How to Paint Furniture without sanding

How to Paint Furniture

How to Paint FurnitureIt’s done! It’s finally done! I now own the kitchen hutch of my dreams. I’ve been wanting, craving, a hutch for years, and now I own it. I’m beyond pleased with how it turned out.

I bought this beauty at a garage sale last Saturday for $50. It’s large. Very, very large. It’s just shy of five feet wide and almost seven feet tall. The whole thing is wood except for the back panel which is a laminate panel.

How to: Paint Furniture - Before


How to: Paint Furniture - After


I did some serious research in preparation to paint this hutch. The most useful site that I found was Centsational Girl. The woman is a genius, has painted tons of things, and is so clear in her instructions. I am so glad I found her site because it’s just plain great.

One of the big reasons for the research was because I was not going to sand the entire thing down to the wood. I read lots and lots and went with a method that involved very little sanding. Painting furniture without sanding is the way to go!

Most of the big-time furniture painters are very specific on brands and types of primer/paint conditioner/polyurethane that they use. Lots of the women paint and then sell furniture in shops, so they do it for a living. I went with what the experts said.

How to paint furniture without sanding (including laminate)

What you will need:

Zinsser Cover Stain oil-based primer
Floetrol paint conditioner
paint thinner
Elmer’s wood filler
good quality two-inch angled brush (mine is a Purdy brush)
fine-grit sanding block, medium-grit sanding block, coarse-grit sanding block
paint of your choice
Minwax water-based Polycrylic (Varathane water-based polyurethane was also an acceptable choice)
screw driver
tack cloth or lint free rag for wiping and dusting

Paint Furniture - Supplies

Prep the furniture

Remove all of the doors and hardware using a screwdriver. I decided that I didn’t want the doors on top at all, so I removed them and then used a Sawzall to cut the two vertical boards that the doors were attached to. I pulled out the boards but was left with holes where the boards were and where the hinges were screwed in. I followed the directions on the Elmer’s wood-filler to patch the holes and then sanded them smooth. If you are planning on changing the hardware you may need to patch the old hardware holes too. The wood filler is also great to fix large scratches and dings.

Paint Furniture - Beginning

Light sanding

Use the medium-grit sanding block to rough up all surfaces you are going to paint. I didn’t paint the inside of the cabinet bottoms; it’s a personal preference. You aren’t really sanding, you are just lightly scratching the surface to give the primer a better finish to adhere to. I just quickly went over the entire piece, which only took me 15 minutes. Remove all of the dust completely before moving on.

Paint Furniture - light sanding


Using Zinsser Cover Stain oil-based primer is the key here. It’s the only primer any of the big-timers use and I have to agree that it worked great. It’s the key for painting without sanding and for painting laminate furniture. At around $20 for the gallon, it’s well worth the time you save on sanding. It is oil-based, so you will need paint thinner or mineral spirits to clean your brush. And be warned – this stuff is not low-VOC. Holy stink; I had all of the windows and door open as well as a fan blowing air out the window. I opted for two coats of primer because two is better than one in this case.

Paint Furniture - Prime


Even though the primer is oil-based, you can use whatever paint you want. Most people suggested using an acrylic water-based paint. I had lots of white paint left over from painting the ceilings of our remodel, so I used that. The sheen of the paint doesn’t really matter because you are going to cover it anyhow. I added the Floetrol paint conditioner to the paint which is meant to help reduce brush marks. Just follow the instructions on the bottle. Again, I did two coats of paint. Allow the paint to dry for 24 hours before moving on to the polyurethane.

Paint Furniture - Paint


If you are going for the shabby chic/vintage look then you can distress the paint. If you like it without, then skip this step. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to distress this piece or not. It was my first big painting project. I had my fair share of paint drips and brush strokes regardless of the care I took to prevent them, so I decided that distressing was a good option for me. It was painful at first to scratch up my freshly painted piece, but in the end I’m glad that I did it. I like the look, but it also will make using it easier. I don’t want to worry about a little wear and tear from the babies. Now the first scratch will blend in.

Use the coarse sandpaper block to go over the edges, and then follow up with the medium-grit sandpaper. The coarse cut through my 4 layers well and the medium fanned out the scratch lightly to make it look more real. This step was really fun once I made the plunge.

Paint Furniture - Distress

Paint Furniture - Light Distressing


This is the protective top-coat that you don’t want to skip. This will prevent more of your paint from scratching off and really makes the piece last. Minwax and Varathane were the two main brands big-timers use. There are a few types, including a wipe-on paste, that people like. Everyone seems to agree on one point though: do not use an oil based top-coat. The oil-based (and off-brands) will yellow, and on a light piece you definitely don’t want that. I did two coats of Minwax water-based Polycrylic that was semi-gloss. This is the final coat and the sheen that you pick will be what you see as the end result. I lightly sanded (with the fine-grit block) and dusted between the coats to remove drips and brush strokes.

If you are finishing a desk or table top that will get lots of wear and tear, 4-6 coats of polyurethane is suggested.

It was recommended that you wait for 24 hours before using the piece. I let the hutch cure over the weekend and now it’s ready to use.

Paint Furniture - Finished

Be sure to read labels, wear old clothes, and paint in a well ventilated area.

The hutch didn’t turn out flawless- it had its share of drips, brush strokes, and dust that I polyurethaned to it, but it was well worth the effort.

