Learn how to decoupage furniture with paper napkins.
Sometimes you run across a piece of furniture that is a bit more damaged that you would prefer. Bondo can only do so much. If the price is right and the piece is solid wood, don’t pass it by! Decoupage is the perfect way to disguise those hard to fix flaws. Plus, it’s the perfect way to add pattern to a boring piece of furniture. Learn how to decoupage on wood furniture to recreate this sweet little floral decoupaged dresser!
DecoArt provided me with product for this project, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. I would never recommend products that I wouldn’t buy or use on my own.
What is decoupage?
Decoupage is basically gluing paper (or fabric) to something, then sealing it. Decoupage was popular in the 1970s, but has gained popularity again in the past 20 years. You can glue photos to furniture or fabric to table tops. It’s an easy way to customize furniture with your favorite patterns, designs or images.
You’ll be looking for fun patterns at every store you go to! Besides online, I’ve also found fun patterns at grocery stores, party stores and Home Goods. Look for patterns without a border for the best results.
Tissue paper can also be used, like these decoupaged pumpkins for fall.
What glue do you use to decoupage?
Use decoupage glue for decoupage. There are many brands and they can be found easily at any craft store in the glue department.
Personally, I love DecoArt Decou-page glue and not just because they gave me some for free. It’s thinner and easier to work with than the other big brand (which was my go-to for years.)
I’ve had my bottle for a few months now and it hasn’t gotten lumpy or thick yet. The lid isn’t glued on. It doesn’t leave clumps of glue on my project. I’m a fan.
How do you seal decoupage?
For decorative objects, a few coats of decoupage glue over the paper works fine. Furniture needs more protection. I apply a coat of decoupage glue to the paper and after it dries, I apply a few coats of polycrylic sealer. Polycrylic is water-based and will not yellow over light colors. It dries hard and protects your hard work.
How to Decoupage Furniture
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How to Decoupage on Wood Furniture: The Prep Work and Painting
- Clean thoroughly. Every piece of furniture that I buy gets cleaned thoroughly. Remove the hardware to clean under it. I like Simple Green for cleaning most furniture. If a piece is really gross, I will wash it with diluted vinegar water. Be sure to wash all the soap off with water when you’re done. For smells, I like OdoBan, but simply placing it in the sunshine for a few hours works wonders on smells as well.
- Repair any damage. The dresser that I was working with had a lot of blemishes to repair. Bondo works great for this. I also love bondo for filling the holes from handles if I’m replacing them. Just spread some bondo on a paper plate, add some hardener and mix it. Then spread it on with a bondo spreader. When it’s dry, sand it. I normally start with 80 grit sand paper and work my way up to 220 until it’s smooth. Bondo is a bit smelly, so use it outside. Once it’s sealed, the smell goes away.
- Sand the rest of the furniture if needed. Some pieces are harder working than others. The top of furniture is always going to be used more, so I try to take extra care here (while the sides will never see as much use.) I also sand more if the piece is very shiny. Otherwise, a light sanding is fine.
- Seal the wood if necessary. Wood tannins can bleed through and ruin all of your hard work, so I seal them in with shellac. You can see in the photo where I started priming and the tannins were showing through, so I knew that I had to shellac the piece. Shellac is inexpensive and dries quickly, so I don’t mind the extra step. Use a chip brush and clean it by soaking it in ammonia, then rinsing it. (Ammonia can even bring it back to life if you let it dry! Just soak for a few days.)
- Prime the piece if you’re painting it white or light colored. Primer is cheap. Paint is not, so I would rather apply a few coats of cheap primer than expensive paint to get a base coat. White paint generally takes more coats of paint (sometimes up to 5!)
- Paint the piece of furniture. I used Valspar Chalky paint in Kid Gloves. I like to use smaller brushes with chalk paint because it’s easier to spread the paint. With chalk paint, I almost smear the paint on with the brush, rather than using long graceful brush strokes like on walls. Chalk paint is pretty forgiving and easy to apply.
- Reapply coats until you reach your desired coverage. I applied 2 coats of white primer and 3 coats of white paint to get the coverage I wanted.
- Distress the edges if desired. I love lightly distressed edges to make a piece feel a little more authentic. Plus, if it gets banged around by your kids, no one can tell!
- Apply your top coat. I applied a light coat of wax the sides of the dresser and the areas that I would not be applying decoupaged napkins to. Wax goes on easily with a wax brush. Just rub a generous amount on the furniture with the brush. Then go back with a rag and buff it until it’s shiny and smooth. Polycrylic also works well to seal chalk paint.
- Drill new knob holes if needed. I normally start with a 5/32″ bit, but sometimes I need a bit slightly larger.
How to Decoupage Furniture with Paper Napkins
Now comes the fun part!
- Peel your napkins apart. Most napkins are 3 ply and you just want the 1 sheet with the pattern. This process can be a bit frustrating. Bend the corner to separate each layer. Some napkins came apart easily, but others were harder and I could only get it to 2 ply thickness at first.
- Layout your design to see how many napkins you need. It’s also a good time to see how to match patterns if you can. The napkin should be larger than the drawers. Don’t worry about cutting them to fit. Once it’s dry, they sand right off.
- Apply a thin layer of decou-page glue to the dresser with a foam brush.
- Apply the napkin onto the glue. Smooth it as you go with the foam brush and your fingers. Get it as smooth as you can, but wrinkles can be sanded out once dry to make the pattern look aged.
- Repeat the steps, overlapping the napkins to match the patterns. Just make sure to apply decou-page glue under the napkins where they overlap.
- I also applied the napkins to the edges of the drawers to make the design keep going. If I did it again, I would not do this because it makes the drawers harder to open and shut. Nothing wax can’t fix, though. (See step 12.)
- I repeated the same steps for the top since the top was so damaged. My napkins had little brand marks in a corner, so I made sure that those spots were along the outer edges where they would be removed and not part of the design.
- Sand the edges. Once the napkins are dry, sand the edges to remove the excess napkin paper. I used 120 grit sandpaper and it worked pretty easily. Just be gentle so that you don’t accidentally rip it.
- Sand any wrinkles out for a distressed look. Once again, sand gently. Then clean the dust off.
- Apply another coat of decoupage glue on top of the paper.
- Add a top coat. Once dry, I added a few coats of Polycrylic to seal it really well. I just used a brush since the pattern will hide any brush strokes.
- Wax edges. If you applied paper to the edges like I did, apply some wax to the sides and top of the drawer, then buff it. The wax will help the drawers slide smoothly in the dresser frame.
- Install the knobs. When the dresser is completely dry, you can install the knobs. Use an awl to poke through the paper and install your knobs. I used glass knobs from D.Lawless hardware.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same piece!!
I love how the glass knobs add a subtle bit of shine without competing with the gorgeous floral pattern. I can’t wait to decoupage more furniture!
Alternate Uses for Decoupage with Paper Napkins
- Sign backgrounds. Using napkins on stained wood creates a different look because the wood shows through. Distress the edges for a fun look.
- Crates. Decorate boring wooden crates with cute patterns.
- Small decor like magazine files and boxes
- Simple glass vases
- Table tops
- Small occasional furniture, like step stools and side tables
- Drawer liners
- Instant art
Looking for more furniture tutorials? Here are a few of my favorites:
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How to Decoupage Furniture