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How to Spray Paint Metal: $6 Thrift Store Upcycle

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This post shares how to spray paint metal, including how to prep metal for spray paint, as well as how to drill through metal using a regular cordless drill! I found a $6 metal table base at a thrift store and knew that with a little paint and a new top, it would be a stunning side table. Check out how I did it.

How to Spray Paint Metal: $6 Thrift Store Upcycle

It’s been a while since I’ve done a furniture upcycle project. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just that I haven’t really had a need for anything in the house. But we’ve done some rearranging lately—namely moving my workspace up to the bedroom—that has freed up some space. And we can always use more space for plants. 🙂

So when I was at our local Goodwill a few weeks ago scouting some clothes for Ramona, I had to pop by the furniture section. We found this neat metal base with no top. I don’t know what it was originally, but I instantly had a vision of what it could become. Rust, scuffs, and all! So we bought it for $6 and took it home.

how to spray paint metal
how to spray paint metal

Here’s how I turned this useless and grimy base into a chic little plant stand (and, let’s be honest, a cat bed—because they turn everything into a bed). Including little tutorials about how to spray paint metal, how to prep metal for spray paint, how to drill through metal, and how to finish a piece of poplar with a natural look!

HERE’S WHAT I USED

And here’s how I upcycled a $6 busted table base from Goodwill!

Step 1: Clean, sand, and paint the base

The very first thing I did was thoroughly wipe the piece down with a wet rag. It was very dusty, and there were some marks on it that I thought I could get off with a good cleaning. After the piece dried, I gave the entire piece a very light sanding by hand with fine-grit sandpaper.

I used 220-grit sandpaper to give a very light sanding. This helps the spray paint stick to the metal better. I paid special attention to areas around the screws that had rusted a bit. The spray paint will help with the rust, too, so don’t get too wound up about sanding it all off. 

If your piece has any old, cracked, or loose pieces of paint you want to remove, pay special attention to those areas. After sanding, I wiped the piece down again with a wet rag and let it dry completely.

how to spray paint metal
how to spray paint metal
how to spray paint metal

How to Spray Paint Metal Using My Favorite Spray Paint

While my piece was drying, I set up my workspace. Always work in a well-ventilated area when spray painting. Wear gloves and a mask. I worked at the front of my garage with it open, as well as with a drop cloth down on the garage floor.

I love using spray paint on metal because it’s cheap, easy, and effective. When applied well, it looks very professional, too. The best spray paint to use on metal is one with a built-in primer. If your spray paint doesn’t have a built-in primer, you’ll want to buy a can of spray paint primer first.

I used a Rustoleum Painter’s Touch paint and primer combo spray paint in Canyon Black, satin finish. Which is basically just a basic black with a slight sheen. I started painting the piece with it upside down so I could get in all of the cracks and crevices. And it’s much easier than spray painting upside down.

Once that was dry, I flipped the piece over and began giving it several light coats of paint. Don’t over spray! You’ll end up with drips that you’ll have to sand down and paint over. Be patient (I know, it’s hard) and give the piece several light coats. Hold the can about 1 foot from the piece you’re painting, and paint in gentle, sweeping motions.

how to spray paint metal
how to spray paint metal
how to spray paint metal

Step 2: Drill holes in the base

I was nervous about drilling holes in the base because I don’t work with metal a ton. I don’t know why I was so nervous about it, though, because it was basically just like the holes I had to drill in my DIY stainless steel bowl hanging planters. This metal was just a bit thicker. I asked my favorite woodworking group on Facebook what they thought—and we settled on strong adhesive and a few holes and screws to reinforce.

how to drill through metal
how to drill through metal

How to drill through metal

You don’t need any fancy tools to drill holes in thin metal. I used my cordless drill (with a fully charged battery!) and a regular drill bit. I went with a drill bit that would accommodate the size of the ½” screws I would be using. 

For smaller pieces of metal, you’ll want to clamp it in place. Since this was a larger table base, I simply set it on the ground and drilling down through the metal base from above. I held the table base in place with my legs and the weight of my body.

Wear glasses and gloves. Depending on the type of metal and thickness, you may deal with shards. Applying medium pressure from above, I drilled straight down into the metal. It does take longer than drilling through wood, but after a few seconds you’ll notice the bit creating an indentation. Keep going and be patient. 

I drilled three holes on each long side and one hole on each short side. Yeah, probably overkill, but I wanted to make sure everything was sure when I added the top. There was also some slight bowing in the piece of wood, so I wanted to make sure I had enough screws in to draw everything down flat.

how to drill through metal
how to drill through metal
how to drill through metal

Step 3: Cut wood to size and finish

Next I began working on the topper. I used a piece of poplar. Luckily I was able to pick up a piece of 1” x 12” poplar (actual ¾” by 11 ½”) that was the perfect width for the table! I picked a piece with beautiful grain and cut a few inches off the end using my miter saw so it would be a perfect fit!

I then used fine-grit sandpaper to sand off any splintery areas, “break down” the edges a bit, and smooth out minor imperfections in the piece of wood. After I was done and I’d wiped the piece down, I gave it several coats of my favorite finish. 

new poplar table top piece
new poplar table top piece
finishing poplar with matte urethane

Varathane’s water-based polyurethane in matte is my current fav. It is extremely durable, and I love the natural matte finish it gives to unstained wood. It’s stunning on poplar and has a very low odor while applying, so that gives you more flexibility to work on projects inside.

Once each coat dried, I sanded lightly with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any bubbles or dust particles. Then I wiped the piece down and applied another coat. I used a small paint roller because I love the even finish they give. And they make applying each coat so fast! I applied one in my kitchen in about 5 minutes while Ramona played with Legos. Since it was sitting under a ceiling fan, it dried really quickly as well.

finishing poplar with matte urethane

Step 4: Attach wood to painted metal base

I ran a line of strong adhesive along the top of the metal table base. Then I set my wood top upside down on my workspace and clamped the table base in place on the wood top. After screwing ½” wood screws up through the holes and into the bottom of the wooden table base, I was done!

worx clamp on a table
screwing the wood top to the metal table base
screwing the wood top to the metal table base

What do you think? Well worth the $6 for the base and just over $10 for the poplar wooden top! I’d planned to put some lower light plants on the base of the table to maximize my plant storage. But, as I said, the cats turn everything into the cat bed. They were immediately interested in the New Thing in The House, so I threw a blanket on the bottom. And here we are.

final thrifted side table with a painted metal base
final thrifted side table with a painted metal base
final thrifted side table with a painted metal base
final thrifted side table with a painted metal base
final thrifted side table with a painted metal base

Share my tips about thrifted furniture upcycling and How to Spray Paint metal!

how to spray paint metal
how to drill holes in metal
how to spray paint metal and my $6 thrifted table base upcycle
how to spray paint metal and my $6 thrifted table base upcycle
how to spray paint metal and my $6 thrifted table base upcycle


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Michelle

Friday 17th of April 2020

This is so cute! You did an amazing job. Thank you for the amazing step-by-step tutorial. It looks like kitty loves it, too!

Nancy

Friday 17th of April 2020

Definitely an aquarium stand...and the cat making himself right at home made me laugh! Nice job!

Brittany Goldwyn

Friday 17th of April 2020

Thanks Nancy! They think everything I build is their bed...

Barbara

Monday 13th of April 2020

Brittany I believe your stand is an aquarium stand. Your work is lovely.

Brittany Goldwyn

Tuesday 14th of April 2020

Well look at that! I just googled it and you could be right! Thanks Barbara! And thanks for the kind words :)

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