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How To Choose a Finish For Your Painted Furniture

how to choose the right finish for your painted furniture project from vintage bette

If you are new to painting furniture you are wondering, 'what is finish and why do I need it'?  

Maybe you have painted some old furniture before but are new to using designer paint products.  You might be wondering, 'What finish should I use?  Wax?  Poly?  Paste?  Can I just get something at Lowe's'?

Maybe you have a decent amount of experience painting furniture and home accents and you just want to know where CeCe Caldwell's products fit in with all the options you see at Lowe's, Home Depot and Woodcraft.  

Farmhouse style hall table white washed with dover white wash and stained kukui

You need a finish on your painted furniture project because the paint needs to be protected from drying out and from water and food and cleaning and little hands.  The finish you choose for your painted project should be based on how and where the furniture will be used as well as the look you want.  

If you are painting or staining a decorative shelf  I would recommend a very different product than I would if you are restyling a kitchen table.  If you are wanting a mid-century modern look and feel then I would say a glossy lacquer would be a great fit but if you want your buffet to look like you found it in a French country manor then I would definitely say a hand waxed finish is in order.  

I have used sooooo many different products.  I have painted furniture with latex paint from big box retailers and with spray paint.  I have painted it with specialty paint products from Lowe's and with a variety of designer furniture paints from boutiques.  I have tried as many--if not more--finishes, polys and seals.  I cannot speak with authority about every brand of every product but I will divulge what I have learned about the products I have personally used.

There are many different 'types' of finishes but I personally divide them all into 2 big categories:  wax and brush-on.  I will start with wax finishes and then cover brush-on.

Dresser finished with Waxing Cream by CeCe Caldwell's Paints products    coffee table painted with CeCe's Pittsburgh Gray, vintage White and finished with Clear Wax

Wax finishes are applied with a rag or natural bristle brush and then buffed to a hard protective layer with a lint free cloth or a natural bristle brush.  When applied properly they work into the paint and add dimension and contrast to your piece while also protecting it against light to moderate use.  The dresser on the left was painted in CeCe Caldwell's Vintage White then finished with Waxing Cream and the coffee table on the right was painted Pittsburgh Gray with Vintage White stripes and finished with Clear Wax by CeCe Caldwell's.

I feel comfortable finishing any bedroom or living room furniture with waxes.  I would also finish dining room furniture with a wax if I were someone willing to take extra care when cleaning it.  It is also acceptable to treat furniture with a brush-on top coat to seal against water then following up with CeCe Caldwell's Waxing Cream or Clear Wax.  

CeCe Caldwell's Waxing Cream is Vintage Bette's favorite finish for protecting painted projects

My absolute favorite wax finish on the market is CeCe Caldwell's Waxing Cream.  It is user friendly without a steep learning curve.  If you have ever read tutorials and how-tos about waxing furniture you might be intimidated or nervous about trying a wax finish.  If so, then get this one.  It is almost impossible to mess up and it looks great with the same old world shine (not gloss) as Clear Wax.  Apply Waxing Cream with a natural bristle wax brush then buff to a shine with either a lint free cloth or a brush made of natural boar bristles.  If you have used MinWax Paste or ASCP Wax this product is easier to use and results in the same look without any toxins or smells--it actually soothes my cuticles which is a welcome change over needing to wear gloves.  It provides a hard durable finish with shine but no gloss.

Choose Clear Wax by CeCe Caldwell's to protect your painted furniture projects

My second favorite is Clear Wax, also by CeCe Caldwell's.  Clear Wax is applied with a wax brush then buffed to a shine with either a lint free cloth or a brush made of natural boar bristles.  It is also soothing on skin, smells nice and buffs to a hard finish.  It can be compared to Annie Sloan Wax but without the toxins.  Also similar in durability to MinWax Paste without as much work or the need to wear gloves and be outside.  The finish is shiny but not glossy.

