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Prime Time: Creating a Solid Foundation

It's prime time for spectacular furniture makeovers. Discover when primer is needed, how important it is to the project, and how to approach the steps properly for a flawless finish.

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The Importance of Primer

Primer serves a foundation for success in many furniture flips. It is used to promote enhanced adhesion, a secure bond, and ensured long-lasting results. It can act as a sealant on porous materieals, provide a smooth surface, and prevent uneven absorption. It can also become a barrier to block stains and odors from emerging. Primer sets the stage for paint to shine, while aiding in precison and longevity.

Is it Always Necessary?

One of the appealing features of working with paints made for furniture, more specifically chalk type paints, is its ability to adhere well to various surface without the necessity of the extra step of applying primer. As with everything though, there are a few exceptions to the rules. Here are a few factors to consider when making the choice: the surface types and conditions of the piece you are working on, the desired finish or any drastic color changes, and the recommendations of the manufactuer.

When to use primer:

  • The paint to be used is white or a light shade color always use a blocking primer. This step will save on time and money as it will provide a barrier from any tannin or stain bleed through.

  • The piece has a slick surface or if it is made out of laminate always use a bonding primer to create adhesion.

  • If a perfessional finish is the desired use a primer to enhance the painting surface to create long-lasting results.

  • If the color change is drastic. Going from a dark color to light or vice versa it's a great idea to prime to save on the extra coats of paint.

When to skip the primer:

  • Chalk paints can usually successfully adhere to porous surfaces like wood, metal, and sometimes glass and plastic. If the surface is porous and in good condition, priming isn't always necessary.

  • Skip the primer with a distressed or weathered finish where some of the original surface will be showing through. (If you are using white or light colors I recommend a clear primer.)

Types of Primer

There are three different types of primers to choose from. The type you would need would mostly depeed on the surface and complications of your piece. We commonly need primer for adhesion on slick surfaces and for blocking bleed through and tough odors. Bleed through usually comes from tannin in the wood. This can cause white or light finishes to look streaky or pink. This can happen immediately or can go unnoticed until top coat is applied.

Choosing the Right Primer

Water based primers - I prefer using water based primers that are made by furniture paint companies on my pieces. They are made with low vocs, are easy to use, and are made specifically for furniture like projects. Most often they are sold in two different types - bonding and blocking.

  • Bonding primers are good for adhesion. This type of primer is good to apply on a laminate or slick surfaces before painting. If it is just a bonding primer it will more than likely not block tannin or any other types of bleed through.

Shop Bonding Primers:

  • Blocking primers is best to use when you intend to use light color paints or when you suspect you may encounter tannin bleed through.

Shop Blocking Primers:

  • All in One primers - These have bonding and blocking properties built in.

Shop All in One Primer:

Shellac primer - This is best for any types of bleed through as well as odors. I often will use two coats but use as much or little as you need. Spray shellac is easy to use and perfect for the times you have stinky drawers or bleed through in your finish. Spraying with shellac is acceptable throughout most of the refinishing process, so if you see or smell something after you have painted. You can still spacy it on, and paint another coat over it. You can not spray over an already waxed piece, though. If you see bleed through after you have waxed remove it with mineral spirits, rinse with water, and then you can work on it again.

Oil based primers- I tend to avoid oil based products every chance I can. They are have a very strong scent and are harder to work with. These are best avoided when it comes to furniture.

Choosing the Color

Some primers have options when it comes to colors, so here is a little guide to help you decide:

  • I use clear with pieces I want to distress a piece with light and dark colors.

  • I use white with light colors that I will not be distressing.

  • I use gray with reds, pinks, and medium to dark toned colors when I am not distressing.

Steps to Prime

  1. Clean the surface First you must clean the surface. It cannot have any dirt, grease, grime, wax, or contaminates. Remove any left behind flaky paint or stain.

  2. Make Repairs Fill any holes, cracks, or imperfections you want to get rid of with wood filler.

  3. Stir or Shake Well Lifting from the bottom if you are stiring a can - until it is all the same consistency.

  4. FIrst Coat You can apply using a paint brush, roller, or by spraying it.

  5. Wait Time For best results, it is important to wait the required amount of time suggested by the manufactor before recoating or moving to the next step.

  6. Repeat Most primers require at least two coats, so repeat the process.

  7. Clean Up Clean your brushes or rollers immediately after painting in soapy water. I use dawn to clean my brushes. It works great.

Safety Precautions

It is very important to take precautions to ensure your safety when working with primers. Be sure to read all labels and instrustions as different produts have specific safety guidelines. Here are some critical things to consider when using primers:

  • Work in well ventilated areas. Open windows and doors to allow airflow.

  • Wear the proper clothes and gloves to cover your skin from direct contact.

  • Wear respiratory protection to protect from harsh fumes or dust.

  • Throw on a pair of safety goggles to keep splashing liquids from harming your eyes.

  • Keep your pets and children out of the cleaning area and protect anthing you have near by that you do not wish to get primer on.

  • Remember to follow proper disposal methods.

Your well being matters. Following good safety procautions will allow you to enjoy working on your DIY projects longer.


This meticulous foundation you have created is not just about the paint adherence or the stain blocking; it is about setting the stage for an incredible transforamtion that will be around for a long time. The role of primer is undeniably a finish game changer. Now that you have this new found knowledge you can begin your next piece on a confident foot. Letting the primer be the silent architect of your materpiece, ensuring every color and detail shine brilliantly. Drop your own primer experiences or questions below.




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