Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to start furniture upcycling – Part 1

I’ve had many people ask me how to start out redoing furniture for other people, what tools and products I use.  Let me tell ya, like everything else I do, I’ve tried to figure out how to get the biggest bang for my business buck.  I’ve spent the last year finding the tools and products that allow me to put forward the best possible product for the least possible overhead, and thus maximize my profit and make the most for my precious time.  I started doing this with practically no money, and you can too!

If you’ve been asking yourself (or me) what you need to start doing what I’m doing, then this post is for you.  :)

1.  Furniture – Obviously the first thing you will need to start furniture upcyling is furniture.


Don’t be lured into taking every ugly, free thing that may come your way.  (Not that I’m knocking free things or ugly things, by an means!  The above dresser I got for free and it certainly was ugly and turned out to be a jewel!)  But make sure the pieces you’re putting your valuable time into are worth making over.  Keep an eye out for solidly built pieces.  I’ve learned the hard way that rickety chairs are just not worth the time and headache. 

From the get-go, I’ve set a per piece spending limit of $40.  YES, it’s true, every single piece you’ve seen on this blog was purchased for less than $40.  Part of the fun (for me at least) is the challenge of trying to find things that are interesting to make over for $40 or less.  :) 

How do I get the screaming deals?  I’m a compulsive-Craigslist-checker, yard-sale-rubber-necker, thrift-store-frequenter.  In order to snatch up the super-great deals, you need to be the first on the scene (so to speak.)  If you’re getting into this as a money making avenue, you need to look at the treasure hunting as part of the job.  If you are on top of it, you will get the best deals and you will make more on your pieces when you turn them around.

2.  Primer – First, I’d like to say that you should NEVER skip the priming step (unless you’re using a paint that has primer in it or, like chalk paint, doesn’t need a primer.)  I generally use a water-based primer in my sprayer.  I’ve found very little difference between Kilz and Zinsser.  Both are good.  Kilz Clean Start is Zero VOC, which is especially good when pregnant, so it’s been winning my vote for a while.  :)


I also keep some oil based spray primer on hand for pieces that need more stain-blocking (heavilly knotted pine, or dark-stained pieces will sometimes bleed through the water-based primer) or odor covering (musty or smokey smelling pieces.)

3.  Paint – When I first started out, before I had a sprayer, I primarily used canned spray paint for furniture makeovers.  I still use it a lot for smaller redos that I don’t want to use the sprayer for or for quick hardware updates.  My preference is for Krylon brand.  Krylon has SO many wonderful colors, and I love their nozzle and the consistency of the paint.  Some of my favorite Krylon colors are:


Cherry Red


Catalina Mist



And, of course, I always keep some oil-rubbed bronze and ivory on hand for hardware updates.

The key to adding a hand-done and time-warn finish when using canned spray paint is the addition of distressing and and glazing.  Even though the spray paint make for a quick paint application, I always put a lot of time, energy and attention into the distressing and glazing.  I’ll talk more about those later.

Another tip to furniture upcycling on the cheap is to keep an eye out for mistints at Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, or paint stores.  You can get great deals on some great paint because someone decided the color wasn’t exactly right.  The sample paint pots are usually just the right size for a project.  I painted the Chevron Dresser with one sample paint pot. 


I generally keep an eye out for the sample size pots (50 cents) and quarts ($2.00).  I will generally pass by the gallons ($5.00) unless it’s a color that I know I’ll use often, like a shade of white.

I’ve also found the Habitat Restore a great resource for paint mistints.  Many paint stores donate their mistints to Habitat to move them along.


In part 2 of this post I plan on talking more about the actual tools I use; brushes, sprayer, sander, etc.  I have a lot to share, so this may turn into a 3 part post.  ;)

Please comment below if you have any specific questions you’d like me to address in the next addition!


  1. Thanks! I love refinishing furniture and have been contemplating maybe trying to sell some pieces. I did a desk in celery and ended up loving it like no ones business! Definitely became one of my go to colors, and I cannot say enough good things about Krylon's nozzel, it's seriously my favorite thing ever and makes me crazy when I have to use any other brand.

    1. You should share your work on The Glasgow F.L.E.A PJ.


  2. great post, girl! i've wanted to compile thoughts on my business and you just may have inspired me! how are you feeling these days??

  3. Great post...thanks for sharing. Love that celery color!

  4. That was very informative and helpful!
    Thank You!

  5. Lovely tips! These are wonderful! Have a gorgeous day, Kellie xx

  6. WE NEED PART 2 AND 3 ASAP!!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE the celery!!!! I'll be stocking every couple hours for the part 2 and 3!!! Beautiful work!!!

  7. Alright I did my first project and I'm kind of discouraged. Can you offer any advice to me.

    here is the project....

