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This presentation provides instruction about preparing, painting and protecting salvaged furniture. It must be stressed: This is about working with pieces of furniture that are on the way to the scrap yard, not about refinishing fine antiques. This is about making something that had been previously deemed as worthless into a great piece of functional art. With that said, let's begin!

What you will need:


  • A piece of wood furniture in stable condition
  • Acrylic primer
  • Acrylic joint compound
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Acrylic polyurethane
  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP), available in hardware/home improvement stores in the paint section
  • Steel wool
  • Paint brushes


  • Drawer pulls
  • Cloth for seat covers
  • Fancy legs (available in woodworking section of home improvement stores)
  • Additional decorative items
  • Screws, nails, glue

Here is the piece I will work on throughout the presentation.


I observed that the seat needed to be removed and that the entire piece needed to be sanded with steel wool to remove the glossy finish and to allow the primer to properly adhere to the chair's surface. In addition, I recommend that you remove items such as drawer pulls, seats, drawers and removable shelves from each piece before beginning. This simply makes priming and painting easier.

Now I will move chronologically through the development of this piece and provide pictures as a reference.

  • Remove the seat by unscrewing it from the bottom.

  • Sand the entire piece with steel wool; you're not trying to remove the finish but rather just trying to rough it up to accept the primer.
  • Wash piece with a teaspoon of TSP mixed with a half-gallon of warm water in order to remove dust and dirt. No need to rinse.
  • Use joint compound to fill any defects. In this case, the chair is missing its arms which have left it with several holes that need to be filled.
  • Remove the seat by unscrewing it from the bottom.

    I plan to paint the seat cover; with this piece, the seat will really carry the motif since it's the largest area to be painted. I removed the Naugahide upholstery and the chair padding, and then temporarily stretched some white, cotton cloth over the seat, affixing it with masking tape.


  • If you had to use joint compound, light sand the area with steel wool to remove any excess, dried compound.
  • It's time to prime! The entire piece needs to be primed including in this case, the seat covering. Apply the primer liberally and allow it to dry.
  • I take time to observe the piece once it's been primed in order to crystallize my ideas for painting it. It's often easier to see how the piece works once it's been reduced to a flat white surface. As an aside, I work with a degree of consistency in my pieces. I typically work in triads of color with a first color, its complement and the complement's neighbor. In this case, I started with purple, its complement yellow, and yellow's neighbor, green. Also, I usually paint most structural components black, a tribute to scene painting in theatre. With this chair, I plan to paint the legs and the vertical back pieces black.
  • Now you get to paint. I started by sketching my image in pencil on the seat covering. This chair will be part of a set of four "Fruit & Veggie Chairs" and the image is a pea pod. In the following photo you can see that I painted the image on the seat first and then moved to the actual chair.

  • The black paint always requires at least two coats of paint to cover, so apply a second coat of black.
  • Finish the piece by brushing on two thin coats of acrylic polyurethane, allowing adequate dry time between coats.
  • Permanently re-affix the seat covering to the seat with tacks or a staple gun. I use the same method one would use when stretching a canvas. Start on one side with a tack or staple in the middle, and then add one more tack on each side of the first. Move to the opposite side and do the same. Keep moving back and forth to affix these two sides, then flip it and do the same for the remaining two sides. Do the corners last.
  • Re-screw seat to chair. Here's the finished piece!

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