Chalk Painting Tutorial – Part I: Prep

Hi ya’ll!  The day is finally here where I share my complete chalk painting tutorial.  If you’ve been following me from the beginning, then you know I love chalk paint.  It’s by far my favorite product for transforming forgotten finds and breathing new life into a project.  I’ve used it on everything from small mason jars to table lamps and stools to full size kitchen tables.  It’s the perfect finish for creating pieces with farmhouse and country primitive style, requires minimal prep work, few application tools, can be manipulated to yield a variety of textures, is forgiving and easy to work with.

Because it’s my number 1 choice for refinishing, I thought it would be great to share how I transform a piece with chalk paint start to finish.  If at the end of this tutorial, you have any additional questions, you can contact me here or leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you!

Here we go!

1. Choose Your Project Piece

What I love most about chalk paint is that it can be used on just about everything- metal, unfinished wood, stained wood, plastic, fabric, brick, walls, floors, cabinets, indoor, outdoor – you name it! I have even used it on laminate and melamine (TIP: those are the only two surfaces that I’ve needed to sand first to get good adhesion- I learned that the hard way 😉).

For your first project, I recommend a small piece like an end table, coffee table or small dresser.  Of course, the choice is up to you so if you’ve had your mind set on updating that china cabinet, go for it.  My first piece was this nearly 10 foot long built-in we constructed in our den.  It turned out great, but was probably a bit too ambitious for my first piece.  I was pretty worn out by the end.  (That was also the piece where I learned you need to sand melamine first- I had to paint, strip and sand that bead board twice to get the paint to stick- ugh).

Built In

I’d also recommend steering clear of pieces with special meaning (like your great grandmother’s vanity) so that if it doesn’t turn out exactly the way you hoped, then there’s no emotional attachment to it.  Chalk paint is very forgiving and can easily be sanded smooth and waxed for sheen, but if you’re not in love with the color, you’re only choice will be to repaint or strip and that’s not a very fun end to your first chalk paint experience.

Thrift stores and yard sales are great places to find your first project.  I love a good yard sale.  If you follow me on Instagram, then you may have seen how a relaxing walk to Starbucks turned into this…

Impromptu Starbucks Walk Yard Sale

Thank God for my Dad and brother who helped me lug all those goodies home.

2. Inspect & Repair

Look over your piece and make any necessary repairs.

Chips in the veneer, gouges or scratches in the wood and holes from hardware you don’t intend to re-use can all be patched.  I use Elmer’s Carpenter’s Color Change Wood Filler.

Wood Filler

I really love this stuff.  It is incredibly easy to apply- honestly, I usually just use my finger, but you can use a putty knife if you prefer.  This filler also changes from purple to tan when its dry so there’s no guessing when its ready for sanding.

To apply, you want to push the wood filler into the hole, chip, gouge or scratch and then gently swipe your finger or putty knife across the patched area and surrounding surfaces to remove the excess.

Filling Holes

(1) Hole (2) Push Filler Into Hole (3) Wipe Away Excess (4) Let Dry

If you don’t remove all the excess, don’t worry because you’ll be sanding it smooth once it’s dry.  The less excess there is just makes the sanding step a bit quicker and easier. I wait 3-4 hours for shallow scratches to dry and overnight for deep gouges or holes, then sand with 220 grit sandpaper,  on my Dewalt Orbital Sander.

I most often use my sander for speed purposes, but will occasionally sand by hand using these 3M sanding blocks  when I want more control.  Both offer the same end result so you can go with whatever you feel more comfortable with or whatever is more readily available.

Tip: After sanding areas that you’ve filled, it’s important to run you finger or hand across the surface to check for smoothness.  Occasionally (particularly when filling deep holes or gouges), the fill process may need repeated one or more times before surface smoothness is achieved.

I usually close my eyes and run my finger across the surface.  If I can’t feel the area I filled then I know I’m good to go.  Closing your eyes may seem strange, but it works wonders.  My eyes always play tricks on me- I’ll swear the area is smooth, move on to paint and then end up with a big dip in the spot I thought was filled.

Finger Test

During this step, you also want to check the stability and functionality of your piece.  Do any screws need tightened?  Are the legs wobbly?  Are the drawers sliding smoothly?  You’ll want to make any necessary repairs before you start painting.  Take a look at this post to see how I fixed the wobbly legs on this cute little stool.

Final (1)

If you have any questions about a specific repair your piece needs, let me know- I’d be happy to offer some suggestions from my own experience.

NOTE: When I’m looking for a rustic or vintage look, I often forego repairing shallow scratches, nicks or dings since, to me, they just add to the character and history of the piece. Like this end table…

Character Nicks

3. Clean Piece

Dust your piece with a soft cloth to remove any dirt, dust or sanding debris.  If a more thorough cleaning is needed, mild dish soap and warm water work well.  You can also disinfect with Lysol wipes (I always do this on interior drawers or shelving).  Do not use furniture polish- it will compromise the adhesion of the paint.


