If you look around whatever room you’re in, you are nearly guaranteed to see two things: paint and furniture. There is even a possibility that you have painted furniture in the room! When buying said furniture, the thought may have crossed your mind that you liked the design, or that the color went well with your other furniture and decorations, but the duality of paint and furniture extends far past just their aesthetics. For reasons of adornment, expression and furniture longevity, painted wood has prevailed overtime.
History of painted wood
Like many firsts in history, the first examples of painted wood and furniture is credited to the Egyptians who painted wooden pieces with a white undercoat and then applied color and gilding. These wood pieces were most commonly created for adornment within tombs and many sarcophagus feature paint and gilding as well.
Painted wood is later noted in Greco and Roman cultures, where artistic expression was redefined with decorated furniture and art coming into higher regard than in previous eras.
In the Middle Ages, painted wood is most notable in secular furniture and religious objects like altars. With the employment of talented wood carvers, painters and guilders working together, the cathedrals and churches came to life with art and beautification.
Along with the Renaissance and the introduction to Asian culture, came the introduction of Chinese lacquer. Chinese lacquer, or East Asian lacquer, is resin made from the toxic sap of the Rhus verniciflua tree, a close relative of poison ivy. As a natural plastic, this lacquer has remarkable water resistant properties, stands up against heats and acids and can provide gorgeous color. With its rise in popularities came imitations developed throughout the 18th century that allowed for painted furniture and decoration to revolutionize. Furniture design became intricate and fanciful with bold color and designs.
Oil-based paints and lacquer’s popularity was enduring, until around 1970 the American consumer started to become aware of potential toxins and additives that were being incorporated into their furniture. Up until 1935, the only paint sold commercially was oil-based paint, where lead, mildewcides and more was added. While development towards an alternative was sought after, including casein, water-based casein, latex paint, and more, paint manufacturers continued to seek a healthier option without VOCs, HAPs, germicides and other additives. Milk paint was developed as a safe, environmentally friendly paint option, free of VOCs, HAPs or EPA’s.
Why people paint wood today
Today, wood and paint still come together most frequently in furniture. As we can see throughout history, painted furniture has always been utilized as a form of expression and adornment which carries on into today. People use paint on furniture to breathe life back into new pieces through project renovations, to make it their own and to express their personal style in the dwellings.
When paint is applied to outdoor project, it can have additional advantages as a wood finish such as waterproofing. Water can damage your wood through dry rot, stains, cracks, mildew and more. Painting wood that is inside or outside can prevent this damage, though it may have to be reapplied overtime.
Why you should not paint wood
Whether or not to paint your wood furniture or woodworking projects has become somewhat of a controversial issue in the woodworking community; it is not a case of “to each, their own” but significant pushback in defense of leaving the wood in its natural state. Not only is it an aesthetic preference to feature woods natural color and grain, but many arguments are centered around value. When deciding whether or not to paint your woodworking pieces, factors to consider include:
- Consider design trends- if painting a piece of furniture fits into the trends of right now, it may be better to hold off. When it comes to projects that significant time has been dedicated towards, it would be unfortunate to give it a short lifespan in your home if the color can’t keep up to the trend cycle.
- DIY furniture restoration projects- many factors should be considered before the undertaking of a furniture restoration project including researching the furniture. There may be an instance of an antique or notable piece of furniture that will have more value over time if it is left without paint.
- Using the right type of paint for your wood furniture- yes, there is a right type! More often than not, avoiding spray paint is a good rule to heed. To avoid chipping and ensure a smooth, consistent surface, research the pros and cons of each paint type for your next custom painted furniture piece.
- Do not paint family heirlooms- while your style may be different than that of your families, it is generally better to air on the side of caution and assume that a sentimental piece that has been passed down through generations should not be touched. If it would hurt anyone involved to see a piece of furniture altered with the addition of paint, the paint should not be added.
Forest 2 Home painted woodworking projects
DIY woodworking painted sign with kids
Follow along with Katie’s project plans for a DIY painted wood sign! Katie was able to create this decorative sign with her 3-year old son for a fun, DIY décor craft! Find the full tutorial here.
DIY a wooden pumpkin with Forest 2 Home lumber
One of the Forest 2 Home team members took home some hardwood lumber and made a DIY wooden pumpkin with her new puppy Argo! For full DIY instructions, click here.
What do you think about painted wood? How would you utilize paint in your workshop? Leave a comment below telling us and send your wood x paint project photos to email@example.com! Happy Woodworking!