How to DIY a Nightstand Upcycle with General Finishes Milk Paint

Sam and Matthew have been in their new bedrooms since June. Since then, Sam has been using his desk chair for a nightstand. Poor kid. First world problems, am I right? He is the kind of kid who goes with whatever is available. So, when he came home from school last week and I said he and I had a project to do, he was actually excited! In this post, I will share which paint products are the easiest, and best, to use, when refinishing a piece of furniture, specifically this Nightstand using Milk Paint.

Many projects have been upcycled in our home in the last decade. Sanded, painted, stained and redone to look like new. I am not one to buy a piece of furniture at cost, however one that is solid wood, and a great price second hand will often find its way home with me.

Much to the grumbling, and sometimes distain, of my husband Tyler. So, to fight that issue, he taught me the proper way to upcycle. The correct order to sand and paint. The right tools to get the job done perfect the first time. This sturdy beauty was found at a local Goodwill for only $7.99! It is solid wood with a pull-out drawer and a shelf at the base.

nightstand before painted with milk paint

Published October 25, 2021
Updated March 21, 2022
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Sanding the Nightstand

One tip that Tyler taught me, was to not skip the sanding. Ever. Sanding before you paint is the most important step. With this nightstand, it did not have to be sanded down to bare wood, just enough to take the bright shine off the top. I used a 220-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface, then went to a 100-grit. Sam helped by sanding the drawer and taking the handle off!

As it will be his future nightstand, it was important that he helped with this project. Learning DIY at a young age is so important to Tyler and me, we teach our kids to do chores as well as small projects around the house.

Sand before paint

Once the handle was off, we sanded every surface of the nightstand. As there was no sanding block available, the closest thing around was the kids’ air hockey handle. It actually worked perfect to sand all of the flat surfaces! Make sure that when you sand, you get into every crevasse, groove and corner. The more that is sanded, the better that the paint will stick.

After the flat surfaces were sanded, Sam and I used the sandpaper to get into all of the edges and tight spaces. On the front, there are blocks that each had to be sanded smooth. Folding over the sandpaper helps to get into those hard-to-reach places.

Clean the Nightstand really well

Cleaning the dust off of your project should be your next most important step. First, use a microfiber cloth to get any of the dust off the surfaces of the Nightstand. Then you want to clean and prep the surfaces for Milk Paint. What we had available was Isopropyl Alcohol, and I used it to wipe the surfaces clean of any dust from sanding.

And now, as I do research, apparently Isopropyl Alcohol is NOT strong enough to clean a surface before painting. Oh well! My mistake is your pro tip! Use a stronger cleaner or try vacuuming the project to remove any dust residue.

Denatured alcohol was the preferred product to use to clean wood before painting. Denatured Alcohol is much cheaper than Isopropyl Alcohol. Lesson learned. Good thing this was only a small project.

Milk Paint the Nightstand

Now onto the fun part, paint! For the last few years, we have LOVED using General Finishes Milk Paint. For example, primer is not needed when using Milk Paint. How amazing is that?! Since finding this GEM of a product, we have used it on our dressers, master bathroom vanity, master bedroom nightstands, boys’ bedroom doors and now Sam’s nightstand.

In the past, we have used many types of milk paint. After using three different brands, General Finishes Milk Paint has been by far the best. It has such a deep pigment in the paint so you will not need to use as many coats for the same effect.

can of General Finishes Milk Paint Dark Chocolate on nightstand

To paint a piece of furniture, make sure to use an angled brush to get into all of the nooks, edges and corners. I LOVE my 2-inch angled brush! It literally works for every project, wall and job. When you use a water-based paint, make sure to clean it with water right after you use it!

All those gimmicks about protecting and keeping your wet paintbrush still wet while you use them, are just not worth your money or time. Spend the effort to clean your paint brushes out completely after each use. They are a tool, worth money, and worth your time keeping clean and like-new.

This paint goes on so smooth and really covers well, even without primer! I began with the drawer first, then worked my way around the nightstand from the front to each side before finishing on the top. The front, right below the top, had this square cut-out design that was hard to get perfect.

Make sure to get all areas covered with paint. And I apologize for the high-vis picture… I did not realize that Tyler’s work jacket was right behind the nightstand. At least you know that stuff works!

top painted on nightstand with milk paint

Topcoat over Nightstand Milk Paint

When finished painting any project using Milk Paint, let it rest for 24-hours between coats, as the manufacture recommends letting your project sit for 24-hours after each coat. This allows the paint to fully cure and get as strong as you need before a second coat. If you paint it too soon, the result will be tacky and not fully dry.

After the paint has rested and dried completely, paint the second coat and rest another 24-hours. Once it has rested and painted two coats, it is time to paint the protecting topcoat! General Finishes Milk Paint Topcoat is the recommended product to use after Milk Paint.

This product goes on clear and cleans out of a paintbrush really well. This Nightstand Milk Paint upcycle project only took three days to finish between sanding, painting and finishing the topcoat.

General Finishes water-based topcoat over milk paint for nightstand

Paint the hardware

While you are waiting for the topcoat to dry, it is a great time to sand and paint the handle. We had a leftover can of silver spray paint. I did toss up the opportunity to use a new style pull for the drawer but ended up using the original.

This was for two reasons; one was because I was lazy and had it on hand. Secondly, the drawer would have been much more work to fill in the groove with wood filler, sand it down smooth, and then paint the drawer face. So, instead of using a newer style, the old one was just perfect!

Nightstand Milk Painting is all done

Once your topcoat and handle have dried, replace the handle on the front of the drawer. I have loved doing this Nightstand Milk Paint project for Sam. Now he has a Nightstand for his bedroom, a place for his lamp and treasures in the drawer.

finished nightstand painted with dark chocolate milk paint

Sam was so grateful for his new bed nightstand! Who would have thought this was a golden oak beauty just a few short days ago?! Now it matches his bedroom doors in a chocolate brown finish and is perfect next to his bed. No more desk chair! I am so proud of how this project came together.

General Finishes Milk Paint is an amazing product to use. For more of our Milk Paint projects, check out a few of the links below.

Thanks for stopping by!

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