Painting furniture – Should I use latex or oil paint?

I’m addressing this question because it comes up rather often from our customers.  “I’m painting a piece of furniture in my home.  What type of paint should I use?  Oil?  Latex?  What’s the difference and which is the right choice for my project?”  While this is not necessarily a difficult topic to cover, it is one which harbors tons of curiosity.  Search the web for “oil paint vs latex paint” and you’ll find tons of sites and posts but no real answers.  I’m hoping this will become the DeFacto reference for painting furniture and why you may choose oil paint or latex paint to complete your project.  By the way, priming to cover stains or unknown finishes is a MUST, and when it comes to primers, BIN Shellac based primer is the only product on the market that will cover up anything you put it over – I promise. (but it smells terrible)Enjoy!

Painted Furniture?

Painted furniture has grown in popularity over the past few years.  With magazines like “Country Living” and “Flea Market Style” striking inspiration in the hearts of the most avid DIY’ers, there are a large number of beginner decorators with more questions than you can shake a stick at!  One of the most popular questions is “Should I paint my furniture with Oil based paint or Latex based paint?”.  The answer:  Yes.

How do I choose?

There are many factors to consider when choosing paint such as cost (oil paint is 4x more expensive than latex), availability (big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes don’t sell oil paint), and cleanup – oil paint must be cleaned up with solvents whereas latex paint can be washed up with warm water only.  Ultimately however, if you are serious about your project, the type of paint you use on your furniture depends on only two factors:  (1) What will the furniture be used for and (2) How long must it last?.  If you’re painting something that may very rarely get touched or have anything put on it, latex is an easy way out.  It will paint fast, clean up easily and look beautiful – not to mention the smell will not drive you from your home.  Good candidates for latex paint are end tables, shadow boxes, picture frames and stair railings.

What’s the difference?

Latex (water based) paint is sold everywhere.  Home Depot, Lowes, and all small hardware stores.  It costs around $20-$25 per gallon and can be mixed to any color.  Latex paint is inexpensive and dries fairly quickly.  Additionally, the odor of latex paint is mostly non-offensive to most.  Latex paint is found on almost every painted wall in the world – that’s due to its cost and versatility.  This paint has its drawbacks too.  The biggest drawback to latex paint when it comes to painting furniture is the fact that it never really cures solid.

Curing?

Let’s talk about the curing process for a moment.  It will help if I first explain that paint, for the most part, consists of two things: (1) pigment (the color) and (2) a thinning agent to allow the color to flow – for latex paint, this is  water (which you would thin latex paint with) but for oil based paint, the thinning agent is some type of alkyd solvent.  Paint thinner or mineral spirits (the same thing) is necessary to thin this paint.)  “Curing” is a drying process of sorts.  When you paint something with wet paint, the paint flows as you brush or spray it.  Soon after, the thinning agent begins to evaporate and the paint begins to dry.  When paint dries, you can touch or re-coat it.  But, it should be known that paint is not completely dry until it is “cured”.  When paint is cured, it is completely dried – and hardened.  When dealing with latex or oil based paint, this curing process takes about 30 days.

It seems that latex paint like “Behr” sold from Home Depot never cures satisfactorily for most furniture applications.  It never gets really hard.  That’s why you can leave a mark in it with your finger nail.  No matter how long you leave late paint sit, it is always a little “soft”.  “Soft” isn’t good for furniture that is going to see serious use.  If you’ve got a piece of  furniture you want to paint and it’s going to get some serious use, you need oil based paint.  Oil based paint takes a while to cure, and it’s a pain in the butt to clean up but once it’s cured,  it’s the real deal.

Where latex paint sort of ‘bonds’ to the wood, oil based paint soaks into it.  Oil paint becomes a part of the wood.  This is why when you paint furniture with oil paint, not only do you not need to use a primer, you don’t have to worry about what is on the furniture currently.  Oil paint sticks to anything.  It penetrates wood, becomes one with other finishes, and covers shellac and old paint.  It’s not surprise at this point – I’m a huge fan of oil paint.  When we do a job for a customer who requests to have a piece of furniture painted, we only use oil paint.  The reason is because it will last a life time and we avoid callbacks because of this.  Oil paint will withstand just about anything you throw at it.  Where latex paint will become damaged from a wet glass, just overnight, oil paint remains impervious to this sort of everyday abuse.

So what now?

We use Sherwin Williams paint.  To be fair, we don’t have any sort of sponsorship with them, and, Benjamin Moore has oil paint that’s just as good.  I can’t recommend enough, the use of oil based paint for a project which will see a lot of use.  We typically use Sherwin Williams Pro-Classic Enamel.  You can brush, roll or spray this paint – all with a beautiful result.  If you are going to distress the furniture piece after painting, i recommend waiting a full month after painting with oil or latex paint.  The reason is because if the paint is not cured, when you sand it, it will behave like rubber and you won’t achieve a smooth,  feathered edge.

We paint furniture all the time and,  as a rule of thumb, we use oil paint 95% of the time.  The reason is because we can depend on it.  Yeah, it’s more trouble to clean up and yeah, it’s more expensive but the result is worth every moment and penny spent.  You can use either latex or oil paint on furniture but for a lifetime, trouble free finish, we use oil based paint and then finish it with paste wax.  This leaves a painted surface so strong, you could pour water on it and leave to dry.  That’s a finish that will please not only you,  but any customers you may paint for and everyone will be happy for the lifetime of the furniture piece and you’ll not have to worry about callbacks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nathan

    I just had to strip our kitchen set because the latex didn’t do a good job. I took it down to raw wood this time, which I think will help if I use the latex again. I want to use oil, but that’s adding a lot to the cost since I still have enough latex to do the job…but I’m worried about the yellowing that everyone says oil does after a couple years. How have you experienced this?

    • Mike

      I’m not aware of any yellowing from quality oil-based paints. Oil paint has been used for hundreds of years and it’s still just as wonderful as it ever was. What brand oil paint are you considering? Ben Moore makes a hybrid paint that is amazing – the best of latex and oil. This stuff cures like oil paint but otherwise, goes on like latex and the odor is much less. It’s called “waterborne” and is probably the most state of the art pigment coating available right now. You might want to call your local dealer and ask about it. http://www.benjaminmoore.com/en-us/for-your-home/paint-products/advance-waterborne-interior-alkyd-paint#advs=0&tab=2

      I would not recommend Latex paint on anything except walls. Hope that helps!

      -Mike

  • debbie ruble

    Mike, I am in process of re-painting my old furniture and some antique pieces I purchased in years past. My problem is that I believe that the pieces I painted are oil based and the bought ones, I am not sure. I just got an old kitchen hutch and the owner wasn’t sure what she put on it, oil or latex. I prefer oil and am afraid to apply for fear of it peeling off. The items I have are sentimental and I hope to own them for years to come. Can you help with this confusion once and for all. Is there a primer to apply after sanding that I can use for all of the pieces or will I need to primer . I appreciate any feedback. Debbie

    • Mike

      Debbie – the general rule of thumb is that oil based enamel will go over just about anything. That being said, it’s always advisable to use a primer – just to be absolutely sure. I’d first wipe the piece down using mineral spirits, then scuff using 180 grit sand paper(only a little sanding – you’re just want to rough up the existing paint a little), then use . It’s shellac based and will cover ANYTHING. After that, you can put anything you want on it! Good luck!

  • Jessica

    I am still a little confused on what to do. At the top you recommended shellac based primer but said in the middle that you don’t need a primer with oil paint. Then in an answer to Debbie’s question, recommended primer before painting oil. I have an armoire I got most of the varnish off of. I will paint with oil but do I need to prime it?
    Thank you! Jessica

    • Mike

      Jessica – of all the do it yourself projects out there, painting furniture -although seemingly straight forward – is one of the most confusing subjects, so you aren’t alone! Debbie wasn’t sure what type of paint was already on her project. In those cases, it’s always a good idea to prime first. Let me explore that a bit… Paint consists of two main components: (1) pigment and (2) binder. Sure, there are other things in paint, but 99% of what is in the can are a combination of those two components. Pigment is a colorant, and the binder is the glue that the colorant is mixed into. When you paint something and the paint does not flake or peel off, it’s because the binder has good adhesion to what’s beneath it. While “paint” and “primer” are both colored coatings which both contain pigment and primer, primer contains mostly binder(which is why they only come in a couple colors), while paint is mostly pigment.

