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Is it a Good Idea to Paint Wood Shelves?

Being able to stain or paint shelves can be helpful in different situations. Maybe you moved to a new home where the shelves no longer match the wall color or decor. Or, the shelf color might not be what you were expecting when you ordered them online.

If you’re deciding if painting or staining shelves is the right choice for you, you should consider:

Wood Type

Would painting or staining this type of wood look better? Typically, painting works better on something like our modern hardwood unfinished oak shelves, while staining is a better fit for our reclaimed natural wood shelves. The difference being the grain and level of distressing found on the wood. More distressed shelves tend to look better stained rather than painted.

Clear Coating

If the shelves have an existing clear coat, painting or staining may not work without a more in-depth process.

Paint Color

Do you want the shelves to match the wall, or do you need an eye-catching design piece? This will help you decide what’s the best paint color for your wooden shelves.

Materials for Painting Wood Shelves

Before it’s time to paint the shelves, here’s what you’ll need to prep them:

  • Sandpaper or a sander
  • Paint stripper (if the shelves are already painted)
  • Primer paint
  • Paintbrush and/or roller
  • Drop cloth to minimize mess
  • Furniture clear coat (if desired)

Having the right supplies on hand makes shelf painting projects much simpler.

Step-by-Step Shelf Painting Process

Painting wood shelves is a relatively simple home project that can be fun for DIYers who are comfortable with paints, varnish, and small power tools, like hand sanders. After you have all the supplies you’ll need, it’s time to get busy! Here is our step-by-step process for prepping and painting your wooden shelves.

Step One: Move the shelves to an outdoor space. If this isn’t an option, use a well-ventilated space. Put down a drop cloth to protect the ground.

Step Two: If the shelves have preexisting paint, apply the paint stripper, according to instructions.

Step Three: Sand the shelves to an even plane to minimize imperfections and create a smoother painting surface. Wipe away extra dust after sanding, so the paint can stick directly to the surface.

Step Four: Apply an even coat of primer. Remember to leave one side unpainted so that the other sides can dry. Paint the final side when the shelf is ready to flip over. Allow all sides to dry fully before moving to the next step.

Step Five: Apply the paint the same way as the primer, leaving one side until the rest are dry.

Step Six: Seal the shelves (if desired) to repel moisture, protect against heat, and reduce UV damage from sunlight.

Helpful Tips for Painting Your Shelves

While the painting process is relatively straightforward, here are some additional tips to help make the entire project smoother and deliver the best results:

  • Use smaller amounts of paint at a time to avoid pooling and dripping.
  • Wear protective gear (such as a mask and goggles) while sanding or using any other tools that create sawdust.
  • Avoid painting indoors and always follow the proper ventilation and safety instructions for the product you’re using. If you must paint inside, be sure to open the windows and use fans to ventilate paint fumes.
  • Apply a clear coat after painting – it will protect the paint from peeling or scratching off.
  • If the shelves aren’t assembled yet, prep and paint them before assembling (so you can fully cover every part of the shelf).

If the quick and easy DIY project you were hoping for starts to turn into a big mess, Urban Legacy’s Colorway Shelves come painted and ready to hang in your home. Available in several color options, our craftsmen handle all of the hard work of sanding, painting, and sealing for you! We can also quote fully customized shelf orders for any type of home remodel project.