As you can see I am deep in the realm of teaching my three year old the first steps to reading and writing. However, today's blog lesson focuses not on the spelling of the word, but on the importance of the word "preparation" when it comes to refinishing furniture. I realize that there are numerous blogs out there that discuss this topic and just as many products hitting the market that claim to be "no prep" or "no sanding" required, but as with all things in life, if it seems too good to be true then it probably is. Not to say that these claims can never be true, but you know what else there are a lot of? Blog posts about people painting a whole project, only to walk away and to find it all peeling, flaking, or scratching off when they return. Aaahhh! Can you imagine??! Insert your choice of profanity here, because I know that's what I would do. Anyway, since we find ourselves here together (thank you for that) I thought I'd go through my prep with you too. So away we go. If you are geared up to start your first project here are the things I think that you simply should not skip.
First thing's first, you spot an awesome piece of furniture at a garage sale or thrift shop, after you mentally high five yourself... wait two high fives? And a happy dance? Wow, that is a treasure! Well, after you get through all that, look the piece over again, with care. Open drawers, how do they glide? Are they damaged at all? Are there chips in any of the surfaces? Maybe there are, but you are going for a well loved, distressed look and can enhance and work with these things. If, on the other hand you are going for a streamlined, flawless facelift then you need to ask yourself if you have the skills, tools and patience to fix what needs to be repaired. Or at least ask if you can scam some free labour from a friend or loved one who can help.
Once home, you should probably think about cleaning the furniture. In all honesty sometimes I don't. If it has been really well cared for I skip right to sanding. However, a lot of the furniture that is in need of a little refresh are those that have been sitting around in basements or garages or are coming from older generations that still thought it was no problem to smoke indoors (yuck). These pieces often need vacuuming out and a decent scrub. Here again, it comes to using good judgement on how you decide to clean the piece. Sometimes a warm water scrub will be all you need, where as others I would use TSP. This stuff is potent and is certainly not needed on all items, but if there is a lot of grease or nicotine on something I would reach for this. If you use it, read the instructions and make sure you have your safety gloves, glasses, and maybe even a mask to protect yourself and know that it is strong enough to eat through varnish so if you want to leave the original finish intact then I would explore other options.
After cleaning you can begin sanding. Honestly, I sand everything! Most often it's a light sanding with a 120 grit. This scuffs up the surface and gives the paint a more porous surface to adhere to. I use a paint line that claims, little to no sanding is required, so after sanding I often don't apply a primer because it has proven to me that it adheres well without, but depending on your paint choice you may want to. Having said that with laminates or other ultra smooth surfaces I do follow sanding with a suitable primer. A note on sanding: if you have a veneered or laminated surface, these are extremely thin layers of either real hardwood or plastic printed to look like wood and are easily sanded right through if you are not careful, so if you are working with these and would like to keep the look of the original then do some reading and figure out the best way to prep these surfaces to suite the project's needs.
Finally, repair any drawers, dents, missing pieces, etc. Most often it is simple things like a missing drawer guide, which can be purchased at any hardware store. Filling dents, requires a putty knife, some sandpaper and wood filler. If a drawer is coming apart you may require a nail gun, or maybe just some wood glue and some clamps. If a small piece of veneer is missing you can often fill it with one or two applications of wood filler, sanding after each to bring it to match the depth of the intact veneer around it and use a fine grit sandpaper for the final sand to create a smooth, seamless transition from old to new. These are the most common repairs I come across and are very easy to fix.
After all that work, you are likely ready to paint, hurray!
I'm not going to lie to you, prep is super annoying in my opinion. I mean let's get to the good stuff already! But if you want to have something that you worked your little buns off to make beautiful last, or what's more, you want to sell it, then these steps and sometimes others are a necessary evil to ensure the best results. I hope that this helps some of my friends who have asked me if I would teach them or suggested I run a workshop to help people. I ask that you do keep in mind these are just general guidelines - each piece is different, and depending on the finish you are expecting then you may need to add in other steps, but these are good places to start.
Good luck and, for goodness sake, pump up the cheesiest music station you can find and make the best of it.
Until next time.