When I first started painting furniture, brush marks drove me bonkers. For me, it was the equivalent of having wet toes when they’re supposed to be dry. Yaaa, it’s one of my weird pet peeves. Anyway, I remember trying to get a smooth finish but the more I fussed with the paint, the worse it got. And ironically, once I moved onto using thicker and more expensive chalk and mineral paints, it got even worse.
So, I thought it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane and revisit where I went wrong and what I’ve learned along the way. I hope some of you starting out can learn from the mistakes I’ve made and get that super smooth finish. And for those of you who are veterans of furniture painting, I’m continuously learning from YOU so feel free to chime in and add your tips.
THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS TO PRODUCTS I USE. YOU CAN SEE MY FULL DISCLOSURE HERE.
How To Paint Furniture WITHOUT Brush Marks
Mistake #1: Skipping the Prep
This is one of those things we hear ALL the time, yet it’s hard to follow. When I was starting out, there were times I skipped over properly prepping furniture thinking “the paint will hide it”. It NEVER did! And worse yet, it made it way more difficult to get a smooth finish. I’ve since learned proper prep is key to a professional-looking project.
- A thorough cleaning to get rid of any dust, dirt or grime
- Proper sanding to smooth out any previous paint job or topcoat
- Filling and sanding any deep scratches or imperfections with Wood Fill or Bondo
Mistake #2: Not Sanding Coats
Another step I skipped was sanding between coats. A light sanding after each coat of paint makes a BIG difference… you’d be amazed! It only takes a few minutes to knock down the paint with a high grit paper (220+) and it REALLY helps eliminate the buildup of pesky brush marks.
Mistake #3: The Brush
Over the years I’ve used A LOT of brushes. From cheap dollar store brushes to popular brand names – synthetic bristles to natural bristles – rounded and angled. Here are a few pointers to keep visible brush marks away…
- I use the right size brush for the job (small details = small brush = fewer brush strokes)
- The less coarse the bristles, the less chance of leaving brush marks
- Properly cleaning and reshaping my brushes keeps them in good shape which reduces brush marks
- The more comfortable the brush is in my hand, the smoother my results
- I let the brush do the heavy work and don’t apply too much pressure
I’ve been asked if these rounded chalk paintbrushes are better for chalky paints. I don’t frequently use mine because I prefer painting my furniture with a traditional angled style brush. The brands I’m frequenting most are these Purdy Brushes and this short Wooster Brush… but again, it’s whatever feels more comfortable to you.
Mistake #4: Using Too Much Paint
I used to overload my brush and use WAY too much paint – which causes extra brush marks. Using paint sparingly helps cut down on brush marks. A rule of thumb I use, when loading my brush, I dip and load the bristles about 1/3 of the way up.
Mistake #5: Not Thinning Paint
Thinning thick paint is the BEST way to avoid brush marks because it allows a longer dry time so the paint has time to settle and lay nicely. Here are a few ways I thin my paint…
- Mixing in a little water directly to the paint
- Dipping my brush bristles into the water before I dip my brush into the paint
- Using a water bottle or mister while applying and brushing the paint onto my furniture
Misting my furniture has been my preference lately and this is my favorite brush mark eliminator tool. I’m loving the little mister. It doesn’t spray or shoot the water out…it mists the water beautifully! I find it makes a big difference in the look of the smoothness and it’s really easy to control how much water is applied.
- Focusing on one section at a time allows me to work with the paint while it’s wet
- Painting into a wet edge reduces noticeable brush marks
- A high-density foam roller for larger flat surfaces to create a nice smooth finish with no brush marks
- Light feathery brush strokes are better than too much pressure
- Laying drawers face up allows the paint to lay nicer
- I don’t overwork the paint (unless I’m trying for a textured finish)
- Better to paint a few light coats rather than one thick coat which is sure to show brush marks
This is the guaranteed way of getting a flawless finish. I’ve been using this Husk HVLP Spray Gun for years and it still works great. There is a learning curve for spraying furniture and proper ventilation and equipment like a compressor gun etc is needed, but it’s A LOT of fun. I like switching it up every so often and spraying my pieces for a modern flawless finish.
I HOPE THESE TIPS HAVE BEEN HELPFUL. THE FACT THAT I CAN BE A SMALL PART IN YOUR CREATIVE JOURNEY IS A REAL HONOR! I LOVE CHATTING WITH YOU SO FEEL FREE TO CHIME IN WITH QUESTIONS OR YOUR TIPS BELOW. 🙂
Happy brushing my friends!
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Caye Cooper says
I don’t see the second lesson of How To Paint a Black Wash Finish, Denise. Are my eyes deceiving me?
It’s included in the link and the “Related Posts” Section Caye. 🙂 Hope this helps.
I am new to painting furniture. After your final coat of paint, what do you seal it with?
Hi Donna! There are so many options. But the two most common (and easiest imo) are wax or a waterbased poly.
I find that when I lightly sand after coats, it always takes away some of the paint, leaving holes where I painted. It does not seem to matter the paint, grit levels or surface. Do you have any tips on this?
