How to Get a Smooth Painting Finish

Whether you are a professional spraying a finish on furniture, or applying a finish with a paintbrush in your garage, there are 4 key steps to getting a smooth finish.

Mike Gardner, with The Frosted Gardner, spills his secrets!

Whether you are a professional spraying a finish on furniture, or applying a finish with a paintbrush in your garage, there are 4 key steps to getting a smooth finish. In addition to these 4 key steps, we’ll talk about some brushing tips to help avoid brush strokes in the finish.

1. Prepare the surface. Let’s say you are going to paint an old dresser. You’ll want to look it over and consider cleaning it with some warm soapy water if it appears to have furniture wax or any grease spots that will repel the paint. If the surface area is already smooth and flat, then you just need to rough it up a bit so that the new paint will have better adhesion. Lightly sand the entire piece with 120-150 grit sandpaper. Remove all dust with a dry brush or a cloth.

2. Prepare the paint. If you want to avoid brush strokes on your finish pay special attention here. No matter which finish you have chosen the procedure for brushing it on will be the same. The difference will be the amount of time you have to apply a faster drying water based finish or a slower drying solvent based finish. For this reason it is critical to prepare the paint that you will be applying.

Many people blame brush strokes on the brush. While the brush is not completely blameless, it is simply a myth that you must use the expensive paintbrush to get a great finish without brush strokes.

When you roll paint onto a wall you expect to get some texture left from the nap of the roller cover. When you are trying to get a smooth finish on a piece of furniture you need to slow down the drying process just slightly. As the paint dries you want it to flatten out. If the paint is too thick there will be very little flow and it will dry with a bristle texture from the paintbrush rather than flattening out. On the other hand, if the paint is too thin you will have excessive running and a weaker finish because the solid material content of the paint is too low. You must add the appropriate amount of reducer so it will flatten and remain durable.

For water base paints you can add distilled water or paint conditioner to reduce the viscosity of the paint for better flattening and to slow the drying time so it has enough time to flatten out. The same is true for solvent base paints. They can be reduced with the appropriate paint conditioner, mineral spirits, etc.

3. Watch what you are painting in a reflected light. This is the only way to see problems as they arise so you can fix them immediately. Typical problems are paint runs, sags, or bubbles. Simply brush over the run immediately to eliminate it. This is how runs “magically appear” that were not there before. They are usually not noticeable until you view them in a reflected light.

4. Sand between coats. Just as it is critical to start with a smooth surface, it is necessary to sand between paint coats with 320-400 grit sandpaper to maintain it.

Mike and Melanie Gardner love to find old furniture to repair, redesign and paint. Mike has a background in construction and finish work. Melanie has an interest in finding unique furniture pieces to refinish and create something almost brand new. They are located in Bountiful, Utah. If you have any question, please call us at 801.557.5865 or visit

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