Tips and Tricks

Buying Used Furniture to Paint

Recently I (Tara) found an awesome dresser from a thrift store for a STEAL. But after bringing it home, I got to thinking and realized the draw of the beauty and the bargain distracted me from following some of my own rules. This dresser was old and was layered in multiple coats of old paint (One of which I am fairly certain contained lead!). If you are new to furniture painting or want to start a new DIY project, we have some tips on looking for the perfect piece to paint.

The Check List

  1. Inspect the Structure Check the condition of the joints and material. You don’t want to be worrying about making a ton of repairs, especially if you are inexperienced. Wiggle it, push on it a bit. Gently push and pull on the legs or joints. If there is a lot of give you might want to consider passing this one up unless you are prepared to disassemble, clean joints, re-assemble, glue, and clamp.
  2. Check the Drawers If you are buying a piece with drawers, pull them out to check the condition of the assembly, including the slides.
  3. Is it painted? If the piece has old paint on it and you are not equipped to strip that paint off, this too might be better to pass up. You don’t want to sand old paint off if you don’t know what it is; you could put yourself and family at risk of lead poisoning. To test for lead quickly you can use this.
  4. Is it veneered? If the piece is wrapped in veneer and the veneer is chipping or pealing off, are you ok with that look or will you try to patch the missing veneer? Do you know how to do that? Do you want to do that? If you are up for the veneer challenge you can get a variety of veneers here.
  5. Measure it! A lot of listings I see do not include measurements. Measurements are always the first thing I ask for. If I am looking for a larger piece I tape out the floor of the area where I want to put it. I will also take the tape measure right to the area to see how high it is and if it will flow with the other piece(s) in the space.
  6. Consider Style More ornate pieces tend to look better distressed and glazed than a minimalist piece would. Is the style dated? Standard oak pieces can look super dated, but something as simple as removing the doors might provide a drastic update. See out blog here on what we did with some standard oak side tables.

Samples of furniture we have found


This desk was in great condition when I got it, but after I finished working on it I noticed that it had become quite wobbly! Thankfully I was able to secure the back panel and that’s all it needed!


This one is perfect – I even have the glass top! No gluing or repairs were necessary, and finish is in good enough shape. A good cleaning and scuff will do great as a simple prep before painting.


This cabinet is structurally sound, but it is bare with no shelf and unattractive brackets. It will need some cabinetry detailing to make it useful again. (Maybe a wine rack?)


This chest is completely functional. All the parts are there and the top moves great. However, the finish on top is very old and is soft (Could be from exposure to products with oils). Even if I sand before painting the wrinkles will probably show up. Plus, whatever oils are on there will be soft under the paint which means it will break down; So this top will absolutely need to be stripped before I can do anything to it.

We have made our fair share of “Oh man, what was I thinking???” mistakes when buying furniture. We wanted to pass on our knowledge on furniture junking with you so you can learn from our mistakes and feel confident about selecting that perfect conversation piece for your home.

Becca and I have one more valuable list for you! Here is a list junking tag-alongs. We literally dug through our purses to share with you what we take with us everyday when looking for junk… ok, in all honesty it’s just everyday, because you never know when that “side-of-the-road gold” will show up! 😂

Tools to Keep on Hand

  1. Tape Mesure we use something super simple. Tara keeps heres on her key chain like this one.
  2. Eye Scope / Magnifying glass
  3. List of measurements for pieces you are looking for or spaces you want to fill (always in our recycled notebook!)
  4. Moving blankets (even if you are planning on painting the piece, make sure it is protected)
  5. Phone/camera to take pictures in case you don’t plan on purchasing right away
  6. Cash! Keep a small amount of cash in your wallet in case you find that perfect piece at a place that doesn’t accept other forms of payment. Some places will even let you leave a deposit to hold the piece until you can come back for the rest!

* This blog contains affiliate links. Affiliate link purchases do not effect your shopping experience or price. However they will kick back small amounts back to me for sharing this information on my blog. We only recommend products that we believe in and use ourselves.

Tara Lou
<p>19 years ago, I started my path in furniture by preserving antique furniture, and restoring furniture after home disasters. More recently I have started working with clients to revive their furniture to todays fashions. When I’m not chipping my nails flipping furniture I am out with my kids hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening or hiking.</p>

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