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How to Paint Over Varnished Wood – Make Old New Again

Learn how to paint over varnished wood and bring back to life an old piece of furniture. It’s a lot easier than you think!


Everyone seems to have that trusty piece of timber furniture that just needs a bit of love. It’s always looking tired and worn out. So, why not paint it? Sadly, a lot of people are put off by this because of varnish, but don’t worry, you can paint over varnish, and I’m going to show you how.

This is all the equipment we need right here. We have:

  • Paint
  • Paint brushes,
  • Roller and roller tray,
  • Sandpaper
  • Filler
  • Scraper
  • Varnished piece of furniture

We’ve chosen an outdated timber table, and we’re going to give it some new life.

Step 1


how to paint varnished wood, first cleanOur first step in this process is to give the timber a really good clean. We’re going to use a standard household cleaner. It’s important to give your timber a good clean to get rid of anything that might stop your paint from sticking or adhering. Some of it might be stuck, so make sure you get a good scour to get it off. Always follow the instructions on your cleaning products.


Step 2


first use filler how to paint varnished woodOnce the surface is clean and dry, we need to fill up any cracks and imperfections. Make sure you use a putty that’s going to dry nice and hard, depending on what surface you’re painting. With any product you’re using, always read the instructions. When applying filler, use a flexible scraper that’s wider than the area you’re filling. This means you’re going to get even pressure over the crack or divot.

Step 3


how to paint varnished wood - sandingOnce you’ve filled your surface, you need to wait for it all to dry before sanding. Use a fine grit sandpaper to take everything back to an even surface. There are two good reasons to sand your surface. One is it helps to clean it. The other is that it helps etch the surface, meaning that your paint will stick easier. Once we’ve finished sanding the surface, we need to give it a thorough wipe-down so that the paint will stick. Once your surface is clean of dust and debris, we’re ready to put on our undercoat.

Make sure you give all your paint a really good stir before using it. Because I’m in a well-ventilated area, I don’t need to wear a mask. But, make sure you read the instructions to keep yourself safe.

Step 4


how to paint over varnished wood - primerApply your primer with a roller. The primer helps your top coat stick, and also seals off the under surface. A good tip when painting any surface is to lay the paint off before it tacks. This is basically just rolling over the whole surface very lightly with barely any paint on your roller. This will help us get a finer finish. The timber I’m painting is quite blond, so I only need to put one coat of primer, If you’re going over a dark stain, you may need two.

Step 5


how to paint over varnished wood - top coatOnce your primer is dry, you can apply your top coat. You need two to three coats. We’ve chosen to use a water-based enamel, which will dry quickly, but also dry hard. It also has a slight sheen level, which means you can wipe the surface. For broad surfaces, a roller is a great choice when using acro-enamel because acro-enamel dries very quickly, and we don’t want to overwork the paint. For your trickier surfaces, use a brush. Make sure your paint is 100% dry between coats. This particular job will need another two to three coats. You paint yours as many times as you need. And that’s how you paint over varnish.

Job Done!

how to paint over varnished wood - job doneUsually when people see old varnish on any sort of furniture they shy away from restoring it because of the hard work that is required but that is far from the truth. As you can see it is a straightforward process that takes very little time and the results are truly amazing. I hope this has inspired you to pick up the paint brush (or in this case roller) and start restoring any old furniture you have hanging around.





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