I’ll Share Mine If You Share Yours (My Top Five Painting Tips)

Yesterday I had a very frustrating painting experience, and that’s unusual for me (although it’s my second in a matter of days…very unusual, indeed). Here’s what happened…

Yesterday morning, I went out to the dumpster to toss out a bag of garbage, and there, leaning against the dumpster, was this coffee table…

It was a perfectly fine, sturdy coffee table, and although the top wasn’t real wood, I still decided that there was no reason for it to be thrown out. So I decided to rescue this abandoned table.

Almost immediately, I knew what I wanted to do with it. So, as I always do with furniture, I gave it a quick sanding, and then gave it a cost of oil-based Zinsser Cover Stain primer.

I usually get a nice, even coat of primer that dries quickly and has a finish that sands easily and beautifully. Not this time. This primer (which was new, and I had used once before just last week) went on very streaky. I would dip my brush in the can, and then swipe it across the top of the top of the coffee table, but as soon as I would brush the other way, my brush would drag and cause the primer to be really streaky and rough.

And even more frustrating was the fact that it wouldn’t sand. This primer is usually very easy to sand, and as I sand, but not this time. In fact, I couldn’t tell that the sandpaper was doing anything at all!

I decided to go ahead and paint it (a very bad decision), and I did everything just like I always do…added paint conditioner, mixed well, and brushed on. The paint left a terrible, streaky finish also. And it was as if I had never added paint conditioner.

So, I know that one of you has to have the answers to why my primer and paint did this. I will mention that it was hot and humid outside yesterday, but that’s normal here in central Texas. Heck, if I waited until there was no heat and/or humidity to paint, I’d only have a handful of days each year that qualify as good painting days. Perhaps it was just extra humid, and I didn’t realize it. But have you ever had this happen? And if so, do you know why it happened?

I’d love it if someone can help me with this mystery. But also, I’d just love to hear your favorite painting tips in general. What have you learned over your years of painting? What are your favorite tools and techniques? What insights into painting furniture and cabinets can you offer?

In return, I’ll share with you my top five painting tips:

[pinit count=”horizontal” url=”https://www.addicted2decorating.com/my-top-five-furniture-and-cabinet-painting-tips.html” image_url=”https://www.addicted2decorating.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/top-five-tips-for-painting-furniture-and-cabinets-190×190.png” description=”My top five tips for painting furniture and cabinets.”]

My Top Five Painting Tips:

1. If you need a smooth finish, paint conditioner is your best friend.

I painted for many years before I discovered paint conditioners, and I was amazed at the difference they make!! If you’re trying to get a smooth finish, like on kitchen cabinets, table tops, etc., then you absolutely need to use paint conditioner. I use Floetrol in latex paint, and Penetrol in oil-based paints. And now, I won’t paint without them.

2. Never try to get a good finish with a cheap brush.

Your paint brush really can make or break your project. I always…exclusively…use a Purdy 2″ XL-Cub. It’s the perfect size for virtually every project, and the short handle makes it easy to paint inside cabinets, bookcases, etc. Purdy is a quality brush that holds just the right amount of paint, and won’t spit out bristles onto your project as you paint. If you take care of them, they’ll last for a very long time.

3. Don’t set your project in front of fans to dry faster.

If you’re trying to get a nice, smooth finish, and you’ve added paint conditioner to your paint and carefully brushed on a smooth coat with your quality brush, the last thing you want to do is put the project in front of fans to make it dry faster. One thing that paint conditioner does is extend the drying time of paint. That allows more time for the brush strokes to smooth out as the paint dries. So if you’re using fans to dry the paint faster, you’re kind of defeating the purpose of the paint conditioner.

4. When painting cabinet doors with a brush, remove them and lay them flat to avoid brush strokes.

When painting anything that needs a smooth finish, gravity is your friend. Let it work for you to smooth out those brush strokes. This, in combination with the paint conditioner and keeping your project away from wind and fans, will give you the smoothest finish possible with a brush or foam roller. The only way to get a smoother finish would be to spray them, and even then, some sprayers just aren’t worth the time or money.

5. Oil-based paint is preferable is you need a perfect, smooth finish. Latex paint or spray paint is preferable if you’re going to do any kind of antiquing, glazing, or other specialty finish.

If you’ve been around here long, you know that I love oil-based paint. While latex paint has come a long way in recent years, it still doesn’t compare to the beautiful, durable finish that you get with oil-based paint. I almost always use oil-based paint for baseboards, cabinets, and furniture pieces when I’m wanting to get a smooth, durable finish with no added clear coats.

But when it comes to doing any kind of antiquing, glazing, or other special finishes, I always opt for latex paint because it dries faster and sands easier than oil-based paint.

I also only ever use spray paint on furniture pieces when I’m going to be adding a glaze or antiqued finish. Otherwise, I find it impossible to get a perfectly smooth finish, with a perfectly even sheen, on large flat surfaces like table tops and dresser tops.

So those are my top five painting tips. What are yours?

