Painting your pool table is indeed doable! It just takes careful preparation and the right materials to ensure a durable finish. Since painting the bottom part of the table is straightforward, this post covers the process for painting the rails, whether they are wood or vinyl covered.

Painting Your Pool Table

Painting your pool table – a step-by-step guide


Start by thoroughly cleaning the surfaces. Use a mild soap and water solution to remove any dirt, oils, and residues. Make sure the surface is completely dry before proceeding.

Sanding the Surface:

→ For wood rails: Sanding is especially important for wood to ensure smooth paint application and to remove any old finishes or rough spots. Use a medium-grit sandpaper (such as 120-grit) to start, followed by a fine-grit (like 220-grit) to finish.

→ For vinyl covered rails: Lightly sand the vinyl covering with fine-grit sandpaper (like 220-grit) to roughen up the surface. This step is crucial as it helps the primer and paint to adhere better.


If you need to protect the felt on your pool table during the painting process you can mask it with tape.

Here are a few tips to ensure that the felt stays safe and clean:

  1. Choose the Right Tape: Use a high-quality painter’s tape that is designed to provide clean lines and remove easily without leaving residue. Avoid using general-purpose or strong adhesive tapes as they might damage the felt when removed.
  2. Apply the Tape Carefully: When applying the tape, make sure it adheres well to the edge where the felt meets the rails. Press the tape down firmly to ensure a tight seal, which will help prevent any paint from bleeding through onto the felt.
  3. Cover Large Areas: In addition to taping the edges, consider covering larger sections of the felt near the painting area with a drop cloth or some old sheets. This will protect the felt from any accidental splatters or spills.
  4. Remove Tape Carefully: Once the painting is done and the paint has dried, carefully remove the tape. Pull it back slowly at a 45-degree angle to minimize the risk of pulling up any felt or disturbing the fresh paint on the rails.
  5. Check for Leaks: After removing the tape, inspect the felt for any areas where paint might have seeped through. If you find any spots, attending to them immediately will prevent the paint from setting, which makes it easier to clean.

Apply Primer:

→ For Wood: Choose a primer suitable for wood. If the wood has a lot of tannins (like oak or cedar), use a stain-blocking primer to prevent bleed-through. Primer will help the paint adhere better and provide a more uniform finish.

→ For Vinyl: Use a high-quality adhesion-promoting primer that is suitable for vinyl surfaces. Spray primers often give a more even coating. Allow the primer to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


→ For Wood: Use a high-quality paint suitable for wood. You might consider an enamel paint for its durability and smooth finish. Apply the paint in several thin layers, allowing each layer to dry completely as recommended by the paint manufacturer.

→ For Vinyl: Choose a paint that is compatible with vinyl and suitable for high-use areas (e.g., acrylic paint or paint specifically formulated for vinyl). Apply the paint in multiple thin layers, allowing each layer to dry completely before applying the next. Using a spray paint can help achieve a smooth finish.


→ For Wood: Applying a clear polyurethane or polycrylic sealer to protect the painted finish, enhance its appearance, and extend its durability. This step is particularly important for high-contact areas like pool table rails.

If you’re concerned about the yellowing effects that can sometimes occur with polyurethane sealers, using a polycrylic sealer on wood is an excellent choice.

Advantages of Polycrylic:

  • Non-Yellowing: It retains a clear finish, which is beneficial for not altering the color of the underlying paint or wood.
  • Quick Drying: Polycrylic dries faster than polyurethane, making it easier to apply multiple coats in a shorter time.
  • Low Odor: Being water-based, it has a lower odor compared to the solvent-based polyurethanes, making it more suitable for indoor projects.
  • Easy Clean Up: Tools and brushes used can be cleaned with soap and water, unlike polyurethane which requires mineral spirits for cleanup.

General Preparation (Applies to Both)

  1. Surface Preparation: Ensure the surface is clean, dry, and smooth. Sand the wood with fine-grit sandpaper, and remove all dust with a tack cloth or a damp rag.
  2. Application Tools: Use a high-quality brush, foam brush, or a sprayer, depending on your preference and the project’s requirements.
  3. Environment: Apply in a well-ventilated area at recommended temperature and humidity levels (usually found on the product label).

Applying Polycrylic

  • Tool Choice: A synthetic bristle brush is recommended for water-based finishes like polycrylic.
  • Technique: Apply in thin coats. Polycrylic dries quickly, so it’s important to work swiftly and avoid over-brushing, which can leave streaks and brush marks.
  • Drying Time: Shorter than polyurethane, usually 1-2 hours before recoat. Sand lightly between coats with very fine sandpaper (220 grit or higher) to ensure a smooth finish.
  • Clean Up: Cleans up with soap and water.

Applying Polyurethane

  • Tool Choice: For oil-based polyurethane, use a natural bristle brush; for water-based versions, use a synthetic brush.
  • Technique: Apply in thin coats. Be careful with oil-based polyurethane, as it flows and levels better but runs more easily than polycrylic. Avoid overworking the finish.
  • Drying Time: Generally longer than polycrylic. Oil-based polyurethane typically requires 6-24 hours before recoating. Water-based polyurethane can be similar to polycrylic in drying times.
  • Clean Up: Oil-based polyurethane requires mineral spirits or paint thinner for cleanup, while water-based polyurethane can be cleaned up with soap and water.

Final Sealer Considerations

  • Number of Coats: Typically, three coats are sufficient for both polycrylic and polyurethane, although the number can vary depending on the level of use the surface will endure.
  • Cure Time: Both finishes need several days to fully cure before the surfaces can be used normally.

Both finishes provide excellent protection but choosing between them might depend on the desired aesthetic (e.g., polyurethane can add a warm amber tone, which is sometimes undesirable on light woods or over certain colors of paint).

When selecting a sealer, look for one that specifies it is suitable for your finish, and that it is compatible with the type of paint you will use. This compatibility is key to ensuring that the sealer adheres properly and does not react chemically with the paint in a way that could cause damage or discoloration.

Additionally, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying times. Proper application will ensure the best durability and appearance of the painted surface.

Allow Proper Curing Time:

Allow the paint and sealer to cure fully, which can take several days, before using the pool table. This ensures the paint is fully set and less likely to chip or peel.

Keep in mind that while painting vinyl can refresh its look, the finish may not be as long-lasting as the original material under heavy use.

Make sure to follow the product instructions carefully, and if in doubt, test the process on a small, inconspicuous area first to see the results.

By following these steps, you can help ensure that your pool table’s felt remains pristine while giving the rails a fresh new look.

Speaking of a fresh new look, you might also be interested in this post on pool table sights / diamonds.