How to Sand Wood Furniture Before Painting – Effective Methods

Last updated on January 28th, 2022

A little basic knowledge of how to sand wood furniture before painting can help a painting project go smoothly and successfully. Knowing the right tools to use and the procedure to follow will improve your results and help you complete the project sooner.
Start by sealing any cracks, gouges, or dents on the wood with wood filler and allow it to dry for at least 48 hours. Next, wear safety goggles and a protective face mask and give your wood a light sanding with coarse-grit sandpaper. Then, switch to fine-grit sandpaper, then wipe the entire surface with a tack cloth. After that, follow it with a clean damp rag and let the furniture dry.

Why you should sand outdoor wood furniture before applying paint

It is always better to err on the side of caution when sanding or refinishing your valuable wooden pieces.
You need to prep the surface by sanding it if you want to paint it because the paint will not adhere to slick or worn wooden surfaces.
When prepping your wood furniture for paint, the objective is to rough up the surface slightly to allow the paint to stick. If you apply the paint on an existing shiny surface, it will not have what to grab onto.
You don’t want to risk spending time painting your wood furniture only for it to fall off. Give the surface a light sanding, so you don’t have to do the same task all over again.
Prepping a wood surface before painting is one of the main steps to guarantee the success of your woodworking project. And most importantly the lasting beauty of the painted surface.

How to sand wood furniture before painting

Sanding is like growing hair versus getting your haircut – It’s the best illustration I have come across. Ideally, you can take it off, but you cannot put it right back.
So, the safest thing is to start by feathering it with even pressure across the surface. You will find out pretty quickly if you need to add a bit more pressure or maintain it. In any case, here is a step-by-step guide on how to sand the wood before painting it.
But first, the tools and materials you will need:
  • Orbital sander
  • Different grit sanding pads
  • Disposable safety masks or respirator
  • Wood filler (if there are grooves on the wood surface)
  • Safety goggles

Steps to follow

Step 1: Wear your protective gear.

Always remember to keep safe in any woodworking project you carry out. So start by wearing your pair of goggles and a protective face mask.
You don’t want to inhale all that sanding dust coming off your workpiece. You don’t want it getting into your eyes either. That is where your goggles and mask or respirator come in.

Step 2: Seal any cracks, gouges, or dents with wood filler

You may skip this step if your wood furniture has a perfectly sound surface. But if it has any dents, cracks, or gouges, you want to smooth them out, so start with them. Fill them up with a wood sealer before you start sanding the furniture.
Ensure you add enough wood sealer, keeping its level just slightly above the wood surface. This will allow you to make it flush with the rest of the wood surface during sanding.
Let the wood filler dry for at least 48 hours before proceeding to the next step. The product will likely have directions on drying time; you could follow the instructions for the best results.

Step 3: Sand with a coarse sanding pad

Start with a 60-100 grit sanding pad on your orbital sander.
You could also use medium grit sandpaper on your electric sander, depending on your preference and the condition of the wood. For instance, 120-grit sandpaper should get the job done nicely.
Alternatively, you could use medium grit sandpaper without an electric sander. It will still do the job, only for a bit longer.
If you choose to go manual with your sanding, consider using a hand-held sanding block for better grip. Also, you will want to ensure you have sandpaper attached to a foam backing for maximum flexibility when sanding curves.
Ideally, this first sanding aims to remove the old finish and any irregularities in the wood. If you used a wood filler, this is the part where you even it out to sit flush with the rest of the wood furniture surface.
Notice that coarse sanding pads or sandpapers have lower grit numbers. The higher the number, the smoother the sandpaper, and vice versa.
You can use circular motions for this first sanding, keeping the pressure light and gentle, so you don’t sand too deep into the wood. Go over the entire surface before switching to a smoother sanding pad.

Step 4: Sand with a finer sandpaper

Switch to a smoother one once you have covered the entire wood surface with the coarse sanding pad. You could use 240 or 320 grit sandpaper for this part.
Here, the goal is to smoothen the wood surface. So give it a light sanding with the new pad, covering the entire surface until it is completely smooth to the touch. More importantly, ensure you sand along the wood grain to avoid creating marks on the wood.
The same rules apply if you choose to keep the orbital sander out of the equation. You will just switch to higher grit sandpaper, preferably a 240 or 320-grit sanding block.
Whichever way you look at it, using a power sander will be much more advantageous in many cases. Not only will it make your sanding quicker, but also easier.
The equipment usually has a dust collector attachment sucking up much of the sanding dust. This should mean you have very little dust to worry about at the end.

