UPDATED October 2020:
My product preferences have evolved a bit since this was written, so I have updated this post to reflect those changes. However, my method has pretty much stayed the same!
I have also added a video…look for that at the bottom!!
I hope you find this tutorial helpful!
Because I use chalk paint on most of my projects, I get a lot of questions about the process of painting with chalk paint. I am always more than happy to answer any questions that come my way, but I thought it was about time I put together one helpful post that I can refer my readers to. So let’s get started! I have included some affiliate links so you can find the products I use. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
This is my model for today:
She’s a gorgeous $40 yard sale score that I thought would be perfect for this tutorial.
Here is a reminder of how she turned out:
You can see more of this makeover HERE.
This is how I paint a piece of furniture from start to finish, with chalk paint:
Select Your Paint
Let’s start by choosing paint. For the longest time, I mixed my own chalk paint using my go-to chalk paint recipe since I sell my pieces and it is more cost-effective. It works great and I have painted hundreds of pieces using this recipe.
If you would rather use pre-mixed chalk-style paint, my favorite is Dixie Belle. I love their products so much that I became a retailer. You can find their products in my Etsy Shop HERE. Their paint has amazing coverage, and they have about 70 colors to choose from.
Buy a Quality Brush
Now you need a good quality paintbrush. I use a 2″ Angle Purdy Paint Brush:
This photo is of the long handled one, but I prefer the short XL Cub version. They will last for years. They are softer at the ends than other brands, allowing the paint to glide on more smoothly and with fewer brush marks. Although you can use a roller with chalk paint, I usually only use a brush. (Clean with warm water.)
Clean Your Masterpiece
The first thing you’ll need to do is give your soon-to-be masterpiece a wipe down. I used to use cleaning wipes like Lysol or Clorox wipes or even the generic brands which worked equally as well, however with all the joys that came with 2020, so did the inability to find said wipes. I now use Dixie Belle’s White Lightning cleaner and it works fantastically.
Simply mix one TBSP of White Lightning with half a gallon of warm water in a small bucket and clean with a cloth or sponge. Then change out the water for fresh water and wipe down again to rinse.
Patch Holes, Gouges, Scratches, etc
Look your furniture piece over for any gouges or deep scratches that need filling. This dresser had a pretty deep ring on top, several deep gauges, and some missing veneer. I also planned to swap a couple of the original drawer handles out for single glass knobs since one was missing, so the old holes needed to be filled.
This is what I used for this piece: Elmer’s Wood Filler and a putty knife…
This is what I use these days:
This is Dixie Mud and it is available in three colors.
I use 220 grit sandpaper to sand the surface smooth:
I cut these sheets in four and wrap each piece around an old sanding block:
To see if it is smooth enough, run your fingers across the surface with your eyes closed. You shouldn’t be able to feel where you patched. You may need to add a little more filler a second time, but that should do it. The glass knob in the photo below has a patched hole on either side, but you would never know.
(You can skip the patching process on gouges etc if you are going for a really distressed look as they would only add to the distressed look and feel.)
Tape where Needed
The only thing I really ever tape off is the sides of the drawers. I like FrogTape for this.
I generally do not paint the sides or the insides of the drawers on any of my furniture pieces. For one, it’s more work and why make it harder? And usually, the drawers are in great condition. (I almost always line the insides though, more on that at the end.)
Do I need to Prime or Sand?
The general answer with chalk paint is no.
However, if you have an older piece that is cherry or mahogany, you will likely experience the dreaded bleed-through. This will happen no matter which type of paint you use. Test it in a small, inconspicuous area first. Here I started on the side, at the bottom of this dresser and as you can see, I got bleed-through:
That will bleed through every layer. Don’t panic! There is a fix.
All this dresser needs is a coat of my favorite primer: BOSS by Dixie Belle. It comes in both clear and white. Allow it to dry several hours or overnight if you can. The key is allowing plenty of dry time before proceeding with paint. On rare occasions I have had to apply a second coat before painting. You can also spot-prime if you just have a couple of spots that are bleeding through:
Another option is Shellac. Shellac is stinky, so if you choose to use it, be sure to use it outside or in a very well ventilated area. The BOSS is very low-odor. Both are fantastic for sealing in super musty odors as well. (Both can be applied right over paint if you’ve already painted before you discovered bleed-through.) You can also use a traditional primer as well.
As for sanding, the general answer again is no. However, if you have a super slick surface or non-porous surface like laminate or glass, you may want to apply a coat of Slick Stick first. This will help the paint to adhere better to those surfaces. Most wood surfaces do not require this prep!
Now we’re ready for paint!
When painting a dresser or table, I like to start at the bottom. Since the top will get the most attention, you’ll want that to look perfect, so I leave that for last.
Paint in long sweeping strokes, going with the grain.
On a horizontal surface, try to go from side to side without stopping, always keeping a wet edge.
Chalk paint dries fast, really fast, so you have to work quickly.
How many coats do I need?
If you are painting something white or off white over a dark piece, you will probably need three coats for solid coverage. But because the paint dries really quickly, you don’t have a long wait in between coats. If you want your piece more distressed, you may be happy after only two coats. Darker colors have excellent coverage and rarely need more than two coats.
(One exception is Dixie Belle’s Fluff. It is more of a vintage white and because it has some pigment in it, it gives great coverage in two coats.)
*Your piece WILL look terrible after the first coat. Have faith and keep going!
The second and third coats will go on more smoothly if you add a tiny bit of water to your paint. (I usually forget.) So if you find the subsequent coats to be a bit harder to work, you can either use a continuous mister and spray it to keep it moist as you go, or you can dip your paint brush in a cup of water about every third or fourth pass before dipping it into the paint. I am a bit heavy handed with the paint, so I do not usually have any issues.
