How to Paint a Desk

Whether your workspace needs a serious overhaul, some color or an artsy renovation, paint can do wonders for an old, dingy desk.

Painting a Wood Desk

Resist the urge to run out and buy something new because these tips for painting a desk will save you time, effort and best of all, money.

Find a good space for painting that will not harm other surfaces. Protect these surfaces from paint and debris by using layers of old newspaper, old rags or cardboard. An outdoor space is ideal. Be cautious about staining cement or grass with your chosen color.

Clean the desk thoroughly with a gentle, non-bleach cleanser.

Sand the desk with a very fine sandpaper. After sanding, make sure to completely brush away the debris using a dusting rag. Particles that are left over from the sand job will get stuck in the paint.

Use a milk-based or high-quality latex paint and a wide, natural bristle paintbrush. Milk paints are recommended for use on wood, but this type is not always available. Well-respected brands of latex paint are also great for painting a desk and come in a wide variety of colors.

Complete your paint job by adding a sealant or finish. Polyurethane products work well for giving the desk a clean, finished look. Use matte polyurethane over your paint color to reduce shine. Apply the finish using a polyurethane foam paint brush with average thickness (9/16 inch or thicker).

Painting a Metal Desk

Paint a metal desk outdoors or in a large warehouse-style space. Place something on the floor to protect other surfaces, such as old cardboard or scrap wood.

Strip any existing finish or paint. This is a difficult step when painting a metal desk. Sanding with fine sandpaper will work, but if you have the resources, use a chemical stripper. Chemical strippers are unpleasant, but they get the job done quickly and efficiently. If you do utilize a stripper, follow up with sandpaper.

Purchase spray paint in your preferred colors. Spray paint is by far the cheapest and easiest way to paint a metal desk. If spray paint is unavailable or you choose not to use it, buy strong enamel paint.

Warm the metal desk and the area where you will be painting. A heat lamp or hair dryer may be helpful. Paint attaches itself to metal surfaces much more efficiently in a heated environment.

Spray the surface with the paint. Before you begin, shake the can for over a minute. Using smooth strokes, pass lightly over the desk. Hold the can a few inches from the surface and keep the can parallel to the desk at all times. In other words, maintain the same distance from the surface. Cock your head so you can see what you are painting--don't put the can directly in front of your face. When you see the surface become wet from the paint's spray, move the can to the next spot. Don't linger on one spot, but make sure the paint has hit the surface before moving on.

Repeat the spray paint process for multiple coats. Never paint a metal desk with just one coat.

Things You Will Need

  • Desk
  • Used newspaper, piece of cardboard, or rags
  • Non-bleach cleanser
  • Sandpaper (very fine)
  • Used newspaper or cardboard
  • Dusting rag
  • Latex or milk-based paint
  • Wide, natural bristle paint brush
  • Polyurethane sealant
  • Polyurethane foam paint brush (9/16 inch thickness or greater)
  • Paint additive or reducer (optional)
  • Dust mask
  • Cardboard or scrap wood
  • Very fine sandpaper
  • Chemical stripper (optional)
  • Spray paint
  • Enamel paint (optional)
  • Heat lamp or hair dryer (optional)
  • Paint primer (optional)

Tips

  • For less coverage, you can "thin out" paint using water, paint additives or reducers. Most latex paints will have thinning instructions on the package, but ask a store clerk if you are unsure. Also, many people prefer to thin out paint with a tiny bit of water.
  • If you are painting multiple coats of color on your desk, sand the wood in between coats. This will make the project much more time-consuming, but the finish will be of a higher quality.
  • For any type of desk, add a coat of primer before you start painting to bring out the brightness of the paint colors. This isn't necessary, but many people like to begin with a base primer.
  • Metal is often dark in color. Choose paint colors that will be bold enough to override the original hue of the desk.

Warning

  • Always use a dust mask when painting, especially indoors. These face masks are cheap and readily available at any hardware store.