Have you ever seen some pretty painted furniture and think “oh my gosh, I can do that!” but then you go to try yourself and it looks NOTHING like what you’ve seen the pros do. Looks all bumpy, brush stroke-y, ridgy, and just ugggglyyy? Whyyyyyyyy….
My top question I receive from people on Instagram is “How do you eliminate brush strokes when painting furniture”
I’m going to give you my top 5 tips for how to get a nice, smooth finish WHILE you’re painting to eliminate brush strokes, or how to fix and troubleshoot if you already have brush strokes and don’t know what to do next!
BUT FIRST, LET’S KICK OFF WITH SOME INSPIRATIONAL WORDS
We need to remember that when a human is painting a piece of furniture, it’s not going to be perfect. Pobody’s Nerfect – I got that line from Pam on The Office and it’s always stuck with me!
We are not factory robots who can perfectly paint an item and there’ll always be some sort of character, dents, nicks, and some slight texture when painting by hand. Those are my words of wisdom and I hope that makes you feel better. I’m an inspirer of kicking the habit of being perfect, because there’s no such thing. Now, here are my 5 Top Tips…
1. IS IT YOUR PRIMER THAT’S CAUSED THE BRUSH STROKES?
If you’ve sanded lightly then primed your item and you’re already seeing brush strokes in your primer, it can be two things. It can be that you’ve used an oil/alkyd based primer vs a shellac based primer. An oil/alkyd based primer is quite thick compared to shellac based.
Because shellac based primer is so thin, when you use a cheap brush or mini foam roller that you intend to throw out after, it’s fine. Here is the shellac based primer I use for preventing bleedthrough with my painting projects, and the tools I use to apply it:
If you pair that cheap dollar store-ish brush like above with oil based primer (photos of the oil based primers below), you WILL have brush strokes for sure.
PS – you can’t clean your brushes all that well when using shellac or oil based primer so I don’t recommend using a good one, hence why you should use the cheap brushes for primer. Save the good brushes for paint!
2. YOU’VE DETERMINED IT WAS YOUR PRIMER, NOW WHAT?
Sometimes when using your shellac based primer, some bleed through will still occur so you’ll have to top it off with an oil based primer. Or maybe you’ve already used an oil based primer without knowing it such as BIN2 or Zinsser Odorless Primer. Here are some of the oil based primers that you may have used:
It’s not like you did anything wrong by using them, it’s ok! Oil based primers are really good too, they just take a while to dry vs BIN Shellac primer (30 min dry time). Oil based primers are thicker, which leads to brush strokes.
All you need to do is wait for your primer to dry and then sand your primer smooth so when you feel your surface, the ridges and brush strokes aren’t there anymore. To get through your deep ridges you’ll probably need 150 grit sanding paper. I don’t suggest using an orbital sander to get through the brush strokes because you may go too deep. We just want to go by hand and smooth out the texture. Here are some sanding tools I’d use if I were in that situation, which I have been:
3. YOUR PAINT MAY BE TOO THICK – THIN IT OUT WITH WATER
I’m a huge fan of many different types of paint ranging from alkyd to chalk/mineral style paints. There’s a purpose for all different types. I notice that most of them are quite thick, especially boutique paints that come in a pretty, special container. If you can tell that your paint is really thick or have done a few swipes and it’s going on in a big glob, we need water. All you need to do is water it down a touch and whisk it well so that it’s not so thick. Then it’ll glide onto your surface better.
4. MAKE SURE YOU’RE USING A GOOD QUALITY SYNTHETIC BRUSH
I’ve tried many, many brushes on the market. Including specialty chalk painting brushes that stunk so bad when I put paint on, I then realised after the fact that it was pig hair, which made me want to bawl and throw up at the same time. It was an honest mistake and I will never ever use an animal hair brush again. Synthetic all the way baby!
I always go back to good ol’ faithful Purdy brushes in the 3 pack.
I’ve found these are the best for getting the smoothest hand brushed look with minimal brush strokes. I use the two angled brushes (small and medium) for paint and dedicate the largest brush to poly only. I notice that most furniture painters use these as well and love them.
It’s a really special treat to get these brushes. They used to sell them at Home Depot but no longer do which makes me sad because I go there all the time for paint and supply runs. You can still find them at Lowes, Rona, or Amazon. They’ll set you back around $45-$55 CDN for the pack of 3.
Zibra Painting also has really good synthetic brushes and are really supportive of the furniture painting community.
If I’m using poly, I will use the large Purdy brush, a sponge, or use my sprayer. All of the results pretty much look the same when done well! I don’t discuss applying poly in this post because poly is so thin and is not usually the culprit of brush strokes. Top coating will be for another time and another blog post!
5. THE BRUSHING TECHNIQUE THAT’LL HELP MAKE YOUR PAINT LOOK SMOOTH AND ALMOST PERFECT – Because Pobody’s Nerfect!
When painting tops of items which is where brush strokes would be the most visible, I find it’s best to go from side to side. So the right or left side of the top of your item to the other side in long, even strokes. Then go back over your paint with a light stroke and smooth and blend your paint you’ve put on. But only within the first minute or so because it’ll dry on you and gum up, and that won’t be good.
When painting the sides/fronts of items, I find it’s best to go from top to bottom, then once you’re done your “line”, blend it out.
Now, I know this is hard to picture, so I made a YouTube video about this blog post on eliminating brush strokes, including showing this technique. You can check out the video here:
I hope this helps you to eliminate brush strokes in your hand painted finish! Drop your questions in the comments section!