Furniture Painting Disaster

kendog2February 10, 2012

In the past, I've attempted to paint furniture and trim with no success. After reading lots of helpful painting tutorials on this site, I was encouraged to try again. However, so far it isn't going well at all. Can anyone tell me what I'm doing wrong?

I'm attempting to paint an oak base for my son's prized corner fish tank. He used wood filler and sanded the piece very nicely. We carefully wiped off the dust with a damp cloth. I primed with Benjamin Moore Fresh Start Superior Primer using a dense foam roller. Then I brushed over the roller marks with long light strokes using a Corona Excalibur paint brush (1/2 loaded with paint.) I tried not to work the paint too much. The result: FAIL:(

After priming, the surface doesn't look much better than when I used Behr Semi-Gloss paint. Brushing removed the roller stipple marks but replaced them with brush marks which didn't level out. I wanted to cry. Painting walls is a piece of cake but I just can't seem to get the hang of painting furniture and trim. I'm too much of a perfectionist to be satisfied with a crummy job. We can't afford to hire a professional. We have a houseful of doors and oak cabinets waiting to be painted so I really need to figure this out.

Could the low humidity in our area be part of the problem? We live in the High Desert of southern California. We painted indoors. It was unseasonably warm. I'm guessing about 80 degrees. We have a large humidifier. Would it help to run the humidifier all night before painting again?

We plan to sand the primer with 220 sandpaper. Depending on how much sanding it takes to remove the brush marks, we may add another coat of primer. We'll be using Ace Cabinet Door and Trim paint as the top coat.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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If I'm reading you correctly, you haven't painted yet, just primed. Right? Not an expert, but... it's primer. It's not really supposed to level beautifully or look good. It doesn't sound like you're doing anything wrong. Just sand away the marks and carry on.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 1:02AM
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Yes, that's correct. We've just primed it. I expected the Fresh Start Superior to level because it's known for doing that better than other primers. I'll report back on what happens after we sand and apply the paint. Thanks so much for your input.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 1:02PM
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Didn't open this earlier, but would have also told you not to worry about the appearance of primer. It can look worse than a bad paint job and still be just fine. Hope the paint went well.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 12:12PM
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Thank you Lascatx. We sanded with 220, applied another coat of primer, then sanded again before applying the first coat of paint. It looks great from a distance but there are still lots of brush marks. We'll sand again and see if the second coat looks any better. If not, I guess we'll have to live with it. I'm disappointed that the paint didn't level at all like it did for other people.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:29PM
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I work early in the morning when it is cool. Add Floetrol to water-based paints (not to the primer though). Brushing never removes marks, it can only add them. Paint film can be smooth only if the liquid paint has the right composition to flow and level before setting up, OR by sanding smooth when hard.

Paints in SoCal get thicker and thicker all the time, I suspect to comply with VOC laws, so they DO NOT flow or level well at all. They all need way more retarder (like Floetrol or a glaze retarder used by faux finishers) to flow and level.

And on that note, I wouldn't bother with paint/finish recommendations from anyone outside CA, or even SoCal, because the VOC regulations lead to different formulas here with reduced workability and/or performance.

I haven't used primer on oak cabinets, because if the wood finish is clean and sanded dull, paint is going to bond to it just fine IME. (And I'm a big believer in primer where it's needed.) If I did use primer, I'd user Zinsser BIN (shellac). Shellac dries smooth and hard, completely seals odor, stains, pitch, knots, and sands beautifully. Heck, I'd tint it and use it as my finish coat because it is so much harder, smoother, and prettier than most waterbased paints. It's not supposed to be very water-resistant, but I primed our garage wall that was very water-damaged from my husband's dive gear, and never painted over it, yet it has continued to hold up to the water and salt water. And it's very easy to recoat shellac if needed. However, I bet that the VOC laws in 2014 will make it impossible to get around here any more. :(

You might also consider an oil-based paint if you can find one. These level beautifully and cure hard, smooth, glossy, and durable unlike any other water-based paint. I have to thin them with mineral spirits considerably (due to VOC laws, they package with little thinner and say on the label "Do Not Thin").

So basically, if you want a smooth, durable paint finish for furniture, cabinets, trim, or other areas that were always historically painted with alkyd enamel, you've got a huge challenge if you want to use water-based paint. You must choose a paint with resins that dry hard so they can be sanded smooth (no latex, it's too gummy), add retarder to slow the set-up, work when it's as cool and humid as possible, and then sand.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 4:37PM
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Thank you so much for your helpful response. I wasn't aware that paint formulation would be different in California than in other states. That would explain why the Ace paint didn't level as well for me as it did for others. My next question was going to be whether to try adding an extender. Since the paint is white, I'll probably use the XIM X-Tender because I've heard that Floetrol will cause white paint to yellow a little.

I don't think oil base paint is available here but maybe I could order it online. I would use oil only as a last resort because it yellows with time.

If I stick with the Ace Cabinet Door and Trim paint, can the final coat be sanded to make it smoother without dulling the paint finish? If so, what grit should I use. 1500? 2000? Thanks again for taking the time to help me.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 8:18PM
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