  8. I was wondering how do you get old people smells out of old dressers?

    1. 1/3 terpentine
      1/3 boiled linseed oil
      1/3 white wine vinegar
      put into a glass jar and SHAKE (shake every time before you use it)
      Clean your furniture inside and out with this juice and you'll think you're in a pricey antique shop. Gets out ALL odors.

  9. I am painting a hutch i got at salvation army and there are a few hinges with screws that i cannot get out of the wood. I got one out and it broke in the hole and the other two hinges just won't budge and I am close to stripping out the slot on the screw. any idea on what to do with the hinges?

  10. One question I have is how much sanding you do. I have a very large, heavy hutch and I don't want to lug it outside to sand. Can I just prime over the existing paint and they paint on top.
    Love this blog :)

  11. Thank you for all the good tips and information. Purdy brushes are my favorite too. I was also wondering, how much finish do you have to remove if you are using a primer and painting w/ a sprayer?

  12. I've always wondered where blog folks find paint mistint gallons for $5! I've looked around home (massachusetts) and near my parents (Illinois) and have never, ever found a mistint that inexpensive. At our local HD, mistints cost 50% of the original cost. So perhaps $10 for the cheap stuff, and up to $20 for the nicer paints. It is the same policy at our local Walmart that have paint centers. There I am more likely to find quarts of mistinted paint, but they cost ~$8. Some are only 25% off of the original price if the paint was a correctly tinted return, rather than a genuine mistint.

    I am so envious of those who live in areas where these things can be found so inexpensively!

  13. I just discovered your blog today (thanks to Pinterest!) and I love it. I've always wanted to remake old furniture and you have so many amazing inspirational projects here.

  14. Hi! I also just found your blog via pinterest..your projects are FABULOUS! I do have one question as well. I would love to start selling re-finished furniture but I was wondering how you go about shipping? Do you only sell to local buyers, like through craigs list? The only options I have found for shipping furniture have been VERY expensive.

    1. I've never shipping any of my pieces. I just sell locally. I looked into shipping, but the price combined with the effort, combined with the stress of wondering whether or not pieces would make it okay to their destination, I decided against it.

  15. Love your projects. Was wondering whether if upcycling is only limited to solid wood pieces. Thanks! Agy

    1. It's certainly not limited to solid wood pieces, although I've found the solid wood pieces are easier to do, hold up better over time, etc. If you paint laminate furniture, make sure you do a heavy duty, bonding, oil based primer so that you have good adhesion of your paint.

  16. I've always wanted to do this kind of work but thought I had to be skilled in some special craft. I'm starting it as a hobby with my 13 y.o. daughter and SO excited. Thanks for the tips!!! I'll be back often.

  17. I love the kidney bean desk you did in celery. I have the same desk and have wanted to refinish it, now I am excited to do so having seen the end product. Very cool. I'm curious about the top. Mine has a faux leather piece on it. Did yours? If so, how did you treat it? Thanks for any info you can give me.

  18. Hi, your blog has been one of the first blogs I've been reading when I decided to start my upcycling business Cherrie Hub, and although I do love the look of painted furniture, I have managed to locate my interests in bare wood, so instead of painting wooden furniture, I strip it from any finish and treatb it with wax polish / stains / oil depending on the wood. I love working with bare wood for the surprising ways it behaves, thank you for an inspiration for my business!

  19. Great article. I would like to try my hand at marketing distressed treasures and your article has been very encouraging. You have inspired me! I am looking for Pt2. Please direct me to it.

  20. What a great post! I'm in love with the gray striped dresser and that old antique desk/vanity. You did an amazing job!
    I just did a post on tips for yard selling like a pro. I'd love for you to check it out!!!
    Ashleigh@shabby not 4gotten

  21. I have a few pieces of furniture I'd like to repaint and I'm wondering what kind/brand of sprayer you use to paint your pieces? TIA :)

  22. Hi I just read your wonderful and very helpful article! I'm thinking about starting also painting and selling furniture but I have a lot to learn. If you only want to apply stain what do you do? Do you sand it? No primer right? And after you've stained it do you put anything over it to protect the stain? Can you wax it after? If you don't like it can you put paint on top of it? What is the difference between the latex, oil and water paint and when do you use each of them? Sorry i have to many questions ��

  23. Hi, great blog!! I am in great need of INSTRUCTIONS like you provide cause I am lacking in almost all the skills I'd need ! LOL. I am especially lacking in the carpentry skills and "building" aspect of re doing a piece. Please suggest HOW I'd learn, with out just jumping in and perhaps ruining a lot of great pieces. I know YOUTUBE, but sometimes they still are not basic enough instructions. I will practice, just wanted your thoughts, as you are so skilled. Thanks, I will continue to come here and read your continuing advice. All the best, deb in Fla.

  24. Wonderful Blog! Do you have any tips on when to use varnish vs polyacrylic vs wax? Thanks.

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