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Ask Miss Mustard Seed – Answers to Painting Questions


These are all paint related questions asked by my readers last week and my answers to them.  Feel free to ask more questions as they come up or for clarification, if needed. 

When you paint furniture, do you wax it or poly as the final coat? Or something else?
 It depends on the piece.  I know that kind of answer stinks, but I use a lot of different techniques on different pieces.  Here are some examples…

For my Bird and Branch cabinet, I didn’t want it to be chippy, so I used one coat of bonding primer (SW Water based Adhesive Primer) and latex semi-gloss paint (SW ProClassic in Creamy.)  Once the paint was dry, I applied the decorative design in acrylic paint and sprayed on a water based top coat (Polycrylic by Minwax in semi-gloss.)  The reason I didn’t use polyurethane is it would make the white look yellow.  Polycrylic provides great protection and it’s non-yellowing. 

For a piece like my sheet music dresser I used Wipe-on poly by Minwax on the top to protect the finish.  Because it is a distressed piece, it doesn’t matter if the paint on the rest of the dresser gets dinged or scratched.  Yellowing is not an issue for the top, since the sheet music is already yellowed.

What is your favorite color?
I have a new favorite color just about every month, but I always have a gallon of SW Creamy in my stash.  It’s a beautiful white that’s warm, but not too cream.  I use is on a lot of my pieces, including my $30 Craig’s List dresser.

Do you have a favorite technique?
I don’t really have a favorite technique, but I love how distressing and glazing techniques can change the look of a piece of furniture. 

Several times when I have sprayed a top coat sealer over a finished spray painted project, the paint bubbled up! The spray paint was allowed to cure for several days beforehand, too! So frustrating! I just know that you can help. Thanks!
Spray paint can be temperamental, which is one reason why I don’t like using it very much.  There are hundreds of reasons why paint can bubble or “orange peel.”  Some of the main reasons are:
~ The piece wasn’t cleaned properly and residue is making the paint resist
~ You’re using paints that aren’t compatible with one another.  Some brands of paint don’t like each other and will bubble when they get together.  It’s best to stick with the same brand if you’re priming, painting, and applying a top coat. 
~ You didn’t wait long enough for the paint to dry between coats (which, it sounds like you did in this case.)
~ You applied too much paint in one spot.
~ It was too cold, too hot, or too windy when you were applying your paint.
And the list can go on.  The best thing you can do is sand down the bubbling and try again.  I’ve used the same product twice with different results.  You just never know with spray paint.  Does anyone have any other tips or advice to add on this one?

How do you work/paint past the fear of painting a piece of furniture?
Well, I am pretty fearless when it comes to paint, so I don’t have to do too much convincing!  If I’m not sure about painting a piece, I’ll live with it for a while before I take the plunge.  You want to make sure you really want the piece painted, because it’s hard to unpaint a piece.  Stripping furniture is not an enjoyable task. 

Make sure you really like the color and it’s going to work on the piece and in your home.  Try a test swatch on a scrap piece of wood or a sample board and leave it on the piece of furniture for a couple of days.  You can then get a better visual of how the color is going to look in your room. 

Once you’re sure, just dive in and paint it. 

When do you use oil based paint (what type of furniture?)
I only use oil based products when I absolutely have to.  I generally use it if I’m painting something that’s really not meant to be painted, like tile, laminate, metal, etc.  Oil based will give a harder finish, but I’d rather take some extra steps with latex paint than use oil.  It is a total preference thing, though.

Have you used paint color with primer already mixed in? Does it really only take two paint coats?
I have not used it.  What I use when I’m painting a room or a dark piece of furniture is a primer tinted to match the paint color.  That only takes two coats as well, so it’s basically the same thing.  I would compare the cost and my guess is a can of primer (tinted) and a can of paint is cheaper than two cans of paint/primer.  Does anyone have anything to add to this?

Do you use a spray can or hand paint?
I really only use spray paint on metal or plastic pieces.  I’m not a big fan of it.  It smells, it creates a cloud if you use it inside, and I’ve had horrible luck with bubbles and orange pealing.  I don’t feel like I have as much control.  I prefer spraying latex paint with my paint sprayer.  After that, I like using a brush and roller.

I painted a side table black without any prep. It looks great, but doesn’t hold up. So I sanded the top down and repainted it and I’m still having the same problem. How can I redo it so that the paint doesn’t scratch off?
I am right there with you!  My painted furniture was chipping like crazy, so I experimented and came up with a good combination.  My recipe for a hard-wearing latex paint finish is:

~ Sand, clean, and prep the piece properly
~ Apply a water based bonding primer
~ Apply two coats of quality semi-gloss latex paint
~ Apply a water based polycrylic topcoat for light paint and wipe-on poly for dark paint (when yellowing won’t matter.)  The polycrylic will show brush strokes, so you need to apply it with a smooth applicator pad (like the white velvety ones from Shur-line.)
~ Lastly, allow the piece to fully cure before heavy use.  Did you know it could take about a month for latex paint to fully cure?  Until it cures, it’s like tacky nail polish.  It feels dry, but will dent and scratch easily. 

If the piece is going to be distressed, I don’t worry about a top coat or using semi-gloss paint.  One tip – the shinier the paint, the harder it will dry.  That’s why I don’t use flat or satin paint on pieces that I want to be chip free.  I also like furniture to have a little bit of shine. 

Oil based or latex paint?
It depends on the project, but I almost always use latex.  That is just my preference and I don’t want to have to worry about cleaning oil based paints out of my precious sprayer.

What type of Sprayer?
I have a Graco HVLP 7.0.  It’s a sprayer and compressor all in one, so it’s about $700-900.  That’s a lot if you are a casual DIYer, but it is well worth it if you are selling your pieces.  I get a beautifully smooth finish and can apply a coat of paint on a dresser in about 10 minutes.  Well worth it.

