How to Repaint Wooden Garden Furniture

Instead of replacing we are looking at how to repaint wooden garden furniture so you can give it a new lease of life...

At Lazy Susan our preference is metal garden furniture but we have been in this industry for many years now and can appreciate the pros and cons of different materials. We don't sell wood but we still love it and many of us own pieces made from it.

So, instead of replacing your old weathered wooden dining set or bench, why not simply sand the surface smooth, apply a coat of primer and repaint it to create a brand-new-looking piece of garden furniture?

It sounds simple when I say it like that but trust me you don’t need to be a master craftsman to tackle a DIY project like this. Plus, there are some great specialist paints on the market that can give you a professional finish and bring that old timber back to life.

So, if you have some old wooden garden chairs that have seen better days? Maybe the paint is peeling paint, or worse, the wood is chipped or splintered wood? Then don’t worry, unless you have some serious rot, it can be repainted and revived.

It’s honestly not that hard to make them look fantastic again. Furniture refinishing of this sort is much closer to the basic repair and painting of a skirting board than it is to the skilled world of say restoring an antique dining table. 

And that’s a good thing because with very little effort you can cover up any minor imperfections, and have a good-looking finished result.

In this post, we won’t refer to any specific projects. We’ve done that in other How-To posts. Instead, I want to take a look at some of the techniques you might need to refinish and repaint wooden garden furniture. 

While we may mention staining and varnishing, we want to mainly focus on repainting. We’ll also use this post to recommend specific products or product ranges that will help you tackle each of these jobs, and include some YouTube videos you can watch that show you how to tackle each job and brush up (pardon the pun) on your skills.

Repairing any damaged wood

First off, let’s get what many feel is the most difficult job ticked off the list, and take a closer look at how to repair any damaged wood. You can do this to repair any gouges or if you have a small patch that has started to rot:

  1. Scrub the area you want to repair with a stiff wire brush to remove any loose paint, wood and/or rot.
  2. Apply a waterproof glue such as Gorilla Wood Glue or Titebond III Wood Glue (my preference is for the latter) with a small paintbrush to the damaged area only. Don’t worry, any overspill can be sanded off afterwards. The glue just helps prevent the area from any further damage and creates a base to build from.
  3. If you have any loose pieces of wood to affix, then also apply a light coat of glue and clamp that into place and leave to dry. If you need to apply a wood filler to repair, leave the glue to dry fully before you proceed to step 4.
  4. To fill any areas that need to be repaired/levelled off, use a good quality filler such as the Ronseal High-Performance range. Apply with a putty knife, and evenly spread the filler over the damaged area, making sure you cover it completely. 
  5. Smooth down the wood filler until it is flush with the surface and leave it to dry overnight. I like to use a plastic filling knife to do this. They’ve got a little more give to I can whip it over to get a nice smooth finish and in turn, less need to sand.
  6. For larger/deeper repairs, it is often better to build up the filler in layers. Leave it to touch dry in between each application, as this gives you a stronger finish. A good filler should be quick-drying, easy to sand, plane, filed, nailed and screwed. Ronseal ticks all the boxes for me and it can be stained, varnished and painted, plus it won’t shrink or crack when back in the garden!
  7. Leave it to dry overnight.
  8. Sand the filler gently with fine/finishing 200-grit sandpaper, feathering out the edges to make the repaired area less visible.
  9. Wipe off the sanding residue with a tack cloth before applying your primer (see the next section).

Painting wooden garden furniture

Next stage, once all the repairs are done and the surface is sanded (if needed), cleaned and prepped for painting (washed with sugar soap), the next stage is painting. 

In terms of the process, be it primer and/or varnish, stain or paint, my technique is as follows, but it will vary depending on the condition of the wood. 

My advice would be always to sand off any existing paints or varnish. The better the prep, the better the finish. Many products will claim to be one coat with no need to sand and prime but in my experience sanding is a must. You’ll never get as good a finish as stripping back to fresh bare wood and starting again.