4. Mask

Mask (aka tape) off any areas where you don’t want paint- these could include the inside of drawers, any surface that you want to maintain the original stained finish, etc.  I wanted the underside of the cart below to show the original wood, so I masked off areas to prevent any paint from accidentally dripping on the surface.

Taped Cart

I usually use Frog Tape for Delicate Surfaces.

Frog Tape = The Best Tape

It’s actually designed to mask previously painted surfaces from the application of a second color without damaging the original paint.  Any masking tape will work over unfinished or stained wood.  I just prefer using Frog Tape since I already have it on hand for other projects.

5. Select Your Paint

The popularity of chalk paint has seemingly exploded overnight so there are many different brands of pre-mixed formulations on the market.  Additionally, the internet is filled with DIY recipes for making your own from any flat latex paint.  I haven’t tried DIY’ing my own yet, but I have narrowed down the recipes to one in particular that I plan on trying soon.  I’ll share that recipe and my experience with it in a later post.

As far as pre-mixed formulations go, Annie Sloan’s is my absolute favorite (can you tell? 😉)

All My Chalk Paint- My Precious

“My Precious”

Like all chalk paints, Annie Sloan’s rarely requires priming or sanding.  It is also incredibly easy to apply and to manipulate giving you the opportunity to really use your creativity and put some personalization into your project.  Her paint can be thinned with water for lighter coverage or to create a wash, but can also be thickened by allowing it to sit open at room temperature to intensify the brushstrokes and overall texture of the piece.  She offers a wide range of colors, but because her paints are water based, they can easily be mixed together to create even more options.

Annie Sloan Color Chart

Annie Sloan Color Chart

The concern I hear most often is the expense.  It is true that 1 quart (32 ounces) of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint will cost between $35-$40 depending on the retailer, which is about the price of a gallon of some of the better wall paints out there (Sherwin Williams, Valspar, etc.) However, the coverage is phenomenal.  I used 1 quart of Coco to paint a coffee table, end table, kitchen table and 10-15 small pieces like lamps, trays and bowls.  I still have some left!  If you prefer a thinner application and dilute it with water, it will last even longer.

Her paints are sold through handpicked, trained retailers who can also offer tips, advice, project ideas and sometimes live demos and workshops.  You can find a retailer near you at but can also order many of the colors from Amazon.  Some retailers also have online stores and will ship paint to you.

While I am interested in the cost savings of making my own chalk paint, I love the ease of being able to crack open a can of Annie Sloan’s and just get to work.  With two little girls at home, I have limited DIY time (actually limited free time in general 😉) so I have to be ready to go at a moments notice.

I also like being able to reach out to her retailers when I have a question or want to bounce an idea off of someone.

6. Choose A Good Quality Brush


No need to buy an expensive brush, but here are some tips to keep in mind when shopping for your own:

  • Natural bristled brushes work best.
  • Look for fairly long, flexible bristles with a little bounce .
  • The shorter the bristles, the less freely the paint will flow.
  • Stiff and inflexible bristles will give the paint a scratchy look when it’s applied.
  • Overly floppy brushes make spreading the paint onto surfaces more difficult.

The photo above shows all the different brushes I’ve used.  The two on the left are Annie Sloan’s Oval Pure Bristle Brushes and they are by far my favorite to work with.  I have 5 different ones in varying sizes and I use them daily.  After each use, I rinse them with warm water to remove all the residual paint and then hang them bristles down to dry.  They are expensive, but if you take care of them they will last forever.  Mine have gone through a beating, but are still going strong.  I also have very few instances where bristles fall out while I’m painting.  This is a common problem with natural bristle brushes, but happens much less with Annie Sloan’s.  You can purchase her brushes at your local retailer (find one here) or on amazon.  I prefer the small size brush because it fits the best in my hand.

The middle two brushes are by a company called New Renaissance and can be purchased here.  They are also natural bristle brushes, but are a fraction of the cost of Annie Sloan’s.  I’ve used them for both wax and paint (different brushes assigned to each) a couple of times.  They work well, have minimal bristle loss and are holding up so far.  I’ll let you know in a year after thousands of paint projects how they’re doing. 😉

The two on the far right are by Wooster and can be purchased at your local hardware store.  I used these on the built-in project and they worked well, but I found application with the rounder natural bristle brushes to be faster.  I’ve also heard from a few other chalk paint enthusiasts that Purdy brushes (also from the hardware store) work well too.

Now that all the prep work is done and you have all the necessary materials, its time to start painting!  That’s the really fun part when it all starts to come together. I’ll be back Friday with Part II of the Chalk Paint Tutorial.  We’ll paint, distress, wax and put on all the finishing touches!

No need to wait- check out Part II now!

See you then!

blog signature (black ink)- actual size


3 thoughts on “Chalk Painting Tutorial – Part I: Prep

  1. Pingback: Chalk Painting Tutorial Part II | The Road Less Traveled Design Co.

  2. Pingback: Fabric Lined Keepsake Box | The Road Less Traveled Design Co.

  3. Pingback: In A Day’s Work: Top 7 Time-Saving DIY Products | The Road Less Traveled Design Co.

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