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#11: How To Get A Flawless(ish) Finish When Hand Painting Furniture

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

What’s UP my friends and fellow busybees. I hope your week is going great and you are drinking enough water, moving your body and checking in with yourself when you need to. First off I want to say thank you so much for the support that I’ve gotten from the blog to date- this marks the official beginning of season two and I have absolutely loved this so far, I’ve loved the feedback that I’ve gotten from all of you and that you’re getting value from this and are feeling like you’re more understood in your business and in your struggles.

That is exactly why I set out to do this, because I knew that we would all have more similarities than differences, no matter where we live in the world. And getting messages from you guys letting me know that episodes are resonating with you or that you’re relating to what I’m saying or are getting encouraged and energized by my words are always so awesome to hear so if you are someone who has done so, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I always love seeing you sharing blog posts you've loved in your stories on Instagram while you’re putting off updating your expenses spreadsheet or while doom scrolling at night, so be sure to tag me @MelDidItHerself when you do so I can give you a shoutout on my stories too! Because as we learned last week - we all rise by lifting others.

I wanted to start off season two with a bang and answer one of the most common questions that I receive. I get this question on my posts on social media, in my DM‘s, and lately, just when people are walking by the house and see me painting and refinishing in the driveway and stop by to chat about it, which is becoming much more frequent now that I am out there so much more. Which I love!

And that question is how to get a flawless finish on your piece when hand painting furniture. And as you can see from the title I am calling this a flawless-ish finish because the first thing that I would like to say is… don’t believe everything you see on social media. Particularly after last week’s episode, I received a lot of messages from people saying they appreciated it because they are hard on themselves and don’t feel like their pieces are as good as some of the people they see doing furniture refinishing online, and that absolutely breaks my heart. But also, I know exactly how you feel, girlfriend, because I have been there before too. But I’m here to tell you, because nobody said it to me but I had to come to realize it, is that a lot of what you’re seeing isn’t quite the way it appears. Allow me to explain.

These people that you see on Instagram that have these beautifully curated, crafted feeds that have these glorious furniture pieces (that ARE glorious!), they are altering their photos. They're editing them, they're brightening it, they touch them up, they're removing things on the walls behind them, they're using lighting that they've bought. They are photos that are not the same as what you're seeing in front of you in your furniture pieces.

So don’t be comparing your work that you’re seeing in front of you in harsh lighting, with your own two eyes up close, to somebody’s carefully curated feed that has immaculate lighting and is filled with photos far away from a piece that, I can assure you, is very deliberately staged. And it took a lot of time and effort to do those things! And they're hard things to do-- they're beautiful photos and that should be taken into account, that that is a lot of effort that goes into creating those feeds.

So if you are comparing yourself to them, you will only feel badly about yourself and your work and I’m here to tell you that you do not need to be.

And of course there are people out there that don’t alter their photos and maybe are producing pieces that are close to being what you would consider perfect, but I can assure you that they didn’t start out there. But we’ll touch on that later.

What I will say is: there are many things that you can do to achieve a great finish when you’re hand painting furniture. But if you want it to be absolutely perfect, like really really perfect, it’s gonna take a lot of time, patience, and probably a couple touch ups and re-do’s. And I hope other furniture painters listening are nodding their heads in agreement, and nobody’s looking to the side like “what the hell is this girl talking about, mine are always perfect??”. Because if so, please send me a DM and tell me what you’re doing to achieve this absolutely flawless finish every time– and again, I repeat, when hand painting.

Because if you’re spraying a piece, it’s much easier to get that perfect flawless finish. I do have a paint sprayer, I definitely can attest that I probably haven’t given it a fair shake in terms of time inputted into getting used to it and getting to learn it, but the one thing that did turn me off a bit initially from spraying is that it takes away the part that I love most about furniture refinishing. I love getting into that state of flow and getting lost in painting and getting some of that paint therapy that we all love, and the sprayer doesn’t allow for that in the same way. So, for now at least, I stick to hand painting and the occasional roller action.

And I do intend on getting more used to the sprayer in the coming months, and it’s great for those who like using it. It’s definitely more efficient and again and it will give you that more uniform and likely closer to perfect finish. So keep that in mind if you are really trying to get that perfect finish. But I think a lot of people who are customers and clients and are looking to receive and purchase refinish furniture, they can appreciate that these are pre-loved pieces that have had a long history in their lifetime, and they know that that comes with some imperfections, like all of us have. But despite our imperfections, we are beautiful and loved and valuable, just like the beautiful creations that we do.

