Furniture, Vintage Finds

DIY Vintage Shelf Makeover

I’ve been texting my BFF’s saying “I want to do something CRAFTY!” You’ve been there before, right? For this fun DIY project, I’ve picked out an old vintage shelf for a Chalk Paint Makeover. We are going to show you how to give an old piece of furniture a shabby-chic look with layered chalk paint and wax. This refinishing project can be done in an afternoon and costs very little. Want to see the BEFORE and AFTER?

Let’s Give This Old Shelf a New Look with Chalk Paint

Many of you might recognize this type of vintage shelf. Maybe you have one, or you have seen one like it in your mom’s house…maybe Grandma’s? I was able to get my hands on one and I absolutely love it.

It is a fun piece without doing a thing to it. A little dated, maybe, but that all depends on your style. No worries, you can use this layered chalk paint technique on just about any piece of wooden furniture.

A tall vintage wooden shelf in need of a fun update.

I wanted to change the shiny wood look to more of a shabby chic / farmhouse style to fit into my current decorating mood.

Yes, it is a mood. My husband likes to call my decorating style “Rustic Industrial Farmhouse Pirate Ship”. Whatever. I’m gonna do me. If you like this furniture refinishing style, you can do it, too. You don’t need special tools or a special brush. No fancy painting techniques required.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started.

Supplies Needed for This Chalk Paint DIY:

  • A wooden shelf – Grab one at your local flea market or thrift store, or dust off a piece you already own.
  • Sandpaper – This is optional. I’ll talk more about this later in the post.
  • Cleaning cloths – Pick something that is lint-free and soft. I like to use my husband’s shop rags or an old cut-up T-shirt.
  • Chalk paint in TWO colors – For this layered look, you will need two colors. I recommend one lighter for the base coat (like a white, cream, or pale gray). The second should be your main color.
  • Antiquing wax or dark glaze – This is sometimes called “dark wax” and the colors will vary by brand.
  • Paint brushes – I highly recommend a paint brush vs a sponge brush for this DIY. If you have a chalk paint brush, that is fine. However you can use the cheapest brushes you can find for this rustic look. Yay!
  • Drop cloth – In case you are a messy one. Like me.
  • Soap and water – For clean up.

That’s it. No harsh chemicals are needed because we are not going to remove the old finish. Chalk paint really does a great job of covering and adhering to just about any surface without much effort.

But before we get into painting, let’s talk about prep work.

How to Prep Furniture Before Chalk Painting

  1. Clean the piece of furniture you are working with thoroughly. This goes for any type of refinishing project. If your piece is super dirty, you will want to use a degreaser such as Dixie Belle White Lightning. My shelf was in great condition. I simply wiped it down with sudsy warm water and let it dry completely.
  2. “To Sand or Not To Sand”… This is totally up to you. Chalk paint (typically) does not require sanding. I decided to sand the shelf lightly for one reason. The look. Because the surface was so smooth, I used sanding to create more texture and character.
  3. Remove any sanding dust.

That’s it. And honestly, you can skip steps 2 and 3. One of the great things about working with chalk paint is that it requires very little effort to get started. It adheres to most wood surfaces very well.

I really paid a lot of attention to the shelf posts. Along with the curved shelves, this is one of the most important details of this piece of furniture. I gave them a good sanding. In the picture above, you can see that I took the finish down to the bare wood in certain spots. It totally paid off in the finished result!

Once you have your shelf cleaned, dried (and sanded and wiped down), it is time to paint. The best part.

How to Layer Chalk Paint for a Vintage Look:

  1. Using a dry brush technique (more on this below), lightly brush the base coat (WHITE) on the top and bottom of all shelf surfaces. Do the same for the shelf posts and any special embellishments.
  2. Let the paint dry. Chalk paint dries VERY quickly, especially when you are working with light layers. Refer to the package directions for more info. (I waited about 30 minutes.)
  3. Either clean the brush (or grab a different once), and repeat this process using your top paint color (BLUE). You can paint lightly or heavily depending on the final look you want to achieve. For this vintage look, I recommend using a lighter coat in some areas, a heavier hand in others.
  4. Let the second coat dry a little longer than the first because up next is the dark wax.
  5. To create even more texture and an “aged” look, use sandpaper to sand down some edges, remove excess paint, etc. I like to sand the edges, the front curves of the shelves, and certain areas of the shelf posts.
  6. Wipe down the shelf to remove all sanding dust.
  7. Using a clean brush or a soft rag, lightly apply the antiquing wax to the shelf. Work in SMALL sections, immediately wiping the excess wax away. Work the dark wax into the grooves and crevices and edges of the shelf to create dimension. Remember that bare wood? It soaks up this dark color and really makes this finish pop.
  8. Let the piece dry completely (24 – 48 hours) before using.

For the chalk paint experts out there, YES, you normally apply clear wax BEFORE using a dark antiquing wax. However, I really wanted to have the contrast of the dark wax to tone down the bright blue.

You can certainly apply clear wax to the furniture first, then apply the dark wax and wipe off the excess. If you choose to try our one-step process using this tutorial, my best piece of advice is to WORK IN SMALL SECTIONS and WORK QUICKLY during the wax process.

If you do happen to get an area too dark, you can dampen a clean section of the cloth and lightly rub the area.

What Brand of Chalk Paint Should I Use?

For this project we only used about 4 ounces TOTAL of paint. That’s because we used a dry brush technique.

