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Beginner's Guide to Thrift Flips!

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

If you're looking for a way to make extra income, find a new hobby, or start a business, try flipping furniture! Let's take a look at how you can build skills, confidence, and income as a beginner furniture artist.

My #1 tip for your first furniture makeover is to START SMALL! A small piece like an end table will help you learn all the skills you need to work larger with a quick turnaround time for that (almost) instant gratification we all love so much. It also requires less of an investment upfront in case you find out that furniture isn't your calling!

We'll work through this furniture makeover assuming that it's your very first piece. I'll break down what you will and won't want to buy to keep your initial investment as small as possible. The most expensive product of the whole project will be your paint! Keep reading to the end for a full cost breakdown.

Step 1: Find Your Furniture

I find a lot of my furniture on Facebook Marketplace, but it's always good to keep an eye out on sites like NextDoor, Craigslist, OfferUp, and even locally at places like Habitat ReStore. Generally, you'll want to look for solid wood pieces in good starting condition for the lowest cost possible (lower cost = higher profit!).

Tip - Keep a copy of my Buying Guide handy as a reference. It breaks down how much I'm typically willing to spend on different types of furniture. Just remember that it's a ballpark guide for my area (Northern California) so prices may differ slightly depending on where you live.

For my Beginner's Guide video, I found this piece on Facebook marketplace listed for $40 and reached out to the seller to see if they would be willing to take less. It's always worth asking—the worst that can happen is they say no!

This is how I phrased my conversation with the seller →

After I initially reached out, I took a closer look at the photo and noticed that the top was separating from the base, so I mentioned that to him as well!

Once I felt confident that he'd fixed the issue (less work for me!), we settled on a price.

When you have a price determined, you can get down to the details—payment methods, location, and timing.

You'll most likely be the one going to pick up the piece, so make sure you come prepared with moving blankets, a dolly, straps, and maybe even a second person to make sure you can safely (for you and the furniture!) transport the piece back to your workspace.

Step 2: Furniture Prep

Before you do ANYTHING else, just take an inventory of any dents, dings, scratches, and the overall functionality of your piece. If it has a drawer—does it slide easily? If it has doors—do they open and close properly?

Don't rush through this prep stage! The better your starting surface, the better your painted finish, and the more money you'll make from the finished piece.

This stage may require buying a few products, so we'll pick the lowest-cost products that will still yield quality results and will last you through many projects.

Because the seller already fixed the major issue on this piece, I really only needed to fill in some dents and dings with wood putty (you may even have some of this around your house already). After it dries, you can hit those spots with a sanding pad or a little sandpaper to smooth out any raised areas. Once the paint goes on, you'll never know the scratches were there!

Now that our scratches are fixed, it's time to give your furniture a good clean and remove the drawers for painting.

Optional step: Scuff sanding. If you're starting with a piece that's very slick or glossy, you may want to start by giving it a quick scuff sand to help your paint stick. Just quickly rub a sanding pad over the whole piece then continue to the next step. You can also scuff sand after cleaning! Just be sure to wipe away any lingering sawdust with a dry rag before you move on.

We'll use Krud Kutter and paper towels to remove any surface grime (you can use this to clean around your house, too!).

Note - even if your piece looks clean, it can still be holding onto dirt and oils that will affect your painted surface!

To clean, just spray directly on the piece and wipe it down with your paper towels. If your piece has drawers, take them all the way out to clean inside and out to make sure every inch of your furniture is clean. I always recommend finishing this step by wiping everything down with a clean, damp (with water only) rag to grab any remaining residue.

Another optional step: Depending on the wood species, the initial quality of your piece, and your paint color, you may need to prime first. You don't always need to prime the whole thing, either! You may only need to hit a few spots if you sanded down to bare wood to fix some gouges. For white paint, I do recommend priming the full piece to help with overall coverage. You can use any primer to start out, but I recommend these:

- Lilly Moon Eclipse Bonding Primer (use code BORNINABARN10)

- Fusion Mineral Paint Ultra Grip (use code BORNINABARNFMP)

Step 3: Paint!

For your first project, you certainly don't need to tackle sanding, staining, and painting all in one, but we'll cover the basics of each so that you have the knowledge to take them on when you're ready.

The most expensive part of this project will be your paint. There is a huge range of paints on the market at all different price points, so choose a paint of the highest quality within your budget. Here are a few of my favorite paint brands (in no particular order!):

- Fusion Mineral Paint (use code BORNINABARNFMP)

- Melange Paints (use code BARN10)

If you've seen my videos or Instagram, you'll know that I spray probably 95% of my pieces. But as a beginning painter, you don't need to invest in a spray system to get a nice finish! It all comes down to using a quality synthetic brush and a little technique. A really good, economical brush option is Zibra. I love their brushes and use them often! If cared for, they'll last for years and provide a great finish.

