How to Paint Metal Furniture, A Table Upcycle for the Basement

Upcycling furniture (or random objects!) is one of my recipes for a fun afternoon!

Painting metal furniture is especially rewarding. The quick and easy transformation you can create on some slightly rusty junk feels borderline magical!

This week, I finished painting some metal furniture for our basement. We have been sprucing up the semi-finished basement, and it was in need of more furniture. Luckily, inspiration struck on a family visit to Grandma’s house!

My Mother-in-law has had this old metal table and a lone matching stool stored up in her spare room for ages that she no longer wanted. It occured to me that both would be perfect to upcycle into basement furniture.

painting metal furniture, before upcycle

I brought them home, and got to work. Happily, painting metal is a relatively simple process! Post may contain affiliate links.

Methods for Painting Metal

Metal furniture can be painted with spray paint, or with a brush.

I find spray paint is the best way to paint metal furniture, under ideal circumstances. It creates a smooth, durable finish, even in the nooks and crannies!

Since spray paint is oil based, it generally has better adhesion than a typical latex paint. That makes me happy, as I can get away with a bit less preparation, and still have my project turn out beautiful!

However, for indoor furniture or project that cannot be moved out of doors, painting with a brush is a good option. With thorough prep, it will come out beautiful and durable!

I use spray paint in this makeover. But, I thought it would be helpful to also explain the process to paint metal using a brush as well, in case you are planning to paint metal furniture indoors.

Painting Metal Supplies

A Simple Method to Paint Metal Furniture

The bar table and stool top had a sort of patterned resin epoxy top, which I did not want to keep. So first, I unscrewed the tops from the base.

Painting metal furniture with spray paint or with a brush. Metal table upcycle

We also used a hand saw to remove the middle ring of the stool, as we want to upcycle it into a small side table.

DIY metal table upcycle

Once that was complete, it was time to prep the metal for paint!

Prep the Metal

When painting metal furniture, the prep is pretty much the same whether using a brush or spray painting.

Deep Clean

Whatever way you use to prep metal for paint, start by giving everything a good cleaning. I scrubbed this metal furniture with a degreasing cleaner and a steel wool scrubber to remove any loose rust, oil, and grime. Then, I rinsed thoroughly with a wet cloth and let dry completely.

Prepping metal furniture for paint

Is the metal you are going to paint smooth and glossy?

High shine finishes benefit from some extra prep, just to be sure the paint will stick in the long term! A few options are deglosser, sanding, and an adhesion primer.


With glossy painted or coated metal, I like to wipe on a coat of deglosser with a rag to dull the finish to help the paint adhere well.

I used deglosser when I painted the shiny coated metal mounts for our arbor five years ago, and that paint is still holding up great in the outdoor elements!

Deglosser also works well to prep metal that will frequently be handled, like doorknobs!

Deglosser to remove shiny finish from metal prior to painting


Another option to prep a glossy finish is using a medium fine grit sandpaper to rough up the smooth surface. Even a light sanding can make a huge difference in how durable the top coat will be.


To prep the surface more thoroughly, you can apply a light coat of gripping primer, such as Kilz. This type of primer is available both as a water based paint and a spray paint.

How Much Prep is Really Needed?

Brush Painting: When painting smooth surfaces with a brush, I have learned to always clean, lightly sand, and prime.

This lesson was reinforced recently on my IKEA laminate furniture painting adventure in the office. The moral of the story, don’t try to get away without lightly sanding, no matter what amazing no sand results the can of primer may promise!

Spray Paint Prep: You can prep using one of these options or all, depending on how heavily the piece will be used.

For example, I degloss, sand AND prime before painting door knobs and faucets. They will be touched every day, and the paint needs to be incredibly durable!

I am much more relaxed about prep with things like a decorative vase or table legs. It is less of a concern when a piece is not getting handled frequently. Most of the time, spray paint will be durable all on its own as long as the surface is clean!

On this table and stool, the metal finish was slightly matte and textured. I could tell it would take the spray paint well as long as it was clean. So, I did not bother to sand or degloss.

After cleaning and drying, my table bases are ready for paint!

Spray Painting Metal

Give the can a good shake before and during application. I do my best to apply the spray paint in light coats, using long sweeping strokes to avoid drips.

Painting metal furniture, rustic industrial table makeover.

I really enjoy using this Rustoleum Universal spray paint. It comes out so smooth, and the lever is user friendly. It is a small luxury to avoid the spray painting finger cramps!

To completely cover my table bases, I used three thin coats of spray paint.

Paint Metal Furniture with a Brush

Once your piece is all cleaned and prepped, it is time to paint!

First, apply the base of 1-2 coats of an adhesion primer like Kilz or Gripper. If the metal furniture has large flat areas, I prefer a foam roller over a brush. A small foam roller is a huge help with getting a smooth finish!

Use a roller when painting to minimize brush strokes

For areas with lots of grooves or hard to reach areas, I like to use a small brush. Multiple thin coats are better than one thick coat, as it is easier minimize drips and brush marks.

Assembling the Basement Tables

After the bases were painted, I was so excited to get the table tops mounted!

For the side table, I purchased two ready made pine rounds from Lowe’s. They have several standard sizes in stock.

Upcycle a metal stool into a rustic industrial side table.

I gave them a light coat of dark walnut stain, and a coat of satin polyurethane.

Dark walnut stain

For the large table top, we were very lucky! A neighbor offered up a free lightly scratched table top on our local yard sale site.

All it needed was a tiny bit of stain over the scratch to look like new. We used wood screws to attach the bases to the tables, and our project is complete!

Diy bar pub table upcycle for the basement. How to easily paint metal furniture with spray paint or a brush.

I really love how they turned out! I already had some stain on hand, so the makeover for both tables was about $25!

Diy metal furniture makeover, from metal stool to rustic industrial side table. How to paint metal and upcycle furniture with spray paint or a brush

My Mother-in-law was so pleased to see them put to good use. They have a sort of rustic industrial vibe that works perfect for our man cave/playroom basement.

Do you have a favorite upcycle idea? I would love to hear about it!

For another fun upcycle transformation, take a look at this wicker chairs and milk can table bistro set!

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