To say a piece of furniture is unfinished means it has not been sanded completely and has not been sealed, stained or painted. There are no big differences in the type of paint used on these unfinished wood pieces versus finished wood pieces. The only difference is in the preparation of each piece for painting. Many paints are suitable for all wood furniture. Some paints are preferred over others because they are easier to use and easier to clean up.
Water-based, gloss or semigloss, latex/acrylic interior paint is a common choice for unfinished furniture. Oil-based enamel paints also can be used as an attractive, durable paint for unfinished furniture. However, clean-up for oil-based paints is a much bigger chore than for water-based paints.
Gloss latex/acrylic paint is applied to unfinished furniture with a paint brush after primer has dried. This paint also may be covered with a clear coat to protect the paint job. With or without this top coating, gloss finish paint dries to a sheen. Gloss enamel is applied in a similar fashion to latex, and it dries to a hard, glossy finish.
Water-based latex paint goes on smoothly and is easy to clean while wet. Gloss or semigloss finishes are easier to clean when dry than matte finishes; dust and smudges wipe off fairly easy, a feature very important for furniture, which will be touched, moved and otherwise handled. Oil-based enamel is durable and resists dirt.
Unfinished furniture should be sanded and primed before applying any paint. Smooth sanding offers a contemporary look and a rougher sand job gives the furniture a more rustic look.Either way, make sure to dust the furniture well before applying primer and paint. Primer is necessary to keep paint from soaking into the wood, which is naturally porous.
To apply latex (or enamel) paint to unfinished furniture, you need sandpaper to sand the furniture, primer and paint brushes. A drop cloth or newspaper to protect flooring beneath the furniture also is a good idea.