Painting chairs and benches is labor-intensive work! Chairs and benches that have turned spindles with a ton of grooves is even more so. Most paints require a separate primer to be used first and those that don’t require three or more coats for full coverage and then a clear topcoat to protect the finish. Uuuggghh! We want fewer steps! We want a paint that will adhere! We want a paint that will harden beyond belief and be its own topcoat! So what is the best paint for chairs and benches?
If you’re painting furniture, you’ll want to work efficiently. That means working smarter not harder. Choosing the right paint from the beginning for whatever piece of furniture you’re working on is important. Today, we’re specifically talking about chairs and benches.
Now, let me insert a quick note here and say that I do believe that a stain/polyurethane combination finish is preferred for chairs and benches because it’s the most durable finish you can achieve. You’ll see how I do this with some kids tables and chairs I’ll be posting later this week. But, often times, re-staining is not an option or a custom color paint is just preferred.
So let’s get to it.
The Best Paint for Chairs & Benches
After many years of refinishing furniture, I’ve found that the best paints for chairs and benches are oil based paints. Oil-based paints are extremely durable. However, oil-based paints can also cause more irritation to eyes and airways than water-based paints and be much more difficult to clean up because they require even more chemicals to clean the brushes.
For these reasons and because I paint so much, I prefer to work with water-based paints.
The best water-based paint for chairs and benches is clearly acrylic enamel, specifically two lines of paint by Benjamin Moore that I use most often. Both of these paints
- adhere extremely well
- do not require priming
- provide excellent coverage
- dry within just over an hour
- do not require a topcoat
- harden within a day
To see the the exact brand and type of acrylic enamel paint I use, please refer to this ebook, Painting Furniture.
Here, I explain all of the different types of paints, including my go-to paints for each type of project. I also explain how to manipulate the paint to minimize brush marks.
Prepping Chairs & Benches for Painting
Chairs and benches come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing they all have in common is that they have multiple small spindles or slats that make up the arms, legs, and back, making prepping and painting tedius work. Almost all of them are also coated with polyurethane that either needs deglossing or sanding – specifically sanding by hand.
I’ve tried Chalk paint on chairs several times. Chalk paint brands claim their paint will stick to any surface, even that shiny polyurethane; but bang into it once and you’ll find that Chalk paint to knick really easily. That’s not a good option for chairs that are constantly being slid in and out at the dinner table and knocked against one another. You could add a layer of polyurethane to harden the surface, but that’s an added step – and when you’re refinishing a set of 6 or 8 chairs, it’s time-consuming.
Milk Paint and Latex paints are a better option for chairs and benches but still not my favorite option. With either of these, you have to properly prep the surface, prime, and in most cases add a protective topcoat. If you choose a semi-gloss or gloss paint finish thinking you’ll have the topcoat built in, think again! Semi-gloss and gloss latex paints take up to 60 days to fully cure. Even after waiting the 60 days, I’ve still had semi-gloss paint pull off of furniture when something is set down on top of it.
The enamel is a much better option that will save you a ton of time because of their ability to adhere, their coverage, and the fact that you don’t need an extra topcoat.
Here’s a stained/polyurethaned bench that a client asked me to paint black. The first thing I did was sand with my DeWalt rotary sander with a 60-grit sanding disc to remove as much of the old polyurethane from the flat surfaces as I could.
Some chairs I’ve even gotten really lazy with and barely sanded them at all. My point is the enamel paints I use still adhere to the shiny poly that’s not able to be removed.
If you despise sanding, liquid deglossers like THESE are an option. Simply wipe them on and they’re supposed to degloss that shiny clear coat. The only deglosser I’ve used myself is Velvet Finishes Ready and these enamel paints adhered perfectly after using it.
Applying Paint to Chairs & Benches
When I first started using this paint, I used the low-lustre finish which is almost identical to the smooth satin finish you find on black painted furniture from Pottery Barn.
Now I actually prefer the semi-gloss finish although this can be more difficult to find in the quart sizes lately.
The higher gloss version is similar. Neither require priming first, saving you that added step.
If you plan to paint a chair that originally had a dark or reddish stain with a light color paint like white, I do recommend first using a BIN primer. BIN is a shellac primer that blocks bleed through unlike any other primer I’ve found and worth the added step if you’re painting with white. So do not skip this!
Here’s a table and set of chairs that was primed with BIN primer then painted with the Ultra Spec DTM enamel.
And below is the bench painted in the high gloss Impervex.
No matter the sheen level, these paints result in a smooth surface. And the best part is that they’re enamel paints that harden within hours, not weeks or months, of application. You can actually begin using the painted furniture right away. The surface hardens as if you applied a heavy coat of polyurethane so there’s no need for an additional topcoat.
Remember to paint in very well-ventilated areas (preferably outside or with my garage door fully open) and wear safety gloves, and splash goggles. I also wear a respirator mask rated with the highest P100 rating.
Perhaps it’s time to give your own dated furniture a second life. Then, add a small side table in the same refinish to give it even more notice. Your entryway will be both practical and feel cohesive with two useful items.
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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to products I use myself.