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16 Apr 2017

DIY DESK MAKEOVER [how to paint furniture]

So I did this thing where I gave an old table a complete makeover. I'd never done anything like that before, but it turned out pretty great!

My brother, my mum and I recently moved out of our old house. My mum bought a house with her boyfriend and we all moved in together. I was looking for a bigger desk to work on in our new house (I had a small Ikea desk which just wasn't big enough for sketching and working). I noticed how the previous owners of our new house left this orange-looking table behind for us to have. That table was the perfect size for what I needed, but it just didn't really look nice the way it was.

So I decided to give it a makeover! Like I said, I had never done this before. I'm not a professional or an expert in wood sanding and painting, so I'm guessing I didn't completely do it by the book haha. If you want to try this yourself, feel free, it worked like a charm for me! Just a lil' disclaimer that I'm not responsible for failures haha. :)


First things first, clean the piece of furniture you want to paint! This is quite an important step, just to make sure there's no grease, dust or spider webs left. :)
I just used a cloth and a solution of water and vinegar. I'm sure just water is fine too, but vinegar does get rid of any possible grease.


Okay, I'm not gonna lie; this step is a pain in the ass to say the least haha. Maybe not that bad, but still! You're going to want to sand the whole table to get rid of the glossy finish and the painted colour. You'll want to completely strip it down to its crude (raw) wood - no colour, no varnish, just plain wood.

You’ll need to use a sanding machine for every part you want to stain. I decided to stain the top of the table and paint the legs. After staining, you can decide to add a coat of varnish. The difference between a wood stain and a varnish is pretty simple. A stain colours (or ‘stains’) the wood, while a varnish is mostly clear and is used to protect the wood. The difference between a stain and a paint is that a paint completely covers up the wood, while a stain is kind of see through and still lets you see the grain of the wood. Does that make sense? :)

When sanding with a sanding machine, be sure to wear protective glasses and a dust mask (I don’t recommend breathing in small wood particles ;) )!
You’ll need sanding paper that fits your machine (you can buy these fitted papers at the hardware or craft store). To start off, you’ll want to use a 60 or 80 grit sandpaper to get rid of most of the varnish. Use a 180 up to 220 grit sandpaper to complete the sanding process. This means, the higher the grit number, the finer the sanding paper and the smoother the finish!

Even though an 80 grit sandpaper (which I used) might feel very coarse and rough, be prepared to spend a few hours sanding. I would say sanding the top of the table took me about 5 hours in total (I don’t really remember, since I had breaks in between haha). I had never used a sanding machine before though, maybe that's why I was going so slowly. ;)

After sanding the top, move on to the sides and bottom of the tabletop and use the sanding machine for these parts as well.

For the legs and base of the table, I didn’t use the machine because this part of the table doesn’t have to be sanded down completely. It’s important to just roughly sand this to give the paint a better grip on the wood, without damaging the varnish too much. I just used an 80 grit sandpaper and quickly ‘scratched’ the wood.

I also used a 220 grit sandpaper to finish off the top.

Congratulations! You’ve survived the sanding process! (it really wasn’t that bad though, I’m just exaggerating) Now you’ll need to make the whole piece ready for staining and painting. It should be dust-free, grease-free and completely dry before painting! I brushed away all the wood dust and used the same water-vinegar mixture to clean the table. Don’t use a cloth that’s soaking wet, as you don’t want to damage the raw wood on the top.


Time to start staining! I used a colour called ‘Congolese Wenge’. I don’t know anything about wood, but it looked nice in the picture so I decided to buy that one! :)

Before actually staining the wood, make sure to mix the stain for several minutes (using a wooden stick for example), since some pigment and active components will have sunk to the bottom.

I used an oil paint brush to evenly distribute the stain. There are some stains that advise you to use a cotton rag and to wipe off any excess stain. Just follow the instructions on the label!

Staining is quite self-explanatory. It’s like painting, really. Just try to evenly distribute the stain in long, straight strokes, to avoid darker spots. I started staining the bottom of the tabletop first, just because that won't really be visible in the end, so it gave me a place to practise a bit and see if I liked the colour.

I only did one coat, because I loved the colour of the wood at that point. For a darker finish, you can always apply a second coat. Depending on the use of the table, it might be a good idea to apply a clear, protective coat of varnish. I didn’t have or buy any, but I don’t really mind. This desk will mostly be used to study and sketch and I like the rough and ‘real’ look of the wood!


To finish off the desk, I wanted to try painting the legs in a lighter colour. I went for a very light sand-beige colour, which turned out pretty nice in the end!

I used a satin-finish paint that can be used on wood. Again, one coat was enough in my case. Don’t forget to tape off the bottom of the tabletop before you start painting (unless you are a pro at painting straight lines and corners).

The paint actually turned out a lot more glossy and shiny than I thought it would. I think I would’ve liked it a bit more matte, but the result still looks great to me!


I let the table dry for at least a whole day before moving it to its new space.

Here are a few pictures of the finished result. I’m actually really really pleased with how it turned out, especially since I hated the original orange colour haha. Let me know what you think!