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Transforming Tag-Sale Furniture

Martha Stewart Living, August 2002

A fresh finish will wipe the years off a battered flea-market find and help integrate it into your decor.

Paint transforms not just because it brings color -- or sometimes neutrality -- to furniture, but because it erases stains, patches, and repairs while cleaning and brightening the piece. That's a big payoff for a process that's so easy you can probably do it in an afternoon.

You will need a 2-inch paintbrush with nylon-polyester bristles, a drop cloth, a few sheets of 120-and 220-grit sandpaper, spackling compound, a 1 1/2-inch putty knife, a vacuum cleaner, and tack cloth. And, of course, you'll need paint and primer, either oil-base or latex (water base). Oil is a bit more durable, but each coat needs to dry for 24 hours before the next is applied. Also, the fumes are very powerful, and you'll need paint thinner to wash the brush. Latex is far easier because it can be recoated in two or three hours, has less odor, and cleans up with water.

Preparing and Priming
1. Set the chest on a drop cloth in a well-ventilated area. Remove all hardware. If that's not possible, mask it with painter's tape (this blue tape is less tacky than standard masking tape) before priming.

2. Lightly sand the entire surface with 120-grit sandpaper, following the grain. This will remove worked-in dirt and loose bits of original finish; most important, it will degloss the old, shiny finish so the primer has something to grip. Vacuum the piece. Fill any dents or deep scratches by pushing spackling compound into the hole and scraping away excess with the putty knife. Once the patches have dried, fill again, if necessary, and then sand with 220-grit paper. Vacuum, and wipe the piece with a tack cloth.

3. Place small, clean wooden blocks under the feet, so you can paint to the bottom without getting dirt on your brush. Prime one surface at a time. Brush following the grain in long, steady strokes. Never work so far from your wet paint edge that you drag the brush through paint that is already drying.

Painting
1. After the primer has dried for the time recommended by the manufacturer, check for drips and any grit or insects that may have gotten caught in the wet surface. Correct imperfections with 220-grit sandpaper; vacuum, and wipe clean using a tack cloth. Then apply your finish coat (although the application techniques for paint and primer are identical, the primer is an important step because it adheres better to the substrate). When painting rails between drawer openings, coat only the faces, not the sides. When working around the legs, shift the blocks occasionally to prevent sticking.

2. Paint all exposed portions of the drawer front, but not the rest of the drawer.

3. The top of the chest should be painted last; give it an extra coat to withstand extra wear.

4. After the paint has dried, reattach the hardware or replace it. Line the drawers with attractive shelf paper, and attach felt surface protectors to the feet.