Top 10 Furniture Stenciling Tips

1.  Allow yourself plenty of time. Furniture stenciling can be very labor intensive because there are so many steps and layers involved. Also, since it is a three-dimensional object you will oftentimes have to paint details in and around awkward and carved areas. And finally, allow each primer, base, and finish coat to dry thoroughly between applications.
2.  Do it right, do it once! Take care to do each layer of primer, basecoat, painting, antiquing, and finish coat right. You don'­t want to have regrets about brush marks your should have sanded down when you end up with a fabulously painted piece.
how to stencil furniture stenciled dresser
3.  Look for cheap antiques to paint. When learning how to stencil, scour yard sales, thrift stores, and Granny's garage for inexpensive furniture with interesting lines such as turned legs and carved detailing. Lesser quality woods and slightly damaged veneered surfaces are crying out for a painted and stenciled treatment. Create interest on a plainer piece of furniture with some embossed stenciling and panel effects.

4.  Don'­t strip unless you have to. There are many good bonding primers on the market, such as Kilz and Aquabond, that allow you to simply sand, clean, and prime over previously finished surfaces, without stripping. Waxed finishes are the exception, you must strip, so avoid them and go for previously painted or worn finishes.
5.  Turn new furniture into instant antiques with distressing. Before beginning painting, take out your aggressions by hitting the edges of the furniture that would naturally receive the most wear with a small rock. Add a small amount of wormholes with a hammer and awl. After painting you can distress the edges by rubbing lightly over them with fine grit sandpaper. Be selective with your distressing so that it doesn'­t become overdone and fake looking.
learn how to stencil with Moroccan furniture stencils

6.  Work with a limited palette. You can gracefully combine different patterns by sticking to a limited palette of 2-4 different colors. Also, when combining patterns, think of variety of scale. Just as when working with fabrics, choose a large-scale pattern to combine with a small print. Add in some stripes and checks and you will have an interesting, coordinated piece.

7.  Create a soft, mellow, aged look and unify colors and designs by antiquing your furniture. I prefer to use an oil-based gel stain in a soft dark brown such as Walnut (Minwax stain is good), for the best look and easiest application. When finished painting, apply one coat of water-based varnish to seal the surfaced and protect your painting. Apply gel stain with a foam brush and wipe off excess with cheesecloth. Allow the stain to dry 2 days and finish off with two more coats of water-based varnish (Minwax'­s Diamond Varathane finish is compatible). If you prefer not to use oil-based stain, substitute water-based stain or glaze instead.
8.  Protect your art for the ages. Furniture will receive a lot of wear and tear. Protect your time and creative investment with a minimum of 3 coats of water-based varnish (oil will yellow, so avoid it especially on white and light colored backgrounds) in a satin finish
9.  Be bold.  Learning how to stencil and painting furniture is not like painting walls, which completely surround you and generally are kept neutral and comfortable. Stenciled furniture can become an accent piece in a room, adding some punch and pizzazz. See how many different stencil designs you can put on one piece of furniture. OK, this tip is kind of self-serving, but try it and see how much fun it is! 
how to stenciling furniture on cabinetry
10.  Embellish! If you are creating a really fun, whimsical piece try incorporating upholstery trims, tacks, beads, and tassels into your furniture piece. Other ideas include buttons, lace, fringe, mosaic, and decoupage. What else can you think of?


Royal Design Studio
Royal Design Studio

May 24, 2016

Good question Michele! We don’t have any experience with stenciling with oil paint sticks over the wax finish and then rewaxing. Perhaps this is something you could experiment on a sample first?? It may also be that the oil paint will not work well OVER the wax finish. If you give the oil paint time to cure after stenciling and before waxing it may work just fine.

Michele Sanderson
Michele Sanderson

May 22, 2016

Can I stencil with an oil paint stick over a wax finish? I used chalk paint and plan on waxing but thinking I better stencil after I wax since I am using oil paint sticks to stencil. I feel wax will smear the oil paint.

Lisa DeSantiago
Lisa DeSantiago

January 09, 2015

I have about 20 of your stencils in my furniture Painting studio. BUT, because stenciling an ‘inverted’ cabinet door panel or side of a piece of furniture is so hard to do, I always opt to not do it. I have a kidney shaped desk that I really want to do a harliquen pattern on the sides. Can you give me any hints on how to do the ‘inverted’ panel? Thanks

Melanie Royals
Melanie Royals

October 04, 2013

Angela, it will definitely be more difficult to try to stencil on a curved, broken up surface. I recommend that you use a more “distressed” paint technique as it will be hard to get it perfect and also use spray adhesive on the stencil to hold it in place better on the curves. There really is no easy answer with the variables of the dresser shape and stencil pattern you use. You just have to kind of dive in an problem solve as you go! Hope that helps!

Angela Dewberry
Angela Dewberry

September 24, 2013

Hey there I just stubbled onto you page and I love your work. I do a lot of furniture makeovers for customers and have recently been ask to do a damask stencil design on a large dresser. I have never done anything like this and would like some advice. I have done stencil design so I have a general idea of how to start. The dresser has some curves and lines to it that I’m not used to working with. I’ve tried looking for how blogs or videos to help me learn but can’t find anything. Is there anything you can do to help me? Thanks.


July 23, 2013

I painted and stenciled a table – I did not want to glaze or wax – I don’t want to darken it – I just wanted to seal it with a clear coat. I used Minwax – polycrylic – wipe on. I am afraid to sand over my stencil. It says to sand between coats…. Suggestions – help please.

Christine Guérin
Christine Guérin

November 20, 2012

I am very interesting by stencils on stairs. Is it possible to do it ?
Thanks a lot in advance.
Best regards !

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