do not want to paint to protect them. For this, use a Painter’s Protective Tape. You can pick some up from your local hardware store or you can purchase it a little cheaper at Amazon.

We recommend working outside, but we understand this is not always possible when painting wood trim or crown molding. If this applies to you, you’re going to need to cover the floor, so sprinkles of primer do not fly all over and stick to the flooring. With a 3M hand masker, you can easily prevent paint from drying up on your floor or forming unwanted smudges. The masker must be loaded with tape and masking paper, and it will attach both tape and paper simultaneously. Not only does it protect your walls and floor, but it also allows you to apply with ease and comfort, without having to take care of detailed or controlled strokes.

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Step 6: Priming

The next step would be applying a stain-blocking primer. The best primers available in the market include Rust-Oleum Oil Base Primer and KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain blocking interior oil. Both of these primers are oil based and are a favorite with professionals. Simply spray or brush your primer over the surface of your wood and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.

After the first layer of primer has dried, cover it up with another layer of primer. You wouldn’t want any bare patches ruining your paint job, so it’s safer to apply a second coat for complete coverage. Set aside to dry once again.

Step 7: Painting

Now comes the part we’ve been preparing for this entire time—painting. We recommend applying at least three coats of paint to ensure maximum coverage and protection. The re-coat time would be around four hours. Simple let the first coat dry for about four hours and repeat 2-3 more times.

You can use latex or oil-based paint. Prestige Extra White Paint makes an excellent choice for furniture and wood trim. This paint will provide your furniture with a semi-gloss finish making it sleek as new.

Paint rollers are the best way to apply if the surface is vast and flat. Amongst the best paint rollers you can find are Alazco 3” Mini and Wagner Smart Roller. Alazco Mini has a woven fiber design and is extra absorbent. It is small in size and would be perfect for you if your furniture piece is not very large whereas, Wagner roller brush is known for its power and will provide a constant supply of paint.

For small and intricate surfaces, you can use a medium sized brush, and for painting wood trim, a 2 ½ inch angled brush would be perfect. An airless sprayer can also be used if you want to save time.

Now that you’re done with all of these steps, you have successfully renewed your old furniture piece. Let the paint dry and then remove the protective tape. Also, you can now replace the hardware you had removed at the start if any.

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While having to paint over varnished wood may seem like a daunting task, using this guide and following our seven simple steps will ensure your paint job looks perfect and lasts for decades! Bringing back an old piece of furniture will not only spruce up your home, but it will be one of the most satisfying projects you’ve ever completed!

More: If you don’t know what finish to use on your wood furniture or trim, be sure to checkout our article on the Best Finishes for Woodworking.

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