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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

Related posts:


  1. I have been changing alot of my wood furniture from thrift/garage sale/hand me downs and some store bought.. some I've had for years! Well I'm on a painting quest! "White distressed".. yes, even the kitchen and bath cabinets will not be spared!
    Your suggestions and tips were such a help to me!
    thank you

  2. Thanks soooooooooooooooooooooo much for this hints and tips.

  3. This is so helpful! I am surely going to book mark this for future reference.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share this information:-) I'll be sure to retweet this!

  4. A most thorough and informative post, definitely one to bookmark ! Can I tell you how much I want a sprayer like yours ? Seriously awesome tool ! Just one addition from me, Penetrol is for oil based and Flotrol is for water based products. Also, that is totally brilliant about the burnt umber universal tint! Well, just about all of your tips are brilliant my dear ! Thanks for the linky love !


  5. Thank you for being so generous and sharing your knowledge

  6. this is such great, specific advice. i don't prep anything or do a quality job, and me furniture shows it w/ chips and bubbles galore. it's great to read about how it should be done. thanks!

  7. Hi there!

    New follower!

    I would love if you would come and visit my blog and become a new follower :)

    Have a great day!

    Featured Spotlight Blogger for Mommies Faves

  8. I would LOVE info on starting a business like yours! And love all the tips. :) I def. think I need a paint sprayer.

  9. great tips!!!!! i didn't know about the bonding primer, so i'll have to try that. still working on the graco, too!

  10. Thank you for taking the time to offer these great tips. I am in the process of fixing up our home and your blog gives me much inspiration and a needed break from my many projects (like stripping wallpaper).

  11. Wow! Thank you SOOOO much for taking the time to share such great info!! I LOVE to refinish/paint furniture and you have really helped solve some of my glitches along the way! I can't wait to read your upcoming post on business advise and slipcovers! Thanks again!!

  12. Great tips, thanks so much.

  13. All kinds of valuable information! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these.


  14. Wow! A treasury full of very good information. I truly appreciate it and will start saving for that sprayer.

  15. I also like to use stain to glaze items. Minwax stain in Provincial is my choice. It works great on plastic too! I use it to knock back the plastic look on my dollar store "terracotta" pots.

  16. I love the transformation of the furniture. I am also very encouraged to change some great work thank you regards jürgen

  17. I totally look forward to your new upcoming series! I'm so reserving a front seat.

    Thanks for all the valuable info. This post is definately a keeper and one to refer back to as a reference guide for certain.


  18. This is such an awesome post! Thank yo so much for sharing all of your fabulous knowledge with the rest of us! I will be referring back to this one often I am sure.


  19. Nancy Reid says:

    Thank you SO very much for replying (and so quickly, too!!!). It's really refreshing to find a blog that doesn't tease you with DIY projects but won't actually tell you how to DIY but rather want to sell you something. So many blogs start out great and then get COMMERCIAL…YUK. Thanks for being YOU and energizing me.

  20. I hate that, too, and I don't ever want to be that way. If I am, you set me straight. :)

  21. Thank you so much for all the information. You rock!

  22. So fantastic of you to take the time to help this way!
    I've done quite a bit of furniture refinishing, all trial and error. What I wouldn't have given to have all of this info!
    Thanks girl, I learned a bunch today :)

  23. Have you ever tried the new water based kitchen and bath paint? I started a project late last summer using ACE semi- gloss cabinet, door, and trim alkatex – alkyd performance, latex clean up. It is an "oil" base paint with water clean up. It went on great and cleaned up just like other latex paints. It is sitting in my garage waiting to be completed. It seems to have held up great so far. I know other Brands carry paint like this.

  24. I have a question and hope you know the answer. I am trying to paint my gold painted wood frames silver. I purchased the little craft paints by Plaid in Silver Sterling and Metallic Sterling. I had hoped that the finished look would be a shiny silver but it's dull…very dull. Do you know what product I can use to get that typical high shine "silver" frame look? I don't want to resort to spray paint if I can help it.
    Thanks in advance! xoxo Beth

  25. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    I covet your sprayer. I want one.
    I am really looking forward to your series on starting and running your own business from home.
    You answered a TON of great questions here – and exactly the type of questions I had.
    Bless you!!!

  26. My hero! I've been painting quite a few pieces and guessing at the best technique. Your pieces are always gorgeous so I'm going to incorporate your tips! Thanks for taking the time to post!

  27. oh paint princess ;). i need advice on my pine floors. i have dogs and live in the forest our drive way is cinders really rough on the finish. so its really scratched we did a clear latex finish when we moved in [because it was winter] now its a mess. any suggestions??? thanks

  28. Thanks sooooo much! I have several pieces of furniture that I have wanted to paint for a long time but was afraid I'd ruin them…. Your tips have inspired me to take the plunge!

