how to refinish with chalk paint

Chalk Paint

For all you moms out there who don’t think you can refinish furniture… I’m here to tell you that you CAN!

Even if you’ve never done it before.

Even if you live in an apartment and have no garage or outdoor space.

Even if you live overseas and the closest Home Depot is 3,000 miles away.

You can do it with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and Wax!

Here’s how:

1.  You can order Annie Sloan Wax Paint and Wax online and you can find it sold in stores in many states and countries.  Check the list to see if there is a place near you (even if it’s not in the same state or country, they may ship (even internationally) to you at a reasonable cost).

If you’re wondering what chalk paint is, it’s a water-based decorative paint made with… you guessed it… chalk!  If you’re wondering why I chose Annie Sloan, it’s just because I saw so many of my friends using it and wanted to give it a try!

Here are some of the reasons I decided to use chalk paint on my refinishing project:

  • It has a beautiful velvety, matte finish to it.
  • You don’t have to sand or prime whatever you are refinishing before painting with chalk paint.
  • You can use it on virtually anything — metal, wood, concrete, plastic, terra cotta, kitchen cabinets, floors, exterior walls.
  • There’s a ton of different options for effects like distressing, crackling, etc.
  • It dries really fast and has very low odor and VOCs, so you can use it indoors
  • It’s water-based so you can clean it up with just soap and water

A couple of thoughts about what to order:

  • Most pieces can be covered in 1-2 coats, but if you are using a lighter paint to cover a dark piece or darker paint to cover a lighter piece, you’re going to need to do at least 3 coats.  I’d order extra just in case!
  • If you are planning to distress your piece, you may want to order two colors that go together.  You can use one for the first coat and the other for the final coat.  When you distress, the first color will come through making a nice effect.
  • You’ll need to get the Annie Sloan soft wax to seal the piece — you can get it in two finishes — clear and dark.  The dark gives the paint an older, darker look.  If using the dark wax, you’ll want to put a coat of the clear wax on first, so get both in that case.Wax Brush
  • You may want to consider ordering an Annie Sloan wax brush.  You can use it for painting too and it will last you through many projects if you clean it properly.  You can also use an old t-shirts or any old, clean, cotton rags that you have lying around (old cloth diapers would work great for this!)


Wax and Rags

Other things you might need:

A tarp, an old sheet, or large piece of cardboard, a good grease-cutting cleaner, a decent paintbrush or maybe a sponge brush or roller if you want a smooth finish, sandpaper if you’re going to distress the piece, some old cotton t-shirts or rags for the wax part, and a little time!


2. Choose your piece and set-up an area to paint with an old sheet, tarp, or cardboard box to cover the floor.  Because Annie Sloan paint is water-based, you don’t need anything fancy to clean it up — just regular old soap and water will do it!  Also, it has pretty much no odor and very low VOCs so its safe to use indoors.

I chose a used Pottery Barn Kids table and chairs.


3.  Wash your piece with a grease-cutting soap and water.  Scrub it good to get any built up grime on it which will make it difficult for the paint to stick well.  Let it dry thoroughly before starting to paint.Sponge Roller

4.  Pick your brush and get to painting!  I used a regular cheapo paintbrush to do my painting and it worked fine, although you could see the brushstrokes in the finished product.  Not a big deal if you are going to distress the piece, but you may want to order a sponge brush like this if you want a nice smooth finish.

  • A bit of a warning — at this stage (before waxing), the paint can be a bit fragile.  I chipped pieces off with just my fingernail hitting it at the wrong angle.  You’ll want to be careful about the piece until you get it waxed or you’ll end up doing a lot of touch up!
  • I would also recommend putting a thin coat of paint on — you can always go back over with more coats later — as it will make your finished product smoother and more evenly covered.

You can see how the English Yellow color I chose didn’t cover the original dark red of the chair (2 coats later it looked great!)

Yellow Chair

5.  Apply a thin coat of clear wax.  The paint dries pretty quickly, depending on the temperature and how thick the coat was you put on.  Make sure your final coat is completely dry (I’d wait at least an hour), then start on the wax.  This step really intimidated me for some reason, but it really wasn’t hard!

