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How do you paint an old picnic table?

Painting an old picnic table can help revive it and give it new life. With some simple preparation and painting techniques, you can transform a weathered picnic table into an attractive outdoor amenity. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps needed to properly prepare and paint an old picnic table.

Assess the Table’s Condition

Before painting, take some time to assess the current condition of the picnic table. Check for areas of rot, splintered or cracked wood, loose joints or hardware, and flaking existing paint or stain. Address any issues to ensure the paint job lasts. Here are some steps for inspection and repairs:

  • Look under the table and seats to check for plant growth like grass or weeds that need removal.
  • Verify all fasteners are tight and secure with a screwdriver or wrench.
  • Inspect for splintered, cracked or rotten boards that need replacement.
  • Use wood filler or epoxy to patch small holes and cracks.
  • Sand down any rough spots for a smooth surface.

Cleaning and Prep Work

Proper cleaning and preparation ensures the new paint adheres well. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash the table with a hose and a strong wood cleaner solution. Let it dry fully.
  2. Lightly sand all table and bench surfaces with 120 grit sandpaper to rough up the existing finish.
  3. Brush off any loose debris and wipe clean.
  4. Apply wood filler to small holes and dents; allow to dry as directed.
  5. Sand the patches smooth when dry.
  6. Vacuum and wipe away all sanding dust with a tack cloth.


Priming the table helps the paint stick to the wood and last longer. For best results:

  • Use an oil-based primer for the most durable foundation.
  • Apply a thin coat of primer with a paint brush or roller.
  • Let the primer dry overnight before painting.
  • Lightly sand any raised wood grain after priming dries.
  • Wipe away dust with a tack cloth.

Choosing a Paint

There are a few options when selecting paint for a picnic table project:

Paint Type Features
Acrylic latex exterior paint
  • Durable, flexible finish
  • Resists fading and cracking
  • Easy soap and water cleanup
Oil-based enamel
  • Very hard, glossy finish
  • Excellent adhesion
  • More difficult cleanup with mineral spirits
Marine paint
  • Formulated to resist weathering and UV
  • May require primer specific to marine paint
  • More expensive

For a frequently used picnic table, the durability and protection of exterior latex or enamel paints make them good choices.

Painting Techniques

To achieve an even, smooth finish, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use a short nap roller and angled brush for the best coverage.
  • Apply paint in thin, even coats allowing proper drying time between coats.
  • Work methodically board-by-board to ensure you don’t miss any spots.
  • Paint under tabletop overhangs first before tops for optimal flow.
  • Wrap edges well with a brush for protection.
  • Paint end boards last after finishing benches.

Expect to apply at least two coats for sufficient coverage and durability. Lightly sand and wipe clean between coats for best results.

Drying and Curing

Oil-based paints take longer to fully cure than latex options. Here are some drying guidelines:

Paint Type Dry to Touch Dry to Handle Full Cure
Latex 1-2 hours 24 hours 4 weeks
Oil-based Enamel 6-8 hours 24 hours 4 weeks

Avoid placing heavy objects on the picnic table or rigorous use until fully cured. Touch ups can be made after 2-3 weeks when fully dry and hard.


A fresh paint job is only the beginning. Follow these tips for keeping your picnic table looking its best:

  • Wipe up spills promptly after use to prevent staining.
  • Reapply paint every 1-2 years or as needed to cover nicks and scratches.
  • Watch for swelling or bubbling paint that indicates moisture issues.
  • Sand and spot prime any exposed wood before repainting.
  • Consider a protective clear coat for easier cleaning and added protection.
  • Store the table undercover during winter months or extreme weather.


With some elbow grease and a full weekend, you can give an old, sad picnic table new life. Prep the surface thoroughly, choose a durable exterior paint, and apply with care. Maintain the finish with regular cleaning and touch-ups as needed. Soon you’ll have a beautiful picnic table ready for gatherings once again.

If the table is too far gone, don’t despair. You now have the knowledge to shop for a new table and repaint it yourself when the time comes. With proper preparation, painting, and care, your refurbished picnic table will become a treasured backyard asset for years of memories ahead.