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With paint and imagination ... new look for an old treasure.

With paint and imagination ... new look for an old treasure That beloved but battered chair may look fit for the basement, but a carefully applied coat of paint can confer a whole new look and restore the neglected heirloom to living room status. It's a project that creates a memorable piece of furniture for yourself or for a gift.

You can redecorate an old piece or customize a new one. The old rocker shown at left was stripped, gessoed, then painted--all for a fraction of the cost of replacing it. At right, an inexpensive unfinished desk gained an air of individuality from bold blocks of color.

Old pieces with smooth, unscratched, and unchipped finishes may require only a good sanding, but most pieces require stripping. Efficient paint strippers and fast-drying acrylic paints make the renewal process fairly simple.

Materials for the transformation

If you already own a piece of furniture, work with what you have. Otherwise, scan garage sales and flea markets for sturdy items with good lines. A more expensive but easier option is buying a new, unfinished piece (no stripping required).

When buying used or new, consider pieces with simple, easy-to-sand lines and smooth surfaces; spindles, detailed carvings, and complex joinery require time-consuming sanding by hand.

All items you'll need are available at hardware, crafts, and paint stores. For paintbrushes, we generally used foam types (one for each color); they're cheap, disposable, and leave no bristles in the paint. Good bristle brushes come in handy for detailing, but can be costly.

To strip the wood, you need wax remover or paint remover (also effective on varnish), a scraper, a squeegee, and cotton rags. Whether you use a remover requiring lacquer thinner or a water-rinsable one, heavyweight rubber gloves and eye protection are a good idea. Work outdoors or in a well-ventilated room.

To prime the wood, have on hand coarse-, medium-, and fine-grade sandpaper; an electric sander (optional); wood filler and a spackle blade (optional); knot sealer for pine or unfinished furniture (optional); acrylic gesso (enough for at least two coats); foam paintbrushes; and steel wool.

To paint, buy quick-drying acrylics in any color you like. Crafts stores sell 8-ounce bottles (about $4.50) in a variety of colors. If you have a large surface to cover or require custom-mixed tints, a specialty paint shop is best; 1-quart cans cost about $10. Choose from tints available on color cards, or match a fabric swatch or wallpaper. Custom-mixed orders may take several days, and there may be a surcharge. For childrens' furniture, be sure paint is nontoxic.

You also need plenty of paintbrushes, paint rollers and paper plates, scissors, a craft knife, and contact paper or masking tape in various widths (if you want clean divisions between color areas).

To seal the paint, buy high-gloss or low-luster water-base polyurethane arcylic finish. For the end table on page 78, the owner also protected the intricately painted surface with glass.

Stripping: get down to the bare wood

Stripping can be tedious, but is necessary if gesso and acrylics are going to adhere. If you would rather pay someone to do it, look under Furniture Stripping in the yellow pages. Stripping a standard-size rocker is $50 to $100 to remove a painted finish, $40 to $75 for wax. Wood type can also affect prices; softwoods such as pine and fir cost less than hardwoods such as oak and mahogany.

Before you start, remove all hardware and soak it in an appropriate cleaning solution. Or tape it off to protect from strippers, wax removers, and paint. If you have an unfinished piece, skip the sections below and move to priming, at right.

For a wax finish, clean wood with a wax remover, following directions on label; or use a solution of 1 part ammonia to 2 parts water. Wipe surface with a clean, damp rag. Reapply solution, if needed.

For varnish and paint, apply paint remover, following label directions. When paint has softened to a paste (generally about 10 minutes), scrape it off, taking care not to dent or scratch the wood.

In tight spaces--along moldings, in corners, or in any carved detail--use a toothbrush, nail, or whatever is handy. On wide expanses, a squeegee can be effective. A piece with several coats of paint may need repeated applications. Don't worry if what you're left with when you finish looks more like stained wood. What you're aiming for is a smooth surface; you can cover uneven graining with gesso.

Sometimes stripping can loosen glued joints. If the piece is rickety, this is the time to reglue and make repairs.

Priming: create a canvas for the color,

and make it marble-smooth

For professional-looking results, your furniture surface must be as close to flawless as you can get it before the color goes on. While meticulous sanding and two coats of gesso are adequate, it's not unusual for a finely crafted piece to be gessoed and sanded five or six times.

To start, correct holes or flaws with wood filler; let dry. Next, sand with a coarse (60- to 80-grit) then a medium-grade sandpaper. Use an electric sander on flat surfaces; hand-sand tight corners, spindles, and detailed woodwork. Sanding is particularly important for wood professionally "dip-stripped" or treated with a water-rinsable remover; both methods tend to roughen the surface slightly.

If the piece you're working on is new or made of pine, cover knots with sealer to keep resin from bleeding through the paint later on; let dry and sand.

Apply first coat of gesso in an even layer, using 1 part water to 4 parts gesso; smooth out any lumps with a dampened brush. Let dry 1 to 2 hours, then sand with medium-grade sandpaper to remove ridges that can form with even a meticulous application (don't worry if a bit of wood shows through after sanding); remove dust with a damp rag.

Repeat process as many times as you like, using fine sandpaper on the last gesso layer. Correct any spots where wood still shows through with diluted gesso (1 part water to 1 part gesso); hand-sand lightly with fine-grade sandpaper or steel wool.

Painting: where the fun begins

View the piece of furniture as a three-dimensional canvas. Color can hide awkward joinery, call out an exceptional feature, or splash haphazardly over a piece.

For some designs, you may want to outline your pattern on the gesso in pencil, then fill in the color--as with the rocker and game and card tables (shown on pages 74, 75, and below right, respectively).

For the mirror and chest (page 76), we employed a resist method, using making tape a stencil to block out some areas and define others. A favorite fabric inspired the end table at right, but you could also borrow from art, embroidery, or quilt-pattern books (see the caption above right).

When you paint, start with the lightest color, blocking out spaces you're not working on with contact paper or tape. Wait 1 hour, apply a second coat if needed, then remove tape (tape will not damage acrylics); apply next lightest color. Acrylics should dry at least 24 hours before you apply the seal.

The finish--glossy or mat

To protect your design, apply three to five thin coats of acrylic finish, brushing it on carefully to avoid drips. For added protection, cover tabletops with glass.

Clean with a sponge and warm, soapy water. A surface treated with several coats of acrylic finish should stand up to daily wear and tear, but you can retouch any chips or dings; repeat gessoing, sanding, painting, and sealing processes as necessary.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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