Beginner’s Guide to Painting Laminate Furniture

I hope you guys all had a happy weekend. I spent most of the week last week at River Ranch delivering the media cabinet and trying to complete decorating projects like the bedrooms and furniture placement for the living room. We shopped for close to 3 days for everything from sleeping pillows to a dining room table and chairs. We’re so close to finishing which is really exciting. I know the family is ready to enjoy the water and the property too.

I have to tell you guys, I am SO excited to have that cabinet delivered safe and sound. I had no experience in painting laminate furniture until I brought home that media cabinet. To be perfectly honest, I normally shy away from bringing home anything that is not real wood because the quality is better and I know it will last longer for my customers. But this piece was so close to the inspiration piece my client had found at Ballard Designs for less than a tenth of the cost, I had to take the chance.

If you’re a furniture painter, a weekend DIYer or just now dipping your toe into the pool of creativity there’s a big chance you’ll come across a piece that you love that may not be real wood. It’s up to you if you want to take a chance on it or not so use your best judgment. As with any piece of furniture, you buy you need to consider the quality, condition and price before purchasing.

If you see a finish on a piece of furniture that is highly glossy (not laquered), looks like the wood grain has been painted on and the piece is over a composite base, it’s probably laminate. Laminate is not real wood but you can sand, prime and paint it like real wood. It’s actually a thin layer of veneer over a particleboard base. Laminate pieces are typically not built as solidly as a piece that is real wood. However, pieces like this can be a good option especially if you’re on a budget.

If you read this post you already know the struggles I originally had with the River Ranch media cabinet. Even after a week of curing, the paint was still coming off in flakes. I knew I would have to redo the entire piece (round 3) again especially with the client’s delivery date drawing near. I’m not going to lie I was totally dreading it.

I’m not claiming to be a professional painter but as with any painted piece of furniture, I want to share the good, bad and the dusty with you. Here’s a look at how we saved the River Ranch media cabinet and how you can have success even if you’re a beginner painting laminate furniture too…

Make sure you have a respirator/mask, protective eyewear, protective clothing, drop cloth, sand paper, sander, primer, paint and paintbrushes or rollers before you begin this project. With paint flakes falling like confetti at a New Year’s Eve party, this project gets messy so make sure you have the proper work area. Believe me, you don’t want to do this inside your house.

Just to recap, the day I brought this piece home it looked like this….

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At the end of my second attempt to finish this cabinet, it looked like this… From the outset, it doesn’t look too bad. But take a closer look and you’ll see it’s already starting to chip even with multiple coats of primer and paint.

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Something about the finish seriously gave me a fit and I had to start all over again.

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We carefully removed the back and the doors of the media cabinet to make it easier to paint. Since laminate furniture is made from a particleboard base there is a chance the particleboard will easily chip so use caution and care when completing this step.

Next, I used 80-grit sandpaper to remove all of the paint, followed by 120-grit sandpaper to sand to a dull finish and get the shiny off. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Looking back, I believe this is where I made a mistake the first time I painted this piece. I thought I could just give it a quick sand and let it ride. Now I know it’s better to use an electric sander or a lot of elbow grease to sand the shiny finish on the laminate to a very dull finish. You want a good even sand so make sure to not over sand or you’ll risk damage to the piece and an uneven paint job.

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Once you’re finished sanding, make sure to wipe away the dust with a tack cloth, medium bristle brush, or shop vac attachment as you don’t want any dust to get in your paint. I know, I thought for sure I had messed it up at this step too.

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Next, apply a thin coat of primer. I love all of the Zinsser products. This is a new one I’m trying based on the recommendation of a fellow painter. The consistency is thinner than the Zinsser 123 Primer but the application is just as easy with a synthetic brush.

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Make sure you read the instructions on the back of the can of primer. While primer is dry to the touch in about an hour it’s best to let it set 24 hours as that will help with durability. This is after one coat of primer

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and because I am not taking any chances given this is round 3 of working on this piece, I applied a second coat of primer.

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If you see any bubbling like this, it means you haven’t sanded enough and the primer/paint will not adhere. If it’s not a large area, try spot sanding and reapply the coat of primer to the spot. If it’s a large area, you’ll want to sand completely again prior to painting. I know sanding is a pain, but believe me, so is redoing a piece two or three times because you can’t get the paint to stick. You know what I mean?

