How to Paint Wood Furniture without Sanding

Join me as I take you through the essential steps of how to paint wood furniture without sanding…

We’ve all been there. You’re sick of your old, beat-up furniture and you want to give it a new look without breaking the bank.

But, painting just doesn’t seem like an option because you don’t have the time or patience for all that prep work!

It can be tempting to shell out cash for some pre-painted pieces but there are ways around this too.

I’m here to show you how to paint furniture without sanding, stripping or priming first – so you won’t lose your mind in the process!

Purple Painted Kids Dresser

Can You Paint Over Varnished Wood Without Sanding?

The answer is yes, you can paint over varnished wood!

The process won’t take much more than if your furniture was unsealed.

As a best practice, you can rough up the surface with some sandpaper so that it has something for the new color to stick onto.

However, if you use the right products, even this step can often be skipped.

What Kind of Paint Can You Use on Furniture Without Sanding?

For best results, use a chalky finish furniture paint to paint furniture without sanding because it’s easier to clean up, dries faster and is specifically formulated to adhere to almost any surface, including an existing finish or varnish!

What is Chalky Finish Furniture Paint?

Chalky finish furniture paint is made up of chalk or calcium carbonate and all natural minerals mixed into acrylic binders.

This makes it similar to how plaster works – creating a hard, dry surface that can be scratched off relatively easily and which will then need painting again in order to continue with the design process.

The main advantage of this type of paint if you’re doing DIY projects on your own home? It’s ease of use!

Chalky Finish Furniture Paint can be applied directly to the surface; no matter the kind of surface.

The additional ingredients found in chalky finish paint (versus regular latex paint you’ll find at your local home improvement store) are what make it adhere to almost any surface.

What You’ll Need for this Project:

The number one question I hear when I say you can paint furniture without sanding is, “How is it possible to paint a finished surface without sanding?” 

The answer is simple: Chalky Finish Furniture Paint 

Simply put, Chalky Finish Furniture Paint has been formulated with the necessary ingredients that allow the product to be applied directly on a finished surface.  

Varnish, polycrylic, you name it, Chalky Finish Furniture Paint work on darn near all surfaces and pre-existing finishes. 

Just follow these steps:

Step by Step Process: How to Paint Wood Furniture without Sanding

Step 1: Clean the Surface

To start, clean the furniture with a surface cleaner or soap and water. This removes any dirt or oil that may have accumulated on the wood.

For deep cleaning, you can use paint thinner to remove stubborn stains from years of wear and tear.

To make sure things are extra sparkly for when we’re done applying our new coat, let’s take some time now to lightly scrub away tough spots like scuffs and scratches using lacquer thinner (or another type), an old toothbrush, and a rag.

Steps to create an even nicer finish (optional): Apply wood filler such as spackle for areas that need more attention. This will help cover deep scratches and severe damage from previous paint jobs (or just normal wear over time). Let it dry before applying your new coat of paint!

Step 2: Apply Necessary Coats of Chalky Finish Furniture Paint

After you’ve cleaned the surface, it’s time to apply your first coat of paint.

Using the proper paint brush is critical if you want a smooth finish. The best brush for painted furniture is a synthetic bristle brush.

I recommend using a light touch when applying this layer so that there are no drips or over-spills!

Just brush on and let dry. Dry time ranges from 30 minutes to an hour. You will know it is dry once there is no “wet” look (or “shine”) on the surface.

Repeat as needed until you reach the desired coverage level. Full coverage is usually achieved in two coats but some projects may require more.

Steps to create an even nicer finish (optional): After each coat is dry, lightly sand the painted surface (with 220 or higher grit sandpaper) for the ultimate silky smooth finish.

Tips on the First Coat of Furniture Paint:

Don’t worry about being perfect here.  I recommend you apply the paint with the grain (assuming there is a grain).

Keep the brush strokes long and going the same direction, when possible. 

Do NOT (I repeat, NOT) worry about coverage at this point.  

Apply Furniture Paint is similar to applying nail polish…you want the first coat to be thin as it is more about getting the ‘base’ on the surface, and not about perfect coverage. 

And again, do not worry about perfection on the first coat.

Here is a picture of the first coat of Cast Iron Furniture Paint on our kitchen island cabinets.  

See how thin and not perfect it is?  That is a-ok in the world of Furniture Paint. 

Paint Furniture without Sanding

Allow the first coat of paint to dry completely before moving to the next step.

Dry time is anywhere from 20 minutes (warm, dry climates) to 45 minutes (cool, damp climates) 

You will know its dry once the paint has ‘flat’ or ‘matte’ look (ie: not shiny)

Tips on the Second+ Coat of Furniture Paint

The second coat is where the magic happens. 

There have been times where readers worry like crazy that the first coat was way too thin and there is no way that the second coat will ‘fix’ the uneven tone and wonky look…have no fear, my friends, trust the process and all will be well, I promise.