      It is *always* advisable to primer before you paint, but, you don’t have to.

      -If your dining room is currently red, and you want to paint it with some $50/can specialty color, I suggest you prime it first to avoid needing 20 coats of your new, expensive paint color.
      -If you don’t know what type of paint is on that table, and want to ensure proper adhesion of your new paint
      -if you are painting new wood that has oils which(if left unprimed) will seep out over time and project through your paint(like pine)

      The list goes on. In your situation, “varnish” is simply oil and resin, which doesn’t present a conflict with an oil based paint. However, due to residues from the stripper, left over polish from the old finish, etc, I recommend priming with a shellac based primer such as the BIN. It’s just not worth skipping, all to find out 6 months later that your paint is failing. I remember the old saying “If you’ve got time to do it twice, you’ve got time to do it right the first time”.

      Now that I’ve rambled your ears(or eyes) off, the one time that it’s flat out unnecessary to prime, is when you’re putting an oil paint over an oil paint, or a latex over a latex. Two completely compatible coatings don’t need a primer in between them, although you may opt for one in the case of a drastic color change, but that’s just to save money on the fancy paint, not for adhesion reasons.

      Post a picture of the Armoire once it’s done!

  • debbie ruble

    Mike, thanks so much for your patience and time. And thanks to Jessica for her input and questions. Now I can go to to the home improvement store with confidence.

    • Mike

      My pleasure! When you’re done, stop back by and post up what you did, what products you used, and how the results came out. Post a picture if you like too. Good luck!

  • Dawn

    I wondered what you used to distress your furniture pieces after sanding off the oil based paint. I am planning to refinish my kitchen table and chairs and would like to distress them. Most of the glazing, staining, and wax finishes all refer to using a latex or chalk paint prior, but I wanted to use oil base for the durability (I have 5 kids). What do you recommend?

    • Mike

      Dawn – When we do a distressed piece in oil enamel, we generally use two coatings: (1) Oil paint (same product for primer and top coats), then (2) Paste wax – although for the absolute maximum durability, swap out the paste wax for Polyurethane.

      Oil based paint really needs to cure before you can distress it. Chalk paint is ready to go pretty quickly, but when you are working with oil paint, you need to let it sit at least 1 week, but if you’ve got the time, I’d give it two or even three. Then, sand away! If you don’t let oil paint cure -at least partially- it will be gummy when you sand it, and it doesn’t feather well when it’s like that. Cured paint will sand off normally. So, you’re process would look something like this:

      1) strip furniture (highly, highly recommended)
      2) sand 120 grit, then 180 grit
      3) primer/sealer coat using your oil paint
      4) let sit 24 hours
      5) 1st top coat of paint
      6) let sit 24 hours
      7) scuff sand very lightly using 320 grit
      8) 2nd top coat of paint
      9) let sit 1-3 weeks
      10) distress to your liking
      11) apply finish – paste wax or oil based polyurethane (spray cans of minwax work beautifully)

      Good luck!

  • Liz

    I want to paint some old furniture white. I mean white-white, not yellow white. It’s an oak end table, a pine coffee table and miscellaneous wood end table. All are different colors of stain – light, medium and dark. I love the flat look of a wax finish. However, I have two children who are hard on everything. That all said, from everything I’ve read, I’ve concluded that the best thing to do is: sand and prime, paint with oil based paint, and use paste wax (versus water based polyacrylic). Am I correct?

    • Mike

      Liz – exactly what do you want the finish to look like? I’m confused because you said you like the “flat” look of wax – but wax gives a satin/semi-gloss look which is shiny and not flat.

      I would definitely sand and prime using BIN primer. But before that, to give the primer an even better adhesion, wipe the hole piece down with mineral spirits or naphtha(both available at any hardware store) to cut any existing wax/polish buildup.

      I would use oil-based paint, probably in flat. After you get it all painted up, sand it using fine paper such as 320 grit. This will give you a dead flat finish. After that, paste wax would work quite well – just remember that the more you buff, the shinier it gets.

      I would not use Polycrylic because it’s a waterborne urethane and the jury is still out on exactly what and how well it will bond to certain things such as oil paint. I don’t like introducing these two to one another. Really, the oil paint, once fully cured(about a month) is an incredibly durable finish. I think paste wax is the win here.

  • liz

    Thanks. That’s what I needed to know. I guess I was trying to said that I don’t like the “plasticy” look of Polyurethane – even when it’s satin.

    • Mike

      Polyurethane is *literally* plastic. Hell of a durable finish, but as I’ve learned, the more durable the finish, the faker it looks.

      Good luck!

  • Janie

    Is there a problem with having the primer tinted to more closely match the finish coat or to provide a contrasting color for distressing a piece of furniture?

    • Mike

      Janie –

      Generally, you can’t tint a primer very much and the reason is because it would require too much pigment, therefore rendering the primer, well, not really a primer anymore. The main difference between paint and primer is that paint is mostly pigment, whereas primer is mostly binder. That’s a very rough, superficial comparison, but accurate. Whenever we do a distressed piece, we don’t use primer for that very reason – unless we are painting black or white, in which case, no big deal because the primer will be one of those colors.

  • Kelli

    Hi –

    Loved the post – finally, some actually answers!

    I’m painting an already- finished desk. I don’t know if the finish is oil or water-based, but it is very thin and light colored, and I’m doing an art painting over it. I’d prefer to use oil paints because that’s what I paint with when I do work on canvas.

    From what you’ve said, I’m gathering that I should clean the piece to remove dust and cobwebs, but that after that, I can just go ahead and paint away.

    Is this right?

    Thanks so much!

    • Mike

      Yes Kelli – if you are using traditional oil paints, they should go over anything. But, as a matter of good practice, I recommend cleaning the surface with Mineral Spirits, or better yet, Naphtha prior to painting your new art. If it were me, I’d use 0000 steel wool and Naptha to prep the target area. That may dull the sheen, but you can always bring it back with paste wax once finished. Good luck!

  • melissa

    HELP!! I think I messed up. I took the advise of the paint person at Home Depot. Redoing my kitchen cabinets. He said to use enamel, knowing I wanted to wax distress them. 2 coats later. I got my wax. Tried it out. Won’t adhere. oil on oil. duh…..Now what can I do. WITHOUT repainting them?! please help. Thank you.

    • Mike

      Oh my. Tell me exactly what you used on the cabinets, and in what fashion you used it. Also, what did the cabinets *used* to look like? Don’t sweat Melissa – this is fixable:)

  • susan

    Your post was very helpful. I plan to paint my kitchen table with oil paint. What primer do you suggest? You mention a shellac but I wasn’t sure if that was still your go to primer. I will be painting inside my home with the windows open.

    • Mike

      Yes, BIN shellac based primer is my go-to primer. It is pigmented shellac, and being that shellac has 100% perfect blocking abilities, it’s the only way to go. It’s very watery, and make sure you put on a couple of coats, and get a nice, even white appearance.

      1) scrub with mineral spirits or xylene(xylene works better but stinks more) and steel wool, or abrasive pad like scotch brite
      2) scuff with 120 or 150 grit sand paper
      3) 2 nice coats of BIN
      4) paint with whatever you want

      The BIN is not an awful smell. Because it is shellac, it has a sweet smell – like rotting apples. The smell goes away quickly as the BIN dries in just a few minutes. Miracle stuff.

  • Ed O'Loughlin

    Hi Mike, I am considering painting my kitchen cabinets. I will be using a brush and roller as needed. Currently they are pickled white color which is fading and showing its age (25 + years). Standard builder grade Aristocraft cabinets. We want to go with a white contemporary look, new back splash and counters. As an experienced restorer can I ask what products you would use? Would you go with a gloss, or semi finish? Based on your other recommendations, I would guess the BIN primer, and oil base paint. Which manufacturer would you use as the paint? Any information is greatly appreciated.
    Ed O
    Fallston, MD

    • Mike

      Hey Ed – You need to clean the cabinets first using TSP(sold at most hardware stores). After that, I’d scuff them really well, and prime with either BIN which is shellac based or Ben Moore ADVANCE primer. Once finished, I’d suggest using Ben Moore ADVANCE paint on them – spray application. Here’s a link to the paint and primer by Ben Moore – it’s really good stuff. Ben Moore ADVANCE

      Good luck!

