The shape and style of your pressed wood media cabinet, wall system or dresser are still appealing, but the faux wood finish has got to go. Paint is the obvious answer -- if the piece can handle a coat of color without bubbling, peeling or falling apart. Transforming that inexpensive bargain into a thing of beauty is possible -- and just a weekend away -- with the right tools and a light touch.
Pressed Wood and Particleboard
Pressed wood, or pressed particleboard, is made from leftover wood shavings, sawdust and small particles of wood, coated in a resin and pressed together to form "boards." It's a lightweight, low-cost wood alternative that absorbs water more readily than solid wood. Since it can peel or lose its shape, the pressed wood material is normally covered with a thin sheet of veneer or laminate to hold things together. This surface has a slick finish that paint will not adhere to. Before you can paint pressed wood, you have to rough things up and create some grip. Do it right, and your painted piece may fool even your most discerning friends.
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Prime, Paint, Preen
Take a cue from the design of the piece about the best -- and most convincing -- paint treatment for it. A traditional or country wardrobe or dresser looks solid and suitably vintage in opaque chalk or milk paint. The spare table or bookcase is a bit Zen minimalist in low-gloss white. Your Art Deco wall system is divinely decadent in shiny black or exotically oriental in lacquered cinnabar. The paint job is pretty simple -- from prep to polish.
Things You'll Need
Pressed wood furniture
Cleaning rags or sponge
Screwdriver (optional, for hardware removal)
Wood filler (optional)
Orbital sander or sandpaper
Tack cloth (optional)
Clear protective finish (optional)
New hardware (optional)
Step 1: Remove all hardware and wipe down the piece
Clean surface dirt and dust to make the sanding job easier. Fill in holes from the hardware if you will replace it with new hardware once the piece is painted. Let any wood filler dry completely before sanding. Disassemble pieces with separate drawers or other removable parts that you will sand and paint separately.
Step 2: Sand gently
Create a rough texture for the new paint to stick to by going over the piece with an orbital sander or medium-grade sandpaper. No vigor necessary -- you don't want the laminate or veneer to disappear, and the pressboard to gouge or turn to sawdust. Your objective is removal of the slick smooth finish that will cause a coat of paint to bubble or bead.
Step 3: Wipe and prime
Clean all the dust from the sanded piece with a clean rag or tack cloth. If you use a damp, not wet, sponge, then allow the piece to dry before proceeding. Once it's clean, prime the surface to both seal it and create a new surface the paint can grip. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for letting the primer dry, giving the piece extra drying time in very humid conditions.
Work in a well-ventilated area you can close off to keep potentially toxic materials away from kids and pets, let the piece cure undisturbed, reduce the fumes in your work area, and let better air circulation help to dry the piece faster.
Step 4: Paint your masterpiece
Roll, brush or spray on the base coat and any decorative or additional coats of your selected paint, allowing sufficient drying time between coats. The complete job may take multiple coats of paint for a smooth, professional-looking finish. If you see bubbles in the paint as you apply the first coat, or as it starts to set up, that means you didn't sand the underlying veneer adequately and the primer and paint aren't adhering in those areas. You might need to sand those places and give them a do-over.
Multiple coats of paint take longer to dry all the way through. Allow the piece more than adequate time to cure before you set anything heavy on a shelf or tabletop.
Step 5: Finish the piece and display it
Apply a protective finish once the piece is completely dry -- not strictly necessary -- but a good idea for a piece that will see hard use, has intricate faux-finishing or detailing, or is in a heavy traffic area. Replace any hardware you removed before painting and reassemble a piece of furniture you took apart to refinish.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .