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How to Upcycle Furniture: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Upcycling furniture is a fantastic way to breathe new life into old, dated, or worn-out pieces whilst also contributing to reducing landfill waste.

Whether you're a seasoned upcycler or just starting out, I'm here to support you on your creative journey and this is my tried and trusted Beginner's Guide to Upcycling Furniture to ensure you will get the very best out of your projects.

By adding your own personal touch, you can transform furniture into unique and stylish pieces for your home.

Read on to learn how!

painting a wooden chair
Revamp an old chair to give it a new look

Step One - Choose the Furniture Piece

It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but you need to choose a piece of furniture.

Try finding one that “speaks” to you.  If you’re in love with the piece from the beginning, you’ll love the process, so, whether it's an old chair hiding in your attic or a hidden gem waiting to be discovered at a local charity shop, make sure you love it.

Oh, and remember to look for pieces with good structural integrity in need of some TLC.

A few good indicators of quality pieces are:

·         Solid wood rather than veneer.

·         Dovetailed joints.

·         Sturdy frame.

·         No signs of warping or bug infestation.

Dovetail joints on a drawer
Dovetail Joints on a Drawer

Step Two - Gather Your Materials

You'll need:

  • Sandpaper

  • Furniture Paint or Stain 

  • Brushes or rollers

  • Primer (optional)

  • Furniture Wax or Varnish Top Coat 

  • Tools (screwdrivers, hammers, etc.) 

  • Hardware (knobs, handles, legs) if replacements are desired. See my shop for a fantastic range of Tools & Accessories.

Safety Precautions: Before diving into your project, prioritise safety. Wear protective gear like gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eyes. Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes from paint or solvents. Properly dispose of materials like paint cans and solvents according to local regulations.

Furniture Painting Supplies
Examples of Furniture Painting Supplies you will need

Step Three - Prepare the Furniture

Next, we need to get naked… well the furniture does!

Remove old hardware: Take off any old knobs, handles, or other hardware if replacing them.

Clean: Thoroughly clean the piece to remove dirt, grease, or old wax finishes, ensuring a proper surface for paint adhesion. Diluted Sugar Soap or dishwashing solution works well for cleaning.

Ensure the wood is completely dry before proceeding.

Cleaning furniture
Thoroughly cleaning ensures the paint will adhere

Step Four - Prime the Piece

Now for a little elbow grease!

Lightly sand the furniture.  This will help improve paint or stain adherence.  Start with coarse grit sandpaper and progress to a finer grit for a smoother finish.

It may be necessary to apply a primer, especially for darker woods to prevent tannin bleed-through. Shellac-based primers like Zinsser BIN provide excellent adhesion.

Shellac primer for furniture painting
Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer to prevent bleedthrough

Step Five - Paint or Stain the Furniture

Let the fun begin…..

With your chosen paint colour, apply paint evenly with a brush or roller, adding additional coats as needed, allowing each coat to dry completely.

Or, if you are applying stain with a brush or cloth, wipe off the excess and let it dry.

Have some fun by experimenting with various types of paints such as mineral paint, chalk-based paint, or milk paint, each offering unique finishes.

Match the paint with a suitable brush or consider using a microfiber roller for a smoother finish.

Most pieces will require 2-3 coats of paint for full coverage.

Use painters tape to cover areas that you don’t want painted or to give you clean lines for that professional looking finish.

Step Six - Seal the Furniture


After painting or staining, protect your work by applying furniture wax or sealant.

Choose a protection product based on the type of paint applied and the intended use of the piece.

For heavily used surfaces like dining tables, opt for a durable varnish topcoat, while wax may suffice for less frequently used items.

Follow manufacturer's instructions for drying and curing times.

Hand painted dining chair in blue
Revamped Dining Chair

Tools & Accessories

I’m a firm believer that if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and that starts with the best products you can afford.  If you would like to get your hands on products that I use day in and day out then take a look at my shop.

I only stock products that are approved and used by me to ensure a brilliant finish for each project. From mini foam paint rollers to decorative wooden mouldings, you'll find everything you need to personalise your furniture pieces. Here are some of my favourites:

·         Foam Brushes

·         Blue Sponge Applicator

·         Posh Chalk Stencils

·         Posh Chalk Decoupage Papers

·         Posh Chalk Brushes

·         Posh Chalk Pastes


I hope you loved this Beginner's Guide to Upcycling Furniture.

Remember upcycling furniture is a creative process, so don't hesitate to experiment with different techniques, colours, and styles.

If you would like to receive more Furniture Painting tips and advice, sign up to the mailing list at the bottom of the page.

Have fun transforming your furniture and remember to share your creations on our Furniture Painting Facebook Group to inspire others!


I'm just starting out, where can I find really great pieces for upcycling?

As a beginner, there are several places you can explore to find furniture pieces for your upcycling projects. Local charity shops and markets are excellent places to start your search. You can often find unique and affordable pieces with good potential for upcycling. Online marketplaces such as Gumtree, eBay and Facebook Marketplace are also treasure troves for finding furniture in need of a makeover.

Remember, if possible, to inspect each piece carefully for structural integrity and potential before making a purchase.

With a bit of patience and perseverance, you'll soon build up a collection of furniture waiting to be transformed into something beautiful.

Are there any specific pieces I should be looking out for, for example, any specific manufacturers or eras?

While there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, some furniture pieces are more conducive to upcycling than others. Look for solid wood pieces with sturdy construction and classic designs that can be easily updated with paint or new hardware.

Mid-century modern furniture from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as pieces from reputable manufacturers like Stag or Nathan, often provide excellent bases for upcycling projects.

However, don't limit yourself to specific eras or brands—keep an open mind and let your creativity guide you as you search for the perfect piece to transform.

What are red flags when it comes to choosing the right piece?

When selecting furniture for upcycling, be on the lookout for certain red flags that may indicate potential problems down the line. Avoid pieces with significant structural damage, such as wobbly legs or cracked joints, as these issues can be difficult and costly to repair.

Similarly, be cautious of furniture with extensive water damage, mold, or signs of pest infestation, as these issues may not be easily remedied.

Additionally, avoid pieces made from low-quality materials like particleboard or laminate, as they may not hold up well to the upcycling process.

By carefully inspecting each piece before purchasing, you can avoid potential headaches and ensure a successful upcycling project.

How long should I leave between each coat of paint or finish?

The drying time between coats of paint or finish can vary depending on several factors, including the type of paint or finish used, the ambient temperature and humidity, and the thickness of each coat applied.

In general, most paints and finishes will require at least 4 -6 hours to dry fully between coats. However, it's essential to consult the manufacturer's instructions for specific drying times and follow them carefully to ensure optimal results.

Rushing the drying process can lead to tacky or uneven finishes, so be patient and allow each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next.

What if I make a mistake when applying paint—can I redo it?

Mistakes happen, especially when you're first starting out with upcycling projects, but don't worry—many painting mistakes can be easily fixed or corrected.

If you make a mistake while applying paint, such as drips, streaks, or uneven coverage, firstly let the area dry completely, then you can often sand lightly and reapply the paint to achieve a smoother finish.

Similarly, if you're unhappy with the colour or finish after it's dried, you can always repaint the piece with a different colour or type of paint.

Remember, upcycling is all about experimentation and learning from your mistakes, so don't be afraid to try new techniques and refine your skills as you go.

With practice and persistence, you'll become more confident in your abilities and create stunning upcycled furniture pieces to enjoy for years to come.



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