Funiture Flipping Prep 101: When to Sand Furniture

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I used to really dislike sanding.

Way back in the day, when my husband and I first started painting furniture using latex and spray paints, sanding was always his job. I despised doing it–something about the gritty dust that gets everywhere and causes a glorious mess, ughh.

Well, sand-haters like me rejoiced then when chalk-type paints showed up on the scene a few years ago.  One of the big selling points of chalk-type paint is that you don’t have to sand the furniture in order to get the paint to stick.

In fact, in my experience, it’s best not to sand too much when using a chalk-type paint, because whatever top finish is on the wood helps the wood tones not bleed through the porous paint . . . nobody wants a splotchy finish.

So the standard furniture flipping question to ask when now-a-days about the various brands of furniture paint out there seems to be, “Do you have to sand first?”

As a Fusion Mineral Paint Merchant, (do you know about Fusion yet?) I would be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every time I have been asked that question 🙂  My answer is always the same: “It depends.”


When to Sand Furniture

The longer I paint furniture, the less I dislike the process of sanding.  It’s still not my favorite part of the process, but I have learned that really no matter what paint you are using, sometimes sanding is a must.

As Jennylyn, the president of Homestead House Paint Co. says, “Prep is not a 4-letter word.” Prepping a furniture piece to paint doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing kind of affair, which is what most customers seem to be wanting. A little bit of the right prep, done the right way will pay off big time in the quality of your finished piece and how durable your painted finish is.

In my Fusion 101 Workshop, I walk through the basic sanding principles I use when working with Fusion Mineral Paint.  So here is a freebie for you all today–I am going to walk through those same principles here with you 🙂




When You Can Skip Sanding:

If you’re working with a very old, dry piece of wood, it’s not necessary to sand before painting with Fusion.



Old, solid wood pieces (oak especially) typically have a little “tooth” to their surfaces.  The dry wood is ready to soak the paint right up, so you don’t have to do any sanding to create a surface for the paint to grip.

This oak dresser I did not sand at all before painting on three coats of Fusion’s Ft. York Red.



When Sanding is a Must:

If you have a piece that has a very glossy surface (like a varnished top) or a very slick surface (like metal), a light sanding is necessary to have the paint be durable long-term. If you don’t sand, your paint may stick initially, but you will find that with the slightest touch it will come right off.



Can you see the high gloss on the top of this piece? How shiny it is?

The rest of the piece looks normal, but that top has a heavy layer of varnish on it and would benefit from sanding.




A few months back I painted a china cabinet for a client and it had a pretty good gloss on the entire surface.  I took some medium grit sandpaper (about 180) and used it to rough up the surface very quickly.

Then I wiped it all down with a wet rag to remove the dust, and I promise that all took less than 5 minutes.  Once the piece was wiped down you really couldn’t even tell that I had sanded it at all, that’s how lightly and quickly I sanded.

What mattered though is that the sanding process opened up microscopic pores in the finish that allowed the paint to get a better grip.


When Sanding is Optional, but Still a Good Idea

Sometimes you have a piece where the wood is pretty dry and ready to grip paint, but there are deep scratches or chipping topcoat in spots that need to be addressed.




The wood on this dresser is dry and rough enough to grip the paint, but all of those scratches that you see need to be sanded and smoothed out.  If you don’t sand those areas of damage, the scratches will show up underneath your paint and your finished surface will not be smooth.

You may remember last month when I painted this desk, that I had an issue with the topcoat flaking, or alligatoring.



This is another time when sanding isn’t necessary for the paint to stick, but still a good idea.

All of those little flecks of super old poly will start to flake off as you brush on your paint and will end up mixing into the paint itself–yuck.

So again, 5 minutes and some sandpaper will take off all of that flaking topcoat and will give you a much more professional, durable finish.




I know that sanding is a pain . . . and I would love to tell you that you never, ever have to pick up a piece of sandpaper again. But that’s just not true!

What is true though is that the sanding I talked about above is nowhere near as extensive as the sanding my husband used to have to do when we were painting with latex!

So be encouraged–don’t fear a little prep.

Remember it’s not a 4 letter word, and a little prep will go a long way 🙂

Now get out there and flip some furniture!




Thursday 18th of August 2016

Hi Melanie, Love the blog and I too look at each piece individually to determine its need for sanding. I love fusion paints, and have only had one epic fail with adhesion. (My fault). Here's my question; How do you stop the dreaded bleed-thru with the darker pieces? The Reds and very dark brown stains once scuffed up tend to bleed and many coats are required. I've even read where the bleed-thru can happen years later. Thanks! Carolyn


Wednesday 24th of February 2016

Hello again , on a top such as this with varnish, could a stripping agent be used instead of sanding? When should a stripping liquid not be used. Your help is very much appreciated, as is your work.


Wednesday 24th of February 2016

Hi again! Yes, you could use a stripping agent, but I prefer not to. Mainly because they are generally toxic, very messy, and hard to clean up. After using a stripper, you have to use mineral spirits to clean off all the stripper, and then sand anyway . . . So I figure I will skip the messy part and just sand.


Tuesday 6th of October 2015

I really enjoy sanding. I find the connection to the piece increases with my effort. Touching the wood helps me to hear its story and commit to doing a good job. Sounds a little Zen, but I love the physical work. Good for my core!


Wednesday 7th of October 2015

That's great Diane! A good perspective to have :)

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