Everyone seems to have their own opinion about the best type of paint for their wood piece of furniture. Whether the project is new and a raw wood surface awaits the paint, or the piece to be painted is a refinish job, the paint you choose for the furniture will have some bearing on how best to approach the painting part of your project.
We all know there are two basic types of paint: water-based and oil-based, but in each category, there are different sorts of paints for furniture that will work well. The effect you wish to create for the furniture piece will also point you in a particular direction for your paint choice.
The same holds true for the paint you choose for the walls in your home. Emulsion paints are the most common for walls, a water-based paint with small polymer particles suspended in the water, each particle having pigments inside. The color comes from the pigments within the polymer particles, and that is what you see after the water has evaporated during the drying process.
The particles combine in that drying process and present the color and the sheen you have chosen. Flat, eggshell, and satin finish sheens are the most common for walls, while semi-gloss or gloss is the better and more common choice for windows, doors, baseboards, and other wood trim features in the room.
But, even within and among these types and choices, there are different sorts of paints to consider when painting wooden furniture. We’ll examine them, although we’ll also admit that we do not have experience with each just yet.
Our woodworking career has not been long enough to experiment with each and relate those experiences to you. We will rely upon our own research and discussions with the paint experts at our local hardware store to offer information and opinion in this piece.
Please remember that we are looking at wall paints to determine if they are suitable for wooden furniture. However, to arrive at that answer, we need to consider other paints and their distinctions to arrive at a further answer – the better or best paints for wooden furniture projects.
The paints to be considered in this article will include:
- “Wall” paint
- Milk paint
- Chalk paint
- Acrylic paint
- Alkyd paint
Each has its own character and creates its own effects when used, strengths and weaknesses, if you will, and are worth considering.
What Does Wall Paint Mean?
We used the “ “ in the above list on purpose: there really isn’t any such thing as a specific wall paint.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on what the best wall paint is for the interior of your home. You can walk into any hardware store and ask for wall paint. The lower-priced “wall” paints will be latex paint, water-based, while the higher-priced “wall” paints will be acrylic. We’ll discuss that further in the Acrylic Paint section further on.
Like any paint, you can purchase “wall” paint in virtually any color. All brands will offer a color palette to choose from, starting with a base paint to which will be added the pigment mixture to create the color you’ve chosen.
If you have a particular color in mind that isn’t among the predetermined palette, there’s a very cool machine that will take the measure of that color and interpret it into the right pigment mix to create it for you. The can of paint will come with a printout of the pigment ratio used to create that custom color, so you will be able to order another gallon for future painting.
All “wall” paints will come in the usual variety of finishes ranging from flat to eggshell, or satin, and even semi-gloss and gloss. When painting an interior room, though, the walls tend to be flat, eggshell, or satin, while the trim, doors, and other wood features will tend to be semi-gloss or gloss.
This is so the wooden features of a room will be the stars, while the walls serve simply as the backdrop for furniture, drapes, curtains, and the things that make a room have its own ambiance and style.
If you are going to use “wall” paint for your furniture project, there are a few preparatory things to keep in mind. Of course, you will want to sand the wooden furniture well, working up to fine-grit sandpaper. Smooth sanding will lead to a smooth finish.
You will also want to prime the wooden furniture. We recommend a high-quality primer like Bin or Kilz for that extra measure of treatment and to give the “wall” paint something strong to adhere to when applied.
A latex “wall” paint to many furniture finishers doesn’t seem as durable as other choices, and our research did find this to be a very common complaint and a usual reason for not choosing it. Those who preached this way, however, did favor acrylic wall paint. Again, we’ll address acrylics later in the article.
In short, be sure to prep the wooden furniture piece very well, and, most definitely, prime it with a good primer. Two coats of paint, at least, are recommended, too. A top coat may also be advisable – see what you think about its “feel” on the wood to determine whether you think it will need the extra measure of durability a top coat will provide.
Is Milk Paint Really Made With Milk?
Another type of wall paint that might also be suitable for wooden furniture is milk paint. The answer to the question, by the way, is yes – milk paint is made with milk protein and has actually been used as a paint base for centuries.
It comes in powder form that is mixed with warm water to create the paint. A ratio of 1:1 is recommended for an opaque mixture and will flow like a table cream in that mix. It’s ready to use upon mixing, but be sure to mix only the amount you will need for that day, as it does not store well. It is milk protein, and over time will take on that sour smell of spoiled milk
If you just want a color wash rather than a solid application, up the water ratio for a thinner consistency. At the 1:1 ratio, it can be used as wall paint in small areas, but its strength is on wood, giving it an old-world look (it has been used for centuries, after all).
Milk paint should be allowed to dry for between 2-4 hours, and buffing between coats is advised, or very high-grit sandpaper. While the finish coat can be smoothed out with 400-grit sandpaper, a coat of finishing wax will give it a real smoothness to the touch.
If your wooden furniture project is with new wood rather than a refinish job, you’ll find that milk paint actually seeps into the raw wood penetrating well. It provides a great-looking finish.
