DIY Front Porch Rocking Chair Makeover
We can't even begin to tell you how excited we are about this post. Not necessarily just because we love these chairs (we do, we really do), but more so because this project was yet another labor of love that involved a major learning curve and a near loss of our sanity. But it's outdoor living space season, people and we were determined to take in this perfect spring weather in two beautifully restored rocking chairs if it killed us... which it almost did. Hey, it wouldn't be a Love + Specs DIY project if there weren't a few bumps along the way and a whole lot of help from the fam, would it?!
The Rocking Chair Makeover Backstory
The backstory on these bad boys? My sister and her beautiful family were moving into the equally beautiful new house they built up the road, and Chris and I were stopping by to say, "Hi!" when straight from the heavens we spotted four rocking chairs sitting out on the curb in front of the house next door. And because we're gangster and have zero qualms about quickly becoming the Clampetts and walking straight up to the neighbor's door, knocking and asking what was up with those beautifully beaten up rockers on the curb, we did just that. Turns out, everyone loves a little Cousin Eddie (name that movie) in their life and the neighbor simply said, "Oh just take them! We bought new ones and those have to go." Say what?! Sold, sir, to the crazy couple trolling their sister's fancy neighborhood for come ups.
Now admittedly these rockers were in pretty bad shape. The construction was no longer sound and the paint? It was rough. But they had great bones! They were solid wood and just needed some love. Luckily my parents are in town for the spring again, so my dad and Chris could tackle the construction issues and I could tackle the sanding and painting once that was done. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, not in this house. Never.
When we scored the chairs my dad had the awesome idea to finally take the leap and bring a family airless paint sprayer into our lives. What's an airless paint sprayer, you ask? Airless sprayers are what the pros use to do their work quickly and flawlesly - exteriors of homes, interior walls, decks, furniture, cabinets, so on and so forth. Why are they so handy? Basically they're just pumping straight paint out of a small nozzle at a very high pressure, not mixing pressurized air & paint, so you can a) be more precise with your paint and have less overspray flying onto unwanted items in your perimeter b) achieve a smooth, consistent, perfect finish every single time and c) get the job done fast... really fast. We're by no means airless sprayer experts at this point, but this dude is. His blog is solely dedicated to giving you the low down on every single airless sprayer out there, what kind of job each model is best suited for, how they work, insider tips and tricks and more. Seriously, this is all this guy blogs about and it's awesome.
Back to the story. So my dad got this airless sprayer idea and we were super, super pumped about it. New tools? Hell yeah! As you know we paint a lot of furniture around these parts, and anything that makes that job (and potentially more... cabinets, anyone?!) easier, we're all in. So the Graco Magnum X5 Airless Paint Sprayer came to the Miller-Carter home, and the boys got to work on reinforcing the chairs and I got to work on figuring out how the airless sprayer worked and sanding these $Free.99 gems.
And that was all fine. Sure, reinforcing them was a bit more laborious than expected, but it got done and the chairs were sound as can be in the end. When we were finally, finally ready to paint these suckers, that's when things got a little murky. After reading the ridiculously extensive manual and learning all about how to hypothetically operate this airless sprayer, I thought I was ready. Well it turns we were so not ready. As is the case with any new and useful, albeit complicated tool there can be a learning curve. Even if you've read the manual, watched the YouTube videos and Googled until your fingers bled, you still may not have a handle on this stuff. Sometimes it just comes down to working with the tool on a few projects, learning a few (or a lot of) things, adjusting your approach and getting some good old fashioned experience under your belt. Trial and error, friends. Trial and error. In this case, it was more trial and error, error, error, get shot in the eye with paint, get drips all over your chair, spray paint on the patio, sand and start over.
Two of the four chairs were heading to my sister's and brother-in-law's house because they were their neighbor's hand-me-down chairs, after all, and she said that she felt like they should be the, "beneficiary of one of our crazy DIY projects" because of that fact. Touché, sis. Touché. The paint we used for their chairs was the paint they used on their new front door. It wasn't very thick, was a satin finish and it actually went on pretty perfectly. Shocking for our first run! When it was time for our chairs, however, we used a slightly thicker (but beautiful) exterior paint and the results were a little bit different.
When we sprayed our chairs with our paint - Behr Marquee Semi-Gloss Exterior Paint in "Mossy Bench" - we were getting this sort of grainy, thick, matte finish and quite a few drips. Then after a little bit of cursing, spraying paint basically everywhere trying to fix the problem and one panicked meltdown, we realized that we'd have to stop, wait for the paint to dry, clean up all of the messy airless sprayer stuff and live to sand and paint again another day. And that right there is my Kryptonite. It's in those moments that I forget why I love DIY paint projects and start hating my life. I curse my lack of knowledge, the project itself, and my sad, sad life.
But after a long, hot shower that involved scraping paint off of every surface of my body, and a good night's sleeps, I was ready to get back in there and figure this damn this out. The next morning we carefully read the manual again and everything just started to click. And there were a few things we learned and corrected, which you can read in the "Airless Sprayer Tips & Tricks" section below. What's more, if you do ever get a slightly more matte and grainy finish than intended, but your paint job looks otherwise OK, you can always use synthetic steel wool pads after your paint dries to buff and polish it up! They work like a charm.
