Trust me, because I've made them too! I learned these things the hard way so that (hopefully) you don't have to.
Mistake #1 - Not prepping your piece!
Now, I know you're excited to get started and the nightstands you found for cheap on Facebook Marketplace look spic and span, but that doesn't mean they're ready for paint. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started painting furniture was not prepping my pieces well. Or sometimes not prepping them at all!
What do I mean when I say prep?
When I talk about preparing wood furniture for paint or stain, what I'm really talking about is cleaning. You want to remove any invisible dust, dirt, or grime that might be on the furniture's surface before you do anything else to ensure a really consistent and long-lasting final result.
But what about no-prep paint??
I like to say "no-prep paint, no such thing." I even made a whole video about my thoughts on this potentially misleading marketing strategy—click here to watch. Basically, you always need some amount of prep work.
These are a few products that I LOVE for furniture cleaning.
Krud Kutter - a degreaser/deglosser. It's an all-in-one and it's pre-mixed so you can just spray straight from the bottle. I'd recommend wiping down with a clean cloth with water after cleaning to make sure you catch any last residue this may leave behind.
Fusion Mineral Paint TSP Alternative (use my code BORNINABARNFMP for a discount!)- You'll definitely want to follow the instructions on the back of this one - it's a concentrate that you can mix in your own bottle with water, so this bottle will last you a long time! Like the Krud Kutter, I'd recommend wiping down with a clean cloth with water after cleaning to make sure you catch any last residue this may leave behind.
Lilly Moon Paint Furniture Prep (use my code BORNINABARN10 for a discount!) - This one's been my go-to for a while! Like the Fusion TSP Alternative, this is also a concentrate. The best part of this one is that because it's residue-free, you don't need to wipe down your furniture with water afterward.
After thoroughly cleaning my furniture, I like to go back in with a Scotch Brite pad for one last cleaning, then wipe everything off with paper towels. This step isn't necessary, but it gives me a little extra layer of reassurance that I got my piece perfectly clean.
Mistake #2 - Not checking your hardware!
This is another easily avoidable mistake that I myself have made! Now, I make sure that this is part of my normal workflow when preparing furniture for paint.
When you're bringing in a piece to make over—whether it's coming from the side of the road or a client's home—always check over the hardware and any moving parts to make sure they're in good shape! There's nothing worse than having a beautiful, finished piece and having to figure out how to fix a drawer slider without scratching anything!
Mistake #3 - Not priming!
Yes, another step before you start painting. But it's worth it!
You don't need to prime every single piece. But in certain circumstances, it will make a HUGE difference in the longevity and appearance of your end result.
When to prime:
If you're planning to use bright white paint, a primer will keep any imperfections or off colors from bleeding through.
If you potentially have one of those "bleeder" species of wood—mahogany, golden oak, red oak, cherry, etc. No matter how many coats of paint you do, the tannins in these wood species can still soak through! A good stain-blocking primer like Lilly Moon Eclipse Stain Blocker or anything with a shellac base will do wonders in preventing that.
When you're looking for better adhesion! If you try to paint directly on a slick surface, the paint may not be able to hold against everyday use. (Try it out! You can do what's called the scratch test to see how well your paint adheres to the surface. Just scratch a little piece with your fingernail to see if the paint sticks or peels up.)
Bin 123 - A good general-purpose primer in a spray can, which goes on much nicer than a brush. I use this when I have wood with a heavier grain or light scratches that I need to fill.
Zinsser Shellac Primer - Best for preventing bleed-through!
Fusion Mineral Paint Ultra Grip - This is a bonding primer that goes on clear so you can actually distress through it. The grip of this makes it great for slick surfaces or non-wood surfaces like laminates.
Note - Use caution when applying bonding primers with a brush! It can be difficult to clean out and may cause damage to your brushes.
Mistake #4 - Thinning your paint!
I should clarify—thinning your paint isn't always a bad thing! If you're spraying your paint, you may need to thin it slightly so that it moves through the sprayer more easily. However, I recommend not thinning your paint if you're brushing or rolling. It can be very tricky to add water without getting your paint too thin. Adding a new substance like water into your paint can also introduce microorganisms or bacteria that can negatively impact the life of your paint jar. It will also lead to more runs and drips on your finished piece.
I've found that one of the best ways to prevent runs and drips (other than by not thinning your paint) is painting with a damp brush! Grab your brush, run it under water, then wring it out so that it's wet, but not dripping. When applying paint, the damp brush will help you get a nice, smooth finish.
I also love using a fine mist spray bottle filled with water. I'll spray water over my piece to help my paint go on nice and smooth. A fine mist spray bottle is key here because it puts out (as the name suggests) a very fine mist rather than larger droplets that could disturb your paint surface.
Mistake #5 - Using the wrong topcoat on white!
Probably my second most frequently asked question and an issue that affects every single person in this industry! Should you top coat over white paint?
This is a topic that deserves a whole blog post on its own (and is the subject of a few videos on my channel here and here!), so we'll just cover the basics. In my experience, even top coats that claim to be non-yellowing can still yellow over time.
First of all, I always use a water-based topcoat with paint. Anything with an oil base will yellow over time. I would also recommend using a stain-blocking primer before painting.
When you're ready to add that water-based topcoat, you can pour some of your white paint into the topcoat to help boost the color.
Mistake #6 - Not caring for your brushes!
Brushes are an investment. One of the biggest mistakes everyone tends to make, especially as a beginner, is not taking care of their brushes.
At this point, I have a wide array of brushes in my workshop. Some of them I've even had since the very beginning of my business in 2015 and they still have a ton of life left! How have they lasted this long? Because I take the time to care for them.
Brush care tips:
Try to avoid laying your brushes flat or standing them up. This will make the bristles start to fan out because of the water weighing them down as it dries. Hang your brushes to keep your bristles' shape.
Use a brush cleaner. I like either this one by Fusion Mineral Paint or this one by Lilly Moon Paint, but Dawn dish soap will also get the job done really well. If you have paint or primer on your brush that doesn't want to budge (has anyone else accidentally left a brush uncovered overnight? 🙋🏻♀️), those brush cleaners I mentioned before can help or you can try a little bit of mineral spirits.
Nice quality tools are an investment that can really pay off. Take care of your tools and they'll take care of you. While we're on the subject, let's talk about the actual technique of painting with a brush.
Mistake #7 - Overloading your brush!
Something I see all too often (and definitely did as a beginner!) is people loading their brushes up too heavy with paint. You don't need to load your brush as full as it can be with paint. It won't save you time and will lead to runs, drips, and mess.
This is what an overloaded brush looks like:
This is what a properly loaded brush should look like:
The last mistake that a lot of people make (and I did two in the first few years!) is not top coating your pieces.
A topcoat adds extra longevity and durability that will extend the life of the piece. Now I know that there are tons of products on the market today that have a built-in topcoat, which definitely extends the life of the paint. Even with a built-in topcoat, I typically still add an extra topcoat on my painted furniture to make sure that they last a lifetime (especially for high-traffic areas!).
Have you made any of these mistakes? What is your best advice for new furniture artists? Comment below to tell us!