So keep that in mind as we move forward that just because you are seeing a couple slight imperfections here and there, when you look at it in a certain lighting at a certain angle, don’t be yourself up over it and know that there are plenty of people out there that will absolutely find that to be a valuable and beautiful piece regardless. Those are the people that are your target audience, your client avatar, and the ones that you want to foster relationships with because they can appreciate the value that comes with that piece, besides the fact that it’s just probably a little less expensive than getting a factory finish at a store.

But, all that to say, there are some things that you can do to ensure that you’re getting as close to a flawless finish as possible– the flawless-ish finish that I mentioned earlier. First off, it starts with proper prep work. If you missed it, go revisit episode blank where I went into full detail on how to properly prep a piece before painting or staining, because that goes in depth on the steps and some tips that I have. There are some other things that you can also do that will help, and the first one that I typically tell people is to always use the right tools.

Using good quality brushes that are made for the intended purpose will make all the difference. When I first started out doing Furniture Painting and Refinishing, I would try and keep my expenses low, like I think we all do, and so at first I was just buying paint brushes from Dollarama and finding the most inexpensive ones that I could because I knew that they would get the job done and they wouldn’t break the bank. That was a mistake.

I now only use those for chip brushes and if I’m trying to get a rough finish on a piece and I’m looking for texture. So that should tell you something. Choosing brushes that are made for furniture painting and refinishing and that are the perfect shape and size and angle that you need to achieve the project that you’re working on will help you out so much in the long run and you’ll think yourself later. And you don’t need a lot of brushes, but I recommend having a few go to ones for the various uses that you come across often. This will be an upcoming episode where I go over the types that I recommend and my favourite brushes personally.

Back to proper prep work, after you put your primer on if you were gonna be using primer in your project, make sure that you are lightly sanding after every coat. This is going to make sure that the base is as silky smooth as possible to lay down your paint on top of. You can use a high grit sandpaper either with an electric sander or just by hand or using a sanding sponge, I recommend anything 220 grit or higher. If I have it on hand, I’ll typically choose around 300 grit when doing this just because it’s just so silky smooth but will still get any texture that may be there.

After you lightly sand and you even out that finish, make sure that you’re also removing any dust that might be there whether it’s from sanding initially before you put on the primer or after you are sanding down the primer in between coats, because if you leave it there and then you start putting your next coat of primer or first coat of paint, that dust is going to get into that product and mix together and it will create texture that you will later have to deal with. So help yourself out and make sure to either wipe or brush that away and get it off of the piece.

Once you get to the point of actually painting my biggest tip and number one rule of thumb is to always go in with multiple light, thin coats of paint instead of trying to build up full coverage right off the bat on the piece. This will ensure that you’re not using too much product, and will end up in the smoothest finish that you can get. When you’re dipping your paintbrush into the paint, You need much less paint on your paintbrush than you think you do. I would say maybe two fingers worth of paint up the bristles at most, and I also recommend once you dip your brush to wipe it off a bit on the sides of the container you’re using to get the excess off, which will avoid drip marks. Again, it’s always better to have to build the coverage up over time once each coat is dried than having a big gloopy mess that’s taking forever to dry and then you can tell that it’s not even gonna be uniform or flat once it does.

For whatever paint product you’re using, I always recommend that you read the directions carefully to make sure that you are following the recommended use for the product, and it also doesn’t hurt if you’re feeling unsure or uncertain amount taken on the piece, or it’s your first time doing this, to check out the brands website to see if they have any how to videos or tutorials or on their social media channels that let you know how to get the best finish and results using their products. They are the experts so they will let you know how they created the product to perform. YouTube is also a great resource for this.

And this is because some paints have certain tricks that help you get the best finish when you’re using them. For example I often use fusion mineral paint on my pieces and it works best when you go back with one long stroke when she get the coverage onto the piece. This was something I had to learn, because at first I would go through and I would have lines in my finish of where my brush stroke had ended and then I had started off again, and if I had just gone through once I got the paint on the piece and did longer brush strokes from one edge of the piece to the other, I would’ve avoided that learning curve. And again, with fusion, they recommend doing multiple light coats instead of going in with one big coat and trying to get that coverage early on so if I had done my research properly when I first started using the product, I would have known that when first jumping in.