After looking through swatch after swatch in search of the perfect muted, rich seafoam/teal color that had a little bit of a richer, deeper hue we found "Mossy Bench" by Behr, and I'm not kidding when I say that this may be my favorite paint color we've ever used! We're always in search of that perfect, rich, slightly retro seafoam/jadeite/teal hue, and don't love it when we end up in seriously bright, minty territory, so this color nailed it! Don't you just love when you step back from a paint project and say, "Well... couldn't love that color more!" That rarely happens to us because paint is a tricky little devil, so this was a huge win.
And now, what you've all been waiting for! Below is our step by step guide for turning old, beat up, $Free.99 rocking chairs into painted front porch gems! And to shop all of the tools, paint and other products we used, I linked them in the steps as well as in the widgets below.
Shop Everything We Used
How To Makeover Old Rocking Chairs
To Reinforce THE ROCKING CHAIRS
- Using a 3/8" inch countersink drill bit, we drilled holes to countersink screws wherever reinforcement was needed. If you're not familiar with countersinking a screw, this just allows you to reinforce something really well while hiding the screw head and give it a clean, untouched look. For our chairs, we reinforced each arm on each chair, the runners where they met the chair frame and each side of each seat. So we drilled one countersink hole into each arm, one countersink hole into the bottom of each runner and one countersink hole into the side of each chair seat.
- Once the countersink holes were drilled, we drilled two pilot holes inside those for the screws. This probably goes without saying, but the pilot holes should be slightly smaller than the size of the screws you're using for a nice, tight fit.
- Then we drilled our screws into the pilot holes. The screws we used were:
- On the arms and the seats (we didn't do this on the runners - unnecessary since you won't see that part), we applied Elmer's Wood Glue to the end of 3/8" dowel rods and inserted that end into each countersink hole.
- We then sawed off the end of the dowel rods that were sticking out using a flush cutting saw so that our dowel rod sat flush with the wood around it. See the photo below for reference of what that looks like.
- We then sanded any remaining "nub" of the dowel rods down so that we could achieve one perfectly even, flat piece of wood. Good as new!
- Using brad nails, we reinforced our slats wherever they were loose. On these there were loose slats on the chair backs and seats.
- We also repaired a couple of large, long cracks in the wood using Weldbond All-Purpose Glue and a couple of spring clamps.
To Paint THE ROCKING CHAIRS
- We first sanded the tough stuff with an orbital sander and some 60-grit sandpaper.
- Then we used a wire brush to scrape the flaky paint off of those hard-to-reach corners like between the slats on the chair back.
- After that we smoothed all of those surfaces out using a finishing sander and 150-grit sandpaper.
- Next we brushed all of that dust off with a soft brush.
- Wiped it all clean with a damp cotton cloth. Don't use paper towel.
- And then we sprayed away!
- At first we thought the answer to our finish problem was to thin the paint. But after a ton of research and reading forums to get advice from the pros, it seems that none of them recommend thinning latex paint. Apparently it can mess with the sheen (which was our problem) and make your work tacky for up to a month. Not good. The answer to getting the perfect finish with a latex paint is supposedly finding the perfect spray tip size. And there are two "tips" on that topic below. If you're still confused, tell a store professional what kind of paint you're using and ask them to help you find the right spray tip for the job and for your sprayer.
- For thick latex paints, use a spray tip with a wide orifice. Read all about spray tip sizing for latex paint here.
- And for furniture like this, to reduce overspray, use a spray tip with a small fan for less overspray and more precise coverage. Read all about spray tip sizing for latex paint here.
- If you get a more matte, gritty finish than desired, but your paint job looks pretty good, don't panic. You can buff and shine after it dries with a synthetic steel wool pad.
- If you're cleaning or unclogging or doing anything that involves messing with the nozzle, always always always have the "trigger lock" on if you don't want to get shot in the face, or wherever else with paint. Lesson learned.
- If you get drips, which can happen from time to time, the best way to fix them is to have a small sponge roller on hand and roll over them RIGHT AWAY when they're super wet to flatten them out, then go over that section again after you've sprayed other areas and that area has dried for a minute. Chris was on "drip duty" so every time I sprayed a section, he had the tiny sponge roller in hand and ready to check for drips.
- Cleanup can be tricky and messy, but it's essential to clean everything thoroughly to maintain your machine. The first time we cleaned it after spraying, it was a mess and totally inefficient. Turns out, you can clean the thing out by simply hooking the intake line up to a hose, running the water through, and spraying the paint/water into a bucket continuously until it comes out clean with no paint, which made for way less cleanup mess and time. Coulda woulda shoulda. Another tip: while doing that, hold the spray gun down into the bucket and wrap a towel around the top of the bucket. That way, it won't splash back up onto your clothing or worse, your face.
- When you're spraying, pull the trigger just before you hit the piece you're intending to spray, and let your hand off of the trigger just outside of the end of that piece. That's the best way to avoid drips. There are tons of in-depth YouTube videos all about spraying techniques, so if you really want to know what you're doing, we suggest checking those out.