Using Primer On Painted Furniture

Primer Primer Primer. I have used, tested, tried, and broken up with at least a dozen primers.

Primer on your walls is more or less fine. I am talking about primer on furniture. When I was new to the paint world I used an every day latex primer. Why? Because I thought that was what you were supposed to do.

Apparently, not everything you read on the internet is true!?!?!

Actually, I thought you were supposed to do lots of things certain ways but have learned that everything depends on approximately 1 million factors. After a couple years of that non-sense I disposed of several gallons of various primers because I couldn’t take it anymore.
I really don’t like oil based primers and after trying several water-based primers I settled on the Zissner primers **They are not a sponsor and I have no affiliation with them**. They have so many kinds of primers and really they are so much better than others. Some of their water based primers even dry like Kilz Original (oil based) does.  I tended to have them tinted though to whatever color I was using so you didn’t have bright white under the paint.

We used to prime every single piece of furniture. When we started using General Finishes regularly, I didn’t buy into not having to use a primer and I am not one to skip steps. After much deliberation, we tried it, several times and got better results on our furniture with NO PRIMER and after a bunch of testing we axed priming from our process.  It was amazing. Life changing actually. General Finishes recommends a stain blocking primer for their snow white and antique white colors but I usually don’t use one. Instead, I use General Finishes Seagull Grey as my primer. Why? Because it has great coverage and a higher percent of solids than most primers (simply put, its better). It is also self leveling which gives you a much nicer looking end product. I use it on the whites, yellows, and reds as a base coat typically.

Does seagull grey block all stains? No. But here’s the thing, some stains are super stubborn. Some stains I have had to put 5 coats of various stain blocking primers on AND seal AND then more primer and then paint. In my opinion, stain blocking primers at their best block your basic stain and that’s about it. In those cases, Seagull grey works just fine.

So what do I do?

A stubborn stain that seagull grey isn’t blocking… First, I touch that stain up with some more grey. Since General Finishes dries to the touch in a few minutes on a touch up spot like this I will have my answer right away. Most of the time that does the trick immediately. If it doesn’t, then I know it is going to be one of THOSE stains. I have had about 3 or 4 of THOSE stains out of hundreds of pieces of furniture….I seal it. You can seal with shellac or really any old sealer. Shellac or modern masters will block it in the best. Be warned: the sealer makes the stain look worst at first. That is okay! Next, I break out the primers. Typically for the really really stubborn stains, they will require a couple layers of the sealer and primer process and then it will be ready for paint. I am only telling you this because if it happens to be the one piece of furniture you do in your life and it happens to have the most stubborn spot ever, it isn’t you!

When to prime?

Once you have painted A LOT of furniture you tend to get a feeling for when pieces may need to be sealed and primed to start with…mahogany is often a culprit. Sometimes you can tell during cleaning that there may be an abnormal amount of bleed through as well.  Most furniture does not have crazy staining issues which is why I am comfortable starting with just grey paint.

We still always use a primer when painting with metallics or laminate furniture although with the metallics I tend to use General Finishes as the primer. I have tested this and the results are great. If we were doing a white metallic I would probably go with the Zissner product for better coverage with a white.

Does anyone have a primer they swear by? I am assuming back in the day when they had lead based paint the lead encapsulated any possible stain…so there must be something! Then again, maybe I am just impatient and if one out a billion pieces gets a stubborn stain I am probably doing okay.