Painting furniture, whether it is an old or vintage peice or the new, unfinished variety, can be extremely rewarding and lots of fun.
Several years ago, unfinished furniture was easy to find. There were stores that sold it on every street corner. I haven't noticed very many lately, but perhaps I just lead a sheltered life. Besides, my own preference runs to older or vintage pieces.
Even though I really like looking at restored furniture, stripping and refinishing old pieces to make them "as good as new" is not my idea of fun. That takes special skills and bushels of patience. But turning a great old piece that may be scarred, coming apart or missing knobs into a usable piece of art can be a ball
First, you have to acquire something that needs a little love and attention to become a valued part of your family or a great gift for someone special. A good way is to find an auction. Many times, there are beautiful antiques, but most people who have antiques will have some old relics of the kind we want lurking somewhere, and usually the family doesn't want those old dirty pieces that don't look as great as they used to.
You might also try yard or garage sales and the Goodwill store near you. You might not find the perfect piece the first time, but just keep looking. In the meantime, go ahead and pick up something in reasonably good shape to practice on.
Start by first deciding what you want this (let's suppose a small table) table to be used for and where it will be used. These often make great accent or conversation pieces. I like shabby chic for accents so I will want the illusion of wear spots and flaking paint.
Repairs are often in order, but resist the urge to start there. If anything has come apart, it will be easier to sand or prime first. That's where we will begin work. Sand rough spots down with the highest grit number you can use and still get the work done. For loose paint and small blemishes, you might be able to get away with using 120 grit or higher. If there are 15 coats of paint to smooth out a little or some deep scratches to remove, you may have to start with 100 or even 80 grit. The smaller the number, the more coarse the sand is. The higher the number, the smoother the effect. always have three or four grits or fine, medium and coarse sanding blocs handy before beginning.
If you want a flaking paint effect, you will not want to prime. But sanding lightly is a good idea so you can get back to paint that will hang on. And that may be all you need.
If you want a worn look, you can take an old white candle and rub it over spots that would show wear from being touched over the years. Be sure to rub over the edges and corners. If there are drawers, rub the candle over the edges and around the pulls. This keeps the paint from sticking to these areas and makes it easier to get the look you want.
Priming is OK for a worn look. You can just prime over the old paint, candle wax and all with a good primer like 1-2-3 from Zinsser. It will help to hold flaking paint on as well as priming bare spots. When the priming is done, use a good quality acrylic gloss paint in the color of your choice and apply two coats. For shabby chic, a soft white or pastel will fit with the look you want. However, you can use any shade that compliments your decor.
After the paint has dried thoroughly, use a medium grit sandpaper (100 or 120 is a good bet) and sand gently over the areas where you applied the candle wax. Let the sanded spots run on out and feather the edges off to get that natural look. Be sure to wipe the table down really well after snading to remove the dust.
Next you may, if desired, add some details in pastel shades to any carved details. It could also be fun to paint some flowers or vines in an area or two for interest. Enjoy!