To keep your brush fresh between coats, wrap it saran wrap:
True story! (You can follow me on Instagram HERE!)
Time to remove any tape.
Your surface will feel a bit rough to the touch after painting with chalk paint. You will need to lightly sand across all surfaces, applying a little more pressure on edges and details where you want a distressed look. For this I use 220 grit sandpaper. Usually, I hand sand like I did on the holes I patched earlier, but for this piece, I used my orbital sander:
(Don’t forget to wear a mask!)
This sander does a nice even job on the top and sides. You will have less control though, so if you want very minimal distressing, I recommend sanding by hand.
See here where I sanded a bit too much:
After all surfaces are smooth to the touch, I use a shop vac with a brush attachment to vacuum up all the chalk paint dust from the surfaces.
Choosing a Sealer
Brush-on or Wipe-on Sealer
I used to use wax for most of my furniture pieces, including this dresser, because I had a hard time finding a sealer that didn’t yellow over white paint, and I use a TON of white paint. Then I discovered one made by Dixie Belle. It was a game-changer for me! They actually have two.
The first is their Clear Coat in a satin finish. This is ideal for pieces that you want to protect but that won’t get a ton of heavy use. You can apply it with a brush made especially for sealers or with Dixie Belle’s applicator sponge.
And below is a video tutorial of how I used the sponge to apply sealer to a table:
If you have trouble viewing, find it on YouTube HERE.
The sponge is so easy to use, but be careful you don’t allow any liquid to pool in crevices of curvier areas, as those areas will yellow. If that happens, just paint over them, and reseal.
The second sealer Dixie Belle has is called Gator Hide, which is a more heavy-duty sealer that will give your pieces a waterproof finish. This option is great for high traffic pieces, and I have even used both on different parts of the same piece at times.
Wax is another option and what I used to seal this dresser long before I discovered the Satin Clear coat. The wax will bond with the paint to create a long-lasting durable finish. It will deepen and enhance the color of your paint, but it won’t change the color. Wax takes 21 days to fully cure, so use your furniture piece with care until then.
I used Annie Sloan’s clear soft wax for this dresser, but because it is oil-based, it has a very stinky smell to it. Dixie Belle’s Best Dang Wax has very low odor and works equally as well.
You will also need a wax brush and/or a couple of soft clean cloths. I buy rags in the paint section at Lowes in these big bags:
They are perfect. I usually use a a clean soft cloth, but you can also use a wax brush.
Applying the Wax
Dip your cloth or brush in the wax and apply to the surface, working in small sections. Then buff it into the surface. On this drawer, I started across the top going back and forth pushing the wax into the surface.
Just a few strokes back and forth and you will be able to feel how smooth the surface is. If it is still tacky or sticky, continue to wipe until smooth to the touch.
For a drawer like this, I actually would cover the whole surface with wax, then buff it off. For a larger surface, I would work in sections, moving back and forth across the surface. Try not to stop in the center as you will feel the wax build up there a bit. Try to go from edge to edge, working quickly. You will need to switch cloths as wax begins to build up.
After you have covered the entire surface, wait about 10-15 minutes and then go back with another clean soft cloth and buff for more sheen.
If you see streaky areas, apply a bit more wax and buff.
For horizontal surfaces that will get a lot of wear such as a table top or dresser top, I add a second coat an hour or so later.
I usually continue to use the cloths until they are no longer functional, then toss them, but they can be washed.
Dark or Colored Wax
If you want to enhance your finish or highlight details with dark or colored wax to add a bit more character, apply after the clear wax and in small amounts. Chalk paint is very porous and will really soak up the darker waxes, so this will prevent that and give you a bit more control. If you use too much, add a little clear wax to remove it. Continue to work it into the surface until it feels smooth to the touch. Use a separate cloth or brush for each kind of wax.
Adding the jewelry is my favorite part! I love when I can reuse the original hardware. I often use chalk paint for the hardware as well, but sometimes I use spray paint as I did for this dresser. Rustoleum is my favorite brand of spray paint. This is Rustoleum in Satin Heirloom White
When the paint is dry, give it a quick sanding:
Or if you are using chalk paint, you can even use your fingernail to scratch a little paint off here and there to give it a distressed finish.
For this dresser, I had to drill new holes since I patched the old holes earlier…
This step is optional of course, but if your project piece has drawers, lining them is the icing on the cake:
Here I used 12×12 scrapbook paper from Michaels that I already had on hand. A rotary cutter and straight edge make it super easy to cut the pieces. Try to match up the pattern for a seamless look.
A glue stick is a simple and inexpensive way to adhere the paper to the bottom.
However, I usually prefer to use fabric as I can easily cover the whole bottom of the drawer without any seams, and you won’t have to contend with any pesky air bubbles that you get with paper. I apply that with Matte Mod Podge and a chip brush. You can see how I do that in the video below:
If you have trouble viewing, find it on YouTube HERE.
Stand back and admire!
That’s all there is to it. Not too bad, right?
If you want to see chalk painting in action, view my video tutorial below!
Visit all my Video Tutorials in one place HERE.
These are the tables shown in the video:
Feel free to browse my DIY Project Gallery to see all my projects in one place, most of which are chalk-painted projects.
Chalk paint is not just for furniture either, it works wonders on metal, plastic, laminate, glass, and fabric!
I hope this answers any questions you have about painting with chalk paint.
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Still have questions about what products to use?
I put together a handy Dixie Belle product reference guide HERE!
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