Are you scuff sanding and priming first Lora? And then do you lightly sand your primer before painting? These can make a big difference! Also, it’s ok to have a few ‘specks’ of paint removing after your first coat. And if you’re running into this issue and you have a good self leveling paint, don’t sand the second coat or third coat. If it looks smooth, you can apply your topcoat. Hope this helps.
I’m totally new to painting furniture and appreciate all your tips. What is chalk paint and how does it differ from interior wall paint? I have an old drop leaf desk that is in sore need of refurbishing. It has different woods and the old stain took differently to each part. Painting would make the piece shine, I think.
Hi Caroline and WELCOME! ChalkPaints have a different formula than interior wall paints. CP can be applied without sanding/prep (in most cases on clean dry surfaces) and dry to a matte/chalky finish. Because less prep is required, the coverage is good and it has a lovely finish, DIY’ers love using chalk paints on their projects. ChalkyPaints are more expensive and do require sealing because of the porous finish. When I first started painting furniture, I used my Homemade Chalk Paint you can see here. Hope this helps. 🙂
Hi, if I thin my paint would it be wise to additionally mist my furniture? Or is it best to do one or the other? Thank you Jodena
I have done both and it works really nicely. The paint glides and spreads really well. I just make sure not to over-thin my paint with the water.
Do you ever test the viscosity of the paint? If so, what rate do you advise?When thinning paint, I’m never sure how much water to add. I have a viscosity cup.
I don’t test the viscosity of paint. I go by eye and feel. 🙂
Some very good tips and hope I can begin to use some on a project I’ll be starting soon. One tip I’d like to add is using wet sand paper in between coats. Not only does this eliminate brush strokes, it also removes any fine particles that may have floated onto your furniture. I finish with a coat of wax, or two coats of polyurethane which I then wet sand in between coats. Have fun…
Your furniture is lovely. What brand of paint do you use?
Thanks so much Rose! I’ve used many brands. Sherwin Williams All Surface Enamel, Fusion, Annie Sloan, Milk Paint, General Finishes but for most of my projects I use this Chalk Mineral Paint from Dixie Belle.
I would like to start spraying furniture rather than painting it for 2 reasons. The brush strokes & the time it takes to brush paint a piece. What do you use to contain the overspray? Is this paint sprayer easy to clean? It doesn’t require an air compressor does it?
The settings on my paint gun are how I minimize overspray however you will always have some when using a spray gun. I have a designated workspace and put an industrial fan in the window to help blow out some. And yes, this paint gun does require a compressor to operate.
But not all spray paint guns do require a compressor, just adding this for commenter! So they know they can buy one w/o a compressor too!
Claudia S Januchowski says
What finish do you have on the beautiful black piece in the first picture?
Renae Bertolero says
This is what I was going to ask. How funny, the only question she didn’t answer …. 😂
Very helpful! Thank you for sharing your flipping knowledge!
You said you decided not to line the drawers, so I was wondering what you use when you do line drawers? I have a vanity I’m repainting for my daughter as a Christmas gift, but someone had spray painted the inside drawers black! UGLY!!!
I like leaving the drawers original wood if they are in good condition. When I do line them, it’s usually with a decor-type paper (wallpaper, craft paper or heavy wrapping paper) that the new owners can remove if they don’t like it. To freshen up drawers, I like to give them a sanding and then use this product which brings them back to a gorgeous luster.
hi, am trying to decide what to do with my small 1950s Cherry buffet. I need to lighten whole room. Will this technique work on a light cherry wood or will it end up looking like it’s pinkish? Used SW windy blue as accent over gray wash antiqued brick fireplace think I’ll use sw icicle on walls. Have dark gray sectional from thomasville showing up next week. What colors would you suggest? Thanks so much.
Hi Marv! Color is such an individual and personal choice I don’t usually recommend colors. What I may like you may not. But in regards to your Cherry Buffet, yes, I would prime first. Cherry will show bleedthrough on light colors if not primed.
Excellent tips. If all of those pictures in the article are your projects, they are absolutely beautiful I want to paint my cherry china cabinet black but I’m fearful of the brush marks. I found my Inspiration picture in a Ballard catalog. I actually removed the 2 center doors and have it open now. It already looks so much better and not not as dated. Our guy who does work for us said he would spray paint it for me but he never seems to be available. And it would be a huge production to get it out of the house and into the garage and set up a paint booth with drop cloths. I may go for it using these tips.
Flotrol will get rid of brush strokes.
I use Flotrol all the time. I think it’s great too.
so happy for these tips.. I have been putting off my first project for fear of messing it all up but im going for it
Yaaay, have fun Sonia! 🙂
I love what you do, just beautiful. I’m thinking of painting the armoire in my living room. Would matching the paint to the wall color (soft white) be okay to do? I’m trying to blend it into the room instead of having it stand out. Can you please let me know your thoughts on this… Thank you.
Hi Kathleen! You sure can paint an armoire the same color as your l/r walls. Here are some stunning examples!
Nerryl Williams says
OMG am just reading this and it is so helpful. I have my first piece of furniture which I have ready to paint but to scared to start. Hopefully I can now move on with it. Thank you for your wonderful tips.
I’m SO HAPPY you’ve found this helpful and have fun Nerryl! 🙂