  • Kristen

    Hi, I bought two very sturdy, beautiful solid wood tables that I absolutely loved from Goodwill. I thought it was going to be an easy job to refinish them but at this point I just want to cry. I readon the number of items and has never had a problem. So I brought them home, sanded them and then used a product called Cabot premium wood finish, it is a water based stain and polyurethane in one. I have used it on numerous items and never had a problem however I could not get it to go on right on these tables and ended up having to send them back down to the bare wood. Then I bought oil based stain and that came out great but when I used the oil based polyurethane on top I totally screwed them up ( large bubbles & run marks, I did horrible. I’ve used polyurethane over latex paint and have never had an issue but apparently I’m not too good at the oil based Poli or putting it over stain). Now I can’t stand the tables and I think they look horrible. My question is do I have an option to paint these without having to sand them back down to the bare wood? Or if I do sand them back down can I at that point just paint them with latex paint? I am not very good with oil based things and with the cleanup that is why I am trying to stay away from the oil paint. I would appreciate any help you could give me at this point I’m ready to just throw them in the dumpster. Thank you.

    • Mike

      Hey Kristen – as a professional finisher, I too feel like crying sometimes! There are so many things to learn about, and it seems like a never-ending list of compatibility problems to keep in the front of your brain. Luckily, one of the very few rules in which you should always remember, applies to your situation: Dewaxed Shellac sticks to anything, and anything sticks to Dewaxed Shellac. That being said, I would scuff the current surface, with 120grit sandpaper(and do a good job – this step is near critical), then prime it with BIN primer. That primer is pigmented shellac and will cover *anything*. Two good coats should do it, and once you’re done with that, you can put anything you want overtop; latex, oil, poly, whatever.

      Warning: if any one of the previous steps you took didn’t adhere to the preceding product, no matter what you put over everything right now will at some point come off.

  • Brooke Harrison

    Hi Mike, quick question for you. I just painted a mid century modern dresser in high gloss white rustoleum oil based enamel. I first primed (2 coats) with zinssers oil based primer. I used a spray gun for both applications. My question to you is, is it necessary to seal the paint? From other diyers, I’ve read that they don’t finish the furniture with a sealer of any kind. Again, it’s a mcm dresser and I am going for the high gloss look. So, I wouldn’t want to use a paste of any sorts.
    Thanks so much!
    Brooke

    • Mike

      No need to seal oil based paint. Once it cures fully (about 21 days depending on temperature and relative humidity), it’s about as tough as polyurethane. Good job!

  • Deb

    Hi Mike, I have been working on painting my kitchen table. I began with chalk paint. I have had trouble finding the right color, so it now has a couple coats on it. I was going to varnish it. My question is, do you think it will hold up to everyday use? and it if I do not end up satisfied with it, can I paint oil paint over it?

    • admin

      You can apply oil paint over just about anything. That said, I don’t know how durable the varnish you’ve selected is. If it’s a high-traffic table, I would suggest Spar Urethane which is an outdoor-grade polyurethane and works wonderfully on kitchen tables.

  • Kaitlyn

    Hi I love your site! So much great info! I just painted my kitchen cabinets with latex. I sanded first and primed but they are already chipping! What do I do?? I’m not against using oil or even the waterborne (sp?) Product if you think that would work? I just need to fit is. Any advice you have would be great. Oh and they are not solid wood either which I think didn’t help with the bonding issue.
    Thanks!
    Kaitlyn

    • Mike

      Kaitlyn – the wood material has nothing to do with the adhesion. That is controlled 100% by what the existing finish is, and what you put over that finish. Your problem is between the latex paint and the original finish, so you’ve got to remove the latex first, then clean and scuff. After that, you can apply something that will bond properly adhere to the existing finish, like BIN primer. After that, you can paint as usual.

  • Jennifer

    Hello there! I am reprinting an oak kitchen table I bought on Craigslist a couple of years ago. The owner gave me the paint can she used which is acrylic latex enamel. I went to sherwin Williams today and was told to scuff the table and paint with oil. Can I put oil over acrylic? Would you do more than scuff and clean? The top of the chairs are “gummy” feeling. Yuck!

    • Mike

      Jennifer – when in doubt, clean, scuff, and prime with BIN primer. You won’t regret it, and it’s the only coating which doesn’t care what the original coating was – you win.

  • Elaine

    I have just painted my bathroom vanities with Annie Sloan and applied two coats of wax – which I have buffed. I have now changed my mind and want to paint these cupboards with enamel.

    I have done so (without removing the wax) and one day later the paint still seems very wet. Will it dry over time ?

    Any advise will be welcomed

    • Mike

      That paint takes a good amount of time to cure, and it will. Alas, there’s very little chance that your new paint will stay on because it was painted over wax.

  • Joanna

    I have a furniture set recently bought from Next, and want to paint it white. I don’t actually know what the finish is, all it says on the Next website is ‘ivory painted finish’. How do I go about preparing and then painting this? What sort of paint and method should I use?

    • Mike

      Joanna – regardless of what is on the piece now, you can clean it with naphtha and steel wool, then scuff the surface to rough it up, then prime using BIN Shellac based primer. After that, paint it with whatever you want!

      BIN is shellac based, and it will provide a neutral surface which is friendly with water based, oil based paint, or really anything else!

  • linda

    Mike can you mix oil paint with chalk paint?

    • Mike

      I’m not really sure, but I’m leaning toward “no”. Why would you need to do that?

  • Donna

    How long should you wait after your final coat of oil paint before you use a paste wax.

    • Mike

      Donna – to be ultra, super safe, I’d give it 3 weeks(you do have A/C don’t you?). I’d be lying if I told you I have never applied paste wax sooner. I’ve actually waxed a painted piece the next day! But, for the sake of argument and “best practices”, I suggest you wait at least a couple weeks.

  • Kate

    I’ve spent HOURS and HOURS looking for answers to these questions; either no info at all or wildly differing opinions. I’m praying you will help! I’m redoing a pine dresser, 1960-70’s vintage, original finish which was varnish only, mostly worn off, no stain. Sanded down entire piece to bare wood, applied 3 coats BIN shellac primer to dresser frame, 4 coats to drawer fronts & top, drying overnight & sanding between coats. Using Floetrol paint additive, applied 4 coats black latex acrylic enamel, Satin finish, to drawer fronts & top, 3 coats to dresser frame, drying overnight & light sanding between coats. After 3 days dry time, applied faux wood-grain treatment on dresser top using water base glaze and same paint used for entire project. I’ve already purchased MinWax Polyacrylic clear top coat so would like to stick with that, using necessary procedure to achieve best results. #1 How long must I wait after last coat of latex paint and/or glaze before applying polyacrylic top coat? #2 Do I sand the painted AND glazed surfaces before applying first coat of polyacrylic and then between each subsequent coat EXCEPT final? #3 Sponge-On-A-Stick applicator or synthetic bristle brush? #4 How many coats of polyacrylic to achieve best durability/protection? #5 How long to wait between coats of polyacrylic? #6 How long after final coat of polyacrylic before dresser can be put to use? Thank you SO much for sharing your knowledge on this informative site and for any advice you can give me. Sincerely, Kate

    • Mike

      Wow Kate – so that’s a lot of questions 🙂 It sounds like you’ve done everything except praying to the paint gods for a good cure and durable finish, so that’s good. I’ll just answer these questions in order to be simple:
      #1 – If it were my wife’s piece and she was in a ridiculous hurry to put it where it’s going(very plausible scenario by the way), I’d spray the top coat 2 days later. But, if you’re not a betting woman, I’d give it a couple weeks. The paint is dry in a matter of hours, but the curing process is not obvious, and usually, latex paint can take a few weeks to cure depending on the climate in your home. Why is it best to wait for paint to be fully cured? Because there’s a possibility(albeit small) that the final paint coats will shrink, especially with 4 coats. But, for all intents and purposes, I wouldn’t worry about it.
      #2 – I would, just to be completely safe – with as much work as you’ve put into this, you may as well. I’d just lightly scuff with 320 grit, just leaving very light sanding scratches – should take all of about 5 minutes. As far as sanding in between coats of POLY, absolutely. Again, 320 grit. This knocks the dust nibs and trash out of the finish.
      #3 – I prefer spraying finishes, but if I can’t say there’s much difference between the sponge and the brush. I guess I’d go with a high end brush.
      #4 – If you’re applying the poly fully strength(not thinned), 3 coats should be adequate.
      #5 – one coat per day. realistically, 8-10 hours but on a normal family clock, one coat each night after the kids are in bed. (grab a glass of wine – consider it a date)
      #6 – the polycrylic is water based and should be ready to roll in 24 hours.