Another thing when reading the directions to take into account and to follow precisely, is to stick to the dry and recoat times for the paint and the temperature requirements. If you go in before the paint is fully dried to put a second coat on, this can pull up your first coat and end up in a really yucky gloopy mess. And some types of paint, if they are more of an enamel based paint, have very specific instructions where you might only be able to recoat within the hour or after 24/48 hrs... It’s all based in science, so I’m here to tell you that they do know better than you do, so just listen to them.

The reason you want to take into account the temperature requirements is because the paint will not fully dry or dry properly if it’s too hot or humid or too cold which are all issues that we face here in Canada when trying to paint in the garage. Right now, it’s the whole humidity issue. And there’s nothing you can really do other than trying to temperature control your space or just waiting for a day with better weather, but I highly recommend you not rush and try and work on the piece if you don’t have those ideal environmental conditions. Because ultimately, you will run into issues whether it be immediately or down the line when you realize that you don’t have as good of durability and lasting power in your finish.

Another thing that will help you to get that flawless-ish finish when hand painting, is to not skip this step of a topcoat. Not only does this offer added durability for your piece long-term, but this also helps to give it more of a seamless, flawless finish and can be the difference of it looking like something that was just hand-painted in passing by someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, and by someone who is more of an expert. One paint that I have found at this makes a humongous difference with, is the colour Coal Black by Fusion Mineral Paint. It can have a tendency to really show off those imperfections and brush strokes because it's such a pigmented black. But once you get a coat of polyurethane over it, particularly if you mix in some of the paint into the topcoat to avoid a milky finish, it looks absolutely divine and so much more sleek and modern.

I also, as a warning and recommendation, want to remind you that practice does make perfect, and I don’t want you to be discouraged if the first time that you do a piece it doesn’t look flawless because we all started somewhere. And if it doesn’t turn out absolutely perfect the first time, think of the fact that you now have something to compare to in order to track your progress as you practice and you improve your craft and get better. Some pieces that I look back on from when I first started out, I want to cringe quite hard. But ultimately, it lets me know that I’ve now learned more, research more, listened and taken on peoples recommendations or tips, and it has resulted in me providing a better product to my clients and being more well-rounded in what I do today. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft, so if you put an hour into painting your first piece and it’s not quite up to par with what you imagined, don’t stop there.

And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end every podcast episode with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.

So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is: "Find the courage to let go of what you can’t change". So when we’re talking about trying to get a flawless finish on our pieces and you’re working on a piece that just has something about it that’s especially finicky or maybe isn’t well-aligned and you’ve done everything you possibly can to fix it, and you’re harping down on it. Or maybe it’s a knick and you can’t quite get the wood filler to fill it completely and it keeps shrinking down, and it’s all you notice when you look at the piece but otherwise it looks pristine - find the courage to let go of what you can’t change.

You gave it your all, and like I’ve said before, done is better than perfect. And I know that sounds bad, but if you’ve done all you can to get it to that state of perfection (or as close to it, because nothing is perfect in this world!), then you did your very best. And I can guarantee you that there is someone out there that will appreciate all the time, all the effort, all the energy that you put into that piece because your care will shine through to the right people. The people who are your target audience, that appreciate refinished furniture for the history and the life that it’s been through. Find the courage to get go of what you can’t change.

And I always like to relate these messages back to our everyday lives because I feel like that’s a little bit more relatable, because there might be people reading who don’t necessarily do painting or refinishing but are just interested in tuning in to learn about it or are just here for the ride- but think about your life and the things that you stress about, the things that maybe make you anxious, that fill up your thoughts, that keep you up at night, that are the first things you’re thinking about and worrying about in the morning.

Take a second and think of all of those stressors that you have, and now think about how many of those things you can control. How many of those things do you directly have control over? I bet it’s not that many of them. I bet a lot of things are completely out of your control. And I bet that’s scary– I know that’s scary! Because I have those things in my life, too.

But I want you to take a minute, think about all of those things that you have and take a deep breath. And let go of them. Find that courage within you to let go of the things you can’t change because you’re adding interest and worry to something you have absolutely no control over.

And you’ve got enough things going on in your life, you don’t need to have those in your brain! You’re trying to remember the kid’s doctor’s appointment, you’re trying to remember “oh, what was that thing I said I need to pick up the next time I go to the grocery store?”, you’re trying to think of all of the chores and remember to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer once it’s finished…oh, and remember to check your emails…

We have so many things day-to-day that our stupid little tiny brains are trying to rememeber. You do not need those extra things to be taking up space or any emotion and energy in your day. Find the things that you can’t change, and let go of them. You’re better than that.

Alright, that’s it for now, thank you so much, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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