Before you start painting, you'll want to elevate your piece so you can cover the bottoms of the legs evenly and prevent any sticking or unnecessary mess. The cheapest and most effective tool for this is pieces of scrap wood under each foot.

Especially when you're working on a small piece, a thin trim brush will be perfect. Start painting your first coat with the edges and trim before moving on to the broad surfaces. At some point while painting, take a moment to lay the piece on its back. This will help you see the underside of any grooves or edges that might you might have missed when painting straight on.

Tip: For outer corners, you can avoid overlap and buildup by painting around the corner as pictured, then running your finger along the outer side to wipe off excess.

One of the most important things to note about your first coat is that it is NOT going to be pretty. If it looks splotchy, streaky, or you have a lot of peek-through—you did it right! The first coat is just laying down the foundation for the later coat or coats that will really build up your coverage. Some paints, like the Fusion Mineral Paint I used in the video linked to this post, have great coverage. You may only see a few brush strokes after your first coat.

Tip: Wrap your brush in plastic wrap to keep it from drying out between coats.

Wait for your first coat to dry (check the specific instructions on your paint for your recoat times) then go in for a second coat. Let's take a look at the first coat and second coat side-by-side so you can see the difference it makes!

Tip - After applying your first coat of paint, you may notice some blemishes that you missed when cleaning. When your first coat is dry, go in with a little wood putty to fill. Sand it down with something smoother like 320-grit sandpaper and you're good as new!

As soon as it's all dry, I'll put the piece back on its feet and push the drawers back in.

Step 4 (optional): Special Finishes


On most of my pieces, I paint or stain the top with a different finish from the body of the furniture. If you're not quite ready for this yet, paint the top as you did the body and move on to step 5!

I always like to do the top of each piece AFTER painting the base. For me, it makes cleanup easier and suits my workflow better.

If you have an orbital sander (I recommend this one for beginners), this is the perfect time to get it out. If you don't and aren't ready to invest in any power tools yet, you can 100% do this by hand! It'll just take a little bit longer and a little more elbow grease.

There's a little bit of a process I follow when sanding solid wood (note - if you are sanding veneer, you cannot be as aggressive or use as coarse a sandpaper to start).

How do I know if I'm working with solid wood?

The first thing I do to find out whether a piece is solid wood or veneer is go around to the back. This area in the photo will be your best indicator. If this piece was NOT solid wood, you'd see the pressboard or MDF here.

You're not trying to remove all of the existing finish with your first grit. You want to work through several grits, especially when working with an orbital sander. This will prevent swirl marks in your wood that come from putting too much pressure. As you progress in grits, you'll also be able to remove any swirl marks from the previous step.

Here's the order I follow when sanding solid wood down to bare wood:

  1. 80-100 grit

  2. 120 grit

  3. 150 grit

150 grit will be nice and smooth without affecting the stain's ability to penetrate. You can go up to 180 for an even smoother finish, but I wouldn't recommend going any higher as it can affect how your stain imparts on the wood.


For your first staining project, you'll probably want to start with a one-color, all-over stain to get a feel for the technique and product. I use a lot of different stains based on the piece, but a few of my go-to's are:

You'll also need a foam brush and white rags to apply and wipe back your stain.

To apply, use your foam brush to evenly apply your stain across the top surface. I typically let stain sit 1-2 minutes then I start wiping back, following the direction of the woodgrain (that part is super important). I'll also flip my rag with each pass to that it's always clean and I'm not continually dragging more product across the surface. Keep going until you get all that excess product off. Check the directions on your product for the re-coat wait times, then add a second coat if you'd like a deeper color.

Step 5: Topcoat

I typically wait until the next day before adding topcoat to a piece, especially after staining. This step is also optional depending on the products you used! I recommend always adding a topcoat if your piece will be in a high-traffic area.

Apply the topcoat with your brush like you did the paint. Recoat per your topcoat's instructions and your piece will last a lifetime!


Let's take a look at what you can expect for your initial investment (assuming you have no supplies on hand).

Estimated Cost Breakdown (paint + topcoat):

Solid Maple nightstand $25

*Wood Putty $11.99

*Krud Kutter $13.10

*Sanding Pads $15.99

*Primer $6.19

*Paintbrush $10.95

*Lilly Moon Mineral Paint $13.99 (8oz)

*Lilly Moon Stellar Shield $25.99


Total: $123.20

*Starred items will last through multiple projects

Whether you're getting ready to paint for the first time or a seasoned furniture artist, I hope you found something in this guide that is helpful for you! You CAN start refinishing furniture to make extra money or just to decorate your home with only a minimal investment.

I can tell you, as someone who started this exact same way—I now many years later run a full-time sustainable business refinishing furniture.

1 Comment

Feb 21, 2023

Thank you so much for this information! I am currently redoing several pieces of furniture in my home to see if I really want to do this as a business!

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