      Good luck!

    • Kate

      Thank you, thank you! I will do everything you say….except the spraying part. Don’t have a sprayer or the skill set to use one, I’m afraid, so I guess I’ll stick with my faithful brush. I know I put more work into this dresser than what’s it’s worth. I did VERY thin coats of primer and paint, so I needed that many to get complete coverage and then there’s that “thing” my parents pounded into our heads over and over….doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a multi-million $ corp or if you’re cleaning the latrines, if you’re working for yourself or for someone else, doing it for money or for free, take pride in your work and do the very best job you’re capable of doing. That life-lesson has served me well, although hasn’t always made me a lot of money. Bless you, and, again, thank you ever so much. 🙂

      • Mike

        Welcome!

  • Peggy

    I am repainting a vanity in oil paint. I stripped and lightly sanded it. I have used small foam rollers in the past with latex and had good results. They leave a nice smooth surface and eliminate brush strokes. I tried a foam roller and then a small regular roller with the oil but both produce bubbles on the surface. I even thinned the paint with mineral spirits but can’t get rid of the bubbles. Any suggestions?

    • Mike

      Do the bubbles dry in the paint, leaving craters? What brand/model paint are you using?

  • Peggi

    I am painting a vanity. It had several coats of paint so have stripped it down. Sanded it and applied the first coat of oil base paint is. The problem I’m having is when I use either foam or regular (4in) rollers, the paint bubbles. I’ve used them with latex paints and get great results. I’ve thinned with mineral spirits but no change. I have checked since I read your article. I’m using Behr oil base paint. Is it the paint? Any suggestions would be helpful. Using a brush leaves brush marks.

    • Mike

      Maybe the bubbles are from shaking the paint? I can’t say I’ve ever had that problem, but then again, I use a sprayer, and not a roller or brush. If I weren’t spraying, I’d probably use a high end china bristle brush.

  • peggimo

    Sorry, didn’t think my message went yesterday so sent another! I checked and the bubbles don’t crater, just leave the surface rough with small bumps. Maybe I’ll need to sand a bit to try to smooth it out again?

    • Mike

      You’ll definitely have to sand that out. I’d suggest a sanding block, and 220grit paper. That should cut fast, but not too aggressively. Put your new coat over that.

  • peggi

    Thanks for your time and input. Appreciate it.

  • Joann

    This is great info as I am getting ready to tackle a table and chairs. My question is what is the best for wicker that will be used outside? Same protocol?

    • admin

      Joann – outdoor furniture requires a different approach. You want to clean and prime as normal, but use a flat paint – any paint you like – then apply an outdoor finish like Spar Urethane.

  • Ralph

    Is Sherwin Williams All Surface Enamel Acrylic Latex Satin suitable for use on plastic wicker porch furniture that will be outdoors but under cover? It will be exposed to afternoon sun. Thanks

    • admin

      My gut instinct is no, but please do contact your local Sherwin Williams dealer to be certain.

  • Tania greene

    Hi.
    I recently painted a vintage dresser. I sanded, primed with water based primer and painted with oil based spray paint. Did I make a mistake not using an oil based primer ?. Also do I need to use a sealer or top coat at all? Please help!

    • admin

      Oil paint on latex primer is ok. You don’t need any finish on top of oil-based enamel as it’s a rock-solid finish on it’s own.

      Whether or not you made a mistake not using oil primer is a question that will answer itself within 1 years’ time. Either you end up with bleed through or you don’t. If you don’t see any bleed through after about a year, safe to say you’re golden. NOTE*** I have seen bleed through even when using kilz! The only absolute 100% fail-safe bet is BIN pigmented shellac.

  • Dunia

    Wow,
    You are super helpful and thorough. Thank you for all the great tips! I have 2 questions if you can help with I would appreciate it so much!
    1. I painted a foyer table with some left over oil based paint semi gloss finish. It came out too shiny. What would be the best way to make it flat or close to flat?
    2. I hired a painter to paint my kitchen cabinets with said paint (the pro classic from sherwin williams) and unfortunately the cabinets have lots of brush strokes and rough areas to say the least. I am devastated. The cabinets are not real wood. They have that smooth wood imitation finish, like a lamin ate I guess?. Is there a way I can fix the bad job by sanding or something? Thanks again for your time.

    • admin

      What exactly do you mean by “flat”? you can sand it with 320grit paper(or preferably a sponge). That will knock every last bit of sheen off of it. Then, you can increase the sheen using steel wool if need be. If you like the sheen after sanding, then get some “flat” clear spray. Mohawk sells it here. That will smooth it out without increasing sheen.

      For the cabinets – those should have been sprayed. I can’t figure on a solution for what you’ve got at this point. You can sand the paint down smooth(sanding through the brush marks) or you can strip the paint. You need a clean, smooth, non-textured surface, and then they can be sprayed with the same paint for a smooth, flawless finish.

      Good luck!

  • kerrison

    I have some old furniture that has oil based paint on it. I want to paint over with latex paint and do some art work on it with latex folk art paints. If I use Bin primer on it first can I then paint with latex for top coat? Is this Bin primer sold in Canada?

    • admin

      You can order BIN on amazon here. You can paint BIN over the oil enamel and all will be fine, BUT, be sure to first wash the paint down really good with mineral spirits or naphtha(to clean and remove any grease,etc), then scuff the existing paint. Nothing major, but you need to make sure the BIN primer has a mechanical adhesion advantage. 120 grit is perfect, and to keep it simple, I’d grab some sanding sponges in that grade. That way you can get in all the corners, and rounded parts as well. Works perfect.

      Good luck!

  • Mina

    All my questions answered. Finally someone who knows their stuff.
    Now, I’m off to buy paint. 🙂

  • Lisa Prince

    I can’t wait to start my projects after reading your blog… Thanks for the tips. I have one question. What type of sprayer do use for your projects?

    • admin

      I’ve got a dozen sprayers. A good sprayer for painting is the Earlex 5500. It’s about $300 and worth every penny.

  • Kylie

    I am getting ready to paint a pine cabinet white. Do I have to sand and prime it? If so, with what? What kind of paint? Can I use the spray cans of paint??

    • admin

      Depends on what finish is on it now. Always wise to clean with Naptha, scuff with 180 grit and prime with BIN.

  • Jeanie

    You’ve sold me on the Bin primer. Have just applied a coat to a dresser I’m taking from stain/polyurethane to white paint, using the Benjamin Moore waterborne you mentioned above. However, I wasn’t happy with the Bin application. I used a crappy brush – perhaps that didn’t help. It dried quickly leaving drag marks and uneven coating. I’m considering: sanding, adding another coat of Bin and then sanding again before painting OR just adding another coat and sanding before paint. Which would you recommend, how long should it dry before sanding, and what grit would you recommend? Thanks for your time and the great support you provide.

    • admin

      If the piece has many contours, you might consider using a 3M scratch pad. I would suggest the Maroon color which is somewhere around 600 grit. The BIN dries in minutes because it is Shellac. I’d give it 24 hours before sanding.

  • Cindi

    I have a “not so high end” cherry nightstand that I have cleaned with mineral spirits, sanded with 120 grit sand paper, wiped clean, and applied two coats of Kiltz oil based primer (allowing overnight drying time between coats). How long should I wait before I sand with 320 grit sandpaper and apply BM Advance paint? Anything different that you would recommend for the other nightstand? This is my first attempt at painting furniture.

    • admin

      24 hours is fine in terms of waiting time before sanding. 320 grit is good stuff. Just scuff the trash and dust nibs out of the primer and go to town with the BM.

