First coat of milk paint being painted on headboard with a brush

How to Paint a Headboard (or Furniture) Without Sanding

I’m working on a few little upgrades for my daughter’s room, and on the list for her was a new bed.  She has a very inexpensive Ikea bed frame and it’s not doing anything (design-wise) for the room.  I found a headboard on Facebook Marketplace and I decided to give it a little makeover.  However, my most dreaded task on any project is SANDING.  So I thought I would show you how to paint a headboard or furniture without sanding!

I have done quite a few furniture makeovers over the years, and after a lot of trial and error, I think I have found the best paint for painting furniture.  It is my go-to product when I want to paint a piece of furniture, so I wanted to tell you all about why I love it so much!  

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you purchase anything from these links I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you! This helps support my blog, so thank you!

guest room with black bed, pink and green colour palette
I painted this bed black several years ago and it still looks exactly like this!

Table of Contents

Furniture Paint – Qualities to Look For

So for furniture, you want to make sure you choose something with a durable finish.  You should not use regular latex paint because you will end up with brush strokes and a finish that will not hold up to wear and tear.

Besides durability, the other really important factor to consider is adhesion, or how well it will stick to your piece of furniture.  Most paints don’t have good enough adhesion to use to stick to wood furniture that might have a shiny finish.  That is the number one reason why paints fail on furniture. 

If you don’t choose paint that is meant for sticking to furniture without priming, then you should use a really good primer before painting.  I wrote a post all about primer and you can read about the one I would recommend for painting furniture here.  

Bedroom window with black dresser and art hanging on chains, floral curtains
My dresser was the first thing I ever painted using General Finishes Milk Paint

So What Paint Should I Use if I Don’t Want to Sand?

If you don’t want to sand (or prime), then the best way to avoid that is to use mineral paint, chalk paint, or milk paint that has superior adhesion without sanding or priming.

Most chalk paints adhere very well but they will wipe off if you don’t put a top coat on them and are extremely matte and most are quite thick, so they show a lot of brush strokes. They give a more rustic feel.

I have heard good things about mineral paint, but I haven’t used that personally.  I have had the best luck with Milk Paint.

My Favorite Furniture Paint Is…

The paint I love is called General Finishes Milk Paint and there are a lot of reasons to love it.  I’ve used it on quite a few furniture projects and it has never let me down!  

Holding a can of milk paint

Milk Paint is a non-toxic water-based paint made with natural ingredients.  True milk paint comes in powder form and you mix it with water in small batches as you need it.  Some milk paints use natural pigments to obtain their colour while some have some additional additives.

Since I am talking about General Finishes products here, I should note that there are some differences between their paint and an old-fashioned milk paint.  General Finishes created their paint line to mimic the final look and qualities of old-fashioned milk paint, but in a pre-mixed formula instead of the milk paint powder.

The only real downside to the General Finishes Milk Paint is that there are only so many colours to choose from.  They do have some gorgeous colors, but for custom colors you are sort of out of luck!  

General Finishes Milk Paint colour chart

What Paint to Use if You Want a Custom Color

Whenever I want a custom colour for furniture, I use my favourite primer topped with Benjamin Moore Advance.  Benjamin Moore Advance is an enamel that has superior levelling qualities and durability and does not require a top coat.  However to use it, you need to prime first.  

nightstand painted white in front of a window
This nightstand I painted with Benjamin Moore Advance because I wanted a specific colour. It has held up perfectly as our nightstand over the past 4 or 5 years since it was painted!

On this project, I’m using General Finishes in the colour Lamp Black.  I have used this colour to paint my fireplace, my dresser, and our guest room bed and I am very happy with the results so I am using it again.

black fireplace mantle with black marble tile surround, books, plants and accessories on mantle, Frame TV above displaying art
I used Lamp Black to paint this antique fireplace mantel without sanding or priming

How To Paint Furniture without Sanding

Step One – Prep Your Furniture Pieces

Depending on the piece you might want to do a tiny bit of sanding if you have very glossy surfaces.  I usually do not do this, personally, because I really, really hate sanding, ha!

What I like to do instead is wipe the piece down with liquid sandpaper.  It removes the glossy finish if there is one so the paint can adhere a little better.  

Holding a bottle of gloss off surface prep
I usually use this instead of sanding a glossy surface.

Once you have done that, I usually go over the piece and make sure there aren’t any repairs that are needed.  Chips can be filled in with wood filler.  Then the whole piece gets a good cleaning with a tack cloth or a lint-free cloth and some soapy water.

Something to note – I would not trust this paint for painting laminate furniture (think Ikea) without using a bonding primer first.  Also, if you are painting a knotty wood a light color you might want to use a shellac or oil-based primer to make sure the wood does not bleed through.

Step Two – Paint Away

Paint your piece with the first coat!  I use a foam roller on larger areas and a brush where it’s needed.  Do your best to minimize brush marks, but the paint does a little of that for you.  It has much better levelling qualities than regular paint.  

