Unfinished Maple Bookcases: Paint, Ladquer, Gel Stain . . . ???

sailormassNovember 30, 2012

Hi, folks--

I have purchased some new, unfinished maple bookcases that grouped together look like a nice built-in unit. The quality of the maple is excellent: it is cabinet-top-end-furniture grade with hardly any knots and very fine, light grain. They have been completely sanded.

My first instinct and desire, since I would like these to look built-in, would be to stain and paint them. The guru at my local paint store, who thus far has never steered me wrong, told me I could paint them if I wanted--he advised that, since they have been "finish" sanded, to lightly sand them with 500 or 600 paper, use an oil-based white primer and them either an oil or latex enamel paint--he said that all the priming and staining could be applied with good foam rollers. That appeals to me because I'll be doing this mostly by myself and, at the moment, have a bum wrist.

Another friend of mine, who used to restore furniture, advised against painting. He said it was extremely difficult even for the best professional to get a good white paint finish on unfinished furniture. He advised the same sanding (500 to 600) but strongly suggested I use lacquer or a stain with a polyurethene coat over it, as long as I was happy with the look of the "bare" maple or a stained maple.

Which advice should I follow? And, to throw another question in, can I use a gel stain (again, thinking of the wrist).

One more question: Can I use the foam rollers with stains or must I use brushes?

Last question: How many coats?

Thank you so much for your help!


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It's easy to get a perfect finish on painted furniture when you spray it, but it's true it is hard to get it perfect without spraying. I would stain them if they were mine, just because maple looks great stained and stained furniture is easier to take care of, but this probably depends on what else is around in the room as well. If you stain, you want to stain, let dry, apply one coat sanding sealer and then at least one coat of poly. There are water based finishes on the market now but I don't like any of them. Lacquer can only be sprayed so. You want to lightly sand after the sealer coat because applying any first coat of finish on stained wood will raise the grain and make the surface very rough. The easiest way to apply stain is with a staining pad. Using gel stain or not won't make a difference to your wrist.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 7:57PM
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I would steer you away from gel stain. It's much harder to work with than regular stain. It applies more like a paint than a stain.
This past summer I painted the cabinets in my laundry room. Although they look nice, I wouldn't do it in my kitchen or my family room. Too much work for just an acceptable finish.

Do you have any sample boards to work with? I would try a few options before I made a decision. Maple can be a beautiful wood with just a simple finish.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 9:51PM
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Thank you both for your help! I have a couple of extra shelves and I'll experiment on those. The maple is lovely, but I have a lot of beautiful maple furniture and the molding on these bookcases would make them look built-in if I could successfully paint them white. However, if I can't, I won't be heartbroken with the natural maple look.

Again, many thanks!

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 2:31PM
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I'd paint them with my new favorite furniture/cabinet paint, GF milk paint, and finish with GF clear water based High Performance Polyurethane with their Crosslink additive. I would use the white foam rollers to apply both.

Here is a link that might be useful: Milk Paint - the Furniture Paint with Soul

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 3:22AM
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