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  1. I use a foam roller brush whenever possible for flat furniture surfaces – keeps the streaks away. I lightly sand most of the furniture I paint, use primer, let dry for at least an hour, sand again, apply more primer if needed (for dark furniture being painted light), and sand again after an hour of drying. I can sometimes skip that step and go to painting. I usually use at least 2 coats of paint (dry 24 hours between coats, no sanding between coats of paint, unless there were accidental glops or drips from first coat). Hope you can save that table, great find!

  2. I have had some of the same issues lately with that primer too when brushing or rolling on. I just let it cure longer which helped in the sanding. Working on a dresser project right now that I have decided to spray all the way instead of brush from start to finish. It is more like an experiment due to my lack of patience and the heat outside now! 🙂

  3. I have had some of the same issues lately with that primer too when brushing or rolling on. I just let it cure longer which helped in the sanding. Working on a dresser project right now that I have decided to spray all the way instead of brush from start to finish. It is more like an experiment due to my lack of patience and the heat outside now!

  4. I have had some of the same issues lately with that primer also when brushing or rolling on. I just let it cure longer which helped in the sanding. Working on a dresser project right now that I have decided to spray all the way instead of brush from start to finish. It is more like an experiment due to my lack of patience and the heat outside now!

  5. I wish I could tell you what the answer was to your priming dilemma. Maybe the paint had separated and you weren’t aware of it? obviously you can see the separation, but maybe the heat caused more problems with the make up of it.

    One of the biggest tips I have is to do thin coats and let them dry thoroughly in between. I remind people paint is like nail polish, it needs to have thin coats and dry thoroughly in order to ensure a very durable, hard finish.

    If you are planning on painting a lot of furniture, I highly recommend investing in an HVLP sprayer. There is definitely a learning curve with these tools, but once you get it, you will almost always reach for it before the brush and roller. There is just no comparison in the quality of the finish. Not to mention how much time it saves. I can triple my paint time if I am using a sprayer.

    Sorry about the Coffee Table! At least it was free, thanks for sharing! -K

  6. I’ve been a house painter for almost 10 years and the one thing that is super simple yet all important is to always over-prep. On a piece of furniture like this, take the extra time to sand through with different grit papers to get awesome smoothness, make sure your environment is dust free, have the paint ready, spackle dents, caulk cracks & cover areas you don’t want to get paint on. Then when you think your ready, spend 10 more minutes going over everything again.
    It always ends up saving you time and producing better quality in the long run.

  7. I have really quit doing all that stuff, and just switched a year ago to ASCP or my own chalk paint. I will sand a piece a little before I start if I need to knock the shine off of it to grip paint better, but that is why these new paints are so revolutionary,cause you can stop all the old steps and get a better finish…they are a little more, but you spend that much $ on all the primers, etc….simplify….I do use a cabinet roller for larger surfaces too, no brush….I have done a lot of furniture for other people and have had no problems with furniture not holding up with these new paints….

  8. Hi Kristi, Interesting. Unfortunately I’ve almost always had that experience with Zinser oil-based primer. Its so gloppy for me and this is from multiple cans and in a climate controlled basement. I still like using Zinser because I know it will stick but if I need it smooth I try to use spray paint.

    My favorite painting tips: Use foil to line your paint tray. Easy to throw away, saves cleaning the paint tray and foil is cheap. 🙂
    Also, lately I’ve been experimenting with different paint supplies from the dollar store because I just can’t clean the brushes or rollers after using oil-based paint.

  9. I’m learning from your tips – so I can’t really offer much! One thing my hubs did which I thought was brilliant was to wrap the toilet tank in saran wrap when we painted the bathroom. No mess – and easy to get behind the tank!

  10. Ditto….for all but the wood conditioner. I have never heard of it nor used it. I would also add two more:
    1. Use a tack cloth to ‘dust’ the piece before painting it. It’s amazing how much ‘dust’ that sticky cloth picks up.
    2. Sand with a fine black sandpaper between coats. That’s the best way to get a finish like glass…that is if you tack cloth it after sanding and before painting.

    Thanks Kristi!

  11. I’ve had similar poor quality and ended up painting fifteen doors with latex enamel with the primer built in rather than work with the primer and sanding. Fortunately they came out looking professionally done after three months of taking 3-4 days to do 2 at a time laid out flat on saw horses in the master bedroom. A long three months, that project. Back to the primer. Since it is your favorite, is it a new or old can? Is it possible the company changed the formulation recently and that’s causing the problem?

  12. I live in South Texas and the humidity isn’t a problem if you use NEW GOOD QUALITY PAINT. I also use Gripper for a primer, that brand will stick to anything-I used the Gripper primer over some old kitchen cabinet doors that had numerous coats of oil based paint and had no problem with the latex paint peeling at all. I am not fond of cleaning brushes, especially if I use oil based paint, I just toss those brushes in the trash after one use. I buy the $1.00 brushes from Southerlands home improvement store, they work just like a Purdy………….once…cuz they don’t clean up for crap. Also before putting a coat of paint on anything I will wipe it down with rubbing alcohol and this seems to work the best for me. And I don’t use tape very often but if something needs to be taped off you have to use the BLUE painters tape, nothing else works like the blue painters tape. Thanks hope this helps,
    Lori 🙂

  13. I had this very same problem painting a mirror that I purchased from IKEA years ago. It was a large bunny w/a mirror glued to the tummy. No matter what, it seemed whatever was on it originally did not want to sand off or allow primer or paint or anything to adhere to it!