  29. Thanks for the info! I have been wondering what colors to use to do some projects I've been waiting on. And thanks a million for posting the money saving tips for the glaze. :)

  30. Hi there… I hope you can help me out. I got an HVLP spray this summer and used it a few times then quit because I am constantly getting that orange peel effect on my furniture and I hate it! I was adding a bit of water to my paint to thin it out, adjusting the air flow and paint flow nossels etc… I can't seem to figure out what I'm doing wrong and I just want a nice smooth finish, sigh.
    Thanks for any help you can provide.

  31. Have you ever used a Paint Marker for the lettering or fine details on a piece?

  32. @ Just a cottage- I have tried them and don't like them at all. The paint comes out too fast and it's really thin and runny. They dont work for stencils at all and even freehand they are difficult to work with.

  33. Brand new follower here! Love your blog! These paint tips are amazing and so helpful — THANK YOU for them.

    I have a suggestion and a question:

    Suggestion for the "smelly" furniture problem: recently I read somewhere that if you have an item that has a bad smell (smells old, moldy, or like cigarette smoke, etc.) you can place the item IN THE FREEZER overnight and it will remove the bad smell. I purchased a garlic roaster off eBay and the seller failed to mention to me that it REEKED like it had been stored for a decade in a moldy basement! Yuck! The roaster has glazed ceramic on the inside, but the outside was porous and unglazed and was just holding on for dear life to that horrible mold smell. I was about to discard the roaster, then I read about the freezer technique and thought I'd give it a try. IT WORKED! Now, obviously, unless someone has access to a walk-in freezer or meat locker (and I am not asking any questions about that!), they are not going to be able to put a large piece of furniture inside the average-sized freezer, but smaller items like dresser drawers or shelves (depending on size) might be able to have the freezer technique used on them. It is an amazing technique, is quick, and near as I can tell, permanent.

    Question: Have you ever used a Preval sprayer? They are small, hand-held spray guns that can be used for small and somewhat large-ish jobs and I've seen some amazing work done with them. They are an alternative to a large sprayer like yours (however, I must say I do love your sprayer and would adore having one!) and can be used with all kinds of paint. It might be worth looking into if you want to use oil based paints but don't want to muck up your precious professional-level sprayer …

    Best to you!

  34. Thank you for providing us all with such useful information in regards to most everything! :) My question is about an enitre bedroom set (dresser, armoire, and 2 nightstands). It is a good brand and solid wood (oak) with doevetail finishing. It is currently your standard oak color. I am thinking about staining it all with Minwax dark walnut stain. Do I need to strip all of the finish off or can I sand it instead since there is no paint on it? What's the best method for sanding (i.e. paper grit? liquid sandpaper?) How many coats of stain? Thanks.Nancy

  35. I love you work and soak up your paint knowledge like a sponge. While reading this post I was ready to ask my question regarding my kitchen cabinets, but then I zeroed in on the one of the questions covering that. I did get most of my question answered through your reply but as far as the sanding part…if my cabinets are 20+ years old, stained and varnished, how much sanding do I have to do? All the way down to the wood or just rough up the varnish? Is there a wash on type product that make the surface grip the paint better without having to sand. How important is it to sand in the cracks of the paneled cabinet doors?
    One last question…white or black? One day it's black cabinets and the next it's off white (creamy). I know you can decide for me, but I'm pulling my hair out. At this point it's not while I paint it's "choose the color" already. Any tips for me?

  36. I have a question do you sand all the furniture that you paint? And if You not wat kind of paint Oy us, I always have a lot of work with sanding, I see some people paint without sanding, can You help me,


  37. I have a table I refurbished, very heavy solid wood. It was originally a coffee table but I wnat to put it on my patio. It also has a great drawer. What would you suggest to water proof it? Althougt I will cover it during the summer months and during the heat of the day when no one is home. Thank you, Thereasa

  38. Very informative! I do still have one question:

    If I have sanded a coffee table and want the top stained walnut and the bottom distressed white with walnut showing through, do I
    1) stain everything including the bottom, then paint,then distress OR
    2) paint the bottom white, distress, then glaze the stain over the top of the white and wipe off? (will it yellow the white?)

  39. I love your blog! you are so gracious in sharing your knowledge of painted furniture. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I truly believe God has lead me to blogs and sites like yours just when i needed it most in my life, but that's another story.

    I'm doing painted furniture out of my garage and selling pieces on craigs list for fun and look forward to your post on starting a home business!

    here's my question, recently saw a mustard painted dresser with gray writing all over the front of the piece. Gorgeous! I love the Graphics Fairy and would like to recreate a piece similar to the one you have at Lucketts. Can you share methods of applying images to furniture?