  • Theresa

    Hi, I’m wondering what you think of the primer and paint all in one? I’m refinishing twin beds and have primed only part of the beds (with the BIN shellac primer, which I LOVE by the way:), but only the areas where there were a lot of dents & dings. Now I’m thinking I should go back and primer everything or could I save a step and use the primer & paint all in one for my final finish?

    • admin

      Really no such thing as “primer and paint all in one”. I realize that the big box stores sell that stuff, but primer and paint are two different products, albeit of the same family, but different nonetheless. There is absolutely no replacement for a stand alone primer, especially BIN. I would clean, scuff and prime with BIN, any areas you want to make sure you don’t have problems with a year down the road. Remember – If you’ve got time to do it twice, there’s time to do it right, the first time.

  • Raina

    Hello i have a dresser that is currently painted with latex and has oil based polyurethane on top. There are some drips in the finish. Do I need to strip the wood before I repaint with oil based?

    • admin

      If the poly has drips, just sand back the poly until you cut through those areas, then apply another coat of the poly.

  • Shannon

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for all of this information, and for the great questions from everyone on this site. I appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge freely with the world, and you have given me a lot of confidence to tackle my next project. Thank you!

    • admin

      You’re welcome!

  • Lara

    Hi, Good info! I just painted my kitchen cabinets black, using oil based spray paint for fronts and oil based paint (same brand) and then used polycrylic water based over for a nice shiny finish. I did sand alot . I love it and have many complements . I don’t think it looks plastic at all. I wanted the wood grain to show and oil based did exactly what you said seals in the wood doesn’t scratch at all. I am now doing my table and chairs, and my question is should I use the same process because the table and chairs will get more action with kids and cats getting on table . Also once I paint tabke top and wait for it to cure can I put a glass top on it to protect it?

    • admin

      You can put anything on Poly once it’s cured. I would use the same process on the chairs if you were happy with the results of the cabinets. Sounds like you’ve established a go-to routine!(in the finishing business, that’s called a “Schedule”) Good job!

  • Jennifer

    Hello, Your article and answers to the posted questions have been the most helpful things I have found on the internet concerning painting furniture. I have recently painted some furniture with a SW oil based primer and 2 coats (not exactly exceedingly thin coats) of SW oil based black paint. Am I understanding you correctly that I really don’t need to put a top coat of anything (shellac, varnish, poly, etc) on it? If I do, what is the most highly suggested product? Thank you so much for your help!

    • admin

      The oil based paint cures pretty hard, so it’s not really necessary to use a top coat, but you can if you desire. It depends on what sheen you like, but you might consider using spray poly. You can apply a pretty thin coat, but the drying time is 8 hours, so make sure the area is free of dust and that there are no fans running, or moving air that might circulate dust onto your wet finish.

  • Gwen

    Hi Mike,
    I have a large cabinet and an old sewing machine cabinet that I want to paint white. I plan on painting a stencil pattern on the doors of the cabinet. I have sanded and put a BIN primers on the wood cabinet. Should I use Sherwin Williams Pro Classic oil based enamel on both these pieces, or is it ok to use the latex Pro Classic on the cabinet? I figure I do need to use the oil based paint for the sewing cabinet as it gets a lot of use.

    • admin

      The pro classic only comes in white and gray, maybe black too, so keep that in mind. I don’t know anything about their water based pro-classic, but I generally don’t advise anything less than a hybrid product like BM Advance. SW undoubtedly offers a hybrid waterborne/alkyd product like the BM – just ask your local store.

  • J Singh

    Can I put NC lacquer over a wooden frame (Pine) which I spray painted with water based acrylic paint which I also used to paint my walls?
    I applied acrylic about three days ago and it looks dried and is smooth to touch. Since this was thinned with water there should be no solvent to react with NC Lacquer thinners. However I am not sure if oils / solvents are present in the wall acrylic paint.

    • admin

      It would depend on the solvent package used in your nitro lacquer. I’m not so sure I would try it because if the solvent package loosens the paint, when the lacquer shrinks down, it will crinkle the paint and ruin the entire job. I suggest contacting the manufacturer of the lacquer and asking their tech department – I don’t want this blood on my hands 🙂

  • Suzi

    I tried a chalk paint on a three-drawer dresser and waxed it twice), but I REALLY don’t like the color. So… I want to repaint the piece with Stulb’s Old Village Paint (oil-based). I plan to wipe down the piece with mineral spirits (to remove the wax), let the piece dry (for how long?) and then paint with the Stulb’s. Will I need to wax the piece after the paint has dried (in several weeks) ? Thanks for your advice.

    • admin

      You really don’t need to paste wax an oil enamel, but it does make it that much more beautiful. Mineral Spirits evaporates in minutes, so you should be good to go after that.

  • Debbi

    I’m preparing to paint several pieces of furniture, including dining chairs. I would much prefer to use a sprayer so it won’t take months to finish, but not sure the ones I’m looking at are capable of spraying oil base paints and polys. I am looking at the Homeright and Wagner modles, lower end types at $70 and a little under. How can I be sure which is going to be able to push the paint? (reading reviews on both, they all say they work with chalk paint and latex, polys when thinned, with varying degrees of success, but no mention of oil). Thanks for your help-and the answers you’ve already given here were extremely helpful!

    • admin

      You can spray anything you want. The requirement is viscosity. You need to thin the coating to the proper viscosity for your sprayer/nozzle set. The problem is that some coatings won’t cure properly if reduced, or reduced too much. The low end sprayers are OK, but they aren’t versatile enough because you usually can’t get alternate tip/nozzle sets for different coatings. If you don’t have an air compressor, I highly recommend the Earlex 5500. It’s about $300 but is a wonderful value due to its quality construction and accessories available. You should be able to spray latex or oil with the 2mm tip set(which comes with it, or used to anyhow). Think your oil paint using professional grade Naptha(ask the paint store for it). Just thin it until it runs through the included viscosity cup in the given time(See instructions). Good luck – once you get the hang of spraying and realize that you can load pretty much anything you want into the cup and spray it, you’ll wonder how you ever got anything done before.

  • Jeremy

    Please help! I followed your process to the letter: I have a set of stained antique furniture that we wanted to paint white. We rough sanded it, wiped it down with a tack cloth and I had the BIN primer and Sherwin Williams Pro-Classic Enamel paint ready to go for my painter who was going to spray them on. Here’s where my problem starts. My painter decided (on his own) that he wasn’t going to put the primer on because it was “too thick for his sprayer”, went ahead and applied a first coat of paint to everything and skipped the BIN. I’ve since found out from the folks from the Sherwin Williams store that he probably just needed to change his nozel and that the adhesion of the paint alone may not be that good. What do I do now? Will this paint adhere well without primer? Does it make any sense to put primer on now and then have him restart with the painting process? Is there any way to put primer on still and get good adhesion without stripping all the paint off (probably a task no one wants to take)? If we just keep progressing with paint does it make sense to do more than 2 coats of paint or do some particular finish to help the hardiness of it all? The furniture is for a kids room so I was looking to do everything right to get good adhesion and a strong finish to withstand the beating the kids will put on it over the years. Thank you in advance for your response as the project is currently stalled in the middle as I figure out my next course of action!

    • admin

      Sorry, I was having an email problem on my site, and I wasn’t getting these comments. I do however recognize you, and I believe we spoke on the phone. How did everything come out in the end?

  • tommy armstrong

    I painted furniture with latex high gloss Sherman Williams paint this was painted over stain with polyurethane. And I also sanded with a medium sanding block before painting. I also put on Kilz. I let that dry for 2 days then put on a thin coat of wipe on polyurethane now it want dry its sticky to the touch what do I do?

    • admin

      In what order did you do these steps? What brand poly?

  • Joe

    Mike, my wife and I just purchased a house with latex painted kitchen cabinets. They dont look bad and she also wants to glaze them. Thoughts on how to move forward? I would like to start “fresh” !

    • admin

      Wait, you do or do not want to keep the paint that’s on them now?

  • Jean Wonsetler

    I’ve been asked to paint an old varnished buffet that’s used in a kitchen as an island. They have 5 active young children who spill food and sometimes leave crayon marks here and there. I’ve ruled out chalk paint and wax, because it will never hold up. If I use a few coats of Bin shellac, and then oil paint will that be enough? Do you think it needs a protective coating over the paint? After it’s painted could I lightly dry brush another color on the details?