My very favorite brand of chalk paint is Dixie Belle Brand (fabulous quality). You an use just about any brand you would like for this project. We aren’t trying to achieve a perfect flawless look or complete coverage, so use what you can find.

For this project we used Dixie Belle Cotton, Dixie Belle Pure Ocean, and Waverly Dark Antiquing Wax. In case you wanted to get this look. Feel free to experiment. I think using a fun periwinkle or lemon yellow would look great, too.

What is the “Dry Brush” Technique?

Most of the time, painting projects require that you fully coat and over the surface. In this vintage shelf makeover using chalk paint, we are going for an aged, layered look. This is easily achieved using a dry brush painting technique.

To dry brush, simply dip the tip of your paint brush into the paint instead of fully loading it. Graze across the surface of the wood in a light back and forth motion.

Vary the pressure periodically to achieve different thickness of color. Dip back into the paint, lightly each time, to build the layers.

Dry brushing typically leaves portions of your original surface exposed so it will show through. In this layered dry brush project, each of the layers peek through.

Do I Have to Sand Between Layers?

Nope. Not for this project.

Can I Use Chalk Painted Furniture Outdoors?

The vintage shelf project we did…no. But can you make it work for outdoor use? YES.

You can add a final top coat of multi-purpose outdoor sealant to protect your project from the elements and UV rays. To keep the matte finish, choose a sealer with a matte sheen. You can apply it with a brush. They also make outdoor safe sealers in a spray can. My personal favorite for outdoor use is Gator Hide by Dixie Belle.

Do I Have to Paint the Shelf Undersides?

Totally up to you. I went ahead and did it so I wouldn’t see an unfinished bottom shelf. Just lightly paint it with the base coat and second color coat. Skip the wax part.

How Much Chalk Paint Do I Need?

For this project we less than two ounces of white, two ounces of blue, and about one ounce of the wax. The total amount of chalk paint you need will vary based on the size of your project and how much coverage you want.

I would recommend getting more paint than you need. There will always be other crafts, and chalk paint is VERY versatile. Think picture frames, end tables, signs, candlesticks, and so much more.

Did I mention this shelf makeover is a great way to use up left over chalk paint from other projects?

Tips on Working with Antiquing Dark Wax:

  • Dark wax comes in different colors and consistencies. Some are very stiff, others are more like a glaze. You can usually find it in black, brown, and gray.
  • Test the dark wax in an inconspicuous area to see if you like the look.
  • Work in small sections. Apply the wax, remove the excess. Move to the next section.
  • The longer the dark wax is on, the darker the result will be.
  • Use a soft rag or a brush to apply the eax. Wipe off with a lint-free cloth.
  • For finer details and getting into grooves and crevices, a chalk paint brush designed for this purpose works fastest. You can also use an old toothbrush for details.
  • If you want a less drastic antique look, apply clear wax BEFORE the dark wax.
  • Can’t find dark wax? No worries. You can make your own using clear wax and your desired color of paint. Start with 1 Tablespoon of clear wax per 1 Teaspoon of paint. Work from there.
  • If you get the wax too dark you can lighten it by adding a layer of clear wax and wiping off. Or, a lightly damp cloth should do the trick also since it is water based.

Can I Use This Finish Technique on a Table (or other Heavy Duty Use Item)?

The shelf I refinished is definitely a light duty item and is intended to hold knick knacks, pictures and small items. This finish would be good for other light duty items (small dressers, magazine stands, wall decor, etc.)

To use this finish on heavy duty use items such as tables, I recommend using a coat of clear wax BEFORE the dark wax. You may even want to use a sealer if you are going to place wet items (drinks, etc) on it.

Vintage Shelf Before + After

Here it is, side by side, the big before and after reveal! What do you think?

I love the way this chalk paint makeover turned out. The layering is exactly what I was going for and the combination of sanding, dry brushing, and waxing really gave this shelf that shabby look.

To style my “new” old shelf, I used items I already had in my home. A few knick knacks, a book or two, vintage pearls to complete the look.

a strand of pearls on a stack of books

Tips + Tricks for the Best Results:

  • Although you can finish this shelf makeover in an afternoon, there is no need to rush it. Chalk paint doesn’t have to be finished. You can stop and pick it back up any time.
  • If you aren’t sure about the dry brush paint strokes, try it out on a piece of board. It is hard to mess it up.
  • Experiment using your favorite colors of chalk paint. Pick a light color for the base coat, and a darker color for the top coat.
  • Spend some time on the details: edges, grooves, crevices. Anything that makes your piece of furniture different…accentuate it with sanding and dar wax.
  • Don’t use too much paint on your brush. If you get it too damp, then you will add too much paint, which kills the layered effect.
  • On a budget? Use one brush, washing and drying it after each coat. Pick small bottles of chalk paint in an afforable brand. Use an old sheet or newspapers or a $1 Dollar Tree tablecloth instead of a drop cloth. Refinish a furniture piece you already own. Style your makeover with repurposed items in your home.

My favorite part about this vintage shelf chalk paint makeover is the shelf posts and finials. I love the way they look, with the different colors and the wax really brings out the details.

We would love to see your DIY Chalk Paint Projects! Share them on our Facebook page. Be sure to leave us comments at the bottom of this post. Stay tuned for more fun DIY posts coming soon.

4 thoughts on “DIY Vintage Shelf Makeover”

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