The key is putting on a THIN COAT!

Make sure your wax is warm enough (not melted, but soft) — put it in a warm pan of water if you need to.

When it goes on, it should look like you wetted the piece with a damp rag — NOT like it’s covered in Crisco (like this chair does)!

Waxed Chair

A few more tips on waxing:

  • Don’t cover the whole piece at once, work in small sections (the wax may dry before you get to wipe off the excess if you do too much)
  • Wait 5 minutes, then go back and wipe off any excess with a clean cotton rag or old t-shirt.
  •  Work in a warm environment (but not hot).  If it’s really cold the wax will dry fast and you won’t get the chance to wipe off the excess.  If it’s too hot, it’ll never dry!
  • One coat of wax is a usually enough, but you may want to 2-3 coats on any part of the piece that will get a lot of wear (table tops, chair seats, etc.).
  • Wait at least 24 hours for the wax to set before doing a second coat of wax.  If the wax is still tacky after 24 hours, you put too much on.  Rub another thin layer of wax onto the piece — this will kind of “melt” the wax underneath — and then wipe it well with a rag after 5 minutes.
  • Waxing the piece will darken it a bit, but that affect will fade a bit after the wax dries completely.
  • If you are going for an older, distressed look, you can add a thin coat of the dark wax over the clear wax.  Or you can just put the dark wax into the corners and crevices.  If you add too much dark wax, just wipe over it with the clear wax — it’s like a magic eraser!

There is a nice thin coat of wax on half of my table here. You can see how the wax darkens it a bit.

Waxed Table

6.  After the wax has dried for 24 hours, distress by rubbing the piece with a fine grit sandpaper.  If you want to!  I actually didn’t want to distress mine, but I didn’t like the way I could see so much of the brushstrokes (I used a cheap brush and didn’t put on a THIN coat of paint), so I sanded my piece down after I had waxed it and repainted and you can see what it would look like distressed (another great thing about using the combo of Annie Sloan chalk paint and wax… if you mess up, you can paint right over it again!).

You can see the grain of the wood when you lightly distress the piece with some fine sandpaper.

Distressed Table

You can distress it as soon as the wax is dry.

f you want to make your piece shiny, you can buff it well about 24 hours after you apply your last coat of wax.

This take a bit of elbow grease!

7.  WAIT.  While the wax will be dry in 24 hours, it takes 5-21 days to “cure” depending on the temperature.  If you use it before it’s cured, you run the risk of damaging the paint.  Once it’s cured, the piece will feel like it has a very hard, smooth shell on it.

Caring For Your Chalk Paint Piece

  • The chalk paint/wax combo will not give you a factory finish.  It WILL evolve and gently wear over time.  Your piece will take on personality and history as you use it!
  • Dust with a soft dry cloth and don’t use any harsh cleaners on it.  Don’t use citrus-based cleaners or any de-greasing soap (like dishwashing soap).  Wax is grease and this will remove some of the wax!
  • The finish will be water repellent, but not water-proof.  Try to wipe up spills right away.
  • If you have a major disaster — nail polish remover spill, glitter glue explosion, remain calm. Try to blot and dry as much as you can.  Then after everything is dry, scrape the area and apply more wax on a steel wool pad using gentle pressure.

The Big Reveal (and a Final Thought)

It took about a week for me to refinish my piece (with the mistakes I made, extra trips for more paint, and time for drying in between coats).  Even though it was time-consuming, it was really satisfying to see my pieces transformed under my hands.


It brought back memories of my dad refinishing old yard sale finds for my sister and I.  It was a matter of necessity for our family since we didn’t have much money growing up, but he still took the time to carefully paint the knobs of an old dresser pink for us so that we would have something pretty in our room, even if it was old and very used.


It’s a sweet memory and I wonder if my kids will remember me turning a used table and chairs into a fun place for them to do their crafts and school work?


Happy Painting!


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