If you’ve kept the furniture clean, then you can get away with applying a fresh coat to brighten it up. However, if we are talking heavily weathered, then you need to sand it back and address any repairs before you proceed to the steps below:

  1. Start by roughing up the surface of the wood a little with fine-grit sandpaper (my preference is to use a sanding sponge). This will just help whatever finish you want to apply to adhere).
  2. Once you've lightly sanded, wipe the surface with a tack cloth to remove any dust and oils. Make sure you get into any tight corners and decorative details too. You can do this outside if you wish but when it comes to painting, always work inside.
  3. If you are painting, then prime it first. If once sanded back the natural wood looks great, then you could opt for just varnish or stain. If weathered, my advice is to prime and paint. Just shop around for the finish you want and test it on the underside of a chair or table. You can always send it back once your decision is made.
  4. Apply one coat of exterior primer to the furniture using a brush or roller. Use strokes in the same direction as the wood grain. Allow it to dry completely.
  5. Apply one coat of exterior paint with a brush and allow the furniture to dry completely. Apply additional coats, if desired, and allow furniture to dry for at least 24 hours. Stains and varnish can often be applied with a cloth or paint pad. My advice is to follow the instructions on the tin and apply whichever method you are comfortable with and can achieve the best finish,
  6. If you do need multiple coats, you will also need to sand in between each one, to remove any drips, etc. Give the coat a wipe with a clean tack cloth before you apply the next after any sanding.
  7. Finally, look at giving that wooden garden furniture a little extra protection. This will keep the paint looking better for longer and minimise future maintenance. My go-to is Rust‑Oleum’s Furniture Lacquer  (definitely consider using it if you are going for a chalk-style paint/finish). I just apply a very light coat with a sponge roller. Watch for bubbles when applying and leave it for a few days at least to dry.

Lazy Susan’s tips & tricks

A few other little tips, tricks and hacks we’ve picked up over the years of trying to maintain wooden garden furniture are as follows:

  1. Apply an exterior caulk to any cracks or joints in the wood. You can also use it to hide any screw and nail holes. It’s easier to remove than wood filler if you need to perform any further maintenance. Just look for one that’s mould and mildew-resistant. Caulk is great for hiding a multitude of sins as it is easy to apply, flexible (it will expand and contract with the timber), watertight, has low odour and cleans up easily with water.
  2. If you want a slick finish, go to the extra effort of feathering the hard, rough edges or patches where the old paint is still soundly stuck to the wood. Ideally, strip it back. If you don’t, you can end up with a cratered effect when the fresh paint goes on over the old stuff and causes it to split. To feather, use 100-grit sandpaper to take down the edges of the old coat(s) of paint back to the bare wood. This works best with an electric sander, but if you’re doing it by hand prepare for aching arms and hands, however, it is worth the effort of going back to fresh wood.
  3. As I mentioned above, it is OK to sand outdoors. Wherever you can best deal with the dust. You don’t want it blowing all over a neighbour's property. However, always paint indoors if you can. You don’t want to paint in direct sunlight, as it can cause the paint surface to skim over (where the top is dry but damp underneath) and this can cause it to blister. Also, there’s just too much dust and dirt blowing around so it’s not conducive to a good finish/stress-free application.
  4. Whatever type of paint you’re using (even if low odour/solvent), and when doing any sanding or scraping, always wear a mask! You don’t know what’s in the old paint/finish and it's always better to err on the side of caution. When sanding, I will always wear safety goggles too.
  5. And finally, just do a little product research before you commit, shop around, test products, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions/guidelines!

How to clean and maintain wood garden furniture

If you put in all the effort that we’ve just discussed, then you won’t want that furniture getting weathered too quickly in the future. Timber is a great material for garden furniture but you need to look after it.

Our metal garden furniture has a tough durable finish that does not require reapplication and is low maintenance but with wood, you will need to perform a few simple maintenance steps to help protect it and keep it looking great for many a summer to come. 

In the words of Dutch philosopher, Desiderius Erasmus; "prevention is better than cure".

Clean regularly with gentle wood outdoor furniture cleaning products, lightly sand the surface to prevent mould, reapply that protective lacquer and cover or store pieces during the winter months. 

If cared for properly, you should only really need to fully sand down and repaint your garden furniture when you fancy a change of colour!

How to paint wooden garden furniture videos from YouTube

As mentioned at the start of this article, I wanted to include a few useful YouTube videos. I will try and add new videos/replace/update over time as I come across them, so please watch this space:

How To Paint Outdoor Wood Furniture by Ace Hardware

How to paint outdoor furniture with Beth Tidwell of Farm Fresh Vintage Finds

How I Restored My Outdoor Furniture: A Beginner's Guide To Cleaning, Oiling, and Staining Wood by Quynh Pham

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