How to paint over varnished timber

Jess, Team member
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How to paint over varnished timber

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Project Overview

Revitalising an old varnished piece of furniture like a table or a cabinet is easier than you think. Not only will you get a lot of satisfaction out of saving it, but you can modernise it to really suit your style. We’ll show you what you need to do to bring old timber furniture back to life.

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Man spraying timber floor
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Belt sander tip

Belt sanders are powerful, effective machines. If you have never used one before, it’s a good idea to practice on an out of the way section of floor first. That way, you will have a feel for how the sander works before you get to the more visible areas.

Step by Step Instructions

1 Prepare the table
2 Fill up the cracks and imperfections
3 Sand the table
4 Apply the primer
5 Apply the paint
  • Step 1. Prepare the table

    The first thing to do is to remove any hardware from the table. This may include handles, knobs or metal trimming. Then you’ll need to clean the furniture with a good household cleaner.  With disposable gloves on, use a scouring pad to remove anything that is stuck to the timber. Wipe away any residue and let the table dry. Make sure you always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on your cleaning product
  • Step 2. Fill up the cracks and imperfections

    Use putty filler and a scraper or putty knife to fill in any cracks, holes or imperfections in the furniture. It’s best to use a flexible scraper that’s wide enough to cover the cracks or imperfections you’re filling, so that the putty is applied flat and evenly. Leave the putty to dry.

  • Step 3. Sand the table

    Sand the furniture using 180 grit sandpaper. For a smoother finish, you could try 240 grit sandpaper. You don’t have to remove the varnish completely, just slightly etch the surface so that primer will stick to it. A good tip is to sand in the direction of the grain. After sanding, wipe away any dust with a damp cloth. 

  • Step 4. Apply the primer

    Mix the primer thoroughly. If you’re working inside, you might need to wear a ventilator. When applying the primer, use a paint roller and make long even strokes. You can also use a paint brush for any areas that are hard to reach with a roller. A handy tip when painting is to lay the paint off before it goes tacky for a finer finish. To do this, go over the surface very lightly with a roller that has very little paint on it. If you need to apply a second coat of primer, wait for the first coat to dry. Give the surface a light sand with 180 grit sandpaper, wipe off any dust, and then apply the second coat.

  • Step 5. Apply the paint

    For our table, we used a water-based enamel because it dries quickly and is easy to clean. Apply as many coats as you need with a roller or paint brush to cover the area completely. Make sure the paint is dry before applying a second or third coat of paint. Once it’s dry, move your revitalised piece of furniture into place and enjoy it for years to come.                

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

When following our advice in our DIY videos, make sure you use all equipment, including PPE, safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the equipment is suitable for the task and that PPE fits properly. If you are unsure, hire an expert to do the job or talk to a Bunnings Team Member

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