Furniture Painting Tips: Get That Smooth Sprayed Look with a Brush
So you’re envying that buttery smooth finish she got with her sprayer, but aren’t ready to invest or don’t like the mechanical nature of painting. Before we get ahead of ourselves, I actually recommend newbies perfect their brushing technique before even thinking about spraying. Brushing is a fundamental skill when it comes to furniture refinishing. Buying a sprayer is not only a big investment, but there is no reason to run before you can walk. Maybe you're not a newbie, but spraying just isn't feasible due to weather, less than conducive workspace or you simply need some brush therapy. I've got you covered!
" Here are all the tips & tools you need to achieve that superb sheen with a brush! "
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1. Prep is Key
Take the time to fill the littlest of imperfections with putty. ACE wood putty is my favorite, very similar to DAP plastic wood. If you have a wood that has very open grain – take the time to grain fill those obviously open areas. You can do this by watering down a little putty and applying with a putty knife pushing it into the grain. Follow with a good sand, using 220 grit until smooth.
2. Choose a High Quality Brush
My go to brush for almost all projects is a 1.5" oval. It holds just the right amount of paint and lays it on super smooth. Some reputable brush brands include Zibra, Wooster, Wise Owl, Country Chic and Cling-on.
3. Water Down and Mist Frequently
I recommend watering down your paint about 10% (sometimes more depending on the viscosity). So for every 1 cup of paint I recommend adding 1 – 2 tbsp of water. This will help the paint lay down smoothly and minimize brush strokes. The water essentially acts as an extender to improve the self-leveling characteristics of the paint. Products like Floetrol are also great for minimizing brush stokes and extending the work-time window of your paint.
Keeping a mister bottle on hand can also help keep things moist (I know some of you are cringing at the use of that word). If the product dries too quickly you’re bound to have “pulling” and I am all too familiar with this concept as a self-proclaimed over brusher.
My go-to approach is to first lay down the paint in a thin, consistent but quick coat. I will then give the fresh wet surface a generous mist and go over with what I call my "last pass" with long, light, parellel strokes.
Tip: if the bristles on your brush are bending dramatically you're pushing too hard. Think: "Pinkies up, ladies!"
4. Apply Thin Coats
You’ll get better results with 3-4 really thin coats of paint than 1-2 thick coats. There will be less raised texture with every brush mark making a smoother finish & less sanding between each coat. Which brings me to my next tip….
5. Sand Between Every Coat
I know this step may seem annoying, but I promise it's what sets obviously painted finishes apart from the ones that leave you questioning if it was sprayed. (If you are doing a shabby chic thing, then you do you & slop on those thick coats. I won't be the one to stop you.) Sanding between every last coat is crucial! Between primer coat and my first coat of paint I reach for 220 grit. I then work my way up the further along I get. For example, after my 2nd coat I may use a 320, and then work to 600 between poly coats. Before your next application you'll want to wipe away the dust with a microfiber cloth or my favorite approach - wipe down with denatured alcohol for a squeeky clean slate for your next coat. Perks of DNA - it dries lickity split!
6. Don't Blow it on Topcoat
You’ve come this far with a practically perfect finish… now it’s time for the dreaded topcoat step. (*cue the horror music*) Don’t cry quite yet… I have some tips for you here. If you’re brand spankin’ new to this whole furniture refinishing may I suggest waxing or oiling your first few pieces. There are a variety of furniture waxes, Walrus Oil Furniture Butter or hemp oil all of which are much more forgiving then polyurethane.
If you’re going full poly ahead, start by using a quality product. Please don’t @ me, but I personally despise Polycrylic. I think it is too thick and dries much too fast. Polycrylic gets a big fat F in workability for me. I much prefer Varathane or General Finishes waterbased poly.
Stay with the rule of keeping things moist by watering down your poly (assuming you're using water-based poly). Application tools also matter! Zibra makes some top coat specialty brushes that have been highly recommended. I personally have good experience with their Fan Brush. Damp foam sponges and microfiber sponges are also great options.
7. Practice Makes (closer to) Perfect
Don’t get discouraged if your first few attempts turn out less then perfect. This skill takes practice and lots of it! The more time you spend with your brush and your products the more comfortable you will become. You’ll be so proud of your streak free finish!
I'm Jess, the creator of Oak | Grain and member of the Carolina Furniture Collective. A mid-west girl at heart who now resides in Raleigh, NC. I love finding old things & giving them new purpose by way of refinishing or incorporating unexpected, overlooked thrift store finds in the modern home. I work full-time in medicine & I love dipping into my creative side by transforming furniture and in the process, keeping my sanity. Follow me on Instagram @oakandgrain_refinishing to see more behind the scenes action.