I have a confession. Last year when my mom asked if I could paint a set of 4 wooden chairs black for her kitchen, I was less than excited. In fact I was dreading painting those chairs so much, I put off doing it for weeks.
I’ve painted enough chairs before to know that painting wooden chairs with all their spindles and turned legs can be incredibly time consuming and not particularly fun. In fact, they may just be my least favorite thing to paint.
But once I stopped doing my best to ignore this task altogether, I started putting together a plan to make painting these chairs as quick and painless as possible.
There are three major methods you can use to paint wooden chairs.
- Use a paintbrush and paint roller. I’ve painted dozens of chairs this way (like these and these) and it is the worst! It takes so much time to brush paint around each and every leg and spindle of the chair. And then once you finally finish, you have to go back again for the next coat! Even worse, when painting with a brush around curved surfaces, it is even harder than normal to get a smooth brushstroke-free finish. This is definitely not my first choice.
- Use spray paint. Since using a paintbrush is so crazy time-consuming, why not go for spray paint? I’m talking about the cans of spray paint you can buy for a few bucks from any home improvement store. Spray paint is normally my first choice for painting home decor with lots of curves and details. But I am not a fan of using spray paint to paint wood furniture. It is incredibly difficult to get a good finish, and you can almost always tell at the end that it was painted with spray paint. Not to mention the color selection is very limited and if you’re buying enough spray paint to paint furniture, it’s gonna add up and get really expensive really quick. You could use spray paint to paint chairs, but you really aren’t going to end up with a very nice finish.
- Use a paint sprayer. With a paint sprayer, you can use whatever furniture paint you like best and get an absolutely flawless finish. There is a lot more set-up involved when you use a paint sprayer, but even counting the set-up time, painting chairs with a paint sprayer is so much faster than using a paintbrush. Seriously, it probably takes less than 25% of the time it would take using a paintbrush. If you haven’t used a paint sprayer before, it can seem really intimidating, but it’s actually pretty straightforward.
You can probably guess which of the three methods I chose for my mom’s chairs. I wanted a beautiful finish and I wanted to get it the fastest, least soul-crushing way possible. So I pulled out my paint sprayer and got started.
Today I’m going to break down exactly how to paint chairs the easy way, including how to prep your chairs, how to use your paint sprayer, and how to make sure your paint job is going to last for years to come. I’ve also included a video tutorial below.
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- Wooden chairs in need of paint
- Cleaner – This is my favorite cleaner for furniture painting and one bottle lasts a really long time.
- 220 grit sandpaper – You may be able to skip the sanding depending on what type of chairs you are painting.
- Oil-based primer – Depending on what type of chairs you are painting, you may not need this.
- Paint – I am using General Finishes Milk Paint in lamp black. This is one of my favorite furniture paints.
- Topcoat – I am using General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in satin finish.
- Paint sprayer – I use this Homeright paint sprayer and I love how easy it is to use. But it is a couple of years old and can be a bit tougher to find in stores. Here’s another option that looks similar and is a bit cheaper. I don’t have personal experience with this sprayer, but it has great reviews.
- Drop cloths or spray shelter – You need something to protect the area around where you will be painting. I love my spray shelter, but you can also create a simple spray paint booth using dropcloths or tarps. Or even better, if you are able to paint outside, you can just lay a large dropcloth down to protect your grass.
How to Paint Chairs
Protecting the area where you will be painting
One of the biggest downsides of using a paint sprayer is it can get messy. You really need to protect the area where you will be painting from overspray. But even though there is more set up before you can begin, using the paint sprayer still saves a ton of time in the end.
If you have room to paint outside, that is ideal. I usually end up painting in my basement because then I don’t have to worry about the weather messing with my painting times. I have a large spray shelter that I usually use for spraying furniture.
Setting it up is a lot like setting up a small camping tent and it can be a bit of a pain, but it really helps keep the paint contained nicely.
Alternatively, you can rig up your own simple paint area using tarps and dropcloths.
Prepping your chairs for paint
The first thing I did was remove the woven chair seats since I wouldn’t be painting them. I also recommend removing cloth seats if possible. If your chairs are all wood, you don’t have to worry about this step.
Then I cleaned the chairs well using this cleaner to remove any dust, dirt, and grease. A good cleaning should be the first step of pretty much any paint project.
Most of the time you don’t need to sand furniture before painting, but in certain cases sanding is helpful.
If your chairs have peeling paint, be sure to sand off any loose paint before painting. Also if your chairs have a shiny, slick surface, you should sand them lightly. Roughing up the surface a bit will help give your paint something to stick to.