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After the primer was dry, I started painting the media cabinet with Valspar’s Quail Egg. This is after one coat using a synthetic brush…

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After the latex paint had dried overnight, I sanded the entire piece with 320-grit sandpaper. I wiped away the sanding dust with a tack cloth and applied two coat of clear furniture paste wax with a lint free cloth. I’m planning to let this piece sit and cure for a few days prior to delivering it to River Ranch.

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Here’s a look at the beadboard accent we added to the back…

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You guys, there were times I didn’t know if I was going to get this thing finished. It was so frustrating to have to do this piece three times but I’m so glad I stuck with it! I know this has been a long post so here are the take-aways:

1. Sand the very shiny laminate to very dull finish using an electric sander and 120-grit sandpaper. Make sure you sand evenly.
2. Use a good quality synthetic brush and a quality primer.
3. After the primer has been dry about 24 hours, apply your paint.
4. After the paint has been dry about 24 hours, lightly sand using 320-grit sandpaper.
5. Apply a coat of polyurethane or furniture paint wax to seal.
6. Allow the paint to cure for a few days prior to heavy use.

It was a great week last week painting mirrors and bathroom lights, setting up and rearranging all of the furniture, hanging artwork and shopping for accessories. Things are really coming together. Here’s a sneak peek…

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Many blessings,

CoCo

Comments

    • says

      ha ha Mary Beth you lost me at “now that I’m rested!” It was a fun week but wow, decorating and shopping 16 hours a day made me exhausted 🙂 I’m totally looking forward to some rest over the holiday weekend. Can’t wait to find out what you’ve been up to and to catch up on your blog! Hugs, CoCo

  1. says

    CoCo thank you for sharing all the inns and outs for painting laminate. You have saved a lot of people a lot of headache. I have been there myself and wish that I had something like this to go by before I had to go through it myself 😉 ! It looks beautiful now and all your hard work really paid off in the end 🙂 I hope you have a great day!
    Smiles!
    Terry

    • says

      Thanks so much, Terry! There were a few times I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it work or not but I’m so glad I stuck with it. It is getting REALLY hard to find real wood furniture in this area so I hope these tips will be helpful for people that come across a piece they love that looks like the real thing 🙂 I’m heading over to your blog to see what you’ve been up to. It feels like I’ve been gone forever! Hugs, CoCo

  2. says

    CoCo – these are all fantastic tips and reminders for furniture painters. It is definitely no fun when a painted piece needs so much attention after it has been painted. We love Zinsser products too and have used them on lots of painted pieces. We’ve been fooled a couple of times when we thought a piece was real wood. We are constantly learning something new all of the time. Your piece turned out beautifully and can’t wait to see more!

    • says

      Thanks so much ladies, I really appreciate it! This piece was definitely a beast. I know just what you mean about some pieces looking so much like real wood it’s hard to tell what they’re actually made from. I always look two and three times now so I’ll know what I’m up against ha ha. We should totally be part of some sort of Zinsser squad for reals. That stuff is awesome! Hugs, CoCo

    • says

      Thank you, Shayla! I was a little worried it may be too wordy but I know that laminate furniture seems to really be flooding the market lately so I know us furniture painters will definitely see it again. At least now, we’ll know what we’re up against 🙂 Hugs, CoCo

    • says

      ha ha oh my word, Marsha, I wanted to throw this piece in the garbage like a hundred times! But I knew the family was counting on me to get this finished so we could add it to a space they were so excited about…and that kept me going 🙂 Hugs, CoCo

    • says

      You’re so welcome, Merryjo! It seems like more and more laminate pieces are flooding the marketplace these days. The process took a bit of trial and error but the family love this piece now so I’m glad I stuck with it 🙂 Hope you have a fun day, Coco

  3. says

    Coco, you are a workhorse girl! I love the way your piece came out. The shape is pretty and it looks great the way you’ve styled it.

    Thank you for joining us at Thoughts of Home on Thursday. 🙂

    • says

      Stacey, oh my word, like a hundred times – I wanted to throw this piece away! I’m glad I stuck with it though because there are some pretty convincing pieces out there that look like the real thing. I’ll definitely be ready next time 🙂 Sending you hugs for a happy day, CoCo

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