© Spray paint onto the stencil in short, even bursts. To prevent spattering, mask the piece of furniture with paper.

How to Stencil Furniture

Stenciling is a quick and easy way of adding style to wooden furniture. The key is choosing the stenciling method that fits your piece best. Whether you want art deco or Pennsylvania Dutch, a drawing or a child's name, stencils are an almost foolproof way of decorating your furniture.

Stencils can be applied over any finish. They are easiest to work with when used over varnish that's still slightly tacky. When the surface to be decorated is completely dry, the stencil must be very carefully attached so that the edges of the design don't blur. Use paint for informal designs, bronze powder -- gold, silver, bronze, copper, or colors -- for a more formal effect.

Materials

Use stencil paper or architects' linen, available at art supply stores, to make a custom stencil. If your design has more than one color, make a separate stencil for each color. For large or complex designs, make several small stencils instead of one large one. Trace your design carefully onto the stencil paper or architects' linen, and cut it out with a sharp craft knife. Make sure all corners and curves are sharp and accurate.

An easier option is to purchase a stencil. Craft stores sell an array of pre-made stencils in a variety of styles.

Application Techniques

Painted Stencils: Brushing paint over a stencil is tricky, and requires a special brush. For the best results, use high-gloss or semigloss spray paint or enamel. Make sure the stencil paint is compatible with the finish.

Surfaces to be stenciled must be clean; remove all wax and dirt. If you're decorating a newly varnished piece of furniture, work while the varnish is still slightly tacky. Carefully press the stencil into place on the tacky surface, smoothing it down flat on the wood. Make sure all cut edges adhere to the varnish, but be careful not to touch the varnish or you'll leave fingerprints.

On dry surfaces, attach the stencil carefully with masking tape. If the finish is new, make sure it's completely set; otherwise the tape may damage it. Mask the entire piece of furniture with newspaper.

Spray paint onto the stencil in short, even applications; cover the stencil surface completely, but don't let the paint get thick enough to sag or drip. Let the paint dry almost completely; then remove the stencil. Repeat the process for each color of the design; make sure each color is completely dry before applying the next color.

Bronze Power Stencils: Surfaces to be stenciled must be clean; remove all wax and dirt. Bronze powder must be applied over varnish. If you're working on a newly varnished piece of furniture, apply the stencil while the varnish is still slightly tacky. If you're working on an old or completely dry finish, apply a thin coat of varnish over the surface to be stenciled, and let it dry until it's just tacky -- about 30 minutes to two hours. Make sure the varnish is compatible with the existing finish.

Carefully press the stencil into place on the varnished surface, smoothing it down flat. Make sure all cut edges adhere to the varnish, but be careful not to touch the varnish or you'll leave fingerprints. Masking the piece of furniture is not necessary.

Apply the bronze powder with a piece of velvet or soft flannel over your index finger, or make a small pad out of the fabric. Working with only a little powder, dip the velvet into the bronze powder and smudge it into the exposed areas of the stencil. Bronze powder can be applied evenly, but you can give your designs depth by shading it and rounding your strokes. Work from the edges in to bronze each area of the stencil.

Repeat the process for each color of the design. If you must overlap stencils to apply the colors, let the varnish dry completely between colors. Remove excess bronze powder with warm water and a soft brush; blot the wood dry and let it air-dry for about an hour. Apply another thin coat of varnish to the unfinished area, let it get tacky, and repeat the stenciling process. When the design is complete, let it dry and then remove excess bronze powder as above.

Protecting the Surface

To prevent damage to paint or bronze powder, stenciled surfaces should be sealed with varnish. Apply the varnish directly over the stencils.

If you are looking for a simplier but elegant way to decorate furniture, consider the guidelines for painting stripes mentioned in the next section.