I really, really liked doing this and can see myself getting into the business side of this hobby in the future. Most of the ladies who do this to sell their pieces own spray guns which would make the process 10 times faster and make the end result much, much smoother. Purchasing a spray gun is something that I will consider looking into in the future.

Paint Furniture - Finished Drawers

Paint Furniture - Finished Hutch

Here is a price breakdown if you are interested:

Garage sale Hutch: $50
Zinsser Primer: $20
Sanding blocks: $7
Floetrol: $8
Paint thinner: $4
Minwax Polycrylic: $17
Brush: had
Paint: had
Hardware: used what it came with

Total: $106

Paint Furniture - Final

Thanks for reading! I hope you love this piece as much as I do. Has anyone else painted a piece of furniture before?

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109 comments on “How to Paint Furniture without sanding

  1. I have a old dresser I want to do the same thing too, never have I done anything like this ! I love your page !

    1. I’m sure it does! I just helped a girl friend on a piece of furniture last weekend. We were in here garage with the door fully open and all the windows open and we still wouldn’t let any of the kids play near us. So stinky! Work in a well ventilated area or outside and have a fan going too! You can use low VOC paint and top coat though.

  2. Love love love your hutch…I have a dresser..with a top that comes off..has shelves on each that I have seen how you did yours…I will try & do mine for the kitchen…You did an excellent job..with pics & explaining…thanks so much for will help so much!

  3. I have this exact china cabinet and I painted mine white with a blue background. My husband thought I was crazy when I brought it home. Love the yellow

      1. I have this exact one as well, got it for $50 too! It is sitting in my garage until the weather is nice enough to tackle this project outdoors. Thank you so much for the inspiration to remove the doors! I am going to remove the shelf as well, and make the back panel a large chalkboard!

  4. Love your project. I have a dining room side table in the color forest green with stenciling, which the top is badly scratched from many years of use. I got it from an aunt. I’ve been putting it off in stripping and painting it. Your project is an inspiration that I will finally try to tackle my own project. Thanks!

    1. Thank you! I just went to Home Depot and picked up a light color of paint on their “mistint” shelf. I asked them to recolor it to yellow. So this makes the paint really cheap, but it’s also not a specific color because I started with paint that already had colorant in it. Does that make sense? It’s a great option if you don’t mind the color not being just perfect!

  5. Very nice! You did a wonderful job and should be very proud of yourself. My grown son and I are in the process of turning a Goodwill hutch into an island for my kitchen. We have cut the top to make room for installing 2 more drawers, added a shelf unit with a glass-fronted door off one end to use for displaying curios, and have raised the whole thing a little higher so is a comfortable height for a standing work area. We are making the top 12 inches wider than the hutch in order to have an eating space across the back of the island. We’re covering most of it with wainscotting, so only the doors and drawer fronts will need to be refinished. I appreciate your sharing your tips for getting a quality finish. When this project is finished, I will be re-doing another Goodwill cabinet which I use as a coffee/tea center. I, too, LOVE re-doing things!

  6. Thank you for the clear advice. Just what I was looking for to help rehab a scratched verathaned coffee table am finishing in “eggplant”, a dark purple.

  7. Loved it! Thought you did a great job! I just inherited a very traditional looking dining room set and you have encouraged me to convert the pieces, i’m going for it!

    1. Oooh I’d love to see it! On a table you would want to put a million (or 6 to 10) coats of that polyurathane so that it doesn’t scratch :) Happy painting friend!

  8. I’m so impressed and just found your site.Thank you for sharing some of your tips.Great short and to the point tutorial, definitely has me ready to take on some of my painting projects!!!!

  9. You seem like you have a great blog, but I can’t help but notice (as I was looking for specific advice on how to NOT sand before painting wood furniture) that the step after removing hardware was… light sanding. :)

  10. I have the exact same china cabinet. It was the first piece I painted, it was so heavy and dark.. I did sand mine, left the doors on, painted it all white except the inside, I painted that light gray with sparkles and I did replace the inside paneling with plywood. Yours is a great inspiration.

  11. You are right. The most important step is using a good quality primer. Zinsser makes an excellent product, and I used it to prime my ugly dark oak kitchen cabinets before painting them white. It’s amazing how primer can smooth out a finish and cover small crevices. And it is a must before painting any surface. For instance, if the surface were painted with an old oil-based paint and you tried to paint over with a water-based paint, the result would be a peeling mess. So my motto has always been,”When in doubt, prime it out.”

    Painting old furniture as you have done really brightens it up and removes that “dated” look. Great job!

  12. Just what I needed to see-my sister discouraged me from redoing my dark brown hutch bc I’d have to strip the varnish she said. I’ll try this and am sure it will be great. Thanks! You’re very encouraging! Theresa of Maine

  13. Beautiful job! Thank you very much fun for your detailed posting. I am going to try this method with a dining set I have. Fingers crossed! 🖌

  14. Hi! Just found This post and I’m so grateful! I’m turning an entertainment center into a toy storage / desk for my playroom. I’m a littler nervous to do it white bc I feel like the poly almost always makes it yellow. Did you experience that at all with this piece? Thanks!

    1. I’ve had this piece for four years now and it’s still perfect! I wrote about the type of poly that doesn’t go yellow, so read close! You will LOVE working on your own furniture!