    Forever Greatful,
    Tammy Toler
    [email protected]

  40. Christal Robinson says:

    Please help. I have been redoing furniture for 9 months now thanks to you 100%. I ran across something that hasn’t happened before. I usually paint with a cream color, distress with minwax stain and top coat with polyliric with no problem as long as I let the stain cure for 24 hours. But I just painted a piece white, distressed and used the same top coat and the next day it was totally yellow and bad yellow. Was it because I used cheap paint that time. What would you suggest I use for a top coat in this case. Maybe wax? I have’t used was over paint yet.

  41. In regards to the question about using an “all in one” paint & primer. I have used it several times. The first time I used it was on a mahogany buffet that I painted a bright yellow. After about 7 coats of yellow paint I realized I should’ve used a primer first! The mahogany was such a dark wood it kept bleeding through the paint. The piece looks wonderful, it was just a pain in the rear to paint THAT many coats on a large area. I’ve used it several times since then on wood that wasn’t as dark and have had fine results. I guess it depends on what color you are painting it & what type on wood you are painting on.

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      For pieces where the stain can bleed through, first apply a coat of poly or a sealing primer and then paint. It will save you a lot of work!

  42. Chris says:

    Stunning.. Great job.

    Have a question…
    I had cabinets professional painted.
    It doesn’t look like they sealed them.
    I like to go over them with either polyurethane or polyacrylic. Not sure which one will yellow.
    Don’t want that to happen.
    Which one would you recommend?

  43. Cheryl says:

    Do you have any advice on painting terra cotta pots? I have come across conflicting information from many sites that I’m confused. I paint my pots – interior, exterior, bottom and drainage hole with exterior paints and use acrylic paints for the designs then seal it all with a sealant protector (what is the best sealer to use for terra cotta pots?) If I use them outside, will they be protected from bubbling and peeling with this type of prep? Is painting the bottom, drain hole and interior hindering or helping the prevention of water damage? I’ve read that painting the interior keeps the dirt too moist and can cause root rot. Then I’ve read that not painting the inside causes the painted exterior surface to bubble and peel. Could you help me get the facts straight? Thanks

  44. Brooklyn Calloway says:

    Hi Marian!

    After a few years of getting to know you on your blog, I’ve taken the PLUNGE head first into my passion for painting. I’m sure you hear that all the time, though. I just wanted to say thanks for inspiring me, and ask you a couple of questions. Have you ever used your Graco HVLP 7.0 with ASCP? I like the brush strokes and stippling that you get with the ASCP brush, but I’m starting to do a lot of pieces and was wondering if I could use a sprayer.

    Also, I have a finish that I found on a piece of furniture two YEARS ago, and I canNOT recreate it…can you take a look and tell me how YOU think it was done? No one, and I mean NO ONE can seem to figure it out. I’ve tried several things, and I thought I’d ask the ‘expert’. :-)

    I took a picture and posted it on my pinterest board…
    Here it is:

    I’m praying and praying that you are able to answer. I know you are busy, but I’ll hold out hope:-)

  45. Courtney says:

    I’m wondering what brand of primer you use when you tint your primer and go from there.

  46. Good blog post. I absolutely ɑppreciate tɦis site.

  47. Kim Bailey says:

    Hello Miss Mustard Seed,

    I have a refinishing question for you. I’m stripping some old furniture with what I’m just about positive is an oil/solvent based stripper. Alas, I want to paint the furniture with acrylic paint. Is it too late? I know I can apply KILZ primer and then the paint, but I was hoping to apply it directly to the wood. Any suggestions? Also, isn’t Ralph Lauren glaze water based? How did you apply it over the oil-based minwax? Or is minwax water based? Arrggh! I’d love your sage advice.

  48. Hi there! I know this is an old post but I thought I saw a post from about 1 year ago where you showed a paint sprayer that was not as big as this one. Or is this the only one you use? I am looking to purchase one and was not sure which one to buy.

  49. Bridget Rose says:

    why is my mustardseed paint peeling? I wiped down the piece and its dry now, and peeling down to the wood. What did i do wrong? Help?

    Thank you


  50. Please help. I have been redoing furniture for 9 months now thanks to you 100%. I ran across something that hasn’t happened before. I usually paint with a cream color, distress with minwax stain and top coat with polyliric with no problem as long as I let the stain cure for 24 hours. But I just painted a piece white, distressed and used the same top coat and the next day it was totally yellow and bad yellow. Was it because I used cheap paint that time. What would you suggest I use for a top coat in this case. Maybe wax? I have’t used was over paint yet.

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