Most of the questions I’m asked on a regular basis have to do with products that I use for my projects. I’ve been DIYing for well over 20 years now (okay, over 30 years, but I don’t like to say that because it makes me sound too old 😀 ). And over the years, I’ve developed and continually refined my list of favorite go-to products, as well as my list of products to avoid. So let me share my a few of my favorite go-to DIY products. If you have any questions about products I use for purposes that aren’t listed below, feel free to leave a question in the comment section and I’ll add to this post if I have a favorite product in that category.
*This post contains affiliate links.
The best wood filler — DAP Plastic Wood Solvent-Based Wood Filler
This is probably the newest addition to my list of favorite DIY products, but for the last couple of years, this DAP Plastic Wood Solvent-Based Wood Filler has been my go-to wood filler.
I used to use the water-based stuff made by the same company (all available at Home Depot), but the water-based stuff would sometimes crack and shrink over time. And when used on outdoor projects (like my front porch), it would wear off and crumble over time.
This solvent-based formula stinks to high heaven and has to be stored upside down to keep it from drying out (the label is right-side-up when the can is upside down), but I find that it’s stronger, doesn’t crack or shrink over time, and is way more durable than the water-based stuff. But it’s just as easy to use, has a very similar texture to the water-based formula, and is just as easy to sand when it’s dry.
When I did my front porch makeover, covering the concrete porch with a cedar porch, I originally used the water-based formula. After it started to crack and crumble, I actually dug out the rest of the water-based formula from all of the screw holes, and then I used this solvent-based formula instead. It has held up beautifully since then.
The best water-based clear coat — General Finishes High Performance Topcoat
I have been touting the goodness of General Finishes High Performance Topcoat for many years now, and I will continue until I’ve made converts out of all of you. 😀 I used to hate water-based clear coats, and I would avoid them if at all possible. All of the ones that you find at the big box home improvement stores are just awful, in my humble but accurate opinion. 😀 Then someone suggested that I try General Finishes, and I’ve never looked back. I will never touch another water-based clear coat product because based on my own personal experience (not that I’ve tried ALL of the products out there), this one is the absolute best.
The flat finish (which actually looks more like a satin sheen to me) is my favorite, and I use it on anything from relatively small projects, like my living room coffee table makeover, to big projects like painting my kitchen cabinets.
I last painted my kitchen cabinets in the summer of 2017 (almost five years ago), and with the exception of three tiny chips the size of half a grain of uncooked rice, they still look perfect. The picture above was taken just a couple of weeks ago (February 2022), and I have never once touched up the paint on these cabinets in the last almost-five years.
I credit the durability to the whole process I used (I don’t skimp on prep work), but I think the General Finishes High Performance Topcoat deserves a whole lot of credit for those cabinets holding up so well for five years against a person who’s very hard on finishes (me) and a wheelchair user who isn’t the most careful when wheeling through the kitchen (Matt).
The best primer for cabinets, furniture, unfinished wood — Zinsser Cover Stain oil-based primer
This is my go-to primer for just about everything, with the exception of unprimed/unpainted drywall. If I’m working with brand new drywall that has never been primed or painted, I use a water-based formula that is specified for drywall. But in just about every other situation, whether I’m painting cabinets, furniture, unfinished wood trim, or just about anything else, I don’t even have to think about it. I just reach for the Zinsser Cover Stain oil-based primer.
It’s oil-based, so it stinks. Be sure to read the directions and take precautions. But after having way too many bleed-through issues with the water-based primers (even Kilz and all of those other water-based primers that most DIYers rave about), I decided to give the oil-based stuff a try. I’ve never looked back. As far as I can remember, I’ve never had any bleed-through issues with this primer, and if you let it dry really well, it sands like a dream. Use 220-grit (or finer) sandpaper once it’s dry (you know it’s dry enough when it sands like fine chalk dust), and you can get a gorgeous and smooth finish.
I use it before I paint every piece of wood furniture, like the dresser in our bedroom…
I often get asked how I get such a smooth finish when painting furniture and cabinets with a paint brush (you can see my tips on that here), and the prep work, including the priming and sanding, is a huge part of that.
The best all-purpose caulk — DAP Alex Fast Dry Caulk
With very few exception, this is pretty much the only caulk I use. It’s DAP Alex Fast Dry caulk, and I literally buy it by the case and always have it on hand.
Every single bit of the trim and molding in my house has been caulked with this caulk.
If you use my tips for caulking your trim, you’ll end up with a beautiful caulk line that will dry quickly and can be painted very soon after caulking. I find that in most cases, as soon as I’m done with caulking (because I’m generally caulking a lot of trim at a time), it’s dry and ready to be painted.
