Upcycling a Vintage Chest and My First Chalk Paint Experience


I have owned this cedar chest for a few years now. It used to live in my parent’s basement, stained a very dark brown and sported bulldog stickers. When I needed a bench for my entry, my mom gave me this bench and I decided to paint it royal blue. Yep. Bright ass blue. You can see it’s previous look here.

It looked ok for a while, but then I changed my color scheme slightly and it didn’t match anymore. Also, I was over a bright ass blue piece of furniture. So, I decided I would strip it and see if I could stain it again. Let me tell you, there is a reason people don’t like to strip paint. It is a pain in the ass. So my lesson to you is, either have a LOT of time on your hands or don’t strip paint off an item with curves and intricate pieces.

How to strip paint off wood furniture:

You’ll need a few items: paint stripper (I used this one), post stripper cleaner (I used the same brand as the stripper), steel wool, sandpaper, a scraper, some sort of brush to apply stripper, a drop cloth, and lots of patience. Flat surfaces are fairly easy. Pour the stripper on the surface and spread an even coat across the surface. Wait. Take the scrapper and gently peal off the paint. It should come off pretty easy. But be warned… it is very messy. You’ll need a drop cloth, probably some paper towels, disposable socks, a paper jumpsuit (ok this is probably excessive, but I got blue paint ALL over the house and myself), glasses/goggles, and gloves.

Once the paint has been stripped off using the scraper, use the steel wool and sandpaper to remove the super stuck on bits. If you’re like me, you will realize the stuck on bits consist of every piece of the chest that is not flat. If you succeed in getting off all the paint, congrats! Now you should clean off the entire surface with a solution or soap and water. You don’t want any stripper residue left or the new stain/paint will not adhere!

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Here’s the chest just after giving up stripping blue paint.

After I did all this work, I realized that pieces of the chest are made of different woods, so staining it anything other than the dark brown it was would probably cause the wood to look different in certain spots. Also, you’d still see the blue residue through, IF the stain even took to those areas. So, after all that I decided I would need to paint it again. I decided to try something a bit different this time, so I tried chalk paint.

Chalk paint

I used the Home Depot brand of chalk paint and I really liked it. They say you don’t need to sand or anything before using it, however, I was already WAY past that point. I painted 3 coats total in the color “primitive”. It’s a very light grey, almost white. It dries very matte, so I would recommend finishing it with their wax product or a polyurethane. I used a satin poly and it’s perfect!

I also added a bit of distressing to the chest this time around. To do that you can take a hammer and add dings and other stuff marks to each side. If you do so, be sure not to make them all in the same direction or it wont look natural! Then just take some sand paper (I used a medium grit to get where I wanted a bit faster than the fine grit) and gently sanded areas that would normally wear with age. I concentrated on the corners and the edges of the decorative pieces.. anything really that stuck out. I recommend starting conservatively and adding more if needed. Make sure you do your sanding before you do the poly or wax layer. Also make sure you clean the entire surface again after sanding to get any dust off before the poly! That’s really all you need to do for chalk paint, super easy! Here is the final product:

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We moved the chest up into our bedroom, where it now sits at the foot of our bed and will hold all the extra quilts and pillows! I’m in love with the results.

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