The second coat of Furniture Paint should be applied more liberally.  

Make sure your paint brush is always wet with paint and apply in the same direction as much as possible. 

Just make sure to catch any paint drips (and try to avoid them when possible). 

Fixing dried up drips can be challenging, so it’s always best to correct them while they are wet.  

Paint drips commonly happen in the corners and details of furniture pieces so keep your eyes peeled! 

See what I mean?  The picture below is a comparison of the first coat versus the second coat.  The second coat went on like magic, even though the first coat was looking pretty rough. 

First coat and second coat comp furniture paint

Allow the second coat to dry.  

Typically two coats of Furniture Paint does the trick.  But if you find additional coats are needed, simply repeat the application steps.   

If your piece just has little areas here and there that need a touch up, and you’re going for a super sleek modern look, only focus on the areas that need a touch up (rather than painting an all around coat) to minimize wasted paint.

Step 4: Protect Your Newly Painted Surface 

Using the same analogy as before, applying a top coat to your fresh finger nail polish ensures a longer lasting result.

Same goes for painted furniture. 

Do you HAVE to protect your painted furniture in every scenario? No.

But if you do, your hard work will last longer. 

You don’t need to wait any longer than the final coat being totally dry to protect your piece.  

Some people wait overnight before protecting the finish, and that is totally fine too.

You have 2 protection options: All Natural Furniture Wax or Protective Finish Clear Top Coat 

Protect Painted Furniture

To read in detail when to use which product, check out our post How to Protect Painted Furniture 

Use Protective Finish on high traffic surfaces (think tables, kitchen cabinets, etc..)

Use All Natural Furniture Wax on low traffic surfaces (think wall decor, guest bedroom furniture, etc..)

When deciding which protectant to use, select Furniture Wax OR Protective Finish, not both.  

The ingredients are not compatible with each other, but choosing either one will protect your newly painted piece beautifully! 

For wax application, you can use a lint free cloth (old clean t-shirt or equivalent) or cheese cloth 

Protective Finish works best when brushed or sprayed on.  If you have a paint sprayer, like this one (LOVE HomeRight products!) this will be the quickest method.

If you’re not into spraying (eh-hem, like yours truly) the most common Protective Finish application is to simply brush it on with the same Synthetic Bristle Paint Brush used to apply the paint (ensure it is clean and dry before use).

Or, if you want a super smooth application and finish (without using a sprayer), use a foam roller like this one on flat surfaces and an applicator sponge like this one for surfaces with depth or texture.  

Distressing Painted Wood Furniture

If you want to have a more aged, rustic feel then distressing is the way to go. This involves using sandpaper or other rough objects (such as scrap metal and wire brushes) with varying degrees of pressure against the surface until it reaches your desired look.

The key here is how much effort you put into it: light brushing will leave an almost transparent coat whereas really scrubbing in tight areas will take off layers of paint!

I won’t get into the details of distressing furniture in this post, but if you’d like to learn how to distress your piece, click here to read about the various ways to distress your furniture. 

DIY Painting Tips For How To Paint Wood Furniture Without Sanding:

– Try to brush out any excess paint from your bristles before starting on another piece of furniture so that it doesn’t dry onto them and create an uneven application.

– Use masking tape when painting large pieces with awkward shapes (like chairs). This will make sure there are no drips along edges like arms or legs where they could be difficult to clean up later!

Cure Time

You may have heard of a thing called ‘cure time’.  If you’re not familiar with the term, simply put, it the time paint needs to get to its strongest point.

It is different from dry time and the average cure time is 2-4 weeks. All this means is you should treat your newly painted piece with care and caution.

Cure time also applies to the top coat and wax.

Brush Storage

You may be working on a BIG project that you’ll be taking a break from for a few hours or even overnight.

In times like these, you do not need to completely wash out your brush.

You can simply wrap the wet bristles in thick Kraft paper and place the entire brush in a zip lock bag.  Then, place it in the fridge and it will stay wet for several hours (the max I’ve left mine is about 12 hours and it was fine).

The best part about how painting wood furniture without sanding, stripping and priming is how quick and easy it can be!

You’ll likely spend more time thinking about how you want things laid out than doing all the prep work.

Now that we’ve gone over some basics about how painting furniture can be done without any prep work beforehand and given tips on how best to do this process…let’s talk supplies!

How to Paint Wood Furniture Without Sanding Conclusion

You don’t need to sand, strip or prime furniture before painting it – halleluiah!

The process won’t take much more than if your furniture was unsealed and you can always rough up the surface with some sandpaper so that it has something for the new color to stick onto.

Use a chalky finish paint for best results because this is how most people associate how old-fashioned shabby chic looks like in their head!

And using these paints will make life a lot easier by not requiring multiple coats and less prep work overall.

There you have it!  The step by step process to paint furniture without sanding beforehand.

Have a tip or question?  Leave it in the comments section below!

Until next time,




How to Paint Furniture without Sanding

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