Refinishing with Oil Based Primer & Paint

October 24, 2009

Over the course of our remodel, we hired a dear friend Mike to handle some of the larger painting projects.  Mike is a professional painter with 20 years experience, and a wealth of information when it comes to choosing paint products.  Mike has taught me a lot about painting, and is always available when I have questions about what products I should use.

So when I picked up a buffet and hutch back in August at the local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, I knew I wanted to give it a fresh coat of white paint.  Most of the time, when I’m brushing or rolling paint on walls or furniture, I choose latex for its quick drying time and easy cleanup.  For this hutch, I wanted a paint job that was extremely durable with a very hard shell glossy finish.  Oil based primer and paint was the answer.

Here’s the Before and After:

hutch b and a

When choosing primer, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of available products out there.  I’ve used most of them, oil and water based, and in both spray and brush application.


Choosing the right primer really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

For stain blocking or bonding to a non-sanded surface, oil will cover better than latex.  I’ve learned that porous surfaces like raw wood soak up an oil based primer much better than a water based primer.  Oil based primers will resist shrinkage over time.  Most spray primers are oil based, so I’ve often chosen the spray version for quick application.

However, water based primers have come a long way, and can often do what oils can do.  Zinsser’s Bulls Eye in the blue can is very good at doing what its oil based partner does:  sticking to glossy surfaces, stain blocking, and inhibiting rust.  And the water based formula cleans up with water, which is a big advantage in my book.  Cleaning up oil based brush on products is a hassle – it requires the use of mineral spirits or paint thinner.  The best advice I can give in choosing a primer is to simply take the time to read the back of the product you’re considering and ask a lot of questions.

For my buffet and hutch, I knew I would be finishing in oil based paint, so that requires an oil based primer.  Note, you can use latex paint over oil primer, but the reverse is not a good idea.  Most paint professionals will tell you it is not advisable to use oil based paint over water based primer.   I chose to use my favorite bonding and sealing primer: Zinsser’s oil based in the brown can.  (Zinsser has not paid me to say this.  I’ve used this product over the years with great satisfaction so I’m a big fan.)  Note that primers are always tintable, so if your final paint color will be a medium to dark shade, you can always have your paint department tint the primer gray or brown.

primer and brush

Tip for Lessening Brush Strokes: When it’s time to paint, one of my biggest frustrations is when the paint starts to dry too fast and starts to drag on the surface.  Visible brush strokes are maddening.   So here’s the big secret I’ve picked up from my professional painter friend Mike. When applying an oil based primer or paint, the best thing you can do to increase paint adhesion and eliminate brush strokes is to invest in an additive called Penetrol.  It’s like conditioner for paint.  When you mix a few tablespoons of this product into your paint, it extends your working time and creates better flow across your painted surface, greatly decreasing your brush strokes.  This product really helps achieve a smooth glossy surface, which is especially important when refinishing furniture.

Penetrol is only for oil based primer and paint.  You can find a similar product for latex paint called Flotrol.

Be gone vile brush strokes – Penetrol to the rescue !

penetrol additive

Why did this project take me a month to finish?  The hutch was really challenging because the side glass panels could not be removed, so I was twisting and turning in all sorts of awkward ways to try to get my primer and two coats of paint applied inside the cabinet and on the shelves.  Since oil take forevah to dry (well more like 24 to 36 hours), I did the primer one week, the first coat of paint the second week, entertained family the third week, and applied the second coat of paint the fourth week.  Then it had to dry and I had to muscle it into my house and up a flight of stairs.  Whew  !

Here’s one final observation.  When painting next to glass panels, I’ve decided not to bother with painter’s tape anymore.  I used tape on the outside panels, but not the inside and I’ve come to this conclusion:  It’s so much easier and cleaner to be old school and use a razor blade to scrape off paint.  And after a month of painter’s tape and a few layers of primer and paint, the tape did NOT come off clean despite all of my efforts.

razor blade

But if you use a blade, PLEASE don’t do what I did and hack at it with a small blade.   Please do as I say, and NOT as I do.  I have a tool that I couldn’t find that has a blade on the end of a very sturdy handle.  Thank goodness I didn’t injure myself with just this little ol’ rusty blade !

I bought this cabinet not for any dining space, but to house my stepdaughter’s collectibles in her bedroom.  Sadly, the lass is off to college next year, so I’m trying to swankify a space that’s looked too tween for a little too long.  For her final year at home, we are upgrading her room to a more ladylike space with a romantic cottage feel.  This cabinet suits our needs perfectly.  Since it will eventually be a guest room (** sigh sniffle **) it needs to be more adult like.  Plus I love the idea of her having a special place to keep her childhood memories behind glass.

Years ago, we chose a color for her walls that in my humble opinion is a watered down version of Tiffany Blue.  My girl loves turquoise and white, so we painted her walls ‘Blue Green Gem’ by Kelly Moore.  I applied the same paint color to the back of the hutch.

tiffany color comparison

From left to right:  ‘Blue Green Gem’, the Tiffany Box, and the Tiffany Blue color.  Paint swatch images by My Perfect Color, Tiffany Box image from Flickr.

Here’s the final buffet and hutch in her room.

buffet hutch final

Some Before and After shots:

hutch b and a

hutch before 2

Ooooh that glossy shine.  It’s worth all the trouble for a piece as pretty as this.

oil based paint finish

oil based semil gloss

inside b and a

leg before and after

Her room will be finished after a few more upgrades and DIY projects.  Look for them in the upcoming weeks.

The debate goes on between the use of oil based versus latex paint.  There are several helpful articles online.  This one from Home Additions Plus weighing the pros and cons.  EHow has another brief article on advantages and disadvantages.  For a great blog post on latex versus oil, visit Jenny at  Little Green Notebook for her smart observations.

What are your experiences with priming and painting furniture?  Got any tips to share?  Let’s discuss !

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