To Prep or Not to Prep….How much Prep…Too much Prep….


To Prep or Not to Prep….How much Prep…Too much Prep….

The subject of prep, how to prep, do I need to prep, Have I done enough prep is such a bone of contention in the chalk painters world.

Everytime I check in on the painting forums or group pages it is a hot topic of discussion. With the COVID19 life we have lead in recent times there are more and more people having a crack at painting and reloving some furniture and many for themselves and then…many with the idea they are going to flip for some spare cash….Oh my gosh such a hot topic on how much prep you should do. Now, everyone will and does prep their pieces differently, and at some point the myths will be there and some will swear their way is the only way and yet I can’t help but hear in the back of my mind…Annie Sloan wanted chalk painting to be easy and fun…and I have heard a few repeat similar content in their branding , no need to prime or sand, just paint …..etc etc..


A little about me…I have been a crafter my whole life. I have had a love affair with painting furniture and restoration for over 30 years. I was introduced to chalk paint about 15 years ago, slapped it on and went about life. About 7 years ago it came back into my life when my hubby bought me a voucher to attend a painting workshop. It was a great class, reinforcing that it was simple and easy to use chalk type paint and it was fun. I walked away from that experience with a positive attitude and a bit of bounce. The enthusiasm was quite infectious. My journey to want to just paint everything began. The start of my business later and that’s probably another blog… This is my trouble shooting guide to prep and it’s by no means exhaustive however holding the KISS principle has not failed me yet…and I do on sell furniture and successfully along with a vast amount of commission work in the last 4 years.


Firstly and always prep will include a good and thorough clean of your piece….don’t be tempted to skip this because you may be very sorry sooner rather than later.. All the dirt and grime from previous lives has settled on that baby and you do not want to carry that into the next life. Especially if you intend to give it your all and create a masterpiece. …The paint may flake, the paint may scratch off, there can be marks that appear from oils embedded into the surface or even cleaning product residue.. This is probably the most important and simplest PREP you should do.  I use the simple things as I am one to not use chemicals especially since I had my family half a lifetime ago.. I am pretty old school and love to continue the things that were used in the vintage times…

We will all have our own opinions on cleaning products too …At least there are so many options that you really cannot go wrong …choose what is your preference and don’t be complacent making sure that you really do concentrate on removing all of the previous grime love imparted on to the surfaces.

My first choice is vinegar – cheap cheap and water. This diluted will give you a good start to clean. If your piece it really manky  then everyday dishwashing liquid is ideal and obviously diluted in a bucket of water as if you’re doing the washing up whilst camping.  My third choice is Sugar Soap following the instructions on diluting the product. It can leave a film on the surface so you do want to make sure that you follow with a thorough clean up with water again. It can impart a barrier between your surface and your paintwork so this is very very important to avoid issues with adhesion down the track.

Find what suits you best and make that Step 1…always.

And so, chalk type paints will generally have good adhesion. That’s why we love them because it just about sticks to anything and everything.  Sure, there are times when some shiny surfaces may need a little help because they are exactly that.  And, so you would prep that surface in the appropriate way to enable the chalk type paint to have more ‘stick’. This may include

  • Light scuff with sand paper giving the surface some tooth or grit so the paint can adhere better.
  • Using a bonding agent such as ESP (Easy Surface Prep – Bonding Agent) or B.S.B (Birds Special Bond) of which I am a retailer. They will both have their own directions and work alittle differently however the principle is the same. It  is laying a foundation for the paint to be able to stick.


Info about ESP – here

Info and purchase details about B.S.B. – here


When to Sand…. The whole thing…

As explained the KISS principle works so well when using chalk based paints and to be honest mineral paints too. There are pros and cons and at the same time there is no ‘blanket’ rule to say every piece must be prepped…..I personally do not think that spleaking PREP PREP PREP is what we should be recommending.  

Every piece of furniture or item needs to be addressed individually. A ‘blanket’ rule should be avoid sanding if you can….WHY? because you are opening up a whole can of worms….including a tannin bleed

Dependent on what type of piece you’re working on will determine how much prep is required also. Old or vintage pieces will have a story of a life they have lived thus far, imperfections and lumps and bumps…these types of surfaces already give your paint an opportunity to adhere easily. Unless, the surface is ‘flaking’ then you only need to possibly lightly scuff ( personally I  use my Sandi Hands and a 400 grit OR any 400 grit sandpaper) If the paint is flaking obviously  electric sander can be used. Aged Flaking paint should be checked for lead..don’t be complacent. Any flaking varnish can be sanded back with a heavier grit sandpaper. And, it should be removed as it is an unstable surface that will only cause headaches in the future.

It is important to remember that that scuffing your surface with sandpaper should not take a great amount of time and you shouldn’t be sanding to the raw timber.  It is only necessary to give your surface some tooth.

Once you have sanded lightly, you can also determine your next stage of Prep….Do I need to prime before painting.

What is a Tannin Bleed? -  it can be yellow, red, orange or pink tinges that come through your paintwork. The oils from the timber shine through in their glory and leave a murky brown stain or a pink blush when you have painted the old timber and decided to give it a new lease of life.  It can happen instantly and then at times not at all. I don’t know the amount of times I have opted to paint a darker colour with great success because of the knowledge that my piece may bleed….not because I am scared of a bleed….why make extra work for myself.   My rule of thumb…if you have vintage piece or a very dark timber surface that you are trying to paint white or a pale colour then use a primer with blocker first. This will save you any heartache. However, if you’re painting a darker colour then don’t waste product or your time using a primer. I am more than happy to offer advise on which primer or blocker is most suited however I didn’t want to make this blog post about product….


If you’re a newbie to furniture painting namely chalk painting….don’t over think it…it is really easy and make it fun…

  1. Clean your piece thoroughly and thoroughly again.
  2. Light scuff with sandpaper if needed and if you do sand then clean it thoroughly again
  3. Prime or just paint….
  4. Paint…2-3 coats is enough with most of the brands on the market
  5. Sand – this is a personal choice only…it is not a requirement….for me it is about aesthetics…I like the look of a smooth painted surface along with the touch – smooth as silk..
  6. Seal….chalk type paints need to sealed. This is to protect your hard work, the surface you have painted and for longevity.. again, this is another blog post….use wax, poly or glaze…

Just have a go….you will never look back…







  • I’m a newbie! But this was a great read! Will keep referring to it as my bible!! Thanks! May need some advice in the near future!

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  • Thank you for the tips.

    HILARY Jones

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