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Cworkshop's How To

Preparing and painting MDF

Getting started with painting MDF.

Do you need to prime MDF before painting?

It may not seem as easy as it sounds when priming and painting MDF boards. For a perfect finish, painting MDF requires patience, good painting technique and the right tools to help you achieve a brilliant final product. 

The MDF we sell has a very smooth finish, so a layer or two or primer helps the paint stick to the MDF and primed MDF requires less finish paint to complete your project, meaning that it is also cost-effective.

We spoke to a customer of ours, Donatas Zvinklevicius, who has over five years of experience in painting MDF for furniture, and he's given us some tips on sanding, priming and painting MDF.

Things you'll need for you painting project.

Painting MDF checklist

  • Drop sheets - to protect your floors or surfaces from paint splashes
  • Several paint brushes - different thicknesses for different applications, as well as one for primer and another for paint
  • Sandpaper - 120-240 grit sandpaper to sand layers of primer and paint between coats.
  • Electric sander - if possible, use an electric sander; this will help cut your work time. If not, be prepared to work out those arms!
  • Paint roller - with different sizes for different widths of MDF
  • Latex gloves - to help protect your hands from paint
  • Paint thinner - to clean up your brushes
  • MDF primer - water-based MDF primer is recommended
  • Paint of your choice - if you're painting furniture, it's best to use water-based paint because it dries quicker than oil-based. Oil-based paint is generally used for exterior applications.
  • Wood filler - to fill in holes made by nails or screws
  • Sugar-soap wipes - to clean up your MDF after sanding
  • Vacuum cleaner - to clean up dust after sanding and before painting.
  • Dust mask - breathing in MDF dust can be harmful, so use a dust mask for protection.
  • Masking tape - to seperate surfaces that don't need painting and to stick drop sheets to floors/walls

Ready to start painting? Read the following.

Before you begin

Ensure that you have a clear, well ventilated and dust-free workspace. If you are painting MDF furniture that has already been made up, you can disassemble it and paint each piece separately or paint the piece of furniture as is. If you are going to paint your already-built furniture, and if possible, elevate the furniture so that you can paint it quickly and avoid messy bottom edges.

For built-in furniture, you may have some small gaps between the furniture and the wall; use caulk to fill in these gaps so that it looks neat. If you're painting built-in furniture on top of carpet or hardwood floors, try to place your masking tape under the furniture to avoid paint leakage onto it.

You can seal MDF edges with preparation tape. Due to the way MDF is made, exposed edges tend to absorb paint much more than the surface, so you will need to apply an extra coat or two of water-based primer on the edges. Preparation tape stops the paint from being absorbed by the MDF and acts as a primer, saving you time and effort.

Step 1:


Once you've set up your work area and positioned your furniture, start by inspecting the surface for any imperfections. These can be small holes created by a nail gun, counter-sunk holes and other minor dings. Use your wood filler to fill these in, making sure to press the filler deep in the hole with your scraper. When the filler dries, use your sandpapers to remove excess filler so that it is flush with the surface. Use your sugar-soap wipes to remove all dust from the surface.

Step 2:

Primer coat

Pour your primer into a tray and use a suitable paint roller to apply the water-based primer to the surface. Primer usually doesn't take long to dry, with most brands stating that primer is dry to the touch within an hour or so. You may notice that the MDF will instantly absord some of the primer, so be sure to go over these areas again.

Step 3:

Sand the primer

Once you apply the first coat of primer to the furniture, you'll notice that the surface is rough. Take out your sandpaper and lightly sand the surface until it's smooth. Use your electric sander to get the job done quicker. When done, use the sugar-soap wipes to remove all dust from the surface. Use your vacuum cleaner to vacuum up and dust around the furniture to avoid it on a freshly painted surface.

Step 4:

Final paint, first coat

Using a clean tray, add your final paint (after giving it a good stir). Use a roller to paint the surface with even pressured strokes, making sure you have equal coverage of paint on the surface. If you're using a paintbrush, ensure that strokes are even and unbroken.You may need to wait a bit longer for the paint to dry. Depending on the conditions, drying times may vary (check the back of the tin for specific drying instructions), so use this time to take a break, clean up or contemplate your life choices and wonder why you didn't use a spray painting service.

Step 5:

Inspect and repeat if necessary

Your paint job may be a bit rough. Use finer sandpaper (180 to 240, depending on how rough the surface is) to sand down your furniture, wipe it down, vacuum the dust and apply another coat of paint. Wait for the second coat to dry and inspect your furniture. Depending on the type of MDF, paint and conditions, you may get away with just painting two coats. If you're not happy with the finish, sand down the furniture again, clean up, and paint another coat.

Painting tips:

Things to consider

  • When soaking your roller, try to remove any excess paint.
  • Use moderate pressure when painting to give an even look.
  • When sanding, use consistent pressure in circular motions.
  • After you paint a surface, check the edges to make sure paint hasn't dripped over; if it has, use a clean cloth to wipe away the drips on the edges.
  • If you're opting for a brushed finish and happen to be painting an extended height, around 2 meters or more, cover the entire length in paint, and then use your paintbrush to paint one continuous line.

Painting MDF not for you?

Try our spray painting service

Painting furniture can be time-consuming, messy and requires an impeccable attention to detail. Consider our spray painting service so that you have one less thing to worry about.