MinWax Paste is a wonderful finish to seal and protect your painted furniture projects

MinWax Paste is my top value pick.  It is fantastic for the price and ease of purchasing.  It can be found at hardware stores and is inexpensive.  I used to use it all the time on furniture and really loved the shiny (but not glossy) finish and the  great protection but hated the amount of work it required.  I have to wear gloves and a mask when I use it because it burns my skin and lungs.  MinWax Paste has to be applied with cheesecloth or a thin rag before buffing.  It is too 'hard' to apply with a brush like the CeCe's.  It is more work to apply and buff it but it is hard to mess it up.  It stinks and has VOCs so it is best to use it outside or at least a very well-ventilated room.  (It has been a few years since I finished anything in MinWax and have sold all those pieces so I apologize I don't have any images!)

There are many more wax options on the market but these are my top 3.  Annie Sloan has great wax choices and I have used them but I didn't list them because, to me, they are basically the same as CeCe's but from overseas and with toxins.  If you are wanting a high-end wax look get CeCe's.  The products protect every bit as well, have a similar price point, have no toxins and are made in the USA; creating jobs and stimulating our economy.  MinWax has toxins but comes in at a much lower price point so it made my list.  

side table painted with cece's paints and finished with wood shield matte varnish    Dresser painted with CeCe Caldwell's Chalk + clay Paints finished with Flat Matte

Brush-on finishes are applied with a brush and provide the most durable protective finish available. They can seal your paint so it is waterproof or suitable for use outdoors. Some brush-on finishes are water-based and some are oil-based. Some are even marine-grade and suitable for heavy use and exposure to water. These also have varying degrees of gloss from matte to high gloss for different looks.  I would finish any furniture with a brush-on finish.  The white side table in the left image was finished with Ecos WoodShield and the dresser on the right was finished with CeCe Caldwell's Flat Matte.

Ecos Wood Shield Matte Varnish is Vintage Bette's favorite brush on finish for protection

My most favorite is Ecos WoodShield Matte Varnish.  It is water-based so it is easy to use and clean up and it is made for hard-wood floors so it is super durable.  I like it because it seals the paint and provides a protective barrier against moisture.  I dilute it by 25-30% when using it over CeCe Caldwell's Chalk + Clay Paints.  It gives me a little more time to get it right before it starts to dry.  I have started using this as my go-to finish.  With the matte finish I can still get the look I want without the time investment of application and buffing--and it is sealed from moisture too!!!  It's perfect also because it is a natural product without VOCs.

Satin Finish by CeCe's Paints is a great finish to protect painted furniture projects

Another of my favorites is CeCe Caldwell's Satin Finish.  It is also water-based and easy to use.  It is 100% natural and has no VOCs or toxins.  You can use this indoors and it is safe around pets and children.  It is not a matte but also not a gloss so it can look great on a variety of furniture for a variety of rooms.  Satin Finish is what I used to recommend the most, especially for kitchen furniture and beginner furniture painters.

CeCe's Flat Matte Finish is an awesome finish for protection from moisture for painted projects   CeCe's Endurance Finish is a durable seal for protecting painted furniture projects

CeCe Caldwell's also makes a Flat Matte Finish and Endurance Finish.  All CeCe's products are 100% natural and have no VOCs.  They are also all water-based which makes them easy to use and easy to clean up.  Flat Matte is the least glossy but also the least durable of the finishes.  Endurance is the most glossy and the most durable of the finishes by CeCe Caldwell's.  

 For bathroom furniture or cabinets and/or for outdoor use I used to get a marine grade or outdoor rated, oil-based polyurethane from the hardware store but I think I would take a chance on the Ecos varnish I mentioned above for bathroom use.  I would still go shop for something intended for outdoor use if I were sealing a piece I was going to use outside.  I often opt for a spray can of polyurethane for smaller outdoor pieces as it is easier to get a complete seal.

What is your favorite finish/seal for your painted furniture projects?



For more information and step by step instructions on using CeCe Caldwell's Finishing products see our How-To Guides.




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