Painting childrens furniture for safety, durability and appearance.

If you have arrived at this page on painting childrens furniture it is because:

  1. You are seeking information about finishes
  2. You are painting furniture that you built from scratch
  3. You are refinishing children's furniture

1. Go to this page for information on finishes in general

2. Building children's furniture from scratch

If you are building building childrens furniture from scratch I have a couple of suggestions. First use solid hardwood for ease of woodworking, long lasting and beauty. The small extra cost for the lumber will be well worth the time and effort you spend on building and using it. Second, don't paint it, instead use natural shellac and beeswax. This will bring out the hardwood's natural beauty, the coating is safe and durable and it is easily repaired once the inevitable damage occurs.

In any case, make sure when sanding, stripping or painting that you work in a room with adequate ventilation.

If you are using pine, plywood or a composite and choose to paint it then try the following steps:


sand before painting childrens furniture

Take the time to sand all the surfaces before painting childrens furniture. Resign yourself to using 5 passes of sanding and you will be happier in the long run and find you actually have saved yourself time and work.

Use a hand sand block and/or an orbital sander. Inexpensive orbital sanders can be purchased for considerably less than $50 and I strongly suggest you get or borrow 2 of them. Get a variety pack of sandpaper with preferable the following 5 grit sizes: 60/80 grit, 100, 150, 220 and 320.

Wipe the surface with an old tee shirt before you start. This will point out any splinters, gaps, broken edges, etc., that might need a little special attention or wood filling before starting.

Start with 60 or 80 grit sandpaper on one sander. Sand all surfaces. Wipe and "snap" the dust and grit off between sandings. Then put 100 grit on the second sander (hand block or orbital) and sand the entire surface. If you are using a hand block, then sand with the grain of the wood. Sanding across the grain will leave marks that take twice as long to get out on the next pass.

Leave the 60/80 grit on the first sander because you will almost always find a spot that is still a little too rough to sand out with the 100 grit. You can also let the other sander rest/cool between passes.

After you are satisfied with the 100 grit pass, then put the 150 grit paper on the first sander. Don't forget to wipe and "snap" the dust off before starting each pass. Again, if you find a rough spot that doesn't want to come out with the 150 grit paper, pick up the second sander and work that spot out.

Now put the 220 grit on sander number 2, leaving the 150 grit on sander 1 in case you need it. Wipe and "snap" the dust off between passes. Depending on the paint you plan to use and the type of wood or composite you can sometimes stop after the 220 grit.

In most cases take an extra few minutes and put the 320 grit paper on sander #1 and give the bare wood one more quick pass. You will need the 320 grit paper again after the prime coat of paint anyway.

After all the sanding is done and most of the dust has settled in the room, wipe the wood surface off one more time before you start painting childrens furniture.

Painting the surface

painting childrens furniture

Two coats of paint are usually sufficient. I recommend acrylic paints when painting childrens furniture because of the quick drying and lack of odor. You can do brush or spray.

Usually for childrens furniture parents prefer gloss or semi-gloss paint. These paints are easier to wash/wipe/scrub off crayons and other markings. Flat paints tend to mark easier.


Any paint available at retail for painting childrens furniture in the United States since 1978 does NOT contain lead or zinc chromate, the two colorings most dangerous to children. So unless you found an old can of paint in your grandfather's attic you do not need to worry about the type of paint.

It is best to first apply a coat of primer. Primer paints have a different kind of adhesive in them that allows them to penetrate and bind better to the grain. They are not just thinned out regular paint.

After the prime coat sand lightly with the 320 grit paper. For acrylics this can usually be done after 1-2 hours. Oil based paints should wait overnight. When doing this sanding, also inspect the surface and if any area doesn't appear covered by the primer, then apply another coat at least to that area. This is especially true of areas that might have had wood filler earlier, or that have a "black" grain.

Finally apply the finish coat. If you have followed the instructions above for painting childrens furniture one finish coat is almost always sufficient.

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painting childrens furniture

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3. Refinishing children's furniture

When refinishing children's furniture there are several things to consider:

  1. Whether repairs are also required
  2. What the base material is (hardwood, pine, plywood, composites, other)
  3. Strip the finish or just paint over it.

Repairs include broken parts, disassembled connections, delaminated plywood or composite, rot, broken hardware, broken corners, chips and gouges and surface appearance. My main suggestion is to look over and decide whether the piece is worth salvaging and complete the repairs first before taking time to refinish it. If you have to disassemble and make replacement parts then make sure it can be reassembled before taking time to refinish it.

If the base material is hardwood or pine then it is probably worth stripping the finish off before refinishing. With plywood or composites, I'd recommend just filling and sanding and applying a coat of paint.

In all cases, wash/scrub with a wet cloth and a solvent such as rubbing alcohol before applying the paint.

Although finish removers are available, count on using a little elbow grease. Most paints can be removed with paint strippers. For clear coats generally use a lacquer stripper. Apply per the manufacturer's instructions and plan on a little scraping, drying and sanding to get the surface right.

If the underlying material is a solid hardwood, you might consider refinishing it with a clear coat or shellac. This might require leaving some dented or repaired areas "unhidden". When painting childrens furniture you might consider this a "feature".

If you have a solid wood underneath, once you have stripped the finish you will probably want to follow the sanding sequence above for painting.

When you are done, I hope you have an excellent piece of furniture for your child. Here is an example of my favorite furniture, the One at a time toy cabinet that actually helps the children keep their rooms in order.

Painting childrens furniture before use


You can click here for prices, models and availability

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