Years ago, I painted an old dresser white with turquoise knobs. It looked really cute, but it was apparent that it was painted – the surface wasn’t anywhere near the quality of the furniture you would buy from the store.
There are so many tutorials online about painting furniture, and so many say that you can skip sanding or priming. Here’s my advice – don’t skip sanding, don’t skip priming, and use a high-quality paint.
Lately, I had been in the market for a new desk in my craft room. I was determined to find a good deal on an old wooden piece and then figure out how to paint the desk like a professional would.
You see, my current desk was an old kitchen table. Ash was in the process of updating my craft room with beautiful built-in bookshelves and a window seat, so it was time for my kitchen table-desk to get the boot.
I didn’t want to pay $200 for a new, modern-looking desk, so I scoured a few flea markets and thrift stores. Finally, at a Habitat for Humanity thrift store. I found a brown wooden desk that I could work with. It was originally $40, but with a 50% coupon – I paid $20.
Being that my craft room would have mostly white furniture, I decided to try my hand at learning how to paint a desk like a professional.
How to Paint a Desk White
Below is a picture from before I started painting the wooden desk.
It’s not a great picture. It had only been in the garage for about two hours, and Ash had the desk covered with tools and wood from another garage storage project. (I should have taken a better picture, but I am always so excited to start my projects that I forget.)
Preparing the Wooden Desk
Before painting the desk, the first thing I did was remove the drawers and knobs. Then I cleaned the desk really well – wiping off dust and anything else that had collected on the surface.
The next step of the desk makeover was sanding it down. To sand, I used a random orbital sander with 80-grit paper. This got the desk down to the bare wood quickly. However, even though the desk was smooth to the touch, I probably should have gone over it with 220 grit paper afterward for a more fine finish.
Here is the desk after the sanding and before painting. Notice I put the feet of desk on pieces of wood to raise it up, so I could easily sand, prime, and paint the desk’s legs.
Priming the Wooden Desk
After I was finished sanding, I wiped the desk down again to get all of the sawdust off. You can use a cheese cloth for this or even paper towels. Next, I was ready for the primer.
I had a 2-gallon bucket of indoor/outdoor primer leftover from painting the shed last summer, so I was all ready to go.
I used a large roller brush for the desktop. Then I used a small roller brush and a 1-inch brush for corners and tight areas.
In addition, I used an 1-inch foam brush for the rungs.
If you are wondering what the most challenging part of how to paint a desk is – it was painting the rungs. The rungs on this desk were in such close proximity to each other.
As soon as I would paint one side of the rung, paint would build-up on the bordering sides.
I would then smooth this, and once again, the bordering sides would have some build-up, continuing the cycle.
Thus, I had to very meticulously spend time painting the desk rungs, being careful not to use too much paint and being conscientious about going around and around to smooth everything.
If your furniture has a design like this, be sure to leave lots of time (and have plenty of patience).
Also, since the foam brush put on such a light coat of primer, I knew I would have to do at least two coats on the rungs of the desk I was painting.
After two coats of primer on most of the surfaces (I did 3 on the top of the desk as well as the rungs), I was happy with the results and continued on to painting.
Painting a Wooden Desk White
After priming, I was ready to start painting. I was already happy with how the white primer was looking and was excited to finish up the project.
Using a High-Quality Paint
For this, I used a high-quality enamel paint (urethane acrylic satin).
This type of paint differs from regular paint in that the paint pigments are floating in a urethane solution so it dries to form a very hard, protective surface – much like how polyurethane dries.
It is expensive (about $50 a gallon), but its recommended for furniture that gets a lot of use. (Also, I only used about 1/3 of the can painting the desk, so I had a decent amount left for future projects.)
Applying the Paint
To apply this special paint on the desk, I used a foam roller brush.
It is recommended to use a foam brush with this type of paint to give it a smooth finish.
If you use a regular nap roller (like the ones you use when painting walls), it will soak up and waste a lot of the paint, and it leaves a textured finish.
In addition to the foam roller brush, I also used a 1-inch foam brush for the rungs and tight areas.
I applied a thick topcoat on all of the surfaces of the desk, taking my time with the rungs.
After it dried, I put a second coat on the top of the desk only. This provided extra protection on this surface since it would get a lot of wear and tear.
Also, this probably goes without saying, but if it’s a windy day, paint your furniture in the garage if you can, so particles don’t blow and stick to your piece.
Here’s how the painted desk turned out:
The White Painted Desk
The surface of the painted desk had a nice protective enamel that made it easy to wipe, and it looked professional painted.
However, the painted desk still looked like there were ridges in the wood; it wasn’t a sleek, smooth finish like the brand-new furniture you buy directly from the store.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still very happy with the way the wooden desk turned out. However, in hindsight, when I sanded the desk down to the bare wood (even though the wood felt smooth to the touch), I probably should have gone over it with 220 grit paper for a more fine surface.
The 80-grit paper quickly got the old finish off, but the 220 would have given it a smoother seal.
I still loved the way the painted looked – it was a welcome addition to our bright, airy craft room, and I learned exactly how to paint a desk.
Here’s a side-by-side view of the before and after pictures of how to paint a desk. Not bad, right?!
Time & Cost of Painting a Wooden Desk
The time span of painting the desk was the course of a week – including dry time and airing out time. The paint fumes were not strong, but a little extra time never hurts.
The total cost came to $70. The desk was $20, and the paint was $50. We had previously purchased the primer and the painting materials, so that wasn’t a cost for us.
And, there was primer and paint leftover for the next project 🙂 If you are wondering how to paint a desk like professional, these tips and tricks should definitely set you on your way, keeping you loving your professional-looking piece for longer.