  14. Zinsser Cover Stain can get a little sticky if the can has been lying around for a while, if this happens you can add some white spirit to help it flow out like a new can, this should give you more open time for a few more brush strokes but be sure not to thin it too much.

  15. Great tips to go by, and I have a few that I have learned in my years. As Lori said above Gripper primmer is one of my all time favorites also. Grips to anything and leave a good heavy coat, so you only have to have one coat. Also if you are painting or staining and don’t feel like washing out the brush or roller because you will be using it again in the next couple of weeks, place it in a plastic zip lock and put it in the freezer, not the refrigerator, but the freezer. I have saved a lot of money by using this tip. Now when it comes to a smooth coat, after I have painted my project, no matter weather it is latex or oil base, I finish it off with two coats of sand and sealer by Glidon. This is the best stuff I have ever used for a great smooth surface and wonderful looking shine. Put on the first coat, check it after about 30 min. because it dries fast, and lightly sand with a 220gt. Then put on a second coat. This stuff goes on easy, not a lot of worry with brush lines because they smooth out very well, and Yes I do use a fan on mine and have had no prob. with brush lines with Sand and Sealer. Hope this helps and thanks for all the other great tips.

  16. Thanks for posting your painting tips! I’ve never used paint conditioner before, hmmm. My best painting happens when the piece is primed correctly (love Zinnser) and I like to tint my primer so that when I distress, a hint of the primer colour comes though. I’ve got this post linked to my DIY painting advice post too today, for inspiration!

  17. Kristi, I am painting my library paneling in my very dark living room. The guy at Sherwin Williams told me that I needed to add paint thinner at 10% to my oil based primer they sold me so that it would glide on more smoothly and not be too thick and gloopy. He was right. The finish is nice and smooth. But you are right, the longer I had the primer out – – about 1.5 to 2 hours the thicker it got. I’ll be careful with that. Thanks for the tip. Watching your fearless decorating is giving me the courage to tackle projects I have been hesitant to start. Thanks!

  18. Someone may have mentioned this already but I suspect the problem lies within the table top mfr material. I had an armoire with doors made just like this table top. It was a nightmare to paint! I believe it might be an oddly manufactured (odd meaning an unusual veneer composite) type of overlay.
    In my case, the core material was a crumbly MDF type but with enough of a top layer of “wood” so I felt confident lightly sanding and priming the surface for a redo. No luck.
    I never got the right feel. It was so subtle a problem that it didn’t stop me from proceeding. Once I got to the last layer and step of painting, I realized it was never going to work just so.
    Id be willing to bet that table surface is made of a mix of wood pulp and plastic to appear like a nice vneer

    1. I’d be willing to bet that it appears to a decent veneer but acts like a finicky mystery surface so that no primer will work effectively.

      For what it’s worth,

  19. So, what is the best way to go about painting a dark colored door with glass in it? I am a novice painter. Know nothing about the subject.

  20. Thank you for sharing your painting tips! I am so thrilled to have found your blog. Do you use a brush or a small low nap roller when painting the inside panels of cabinet doors? Thank you.

  21. I have been refinishing and painting furniture (and other stuff) for many years now (since the 80’s). We are currently in a rental home and the homeowners have given me the green light (after seeing some of my interior work) to paint the front door as well as other exterior elements of their home. I’m having a real problem with brush strokes etc., on the front door, which I believe is aluminum. I have sanded 3 times now and started over….each time trying something different….for instance, i purchased the paint extender and a new brush, even though I always use quality brushes. I spent literally 2 hours going over this front door today sanding, feeling, looking, sanding,etc. to get rid of the brush strokes of the last paint (mine) job…..getting a smooth surface…..etc., …thinking that adding the paint additive, would fix it. AND ITS WORSE THAN EVER!

    I do have a professional sprayer which I usually use for wicker, etc., but after three less than happy results, I’m almost ready to give up. HOnestly, there is not that much “surface” paint. A majority of the two doors are glass…only the outside perimiter of the doors are painted…..perhaps 4″ outside the glass. But when the light hits it, the streaks and brush strokes scream. Its driving me crazy…..and its not my house….which is worse…..all this time and a bad result…..ugh. ANy suggestions.????

  22. Hi Kristi,
    I love your DIY tips and photos and your straight-forward approach. Thanks for taking some of the fear out of just about everything! I only have one painting tip (sorry if you’ve covered this already), but it’s to not dip the brush too far into the can. By dipping the brush in just about half an inch, you get a lot less drips and are kind of “forced” to apply thinner coats this way, which is the best way to achieve long-lasting, beautiful results. Thanks again!