    • admin

      If there are children involved, I’d end with Poly. Poly is easy to use and durable as heck. You can just clean this piece up, scuff it, then use any flat paint. I’d suggest spray paint in this case, and accent wherever you like. Then follow up with Poly(3 coats, sanding with 320 before each) and you’re done.

  • lin

    Hello
    We have currently stripped our front door ….it is a magnificent old door.
    Here’s the big question…should we just polyurethane with the proper procedure….using oil or water? In fact I bought a can of water based semi gloss….what’s your thoughts?

    • admin

      Exterior doors are a unique animal. About the only product you can use that’s available non-commercially is going to be Spar Urethane. That’s an outdoor rated coating which is used on boats.

  • Jacqueline

    Hi

    Just wondered if you could help. Every time I apply my final coat of varnish on a previously painted table top, either cream or white, no matter how careful I am or how hard I try I always seem to have tiny little black bits in the finish, similar to small back flecks or threads. This happens if I use a sponge brush, bristle brush or roller all of which are white in colour. I meticulously wipe down the top to remove dust and make sure the brush etc is totally clean.

    Any help would be great.
    Thanks
    Jacqueline

    • Mike

      That’s dust and dirt from the air it would sound like. You’re problem is drying time. Poly and Varnishes take 8 hours to dry, so you’ve got to have them in a room with absolutely no air flow and extremely clean. Many people create simple rooms out of plastic sheeting you can buy at Home Depot and tape together – works perfectly. Google search “home made spray booth” and have a look.

  • Stanka

    Thanks Mike for all this answers . I need to ask you what would you use to paint kitchen table, what paint? I like white color and what kind of paint is good if I spill water on painted kitchen table. Table is oak-stained color. Thanks in advance.

    • Mike

      If this is a heavy use table, your best bet is to paint it white with whatever you want, then apply a super durable finish on top of the paint. While the Sherwin Williams Pro Classic Oil Enamel is a very tough paint, I would never want to rely on it to protect a high traffic table. Just get some white paint that you like (preferably flat sheen) and get the paint job perfect. Then, you can use something like MinWax PolyCrylic, or better yet, General Finishes High Performance Poly. Just make sure it is “non-yellowing” since you’re using white.

      You will first have to prep that table though. As always, I suggest that you clean with Naptha, scuff with 180 grit paper, then 2 good coats of BIN primer. After that, you’ll be ready for paint.

  • Mike,

    Deciding to paint our old dining room chairs I came across your very informative website.
    As you suggested we used Bin Shellac Base Primer (we also sanded the chairs to the bare wood before applying the Primer).
    Since we have used Benjamin Moore products on all our projects we went with Benjamin Moore’s SATIN IMPERVO ALKYD LOW LUSTER ENAMEL (satin finish). We tried a test area…. It didn’t work out. I see the brush strokes and even though it is a SATIN finish, it seems too glossy. (Using a burgundy color).

    I see you used the Sherwin Williams PRO CLASSIC ENAMEL….and that it is a WATER BASED Alkyd. Would a water base alkyd be less glossy and not show brush strokes? (However, reviews on Sherwin William’s website for nonprofessionals are not favorable for this paint.)
    I would imagine since you are a professional you are “spraying” this paint.
    Could you please recommend a sprayer that an amateur can use without too much trial and error testing; my husband does have an AIR COMPRESSOR – Rating of 2.5 SCFM @ 90 PSI.
    My husband is planning on building file cabinets for our office, and we can also use this sprayer for them.

    Thank you for your time.

    Norene

    • Mike

      Norene – I’m not familiar with the BM paint you used. Sheen is a very fickle subject and the big companies have tried to make it simple with names like “Satin” and “Eggshell”. When really, sheen is measured on a scale from 0-100. 30-40 is what I consider “Satin” but take the word away, and you are left with the true measurement – which is derived from the amount of flattener used. That said, your idea of “Satin” may be a 20 sheen, but the BM paint in “Satin” is really rated at 40-50 which is way different from what you are expecting.

      As far as the brush strokes, with water based paint, you can use a leveling product (with varying results) such as Floetrol and consider thinning the paint more to begin with. With Oil enamel, I would look just thinning the paint more. The Pro Classic comes in water and oil by the way.

      If you’re using BM paints, I highly recommend their “ADVANCE” line of paint, which is really designed for kitchen cabinets but sprays an unbelievably smooth finish.

      As far as spraying equipment, 2.5cfm just isn’t going to get the job done. Your husband will need at least 6 or 7cfm, even for a low flow gun. I would suggest a turbine system, like the Earlex 5500. I have one of these, and it’s the only sprayer I use when I paint. It is a self-contained system and requires no compressor. One thing I would say about spraying -especially paint- is practice, practice, practice.

  • Michael Romero

    Hey Mike,
    I have just painted two end tables an olive green and want to age the oil paint a bit to give it a bit of a brown patina Can I use dark wax to give it a subtle aged look or do I have to use an oil based glaze.

    • Mike

      Dark wax would be my choice. Once oil paint is cured (21 days or so), you can put anything on it.

  • Kim

    Hi Mike, I have a kitchen table that my husband is going to paint with an oil based paint. I’m worried about doing this project in the house and the smell of the oil paint. He says I can’t use the clothes dryer for a while because of the fumes/smell. How long will this be a problem? Is it ok for our family to be in the house? I thought he could do it in the garage but we live in the Chicago area and it’s almost January. Interested in hearing your advice. Thx Kim

    • Mike

      Oil paint stinks – a lot. Also, it contains petroleum distillates, which will stink awful if you use *any* open flames in the home. Water heater pilot, stove, candles, dryer, etc.. I’m not going to suggest that these fumes are *safe* for your family, but it’s hard to get away because until the paint is totally cured, you’re going to smell that odor. I don’t worry about fumes like that in my home, but they are an annoyance, and yes, your clothes will stink like it too. Try Ben Moore “ADVANCE” paint, then you can put a few coats of Polyurethane(water base), and you’ll get most of the durability with hardly any of the smell.

      p.s. I would have suggested Poly no matter what paint you used since it’s a kitchen table and will get heavy use.

  • Gentry

    Mike, This is the best article – thanks for taking the time to answer so many questions. I have a few…I am painting an old coffee table that will be heavily used by kids/toys. I want it to look nice though as it is in our main living room. From what I have read – I need to clean it with mineral spirits, scuff it up with 120 sandpaper, use the oil based BIN primer and then paint. I have seen that there is a new(ish) paint, Benjamin Moore waterborne alkyd advance that is water and soap clean up compared to the regular oil paint. Do you know if it is a good option? Do you know if it cures as well as regular oil paint? If I were to use regular oil paint, what brand exactly. I am painting it off white and have also read that the Advance paint will yellow over time. I don’t want that. The second piece that I am considering is my bathroom cabinet from IKEA=cheap cabinet. I don’t want to replace it, too much money. It is pine with a thin finish on it. Would you do oil or Advance? On the parts that are laminate finish, can I successfuly use the BIN and then paint in oil? Lastly, painting a laminate tv shelf, which I know is a no-no – but my only option at this point. Same process? I saw above that you said if the BIN doesn’t adhere, nothing will? I have used some chalk paint over the BIN and it scratches off. Have you use chalk paint, do you know the durability of chalk paint and wax? Sorry, that was lots of questions. Thanks for your time.

    • Mike

      Chalk paint is it’s own animal and folks flock to it for it’s unique appearance, not durability.

      You need to scuff the laminate really, really good before priming. I mean really scuff the heck out of it or the BIN won’t grab on.

      Advance is a good second choice to oil. I will say that sooner or later, oil will not even be on the market, and the hybrids, like ADVANCE are getting better every year. Give it a shot. I don’t know about it yellowing, I have not heard that.

      Anywhere there is high traffic, or high moisture, you need to add a clear coat, like Polyurethane. Water based poly will not yellow.