So those are my top DIY products that I always have on hand and use regularly on my DIY projects that I do around my home. What other products are you wondering about? If I have experience with a specific category, and I have a favorite go-to product in that category, I’ll be happy to add it to my list!
Addicted 2 Decorating is where I share my DIY and decorating journey as I remodel and decorate the 1948 fixer upper that my husband, Matt, and I bought in 2013. Matt has M.S. and is unable to do physical work, so I do the majority of the work on the house by myself. You can learn more about me here.
I hope you’ll join me on my DIY and decorating journey! If you want to follow my projects and progress, you can subscribe below and have each new post delivered to your email inbox. That way you’ll never miss a thing!
Carol FFebruary 28, 2022 at 11:07 am
I have always heard that if you use oil-based primer you need to use oil-based paint. Is that true?
Kristi LinauerFebruary 28, 2022 at 11:13 am
You would need to read the specifications on each one, as each brand may be different. The Zinsser Cover Stain oil-based primer that I use can be painted over with either latex paint or oil-based paint. I used to be an oil-based paint loyalist, but for the last several years, I only ever use latex paint over the oil-based Zinsser primer.
Sue TaylorFebruary 28, 2022 at 11:28 am
These are some very helpful hints, especially as I’m getting ready to paint my kitchen cabinets. I’ve taken your advice in the past and it’s always helped me achieve better results. I’m hopping you can recommend some specific paints for kitchen cabinets. I’m not sure of finish or “type” of paint to use. I like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams but they both have so many different types and levels. Your cabinets look flawless. Thanks.
Betsy NickelFebruary 28, 2022 at 12:16 pm
My local Benjamin Moore has been my go to supplier of quality paint and good solutions when I am unsure or undecided. Since I do my own work, the cost of paint isn’t the most important feature. BM paint costs more but I have never been disappointed in the quality or application. I have discussed painting kitchen cabinets with them and they have special paint for that.
Grace VFebruary 28, 2022 at 11:37 am
Thank you for helping me with the products you use, Kristi.
Looking forward seeing the outside of your house finished. 🌻🌷
Kim MayFebruary 28, 2022 at 11:47 am
I have been inspired by you for years. This was such a helpful post! I wrote the brand names down in my notebook I keep in my purse. No more wondering when I get ready to do a project. I am getting ready to refinish a sofa table. Your advice on how to get a smooth finish will be so helpful! Hope you have a productive Monday!
marciaFebruary 28, 2022 at 12:54 pm
LanaFebruary 28, 2022 at 12:59 pm
Hey Kristi – thanks for all the tips. Just wondering if you’re still recommending the Critter Siphon Gun for spraying?
Kristi LinauerFebruary 28, 2022 at 1:05 pm
Yes! It remains my favorite (and at such a great price) for cabinets and furniture projects. It’s not appropriate for painting walls, exteriors, etc. And you have to be very sure that you strain the paint as you pour it into the glass jar. But I still love it and recommend it. Every other one I’ve tried for cabinets and furniture leaves too much of an “orange peel” texture on the finish because it sprays the paint heavier.
I gave some tips on using the Critter sprayer here:
Reading is FUNdamentalFebruary 28, 2022 at 1:36 pm
The front porch is looking so good too. I love reading your posts, and learning so much from you! Thank you!
LoriFebruary 28, 2022 at 2:47 pm
I love GF High Performance Top Cost in Flat. It is my go to top coat. Gives a beautiful finish on all my painted furniture, jewelry boxes and other vintage wood pieces.
JeanneFebruary 28, 2022 at 3:19 pm
Thank-you! We need to re-stain and seal our large, wood front door which faces west. We are in Tucson and it gets lots of sun. Would you suggest the general finishes water based product in this situation? Any other suggestions?
I always enjoy your posts.
Kristi LinauerFebruary 28, 2022 at 9:28 pm
Anything outdoors, especially if it’s going to get direct sunlight, needs to be protected with a product that’s specifically made for outdoor use. Those products usually have something added that protects the finish from damage that UV rays can cause. General Finishes has a product specifically for use on outdoor furniture and doors called Exterior 450. I’ve never used it myself, but it has a 4.8 out of 5 star rating on Amazon with 330 customer reviews.
Cathy DzuroFebruary 28, 2022 at 3:59 pm
I have those plastic coated (melanmine?) cabinets in my kitchen. They’re in great shape but I want to paint them white, they are currently off-white/cream color I guess. Can they be painted and do you know how?
BetsyFebruary 28, 2022 at 8:25 pm
This is a topic I can get very excited about so thank you for listing your favorites and explaining why you like each one!