Particleboard furniture may look similar to regular wood, but when it comes to restoration work, it behaves much differently than solid wood. That's because it is made from small particles of wood that are glued together with resin and then covered in a laminate. All of this means that the surface is typically too smooth for paint to adhere to it, but in order to sand the surface to help paint adhere, you must be very careful or risk sanding through the laminate or chipping it off at the corners. With a little caution and proper preparation, it is possible to paint particleboard furniture any way you please.
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Prepare Your Furniture
As with any furniture painting project, if you want to do things correctly, you need to first remove all hardware, doors, and drawers. Use a felt-tip marker on some masking tape to label bags containing screws, bolts, and other hardware to help you remember what pieces go where when you reassemble the furniture.
Clean any debris from the furniture's surface and then position it on a drop cloth in a well-ventilated area free from excess wind so dust and dirt aren't blown into the wet paint.
Repair Any Damaged Areas
If the particleboard has chips, divots, or other obvious damage, repair it with wood filler using a putty knife. If there are any bubbles from water damage, use a razor blade to cut off the laminate and fill the depression with wood putty. Allow the putty to dry overnight and then sand the repaired areas with a 220-grit sandpaper until they are smooth and flush with the rest of the surface.
Carefully Sand the Furniture
Use 220-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface of the particleboard laminate in order to create a suitable surface to which primer can adhere. Work slowly and carefully to avoid oversanding. Your only goal here is to remove the shine from the laminate so it will be rough enough for the primer to cling. Use a tack cloth to remove any dust before applying primer.
Apply a Coat of Primer
Primer will ensure the paint adheres to the furniture. Both oil- and water-based primers are suitable for use on particleboard, so for best results, look for a primer that promotes adhesion. Generally, one coat will be enough, but if the original color is still visible after the first coat, wait until it has dried and then apply a second layer. If the primer is too thick or has any drips, allow it to dry overnight and then use 220-grit sandpaper to smooth it out. Go over it with a tack cloth to remove any dust residue.
Get to Painting
Use an oil-based paint because some acrylics eat away at the chemicals in particleboard laminate. Apply paint in thin layers using a roller with a 1/4-inch nap or a synthetic flat brush for flat surfaces and an angled brush for corners. Allow each coat to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions before applying another. The primer will ensure you don't need to use too many coats of paint, but if you don't think the paint looks finished after two coats, apply a third.
Finish the Job
Once the paint has fully dried, apply a coat of polycrylic finish to protect the surface from damage. Allow the finish to cure completely according to the manufacturer's directions and then reassemble the furniture.