  • Debbi Spencer

    I’m planning to spray paint a table and chairs and want a gloss finish, but satin will do if that is easiest. You recommend a paste wax finish over the paint for best look and durability, but I am reluctant to put a wax n things that will be handled (backs of chairs, table edges, etc.). Does the was dry hard enough not to smear? Can it be wiped down with wet cloth (tabletop after meals), and with furniture spray cleaner (for dusting, removing fingerprints). If I want to change the paint color in the future, does the wax have to be removed and how hard is it to remove it?
    Thanks! I so appreciate that you share your knowledge and expertise with us! I’ve learned so much on your site!
    Debbi

    • Mike

      Debbi, roll with spray paint for your color, and spray Polyurethane for a clear coat. The paint can be flat (which will cure harder – little known secret), and the poly, you will get full gloss like this. You can use “spar” Poly or Poly that is not “spar”. The “spar” is meant for outdoor applications, so it’s a little more geared toward moisture, but for all intents and purposes, either is fine.

  • I have a 20-year old oak cabinet that I want to paint black. I want to cover up the horrible smoke smell before I paint it. What do you suggest I do to eliminate the smell? Coffee grinds, baking soda and vinegar has done nothing. My next step was to sand it and primer it. I would appreciate any suggestion you have!!

    • Mike

      You need shellac. You can either use shellac based primer or shellac by itself. BIN primer Shellac

  • Im reading a lot about painting furniture and most of the articles say that chalk is the best. Have you tried it and what have you discovered?

    • Mike

      Jeannnette – I think you’ll find that in this industry(and most others), the word “best” is relative. Check out Annie Sloan, as she is the one who coined the term “chalk paint”. It’s purely preference, but I must say that properly done, I’m very happy with chalk paint finishes I’ve come across.

  • Gretchen

    Hi! This was a great article and answered a number of questions that I had! However … just to be totally sure before I mess up …
    I have a new 4 door cabinet that is currently unfinished – we just had it built by a family friend. I’d like to paint it (dark red – if that matters!). My friend recommended Benjamin Moore – the waterborne oil paint. So I’d use BM primer, too? I’ll likely do a black primer, as I’m considering doing some light distressing. Would I need 2 coats of primer? I’m really concerned about brush strokes, too. Any advice you can offer would be great! Thanks so much!

    • Mike

      Gretchen – if you’re concerned with brush strokes, you’re going to have to step up to a sprayer. For beginners, I recommend the Earlex 5500. BM makes a top notch product, but I wouldn’t say that just because you use their paint, you must also use their primer – that simply isn’t accurate. What you prime with depends on what type of wood it is to begin with. Most primers work for most woods, but some woods will give you problems, months, even years later if you don’t use the right stuff. Most primers are only able to come in gray as the darkest color. The reason is that they cannot use too much pigment, otherwise it ruins the binder. Check with your BM supplier for specifics.

  • Amanda

    Hello Mike. I just painted a kitchen table with black sherwin Williams enamel paint. Two coats and was wondering if I need to seal it if so what? I’m doing it in my basement and I feel it’s dusty and am scared to seal due to the dust.

    • Mike

      If it is a kitchen table, I would recommend Polyurethane. The paint is pretty good, but the Polyurethane is virtually impervious to liquid.

  • Heather

    I recently decided to redo my dining room table with chalk paint it showed brush strokes so buffed it redid with roller turned out great! Then we put polyacrylic on it it showed roller marks!! So he is sanding it down!! If we get a primer and oil based paint how do we apply it?? And does it need a sealant for a table so we don’t get water rings on it the whole reason we started this process?? Please help third time around no good results!!

    • Mike

      Heather – if brush strokes are an issue for you, your only option is spraying. Spraying paint and finish(if you are proficient) leaves a ‘factory’ finish. It’s perfect, and there are no marks. That said, there’s a certain proficiency required with a brush too. Not to say that you are doing it wrong, because I’m not there, but I thought it was fair to mention that doing a good finishing job is not easy. If you are opposed to spraying, I would cut the poly back using 320g paper and a cork block. Then, I would re-apply using a 3″ foam brush, and having reduced the poly using water so that it lays out a little better.

  • Lyndsey

    So I hope I am not to late for this thread…but I have had some questions about a painting project I’ve been wanting to take on but a little nervous to do so! I have 2 large dressers I want to repaint. They appear to have 2 coats of what looks like spray paint and from former knowledge of previous owner. So the layers go from top to bottom, black spray paint, green spray paint and then the original wood veneer. They are in excellent shape just a terrible blotchy black paint job. I have done a lot of research and come to the conclusion oil based paint is best?? I have bought some zinsser cover stain primer (white) and want them to be white in the end. I would of course prefer to not strip and then sand. I understand some sanding will be necessary. Do I clean with mineral spirits before the primer?? Then my next question is can I spray the primer and oil based top coat with an airless gun, one typically used in automotive applications?? If so do I thin them both and with what ratio?? I have a sherwin Williams nearby also to try and find an oil based top coat. Thank you!!

    • Mike

      There is no such thing as “best” type of paint. I do prefer oil paint for furniture however. If it were mine, I would sand it down smooth using 220grit paper. Then, I’d clean it using Naphtha and a scotch brite pad. I would then use BIN primer. After that, paint with whatever you desire!

      Airless guns are wonderful and work quite well. You can spray any coating you want using a sprayer but the sprayer has to be set up correctly. There is not “rule” to reducing the material. Proper reduction depends on temperature, initial viscosity, target viscosity, available air pressure from the sprayer, needle/air cap set currently installed on sprayer, type of finish you’re using, etc. I would consult your local SW to see if they can help with sprayer set up as it’s part math and part ‘feel’.

      Good luck!

  • Jill

    Hi there! My contractor sprayed my cabinets, sills, banisters, and frames around sliders. I bought a five gallon pro classic semi gloss finish and he claims to be done. All surfaces are rough. What did he do wrong? Thanks! Jill

    • Mike

      Sounds like overspray and/or dry spray. Overspray is the mist of paint coming off the sprayer, missing a target and landing wherever – hence “over”spray. Dry spray is when you don’t have the sprayer set up correctly(usually in terms of viscosity of material being sprayed) and you aren’t laying down enough material, so it leaves a rough texture just like overspray does.

  • Terri

    Thanks so much for this – I realise it’s a bit old but it’s helped with my confusion too.

    I feel much better with my project now.

    • Mike

      Anytime!

  • Anna

    What finish of the SW enamel do you recommend for furniture? Flat or semi-satin?

    • Mike

      I would suggest something with higher sheen than flat. Satin or above – otherwise, it’s a pain to wipe clean.

  • ROBERTA

    Love your website and your patience, empathetic style, and expert know-how.
    Question: I just purchased an antique vanity/desk. Would like to paint it. It has been refinished to its natural finish.
    Fortunately I found your website before I started painting with a satin latex. I will now try to find a semigloss oil- based (hopefully,the Pro-classic enamel by Sherwin Williams.)
    Since the current finish is in very good shape, do you think I would still be well-served to use the TSP the hardware store sold me, or some gradation of sandpaper, or steel wool, or Nothing AT All, since it is the “forgiving” oil base?

    • Mike

      I don’t bother with TSP. Naphtha and steel wool work well together. I could do that, then scuff with 180g sandpaper. After that, if you’re painting with oil-based, just go ahead and paint, otherwise prime with BIN primer(2 coats), then paint. For future reference, if you don’t have a good mechanical bond, there is no forgiveness.

  • Mike,

    Spoke with you on January 5, 2016 advising you that I had problems with posting my questions on your site. You did inform me that you were still answering questions on this subject. Thank you.

    Deciding to paint our old dining room chairs I came across your very informative website.
    As you suggested we used Bin Shellac Base Primer (we also sanded the chairs to the bare wood before applying the Primer).
    Since we have used Benjamin Moore products on all our projects we went with Benjamin Moore’s SATIN IMPERVO ALKYD LOW LUSTER ENAMEL (satin finish). We tried a test area…. It didn’t work out. I see the brush strokes and even though it is a SATIN finish, it seems too glossy. (Using a burgundy color).

    I see you used the Sherwin Williams PRO CLASSIC ENAMEL….and that it is a WATER BASED Alkyd. Would a water base alkyd be less glossy and not show brush strokes? (However, reviews on Sherwin William’s website for nonprofessionals are not favorable for this paint.)
    I would imagine since you are a professional you are “spraying” this paint.
    Could you please recommend a sprayer that an amateur can use without too much trial and error testing; my husband does have an AIR COMPRESSOR – Rating of 2.5 SCFM @ 90 PSI.
    My husband is planning on building file cabinets for our office, and we can also use this sprayer for them.

