When Your Table Turns Out to Be a Little B—How to Deal with Bleed Through When Painting Furniture

Furniture can be a lot like people. Some pieces are easygoing and fun to work with. I get an idea for a makeover and—boom!—the furniture cooperates and everything comes together nicely.

Other pieces? Not so much.

This little table is a great example.

Bleed Through Table_beforeThis little table was a little B—–!

That’s right. I just said the B-word.

This little table was a … BLEEDER.

DSC_0005See those swirly pink marks coming through the yellow paint on the tabletop?

That’s called bleed-through, a frustrating phenomenon that you will run into eventually if you paint enough pieces of old furniture.

Bleed-through can be caused by a couple of things. Oily or greasy residue left behind on a tabletop can bleed through and cause spotting on your paint job. That is why it is so important to clean every piece thoroughly. I like to use a sudsy bucket of Simple Green and warm water to clean most of my projects. On heavy-duty items like kitchen tables or cabinets, I recommend using a degreaser like TSP available in the paint section at the hardware store. TSP is a powder you mix with warm water, but be sure to wear gloves because it can irritate skin.

Certain types of wood like mahogany or cherry are more prone to bleed-through than others. The bleed-through may be caused by an old finish, which can come through in spots or streaks. The wood itself can bleed-through if the paint pulls out tannins within the wood.

IMG_2521Pine often bleeds through to reveal the knots in the wood—even after priming and several coats of paint.

Sometimes bleed-through is instant, like on my little table. Sometimes it takes a few years to appear like on this built-in china cabinet at our old house. It looked great when it was first painted, but over the years, the knots started showing through the paint.

IMG_2523If you suspect something is a bleeder, it is best to just prep the piece with shellac right at the start like I did before I re-painted the built-in china cabinet. Some painters swear by primer, but my opinion is shellac is where it’s at, especially when it comes to blocking bleed-through.

Unfortunately, I did not shellac the little bleeder table.

One of the reasons why I really, really like Dixie Belle Paints, the new chalk/mineral paint we are carrying at our shop All Things New Again in Leesburg, Virginia, is because it requires very little prep work. Dixie Belle Paint sticks to just about anything, even slicky-slick Ikea tables made from pressed wood and laminate.

We tell students in our monthly Learn How to Paint Furniture Class that we do not sand or prime (or shellac) a piece 95% of the time.

This table was the 5%. In hindsight, I should have prepped it better.

I did sand it. As you can see in the “before” photo, the old varnish was flaking away in spots. I sanded it just enough to remove the flaking and give me a smooth surface for painting. I did not sand it down to bare wood.

All those spots of swirly pink bleed-through are the edges around where I didn’t completely sand away the old finish on the tabletop. It popped right through that happy yellow color called Daisy, one of the seven new Dixie Belle paint colors I told you about last week.

DSC_0007It is important to note that bleed-through is not Dixie Belle’s fault. This occurs with all types of paint (latex, chalk paint, milk paint) and it occurs with all brands of paint. It is just one of those things.

Once my bleed-through popped up, I had a few options.

I could have waited for the paint to dry, proceeded with applying two coats of shellac per the instructions on the can, and then painted over it yellow again. I would be right back where I started—minus the pink bleed-through.

However, the more I looked at those pink swirls, the more I liked them.

It looked kind of cool the way the bleed-through fanned out over the entire tabletop. I decided to roll with it and incorporate it into the overall look of the table.

I used two more new colors: Apricot and Tea Rose. I would love to show you a step-by-step tutorial on how I applied the three colors, but there really was no strict formula to this process.

Dixie Belle Paint_Apricot and Tea RoseI scooped both colors onto a lid from a take-out Chinese food container. I used the same brush dipping into Apricot sometimes, dipping into Tea Rose other times. The two colors blended together to make a pretty peachy-pink color that I also painted onto the table. You can’t really tell where one color ends and the next begins. That’s a look I really like to create.

my toolsSometimes I sprayed the table with water to swirl the paint around more like a color wash. Sometimes I rubbed away the wet paint with a damp cloth to reveal the yellow underneath. In some spots, I rubbed all the paint away to reveal the original wood.

That’s the fun part about painting. You paint a little. You rub off a little. You step back and look at the overall piece. You repeat until it looks perfect to you.

It’s that simple.

One of the reasons I bought this table was because I’m such a sucker for pretty claw feet. Sometimes I paint the claws and add a little American Grit to make them look old. (Here’s my tutorial.)

On this table, I decided to just clean the claw feet really well and leave the natural patina for a nice contrast against the peachy-pink.

Here’s the finished table.

closeup table


Apricot Tea Rose Table

Apricot Tea Rose table_closeup3

Apricot Tea Rose table_closeup2

Apricot Tea Rose Table_claw feetNow I can think of another B-word to describe it: Beautiful.

~ Courtney

* * *

All Things New Again is a family-owned furniture and paint boutique located in Leesburg, Virginia about an hour or so west of Washington, DC. We offer our own eclectic brand of hand painted furniture—and we love teaching you!
Our Learn How to Paint Furniture class is held the first Sunday of every month. The next class is coming up on Sunday, March 6 from 1 to 5 pm. At $99, our class is the best deal around. You practice 10 techniques to go home with the skills—and the confidence—to start painting furniture like a pro. Advanced registration is required. Sign up right here.

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