The chairs I was painting had a pretty slick finish, so I started by lightly sanding them all over with 220 grit sandpaper.
You also don’t always have to use primer when painting furniture.
If you are painting dark wood chairs white or another very light color, primer is a good idea. A good oil-based primer can seal in the wood tannins so they don’t bleed-through later and yellow your paint.
It’s also a good idea to start with primer if you are painting raw wood chairs or if you are using a paint that requires primer (like latex paint).
I know primer can be confusing so I have a whole post answering all of your primer questions if you want more info.
I was able to skip primer for my chairs because I was painting light wood chairs a dark color and the paint I used doesn’t require primer.
Painting Furniture with a Paint Sprayer
To paint these chairs, I used the Homeright Super Finish Max Paint Sprayer. I really like this paint sprayer for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it plugs right into an extension cord, so you don’t need an air compressor. (Which I don’t have, so that is a big bonus.)
I also like that it can handle most paints and sealers without thinning them with water. Not having to worry about figuring out the right amount of water to add to your paint really simplifies things. This sprayer comes with a few different spray tips and nozzles to work with different types of stains, paints, and sealers and the instruction manual makes it very easy to figure out which you need to use for your paint.
I used General Finishes milk paint to paint my chairs and it sprayed beautifully. General Finishes milk paint is one of my favorite paints to use for furniture because it gives a really nice, durable finish. It’s really easy to work with, goes on smoothly, and doesn’t require a separate primer.
When you are ready to paint, just stir your paint well and add it to the reservoir of your paint sprayer.
When you’re using your paint sprayer, make sure that you hold it facing the furniture you’re painting head on and then slowly move it back and forth across the furniture, slightly overlapping each paint stroke.
first coat of paint
Painting each coat of paint takes less than one minute which is magical.
Once your first coat of paint has dried to the touch, you can turn your chairs around to more easily reach the sides and the back.
second coat of paint
Then turn them upside down so that you can paint the underside of all of the rungs and legs.
When you’re painting any furniture you should expect to need at least two coats, sometimes three, to get really nice, even coverage. Just remember to let the paint dry completely between coats.
Sealing your Chairs
Once you’re last coat of paint has dried, it’s time to put on a coat of sealer or top coat. You don’t always have to seal painted furniture but it is usually a good idea unless your furniture is just going to be sitting in the corner, purely decorative. A good sealer will keep your paint job looking good for a long time. (I have a post with lots of good sealer options if you want more info.)
I used one of my favorite sealers for these chairs – General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in satin finish.
Before spraying on the sealer, I did need to change out the tip on my paint sprayer. This is really easy to do using the little wrench that comes included with your sprayer. If this part makes you nervous, you can see how this process looks in the video below. It’s really quite simple.
You’ll need at least two coats of sealer to make sure that your paint finish is really protected. Once your sealer has dried, be extra careful handling your furniture for the first few weeks.
My last step was reattaching the chair seats and then the chairs were ready to go.
The painted chairs
I’m so happy with how these chairs turned out. The black paint looks beautiful and the finish is absolutely flawless. And it was so, so much easier and faster using the paint sprayer than trying to do it with a paint brush.
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- Wooden chairs in need of paint
- 220 grit sandpaper
- Oil-based primer
- Drop cloths or spray shelter
- Paint sprayer
- Protect the area where you will be painting with a spray shelter or drop cloths.
- If the chairs have a cloth or woven seat, remove that first.
- Clean the chairs well to remove any dust, dirt, and grease.
- If your chairs have peeling paint, be sure to sand off any loose paint before painting.
- If you are painting dark wood chairs white, or another very light color, you should prime the chairs with a sealing primer before painting. Let dry.
- Stir your paint well and add it to the reservoir of your paint sprayer.
- Hold the sprayer facing the furniture you’re painting head on, and slowly move it back and forth across the furniture, slightly overlapping each paint stroke.
- Once the first coat of paint has dried to the touch, turn your chairs around to paint the sides and back.
- Turn them upside down so you can paint the underside of all of the rungs and legs.
- You will need at least 2-3 light coats of paint.
- Once the final coat of paint has dried, add 2 coats of sealer or top coat using your paint sprayer.
- If you removed the seats before painting, reattach them.
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HomeRight Large Spray Shelter C900038 Portable Paint Booth for DIY Spray Painting, Hobby Paint Booth Tool Painting Station, Spray Paint Tent, Spray Booth
General Finishes Water Based Milk Paint, 1 Quart, Lamp Black
Rust-Oleum 3554 Zinsser High Hide Cover Stain Primer and Sealer, White
Fandeli 36027 220 Grit Multipurpose Sandpaper Sheets, 9" x 11", 25-Sheet