You can use a paint sprayer as well!  I sprayed my fireplace using this paint and it turned out wonderfully.  You might get slightly better results with a sprayer, but only if you look closely.  I’ve found hand painting is almost as good!

First coat of milk paint being painted on headboard with a brush

Step Three – Recoat

Depending on the colour you are using you should do 2 – 3 coats of paint.  I have always found that 2 coats are enough when painting with the black. You can do a second coat of paint in as little as 2 hours!

Step Four – Optional – Top Coat

General Finishes Milk paint is a self-sealing finish and does not require a top coat!  Amazing, right?

The very first time I used this paint I used it to paint my dresser black, and I didn’t top coat it.  I lived with it like that for a few months, but I found that the finish sort of attracted dust and when I wiped it, it left wipe marks on it.  

After a few months of living with it like that I gave it a good cleaning and then applied a coat of their “Flat Out Flat” top coat, which is a pretty matte top coat.  

Holding a can of flat out flat top coat

That did the trick in terms of making it more wipeable and added just the slightest bit more sheen, which I liked.  I think if you are choosing a dark color you should consider a top coat after your final coat of paint.

This top coat is very easy to apply and is non-yellowing if you are putting it on a light colour.  I like how easy it is to apply and how you can achieve a professional finish easily.  It does result in the most beautiful finish!

Brushing on top coat
This top coat goes on a little milky but dries clear

And that is all there is to it!  Due to the low prep and the short drying time, painting a piece of furniture does not take a ton of time.  It is a great way to give old furniture new life!  

Because this paint is so easy to apply it is basically fool proof, you can’t mess it up!


Everything you need for your furniture or headboard painting project including my favourite short-handled brush, the deglosser I use, and rollers I love!

Milk PaintTop CoatRollerRoller CoversTack ClothShort Handled BrushKrud Kutter

The Headboard Project

So I bought the headboard on Facebook Marketplace with a vision of giving it new life.  When I saw the ad for the headboard, I thought it was real wood and I would perhaps sand down and restain the curvy edge, and I thought I would add some fabric to the middle part for a bit of a wood-framed upholstered look.

headboard leaning on a wall

However, when I picked up the headboard it was a shiny fake wood that didn’t look nice at all.  I really should have just walked away at that point but I decided that I could still make something of it!  I decided to paint the curvy edge and still upholster the middle.

close up of shiny and chipped headboard

The headboard came with a metal bed frame, but my daughter does not want to have a bed skirt and I don’t want the metal frame to show. I decided to Frankenstein together her old Ikea bed to the new headboard and then give it all a paint job to unify the pieces. I started by chopping off the headboard of the Ikea bed with a circular saw.

Using a circular saw to cut the old headboard

Next, I decided that the headboard needed to be a little lower so that the bottom of it was below her mattress, otherwise there was a space between the bottom of the headboard and the top of the mattress.  I used a table saw to chop three inches off the legs of the headboard so it was at the right height for her mattress.  

My son helped me cut three inches of the legs off to make the headboard a little lower

Next, I needed to figure out how to attach the headboard to the frame.  The legs of the frame and the headboard didn’t line up very well so I wasn’t going to be able to bolt them together using the holes that were already in the headboard for this purpose.  So instead, I added a scrap piece of wood between the headboard and the frame so they would sit tight together, and added some holes to bolt them together.

Adding a piece of wood to the back of the bed frame
I added a piece of wood to the back of the Ikea frame so it would sit up against the headboard. I then could put a hole and some bolts through all of this to hold it together.

Once I had figured out how to attach them, I gave everything a couple of coats of lamp black.  I didn’t really do any prep work on the bed besides giving it a quick wipe-down!

Mismatched headboard and frame clamped together
I clamped these two pieces together and then figured out a good way to attach them to each other. Once that was settled everything was painted.

I did not need to paint the middle part of the headboard here since I intend to upholster that part, but I flat-out forgot about that when I had the paintbrush in hand, ha! But I have to admit that it makes for a better progress shot!

First coat of milk paint being painted on headboard with a brush
Close up of finsihed headboard
Finished headboard, the middle part only has a single coat of paint but the edge has two coats + two top coats.

 Once it was all painted, I did two quick coats of the top coat and that was that!  

The edge of the headboard is fully finished, I didn’t bother to fully paint the middle since that will be covered by fabric.

Next up I will be upholstering the middle part so stay tuned for that!  This type of headboard is very common and easy to find in your local thrift store or secondhand, and the sky is the limit in terms of the colours and patterns you could use to make it unique!  In my next blog post, I will share a tutorial on how to upholster the headboard so be sure to check back!  (Update: I completed this project and you can find that post here!)

holdingblack and white plaid fabric up in front of the headboard
This is the fabric she chose to upholster the middle!

You Might Also Like:

Similar Posts


  1. Hi Erin!
    This is SO good and SO helpful! I’m curious if you would use this on kitchen cabinets? Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *