DIY: Refinishing with Chalk Paint

If you’re looking at refinishing a cabinet or piece of furniture, desire a certain style of finish and don’t want to invest a ton of time, consider Chalk Paint. Below is the “before.”
If you’re looking at refinishing a cabinet or piece of furniture, desire a certain style of finish and don’t want to invest a ton of time, consider Chalk Paint. Below is the “before.”

Part of my recent bedroom makeover required the refinishing of a built-in desk. I’d refinished furniture before, and suffice it to say, I was dreading having to do it again. Painting furniture can be a slog of a project, requiring what feels like innumerable, annoying steps: disassembling, cleaning, sanding, sanding again, cleaning again, priming, possibly priming again – all before laboriously applying two to three coats of paint, then finishing it off with a varnish. Sometimes you even sand between coats. It’s a total bear.

That’s why, when I heard of Chalk Paint, I had a moment of complete disbelief. The creation of designer Annie Sloan, Chalk Paint projects require no sanding, no primer, and, best of all, boasts of minuscule drying time. “Snake oil!” my brain shouted as I looked at page after page, image after image, website after website of beautifully completed pieces that used the stuff. “There’s no way it can be that easy,” I thought, as I read account after account of self-described idiots completing various works of art. “I refinished my kitchen cabinets for less than $200,” one bragged. And the cabinets looked amazing.

Of course I wanted to try it. The fact is, I’m a sucker for good marketing. But what really pushed me over the edge was my pal, Toni, who had used the paint herself. She said it worked as promised and showed me pictures of the end result. I was hooked.

If you’re looking at refinishing a cabinet or piece of furniture, are interested in a certain style of finish and don’t want to invest a ton of time, consider Chalk Paint.

What I used:

▪ 1 quart Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (graphite color)

▪ Paintbrush

▪ Cleaning solution (1 part vinegar to 1 part water)

▪ Tack cloth

▪ Painter’s tape

▪ Newspaper

▪ Spray bottle filled with water

▪ 1 small can Varathane Polyurethane (satin finish)

▪ Optional: palm sander and fine grit sandpaper

Step one: Prepping

Our desk is composed of a series of built-in cabinets and drawers and is attached to the rear wall of our office. Before I could even begin to de-uglify the thing, I had a whole series of steps to follow: clearing off the desk, removing the cabinet and drawer fronts, protecting the area around the project, and cleaning the surface areas I was going to refinish.

While I dreaded that I would have to take everything out of the desk before painting, I quickly realized that since I was using a brush and not a sprayer, the areas I was going to paint weren’t affected by the items in them. Meaning, I could paint the frame of the desk without having to pack up its contents. This was a huge time saver. Consider: If you’re refinishing cabinets, have no need to paint their insides and are using a paintbrush, you can likely get away without removing their contents.

Step two: Cleaning

Scrubbing off the grime before painting is essential, as dust and residue from previous cleaners can affect how any paint adheres to your project. The suggested cleaning method for Chalk Paint: Using a cleaner made of one-part water/one-part distilled white vinegar and a tack cloth, I carefully cleaned, wiped and scrubbed the areas to be painted, and let it dry.

Every resource I turned to said that sanding the project before using Chalk Paint wasn’t necessary for the average paint job. In fact, that’s a huge selling point of the stuff. Online resource after resource declared that this paint gives such great coverage, sanding is superfluous.

Unfortunately, my desk wasn’t average. The desktop itself had grotty elements that needed to be removed, or at the very least, minimized (spilled nail polish, bits of dried glue and wax, various scrapes and scribbles), prior to painting. I used a relatively fine 200-grit sandpaper (because that’s what I had on hand in my palm sander), to achieve a uniform smoothness on the desktop before painting. I then removed the resulting dust by wiping the entire desk down again with my vinegar-solution dampened cloth. The cabinet fronts, drawer fronts and frame didn’t need sanding – I left those alone.

Just about ready to paint, I took the final, time-consuming step of taping off the entire desk – adhering a painter’s tape barrier between the furniture and wall – to protect my walls from accidental splotches. My tarp in place to protect the carpet, I was finally ready to start painting.

Step three: Painting

Chalk Paint is very thick and highly pigmented; as such, painting the furniture with a primer isn’t necessary. It’s yet another selling point of this paint, and it’s great to avoid an overlong, annoyingly arduous step. That said, Chalk Paint does take about two to three coats for full, even coverage.

Its thickness does affect the application, and I found it took a bit of adjustment to my usual slap-happy painting style. My previous furniture coverage jobs used latex or stains, both of which are far less viscous and glide on almost smoothly. But latex can be finicky, and occasionally bead up (depending on the surface you’re painting and whether you’ve prepped it correctly). The joy of Chalk Paint is that on first pass, the paint sticks. And whether it’s the consistency or the pigment or both, you end up needing far less paint than you’d think. I was able to cover the entire desk, cabinet and drawer fronts with about a quart.

That said, the paint does not glide on easily. Thus, I would apply a few strokes and spritz the painted area with water, and stroke again. Adding a small amount of water slightly thinned the sticky paint, but I found it assisted with more even coverage.

Happily, as promised, Chalk Paint dries very quickly. Unlike latex, which often requires a several-hour dry time, Chalk Paint allowed me to start on the second coat within 20 minutes of applying the first. When dried, I spot covered any missed or off-painted areas. The Chalk Paint dried giving a very flat, matte finish. While there are several options to cover and protect as a finish, I chose to go with two coats of a satin polyurethane varnish. Cost effective and worked like a charm.

The result

Chalk Paint is fairly versatile in terms of the type of finish that can be achieved, and it acted as promised. I didn’t need a primer, I didn’t need to sand (though I chose to sand the desktop), and it dried evenly and quickly. And given the style I was going after and my low-level of painting expertise, I would likely use it again.

Traci Arbios: 559-441-6756, @traciAWESOME