Do you add flotrol to your paint to get a smoother finish?
No, I don’t, but I primarily work with latex paint.  I believe you want to use that if you’re working with oil based products.  (Kate just informed me that Penetrol is for oil based and Flotrol is for water based products.) I buy high quality water based paint (ProClassic or Duration) from Sherwin Williams and the finish is beautiful.  It is a little thick, so I simply add water to make it flow through my sprayer evenly.  Quality paint makes a huge difference and it’s worth the extra money.  It coats better, it wears better.  It’s just better.  You could always add a little water to it if you’re using a brush and roller as well.

What percentage of your work is sprayed vs brushed?
Probably about 85% sprayed and 15% brushed.  The sprayer does such a great job and it saves me so much time.  I only use a brush and roller if the weather doesn’t permit me to spray (I can’t open my cellar doors for ventilation.)

Any tips to avoid overspray?
Make sure you keep your sprayer or spray can moving and an even distance away from the piece you’re painting.  I like to start the paint flow and then move it over my piece.  Sometimes spray paint can “spit” when it first comes out and this ensures the drips end up on the ground and not your furniture.

What paint sheen do you usually pick?
I almost always use semi-gloss and sometimes use satin.  I like semi-gloss because it dries hard and looks sharp.  I don’t like furniture to have a flat finish unless it’s supposed to look primitive or really distressed.  The most important thing is to make sure the finish matches the style of the piece.  You wouldn’t want to paint a formal, ornate secretary in a flat paint.  It just wouldn’t look right.

Do you ever glaze and if so what is the best color you’ve found?
Good question.  I glaze a lot and have a few different techniques and products I use.  First of all, I know some of you are in love with the Ralph Lauren glazes.  May I be so bold as to say that it’s a waste of money and most people behind the paint counter would confirm that?  It’s simply a glaze with universal tints added to it with a high price tag.  Here are the two techniques I use most:
1.) Apply dark walnut wood stain by Minwax with a foam brush and then wipe it off with a damp rag.  This treatment can get pretty heavy, so work quickly and in small areas. 
2.) For a lighter stain (like the treatment on my sheet music dresser), ask for a can of burnt umber universal tint from your paint store.  It was about $9.00 for a quart at Sherwin Williams and it will last you forever.  Mix a little bit of the tint with water and rub it on your piece of furniture. 

I feel like this is a really stupid question, but I’ll ask it anyway. I like to paint furniture with a brush, but my hand cramps up after a while. How can I prevent this from happening?

Ha!  Mine too.  You buy a sprayer.  I say that in jest, but it really is nice to not have to paint everything with a brush and roller.  If that’s overkill for the amount of painting you do or it’s not in the budget, my best advice would be to buy a quality brush with a handle that is comfortable for you.  I really like Purdy brushes, but they were definitely not designed with a woman’s hand in mind.  The most comfortable brushes for me are the ones with small rubber handles that are made for tight spots.  I find that I don’t have the cramping issues as much when I use those.

I want to paint my (ugly wooden) kitchen cabinets white. Is there anything I need to do other than sanding, priming, and painting them? I’m wondering if I need some sort of top coat. Also what color white (and in what finish?) Would you recommend? My walls are a tan with green undertones.

As far as the color, I would suggest SW Creamy, like I mentioned above.  It’s a white that plays well with warm or cool colors. 

Honestly, oil based paint is probably best for cabinets, but I used latex when I painted the cabinets in my last house and I will probably use it when I paint the cabinets in my current kitchen.  I just like working with latex better.  If you’re not going to distress or glaze the cabinets, follow the steps above for a chip-resistant latex paint finish.  The only thing I would add is to make sure you thoroughly clean your cabinets and use a degreaser.  This step is very important to make sure your paint sticks.

For a tutorial on using oil based paints, you can visit how my blog friend, Kate from Centsational Girl, painted her cabinets here.  Isn’t her kitchen gorgeous?  I can’t wait for my wood counters and white cabinets.  Sigh.

Picture from Centsational Girl.

One thing to keep in mind, painted cabinets are going to chip occasionally.  Even the best finish isn’t going to stand up to a direct hit with a chef’s knife.  Just have a touch up can on hand.  I painted the cabinets in our last house and they wore very well for the two years we lived there.  I only had to touch up small spots every once in a while.

I bought a dresser that has an old, antique smell to it.  Will that go away once I paint it?

Ha!  Welcome to my world of bringing stinky furniture into my home.  Yes, paint will take care of that funk.  If the piece really stinks, you may want to wash the wood with mild soap and water.  Clean all of the drawers, inside and out.  Allow it to fully dry and then paint with an odor blocking primer.  Again, if it’s really bad, you can paint the inside of the piece, but most of the time the smell will go away if you wash it and air it out.  You can also try sticking a box of baking soda inside each drawer or cabinet to eliminate the smell.

Where do you spray?
I have a makeshift spray booth in my basement workshop right now and that is where I do all of my spraying.  You can read all about it here.   I am fortunate to have a great work space, but you can create your own spray booth in a garage or shed. 

I think I covered all of the painting questions, but let me know if you need more information or have questions that I didn’t cover. 

After Lucketts, I’m going to write a series all about starting and running a business like mine from you home and I’ll also cover the questions about slipcovers. 

Miss Mustard Seed

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  1. I love the bird and branch cabinet. did you paint them or was it a stencil?

  2. Jordan says:

    I’m wanting to paint my kitchen cabinets white and distress them. How do I go about this? What kind of finish do I use? Can I stain over semigloss paint? How long should they cure for?


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