Trash to Treasure – Decoupage Brings New Life to Old Furniture

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Wait! Don’t throw out that old desk, dresser or table just because it’s stained, dirty or has peeling laminates. You can decoupage your old stuff and give it an instant makeover almost for free! With just a bit of paper, glue and polyurethane, you can revamp your old junk and turn it into a modern work of art. So keep the old furniture that you can decoupage and throw out that old smelly recliner instead.

Decoupage Sounds French to Me

My little hand sander "Sandy"
My little hand sander “Sandy”

Having heard and said “Decoupage” in a French accent so many times, I’ve always thought that it was a French thing. Oui? Nes Pas. It’s really an Italian thing. Since medieval times, Venetians have been doing some fantastic decoupage work and some of the most valuable pieces of furniture are antique Venetian decoupage. After I found that out, I had to change my accent to an Italian voice every time I say decoupage. Now when I say the word I sound like a cross between an angry New Yorker and the mob boss from The Godfather. Decoupage Tony!

What you need to Succeed in Decoupage

Gluey goodness
Gluey goodness

You don’t need much to decoupage furniture—an adhesive to soak the paper materials, said paper materials and a can of polyurethane to cover the again said paper materials from damage. Some people prefer to use a paper adhesive like wallpaper paste, but I find that if I mix my own using water and wood glue, it works better in the long run.

For paper, you can use just about anything that will absorb water. Newspapers, wrapping paper, old maps, posters of Justin Beiber—not that I have any posters of “The Bieb” but you get the point. Since I was going to turn my old POS desk into a drafting table, I found it only fitting to use a stash of old blueprints I had.

Mixing the Stuff

Blueprints are cut and ready to apply
Blueprints are cut and ready to apply

It’s surprising how much glue can go into a small bucket of water, but keep in mind; you won’t need a whole lot to get the job done. I add an inch of water into a flat tray or dish and cover the whole thing with a layer of wood glue. Just use a wood stick to stir the mess into a cloudy mix of sticky goodness.

It’s probably a good idea to use a pair of rubber gloves if you don’t like to pull dried glue out of the hair on your hands. Rubber gloves can also work well for mixing your decoupage medium in a larger tray or bucket. Once it’s all mixed, you’ve got a few hours of time to use it before all of the gumming agents settle to the bottom of the water, rendering your homemade decoupage adhesive useless.

Prepping the Furniture

One piece down...50 more to go
One piece down…50 more to go

Before you begin applying decoupage all over the place, you’ll need to scuff up the old wood or veneer first. I use an 80 grit sandpaper and hit the flat spots on the furniture. Just a light scuffing is all you need; you’re not trying to sand off the old paint, veneer or varnish.

After you’ve got it good and scuffed up, it’s a wise idea to wipe down the entire piece of furniture with a damp cloth to remove any dirt, dust or debris. Dry it off with a rag once you’re done.

It’s also a good idea to put down a tarp or drop cloth under the project. It’s going to get really messy and glue can easily stain your floors for good. Once you’re done with the project, be sure to remove the drop cloth or you might find that it’s glued to the ground as well.

Gluing the Decoupage Into Place

Easy enough for a10 year old!
Easy enough for a 10 year old!

This is the fun part. You get to cut up your paper materials into whatever shape or design your heart desires. I cut out the blank parts of the blueprints to create straight squares and rectangular pieces. Just be sure that whatever you cut out, you’re able to manage it when it’s wet. The odder the shapes, the easier they are to fall apart or get stuck to themselves instead of the furniture.

Using a foam brush, you’ll need to spread some of the adhesive onto the furniture first. This is called wall size and it’s a technique used by wallpaper hangers to align sheets of wallpaper correctly. It will let you position your wet paper easier.

First coat of poly makes it shine like a diamond in a goats rump
First coat of poly makes it shine like a diamond in a goats rump

Soaking pieces of paper in your decoupage medium is easy. It’s kind of like making French toast. If you dip the bread into the eggs too long, your bread is going to fall apart—the same is true for your paper. If you dip it in the decoupage adhesive for too long, the paper will disintegrate when you pull it out of the glue.

Coat the paper front and back quickly, and then remove it from the paste. Now adhere it to the furniture by gently pressing it into place from one corner to the other. Smooth it out carefully with your hands and remove any bubbles from the paper. The foam brush can really help to smooth out stubborn pieces.

Finished top is ready to go
Finished top is ready to go

Be extra careful not to rip any paper as you work your way around the piece. Allow the whole mess to dry overnight before covering it with a few coats of clear polyurethane. Congrats! Your trash is now decoupage treasure!

Photo of author

About Eric

Since Eric built his first skateboard ramp in his parents driveway; he’s breathed, slept and eaten DIY construction. As a second generation master carpenter who runs two Florida-based construction firms, Eric’s had the chance to work on everything from Mcmansions to your local mall to the cat lady’s bathroom. So when it comes to dealing with construction s@#t; he’s the man—literally. There isn’t a tool or construction material that Eric hasn’t used and abused, and if there is; it’s rocking in a dark corner nervously waiting for him to show up for work.

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1 thought on “Trash to Treasure – Decoupage Brings New Life to Old Furniture”

  1. This is a neat idea Eric. I’d never given decoupage any consideration or a second glance, thinking it the realm of the of the crafty mommies alone, applying puppies to footstools and flowers to fruit bowls. You’ve opened the door to a project where a dude can dress up his cave without surrendering his man-card. It turned out great!


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