How To Paint a White Desk

Looking for a big change to your décor without a big price tag? More than ever, this is the age of “doing-it-yourself”, and painting a desk or bookshelves white is a simple, inexpensive project that can renew your room. For the sake of demonstration, we will walk you through painting a desk white.


  • Wooden desk - it must be real wood, not veneer.
  • 60 ,120, 150 grit sandpaper -  The amount you need will vary depending on the desk. Usually found in a hardware section or store in packages of 10 sheets, which should more than suffice.
  • Sandpaper holder - This is not necessary but useful. You slip the sandpaper in and have a handle to make large volumes of sanding more comfortable.
  • Acrylic latex paint, preferably with primer built in.
  • Water-based top coat.
  • Synthetic bristle brushes and foam brushes in sizes for small detail and large coverage.
  • Drop cloth and soft rags.

Before you begin refinishing your desk, you will want to put down a drop cloth or work in an area you do not mind getting dirty. Then, remove all hardware and get out your sandpaper.

Starting with the coarsest grit sandpaper, 60, lightly sand the entire desk to remove any existing finish and smooth any imperfections. Then proceed to the medium grit, 120, and again to the finest grit, 150. Vacuum away dust and wipe the desk down with a soft, damp rag. Allow the desk to dry thoroughly.

Painting should be done in a well-ventilated area. Begin painting the desk by applying thin, even coats with the synthetic bristled brush. Your strokes should be long and with very light pressure. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next. Take care to not overload the brush, as it will result in drips and puddles of paint. Any spills or mistakes can easily be cleaned up with soap and water.

When you have successfully painted the desk white and allowed to dry completely, take your finest grit sandpaper, 150, and lightly sand the desk to smooth any drips or stroke marks. Vacuum the dust and wipe desk down with damp, smooth rag. Allow the desk to dry thoroughly. Begin applying the water-based top coat with the foam brush. Use long, even strokes to apply two coats, again allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next.

Painting your desk white may take more elbow grease than stepping into a store and purchasing a new desk, but I can guarantee it costs less. And, if in the future, you want to change from the white desk, you can distress the finish or take the fine sand paper to it again and repaint in any shade. The white will act as a primer to provide a beautifully even finished coat.


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