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Monday, March 25, 2019

The Best Way to Paint Over Dark Stained Furniture

Learn how to paint over dark stained wood furniture to avoid tannin stains and blotchy bleed through.  

It's been a while since I've shared a DIY project, so how about a pretty furniture makeover?  

Have you ever painted dark stained furniture and had splotchy stains appear through the paint?  There's nothing more frustrating than going through the hard work of sanding, cleaning and painting a piece of furniture only to have tannins bleed through the paint.

The good news is, you can avoid bleed through and correct a splotchy paint job with a few simple steps.
 How to paint over dark stained wood furniture

(Affiliate links have been used) 
- Respirator
- Dewalt Orbital Sander
- 120 and 100 grit sanding pads
400 grit sandpaper
- Simple Green
- Paper towels
- General Finishes Seagull Gray
- Bin Shellac Primer
- Purdy paint brush
- Cheap paint brush (for primer)
- Restore-A-Finish
- General Finishes satin wax
- Lint-free cloth or wax brush

What are tannins?

Tannins are water soluble extractives found in most wood that tend to bleed through the surface causing discoloration.   Without proper preparation, certain wood surfaces will allow tannins to bleed through paint causes a splotchy finish.   

I shared how to paint over dark stained wood and avoid bleed through in my beginner's guide to painting furniture, but since I was painting another dark stained dresser I thought I would share the steps I take to prevent tannin stain bleed through.  

Dark stained mid century modern dresser before
I started with this very neglected mid century modern dresser that I found on Facebook Marketplace.  (You can find all my favorite tips and sources for scoring the best deals on used furniture and decor HERE) I originally wanted to refinish the drawers, but I quickly realized they were not solid wood, making refinishing out of the question.  That meant, the dresser needed to be painted and I knew a light color would look great against the original hardware.  

Dark stained wood furniture


No matter how many coats of paint you apply, if you don't prime furniture properly tannins will continue to bleed through, creating a splotchy finish.

It's not necessary to sand furniture when applying shellac primer, but I like to sand and clean all my pieces before applying primer.  It ensures a nice smooth surface for primer and paint.   I use a Dewalt orbital sander with 100 and 120 grit sanding pads.  I then go over the entire piece with 400 grit sandpaper to make sure the surface is completely smooth.  

Sanding dark wood furniture

After I sand, I clean all my furniture pieces with Simple Green.   Simple Green is a stronger all-purpose cleaner that cuts through grease and gunk that may be on wood surfaces.

Supplies needed to paint over dark stained wood furniture

There are many types of stain and odor blocking primers, but Zinsser BIN Shellac primer is by far the best!   I've had great results with BIN shellac primer and it's now the only primer I use.  It does require a bit more clean up (denatured alcohol is needed to clean brushes), so I usually use inexpensive paint brushes that I throw away after each use.

Shellac Bin stain blocking primer
I like to apply the shellac primer with a paintbrush, but a foam roller can also be used if you're covering a large surface area.  I usually apply one coat of primer over laminate furniture and two coats of primer over dark sanded wood, sanding in between each coat with 400 grit sandpaper.

Primed dark stained wood dresser


For this mid century modern dresser, I used 3 coats of General Finishes Seagull Gray then sealed the paint with General Finishes Satin Wax.   I then went over the wood with Restore-A-Finish in Walnut to bring out the finish and reduce the look of scratches. 

How to paint over dark stained wood furniture

Light gray painted mid century modern dresser
Adding two coats of shellac primer, three coats of paint then sealing the paint with satin wax ensures a good quality, long lasting finish.

dovetail drawers on mcm dresser

How to paint over dark stained wood furniture

Properly prepping furniture and applying a good quality shellac primer are key when painting over dark stained wood.  The correct primer will seal in tannins and leave you with a beautiful and flawless paint job. 

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Before and after painted dark stained furniture

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Would you like to comment?

  1. This is so great, thank you! Pinning for later. I also LOVE that retro dresser.