Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky Homestead | July 4, 2013

Furniture Prep at the Small House

I know that chalk paint is advertised as a “no prep” paint. But my husband (the woodshop wizard) and I are just plain fussy. We want to put our best foot forward furniture wise and I want my customers to get a lot of “value” for their purchase. So we do a LOT of prep work before I begin to paint.

Here’s a 1950’s/60’s five drawer dresser as an example of the prep work we collaborated on. The friend who gave this dresser to me thought it was pine but my husband the wood worker thinks it is tulip poplar.


Dresser after stripping, sanding and one coat of chalk paint.

This piece was cleaned, dismantled, thoroughly sanded, reassembled and then painted and waxed, the top will be stained and sealed. The shield-shaped, cast metal drawer pulls were in excellent shape so I just cleaned and waxed them and re-used them. That is my preference whenever possible. These pulls are a lovely, neutral galvanized tone and that is perfect color for my combo of ACSP Antibes green with dark wax and dark Jacobean stained top.


The dresser before with its ten shield-shaped drawer pulls.

Each piece is different and depending on what the finish is and its condition it requires a different technique. My husband works in his unheated pole barn workshop or outside under the overhang when possible. Usually we remove any hardware and vacuum the piece well to remove cobwebs and spider eggs, dirt and dust. Then we clean it well with Murphy’s Wood Soap or put it out in the sun for several warm days to air out.


A close up of the Antibes green as it is drying.

Gene starts by hand-sanding the piece with a block and 100 grit sandpaper. If his sandpaper clogs up, he will turn to his heat gun technique.  If the heat gun is not working to his satisfaction he will turn to stripping the piece using a purchased product. When he is stripping the piece he typically uses what ever brand of furniture stripper he has on hand or is testing at the moment.


Stripper, wood filler and my favorite stiff cleaning brush.

Once the finish is removed he then begins working on any needed repairs. This typically mean gluing or rebuilding a drawers, filling in any missing veneer and a lot more sanding.

Sanding is done in stages; starting with 100 grit sandpaper and sanding the entire piece. Then he used 120 grit over the entire piece. The same with 200 grit and then he hand-sands with 320 grit. He uses a finishing sander first with 100 grit and then turns to one of his two orbital sanders, using first one with 120 grit sandpaper followed by the second sanders with 220 grit.

If he knows I am using stain he wipes the piece down with Mineral Spirits. That product removes all the sanding dust.

Then the piece is moved across our property in our garden cart to my painting studio and I begin the more decorative part of the project. I begin with using a stiff brush to completely remove anything that may be left.

At this point I either paint, stain or finish the piece according to what the wood tell me it requires. I have a general idea of what I would like to do when I start to work on a piece but I also listen to the mood and condition of the furniture as well.

If the piece has some outstanding wood grain on it and is in good shape, I am likely to leave that section natural, stain it and Varathane it. I typically prefer a matt finish which give the piece plenty of protection and a medium shine.

However, experience has shown me that if a piece has veneer or a big chunk of wood missing I am better off painting that top and waxing it. I use both clear and dark wax and since I like dark wax directly over the chalk paint, this is how I finish a piece about 85% of the time.

Stay tuned for the “after” pictures of this dresser…soon to be unveiled.

Linking to:

1) Lilyfield Life

2) The Weathered Door

Small House / Big Sky Donna


  1. thanks for linking up your furniture prep tutorial at my Paint Parade
    have a lovely weekend

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