We do recommend a bonding agent to milk paint, though. It will tend to make the paint a bit stronger and prevent chipping. However, if you are really looking for that old-world nature, perhaps a little chipping for that antique look might be what you want. Extra-Bond can be that bonding agent, and like milk paint, it is easy to clean up after and environmentally safe – no VOCs, non-toxic. Bonding Agent is another.
A further option is a durable water-based top coat. Minwax Polycrylic and Varathane Polyurethane would be good choices here.
Is Chalk Paint Made With Chalk?
Well, it is chalky paint, yes. It is also a very thick paint, water-based, which means it can be thinned a bit with 5% – 10% water if you want or need it to be thinner.
It’s not technically wall paint, but it has become popular of late as a desirable paint for wooden furniture. You can easily find it at most hardware stores now and at big DIY stores.
It dries quickly, meaning you can get a second coat applied in an hour or so. Because it dries so quickly, though, you won’t have time to revisit areas you’ve already painted to smooth out brush strokes. However, you don’t want to do that anyway with chalk paint – put it on, leave it alone and allow it to dry.
While the brands offering chalk paint will suggest it does not need a top coat, don’t shy away from a water-based product, again like Minwax Polycrylic and Varathane Polyurethane. A matte wax finish on top will enhance the matte finish that is naturally chalk paint.
It dries to a matte finish and is a good choice for a rustic look if that suits your decor.
Acrylic Wall Paint on Wooden Furniture
Much of the “wall” paint sold today in your local hardware stores and in the big DIY stores is now acrylic paint. It is water-based, easy to clean up after, and dries well and fairly quickly, although not as quickly as milk or chalk paints.
One of the advantages of using acrylic latex paint on wooden furniture is that less prep work is required. It takes well to most any surface, although we still sand our furniture well no matter what finish we have chosen for it. However, once it is smoothed to our satisfaction, we simply paint. We’ve discussed acrylic paints in a previous piece in connection with the use of top coats.
Another advantage of using acrylic latex paint is that it levels extremely well. Of course, you will see brush marks when applying unless you are using a foam brush to apply. But don’t worry about them – as it dries, acrylic paints level themselves out and fill in the brush marks for you. Trust this, and don’t revisit the brush marks – let the paint do that for you.
If you feel your wooden furniture piece needs a bit more strength and durability, you can top-coat it with a water-based finish. Again, Minwax Polycrylic or Varathane Polyurethane would be good choices for that top coat and make your wooden furniture piece more resistant to dings and scratches. This might be in your thoughts with the tops of bedroom bureaus or kitchen cabinets. We’ve written about both of those top coat products in past pieces, and you’ll find them here, here, here, and here.
Acrylic latex paints for wooden furniture pieces will be more expensive than simply latex paints, but if you are using an acrylic on your walls and have a can around, it’s still a good choice for your furniture piece.
Durable and easy to clean up after, acrylic paints are a good choice. With little prep work required and its forgiving nature as a self-leveler, it makes your job of finishing your wooden furniture project easy. Acrylic paints are also better able to handle changes in their environment, expanding and contracting with those changes.
Is Alkyd Paint a Good Choice for Wood Furniture?
Another not-quite wall paint but one suitable for wooden furniture, and even for kitchen cabinets, is alkyd paint.
While historically an oil-based paint, alkyd paints are now developed as an easy to clean up after water-based version that has become popular with professional painters. You can find alkyd paints in virtually all hardware stores and at all of the large DIY stores.
It is a very good choice for kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and if it can stand up to that use, it will also stand up well with your wood furniture projects. It, too, levels well, meaning you do not have to worry about brush strokes, although it can also be applied with foam brushes.
It’s a bit slower-drying than the previous paints, which means you can revisit application mistakes while the paint is still setting, and it will still level out the additional brush strokes as it dries fully. The paint protects you from yourself, very forgiving, and turns out well with a durable finish that doesn’t necessarily require a top coat.
It takes about a week to cure fully, but it is dry to the touch in a few hours. For kitchen cabinets, a primer is recommended, but for furniture, sand it and paint away. Your cabinets are showpieces, and it’s worth it to go the extra step in the kitchen.
It is more expensive than regular wall paint, but again the ease of use, self-leveling properties, and durable finish make the extra money worth it over the life of the cabinet or furniture piece.
There are a ton of videos available on the best paints to use on wooden furniture, and we had a hard time deciding which to choose for this article. We decided to go with one that matches chalk paints with latex wall paints in competition since we thought many readers are not as experienced with chalk paints.
As for us, and if we had to make a firm recommendation, we’d suggest you go with either an acrylic or an alkyd paint for your wooden furniture projects. All of the reasons have been presented, and we have some experience with each kind of paint in our own home.
We especially like the alkyd paint – it works well on kitchen cabinets, and that was a telling lesson for us when having to decide on the paint for a small table project. Don’t hesitate, though, to experiment with each of the six paints we’ve written off on future furniture painting projects.