Step 5: Do a quick once-over with a tack cloth and then a damp rag

Wiping the entire sanded surface with a tack cloth to keep dust bumps and dirt from remaining on your finish.
After going over the entire furniture with the tack cloth, your work is nearly done. Wipe it down with a damp rag and let it air dry. The furniture should be ready for painting now.

What happens if you do not sand furniture before painting?

Failing to sand a damaged or slick surface before painting means the paint could peel off. The paint requires something to grab on, and a smooth surface does not offer it any of that. Neither is a damaged old finish on the wood surface.
If you try to paint over a worn, chipping finish without sanding, you can expect the new paint job to begin chipping off. This could happen any time after painting.
Suppose you are working on new wood furniture with no prior finish, the surface will have grip for the paint indeed, but it will be uneven. Your final outcome is unlikely to be desirable—it will likely be rough and uneven. Sanding helps provide grip for the paint and ensures the final painted surface looks nice and smooth.

What is the best way to sand wood furniture?

The best way to sand wood is to start coarse and finish fine. Whether you use an electric sander or do it by hand and spend more time on the project, the approach should be the same.
The first sanding with rough sandpaper helps get any irregularities in the wood surface out. After that, you can follow through with smoother sandpaper to make your wood surface nice and smooth, and ready for painting.
When using an electric sander, you can start with a 60 or 100-grit sanding pad. However, when you sand by hand, starting with 100-grip sandpaper will often give the best results.
When switching to finer sandpaper for your final pass, 240 or 320-grit sandpaper should work for both orbital sander and manual sanding.

Do you have to sand furniture before painting if you use a primer?

No, sanding before painting is not always required if the surface is not chipping or peeling off.
If you have a sound wood surface that can hold a new coat, sanding it off may be unnecessary. Such a surface simply needs prepping by cleaning and no sanding. Wipe it with a clean rag soaked in soapy water, rinse it clean, and air dry it.
If you have a varnished surface that is still intact, it should be ready for painting with oil-based paint after this cleaning exercise. You may also need to apply a deglosser on the surface before painting it.

Can I paint over varnished wood without sanding?

Yes. Painting over a varnished wood surface without sanding is entirely possible if you prep the surface properly before painting.
You can prep the varnished surface by using an oil-based primer after cleaning the surface. This primer sticks to sealed or varnished wood, making it ready for a fresh coat of paint.
When painting over varnished wood surfaces, consider using latex paint, preferably from a paint sprayer. You can apply the oil-based primer with a painter’s brush and then spray the latex paint on top.
Tips when sanding wood furniture for painting
Sanding can improve the quality of the outcome of your paint job. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how to do a good sanding job. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Use a dust catcher to minimize the mess when sanding indoors

Orbital sanders usually have a dust catcher attachment that you can use when sanding indoors. Using this power sander can help you make the most of the dust tool, so you do not spread the sanding dust around your house.
Power sanders are relatively inexpensive. So you may want to use one when sanding your wood furniture indoors to leverage the vacuum attachment.

2. Always use a drop cloth when sanding indoors.

Sanding will always create some fine dust in the air, especially if you sand by hand. The best way to prevent this dust from adhering to the floor and other surfaces around your workspace is by covering them with a drop cloth.
Also, you may want to keep your sanding outdoors or in the garage if sanding indoors is inevitable.

3. Always match the wood filler with the wood color

Whenever you have to fill grooves and cracks on the wood surface before sanding, try to match the color of the filler with the wood as closely as possible. The whole idea of filling the groves before sanding and refinishing the wood is to hide the imperfections.
Using a filler that looks like the wood itself is an effective way to make them blend in. The filler will not even be noticeable if you do an excellent job in this case.

4. Sand slowly and carefully so you don’t mar the wood

To sand your wood successfully, keep light and consistent pressure evenly across the surface you are working on. Work patiently and take your time, so you don’t create any scratches that are difficult to fix.

5. Always start sanding with a coarse and finish with a fine-grit sandpaper

Coarse sandpaper will quickly remove any inconsistencies on the wood surface. Then you can switch to fine sandpaper to smoothen the surface.
  • Precautions to take when sanding wood furniture before painting
  • Start by reading the manufacturer instructions and follow them keenly
  • Let the furniture dry completely before painting and after.
  • Ensure you thin your latex paint according to manufacturer instructions whenever you are using latex paint.
  • And along the wood grain to avoid creating marks on the wood surface with your sandpaper.


Knowing how to sand wood furniture before painting is essential to doing a successful paint job. You can always choose between an orbital sander and a palm sander on most woodworking projects.
However, using a power sander can significantly speed up your work and ensure you do not mess up your workspace with sanding dust.
Whether you use an orbital sander or sand by hand, always ensure you use the correct grit for your sanding project. app highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow sentence, shorten or split it.