    Thank you for your time.

    Norene

  • Scott

    I need some guidance. I recently built a headboard and footboard out of poplar. I wanted an old distressed look to it. I started with the headboard. I stained it with a Minwax oil-based black and after drying i tried to paint with an heirloom white satin latex. This didn’t work…when trying to sand the edges here and there, the paint just peeled away. I ended up stripping the paint off and spraying with a satin acrylic, sanded some of the edges and surface areas a bit to show the black underneath, then sprayed with a satin polycrylic to seal. Ended up turning out great. I want to work on the footboard now but looking for an alternate process to achieve the same results without having to buy a dozen cans of acrylic spray paint. Not sure if it would work using the same black oil-based stain and painting with an oil-based enamel..sanding the edges and sealing with the polycrylic or something along that line. Please help!!

    • Mike

      Scott – right off the bat, I’m going to suggest that you do the same thing on the footboard – so that it matches. However, I will tell you that the Minwax is an oil based product, and you cannot use a water based product over top of it. Oil & water do not mix. Why did you use black Minwax? You mean the Ebony color? I’m assuming you did that so that when you distressed the white, you would see the black color. If that is the case, if it were me, I would have used an alcohol or water based dye on the wood. Then you wouldn’t have the incompatibility problems you had. WD Lockwood has some great water based dyes you can mix up. Aside from that, you are pretty much at minimum steps.

      1. Dye wood black
      2. Apply paint color
      3. Distress to taste
      4. Apply sealer coat(s)

      I think you’re on the right track, and knowing what you know now, will likely make the process take less time, but based on your project, it sounds like you’re locked into those 4 steps.

  • Misty

    I read all your comments and I really appreciate your willing to share your knowledge. I just didn’t see much conversation about the BIN primer sticking to wax? I painted my kitchen cabinets with chalk paint and then waxed them and it just isn’t getting that hard finish I was lead to believe it would get. So I am going to go with the Pro-Classic oil based paint to get a finish that will holdup to daily abuse. Do I need to strip the wax off first? or can I just sand? Also the oil based paint needs a finish on it?

    • Mike

      Nothing sticks to wax. I mean, the BIN may sort of stick, but it will come off. You need to prep that piece and clean the wax off. I suggest Xylene and steel wool. After that, I would *suggest* scuffing with 180 grit, then use the BIN!

  • Mike,
    Thank you so much for your response to my question. I’m posting this now (2/26/16) as I was looking for your response to my question (that I reposted just about a couple of weeks ago and while scrolling down I saw my original post and your answer.)
    Once again, thank you for your help.
    Norene

    • Mike

      No problem!

  • Angela

    I have been daring and painted all the woodwork in my house black. I used a oil based primer and Sherwin Williams oil based paint. I Love the outcome and surprisingly even my conservative mom loves them as well but I know if I ever sell my home I may have to paint the wood white for resale. My question is how many coats will be to much? I am just wondering if I ever do change my mind and perhaps go with white at what point it will be to thick and be in need of stripping the paint back down to bare wood. I also ask this because my bathroom cabinets look as if they may have two to three layers of paint on them already and I also question if I strip or paint over those as well. Thank you and I look forward to your response.

    • Mike

      How many coats are on it? The oil enamel is pretty thick, but if the wood was bare to begin with, you’d probably be ok with one color change, albeit, from black to white is a serious color change, but BIN can help with that.

  • Janene

    Hi! I am going to paint a cherry stained hutch that has a gloss finish. From what I have read in your Q and A no prep using oil base paint. I have used Murphys oil soap when dusting it. Does that make any difference re prep? What kind of brush is best so I don’t see brush strokes and is it best to thin the paint or use as it comes out of the can? Thanks.

    • Mike

      Oil enamel is really forgiving when it comes to adhesion, but it’s never a bad idea to clean it up with steel wool and Naphtha. I would reduce the oil paint using either high quality paint thinner, or Naptha(evaporates more quickly). In terms of brush strokes, about as good as you can get would be a $15 china bristle brush(chinese hog hair). That said, if you don’t want to see any brush strokes, you shouldn’t use a brush.

  • arazu

    I want to paint my kitchen cabinets. I will be cleaning, sanding, using the BIN primer, and the Advance paint. However, here is my problem, my husband has tried to use a spray gun in the past and failed bad. How can we paint them to a smooth finish using foam roller brushes?

    Thank you for your help!

    • Mike

      Arazu – you can thin the Advance with tap water, perhaps a max of 10% by volume. There is really no such thing as a perfectly smooth “factory” finish without the utilization of some type of sprayer. The sprayer atomizes the paint into tiny little droplets and you really can’t achieve that level of coalescence with anything other than a sprayer.

  • Arazu

    Thank you so much for your response! We’ll definitely give that a try. Even if they aren’t perfect, they’ll be better than what we have now. I have another quick question. I bought a desk and hutch off of craigslist, so I have no history of what was used on it. It appears to be the original factory paint (whatever that is) it’s an off white distressed look and I want to get rid of the distressed look. Should I just paint the distressed parts and then one more coat to make it an even color (since I won’t be able to find an exact color match) or what would you recommend? I’ve spent so much time researching what to do and there’s just so much conflicting info online that I’m confused on how to move forward. Once again, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. You’re advice is really helpful.

  • Tami

    I used oil based paint on my coffee table, based on a recommendation. The guy at the store told me I’d need some sort of mineral spirits whenever I need to clean it off, is that true? For example, if I spill something stick on the table can I clean it with a regular cleaning product or water or do I need a special product like mineral spirits? Thanks!

    • Mike

      You can clean oil enamel with almost anything. Mineral Spirits(or most petroleum distillates for that matter) are for reducing the enamel, not cleaning. Although mineral spirits *will* clean the paint, who the heck wants to smell those fumes? I like “Simple Green” myself. It cleans, AND leaves a little shine behind.

  • melissa stepp

    Hi Mike. I recently bought an antique dinning room table that was painted white. It looks like basic wall paint. She put a wax on the top to help make a distress look. I want to paint it a glossy white and should I prime it? What do you recommend?

    • Mike

      Depends on what type of paint was used. You will at the minimum have to clean the wax off, and I recommend scuffing and priming – always a good idea.

  • Brandi

    Thank you for your thorough advice! I have painted a dining table and chairs with a DIY chalk paint (plaster of Paris recipe) and have not waxed or sealed it yet. Now, I’m learning about the beauty/benefits of oil based paint. Can I just use oil based paint instead of poly/wax? I just want this thing to be a simple, clean white with no antique finish and I like everything I’m reading about oil. Most sites say I need to prime before using oil based paint. I just don’t really want to spend the time to do both.

    • Mike

      Oil paint is very durable. Poly and wax are two completely different things. Oil paint does not need a finish over top of it depending on how much abuse it might take.

  • Milli

    I painted a dresser with latex paint which was previously painted with Rustoleum oil paint. Now the latex paint gets scratched easily and peels off. Can I use oil paint directly over it or do I need to remove the latex paint first?

    • Mike

      If the existing finish is peeling, it will continue to peel, so there’s not point to add coatings on top of it. Strip and sand.

  • Jan Guthrie

    I’m working on my first furniture painting venture. I opted out of chalk paint, and decided on latex. I washed the old wood chair with TSP and then painted with Kilz oil based primer. I painted two coats and think it is too thick. I tried to sand it after a few hours and while some areas sanded fine, some areas took the paint off. After reading all your comments I decided to switch to oil enamel paint, but not sure if I need to now strip off the primer and re-prime. Should I just wait for a few days and see if it will cure adequately? I will try BIN next time, but would like to avoid starting from scratch on this first project…thanks, your blog is the best I’ve found so far…

    • Mike

      If the existing primer is adhering properly to the wood, there’s no need to strip it off. If it’s not adhering, it must go. Any oil-based primer/paint takes about 3 weeks to fully cure and cannot be sanded beforehand. This is why I use BIN, as it is shellac based and dries much more rapidly.