How to Stain & Paint Veneer Furniture

So after all the DIY drama I shared Monday, here’s the tutorial on how to stain & paint veneer furniture the right way.

I am not going to go into too much depth on how to paint the furniture (see our tutorial on that here), but I do want to touch on the differences with this piece. I chose to hand sand the shell with 80 grit paper. There were some chips in the veneer as well as scratches. I filled them with Elmer’s wood filler (note: I used this wood filler because I painted the shell. You cannot stain this filler, but see below for that product!) and sanded it with 220 grit paper.

I wanted a lacquered look, but without the headache of lacquering a piece. Enter Behr hi-gloss enamel in ultra pure white. Hi-gloss paint is much simpler to apply than lacquer. When you paint a piece white (or another light color), you cannot use polyurethane as a protectant since it will yellow over time. The wonderful thing about this hi-gloss paint is it has enamel in it, so I didn’t have to protect it with anything. It cures completely in 3 weeks to a hard, durable finish. You can use the dresser during that time, but I wouldn’t put anything heavy on it until it’s completely cured. If you don’t want to paint hi-gloss, you can protect light paint colors with polycrylic.

Sand the drawers with 80 grit paper with the wood grain. I used a Ryobi corner cat sander. I filled in the holes with Minwax stainable wood filler and sanded that with 220 grit paper. Make sure you sand evenly and get the finish off. Wood (in this case wood veneer) absorbs stain, so if your piece isn’t sanded evenly it won’t absorb evenly. Make sure to clean all that dust off your furniture before you paint or stain. *You cannot skip sanding when you stain. You must sand for your stain to adhere to your furniture correctly and evenly.

I chose Minwax Dark Walnut stain for the drawers. Apply it in the direction of the wood grain with a foam or natural brush. I used a foam brush. I let the stain set for 20 minutes before I wiped it off. I wanted the drawers to absorb as much of the dark color as possible.

Use a clean white cloth to wipe the stain off after you’ve let it set. You can see how it is coming off black on the rag, but the drawer is noticeably darker. Wipe slowly with the wood grain (as with everything else). I wiped until the drawer looked evenly stained. It is still wet at this point, but you can see how much of the stain has been absorbed.

I chose to put another coat of stain on for an even darker finish. (2 coats is the max you can apply because at that point the wood has absorbed as much as it is able to.) Even though you can typically recoat within 4-6, I was staining in high humidity and waited 48 hours. If the stain is sticky, then it’s not dry. Give it more time. If it’s still sticky after you give it more time, you can wipe your drawers with paint thinner (it cannot be low odor) to remove some of the stain that way. A Minwax rep that I spoke to recommends wiping every stain project down with paint thinner to remove any excess stain. I don’t think it’s always necessary but if you are doubting your stain job at this point do it just as a precaution. It will lighten the stain so you will have to wipe the whole drawer face not just the sticky spot.

*The light on the photo makes the right side look darker, but the stain is even across the drawer face.

Apply a THIN coat of Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane in clear satin. I used a foam brush to slowly apply the poly to the faces. I applied 2 coats. Sanding between coats with 220 grit paper. On the final coat of poly, I placed the drawer faces down to keep as many bugs and dirt particles from getting stuck in my smooth drawers. Let them dry for 24 hours and cure for 72 hours before heavy use.

It. Is. Gorgeous. If you look closely you can see that the shell has 3 braces between the drawers (those nice curvy things that make the dresser so pretty) that were also stained and protected with poly. I used Frog Tape (and craft brushes close to the edges) to keep the stain from getting in the way of the paint and vise versa.

Right now the newly refinished dresser is working as a buffet in our formal dining. It’s not practical as a buffet since my platters are too large to hide in the drawers. However, it does have the same feel as the organic modernism buffet we want. Eventually the dresser will make it’s way into a nursery, but obviously I couldn’t refinish the dresser when I was pregnant so I did it before! Now I just have to work on that whole making a baby thing since said baby has a dresser waiting for it.

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20 Responses to How to Stain & Paint Veneer Furniture
  1. Allison says:

    I need you to come to my house please! We just got some old stuff we need to paint and fix for our craft fair in Denton!

  2. christina says:

    Thanks for posting such a detailed description of your project. I have a few pieces that could use some DIY and your tips are helpful. I think I will wait until the fall when I have more motivation and less humidity.
    Great post!

    • Amber says:

      Thanks Christina! I hope it helps when you work on your pieces. Smart choice waiting until it’s cooler and less humid. It will save you a lot of wait time. Good luck!

  3. That came out beautiful guys! Nice work!! Huge improvement.

  4. Teri says:

    Hi Amber, In your last photo with the table and chairs in it I was noticing that the table was almost exactly the same as mine, except mine is lighter color. Mine is also in not so good shape. Is it laminate or veneer? I need to figure out so I will know how to refinish it! I love your dresser too! Lots of great information!

    • Amber says:

      The formal dining table is solid wood. We bought it new. I did paint our everyday kitchen table which was veneer. You can read that tutorial here. I could have refinished it the same way I did the drawers on the dresser, but I wanted it to be a color. Hope that helps! Good luck with your table.

  5. Liz says:

    Thanks for the directions! I found this article after I picked up a dresser on the side of the road. It had a beautiful mid century modern shape but was a terrible color wood and was in bad shape. I just finished putting the harware back on after following your steps. It turned out amazing!! My Facebook is blowing up with complements on my before/after shot. Again, thanks! It was my first furniture painting adventure, and I will be doing it again.

  6. So much good information here! I hope you know I already adore your blog/instagram/style but I actually fell here through a Google search. I’ve got a pair of dressers that are a blonde finish that I’m not fond of but wasn’t sure about the veneer. This is great! BTW, those bentwood chairs with the hot pink are TDF.

  7. Meghan says:

    Hi!! New reader here. I purchased a table with some type of laminate or veneer top. I sanded it with my corner cat for awhile before realizing it’s not wood … Ugh craigslist!! Since I will be using it as a kitchen table I wanted to stain the top super dark and paint the legs white. According to this blog you were still able to stain laminate/veneer? I guess I did sand off a few layers of poly and a light oak colored stain it was so orange I couldn’t handle it!!
    Is this possible?! I may just slap some Annoe Sloan on it and call it a day but I was desperate for a dark stain!! SOS!

    • Amber says:

      It depends on if it’s wood veneer. Sometimes veneer is not wood but plastic with a wood grain facade. When you sanded you would be able to tell it was plastic by the white dust it creates. If it’s plastic, it won’t hold stain. You will have to paint it. I just encountered a nightstand like this and was so bummed I couldn’t stain it! I hope that helps! Good luck!

  8. Pingback: Mid-century Modern Dresser | Megan Elise DIY

  9. Jill Miller says:

    Great and very helpful information!! This is my first real project – I am refinishing 2 dressers for my son. The 7 drawers have so many curves and hard-to-get-at nooks and crannies that I was afraid it was going to take me weeks….which I don’t have. Glad I saw your suggesting to use liquid sander!! Going to get some today and try it out.
    Thanks for helping us novice DIYer’s with your great how-to’s!! Your furniture pieces look great!!

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