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Ideas From Ed: Sometimes Paint Prevails

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

“Ideas from Ed” (March 2020)

Ed is a do-it-yourselfer who is happy to share some of his ideas and experiences in this monthly column.

This month: Sometimes Paint Prevails

Gee, I really hate painted furniture. A recent issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, on the cover, featured a small table with one side wood, and the other side all painted up with decorations. I thought, “Great! They’re going to show you how to strip that ugly paint off and return the wood appearance.” In reality, however, it was showing you how to cover over the beautiful wood with paint in an ugly (to me) makeover! That being said, much of today’s furniture is significantly different than that of years ago, and the “wood” really isn’t boards, but a manufactured product like MDF (medium density fiberboard). Although it’s reasonably stable, flat, and easy to work with, MDF doesn’t hold screws well, nor does it have inherent grain or beauty. Hence, it’s generally painted.

This month, I’m showing the painted cabinet doors of a friend, who asked me to do some repairs to them and repaint them. They belong to the base cabinet to a bathroom sink, and as such, have often been splashed with water. MDF doesn’t like water. Normally, painted surfaces can shed water reasonably well, but these cabinet doors have blistered and bubbled due to the wetness. I could not find reasonably-priced replacement doors, so documented how I repaired these.

First, let’s look at a few pictures showing the damage:

The first step was to rough-sand the damage using 80 or 100 grit sandpaper. (The higher the number, the less coarse the grit.) The goal was to get the surface of the damaged area lower than the surrounding door material. In other words, eliminate the bulging damage, even if the result is a small depression.

These pictures show how things progressed after sanding:

When sanding curved surfaces, I just used my fingers to approximate the shape, but a dowel or something like that could have been used as a “form” for the sandpaper. Sanding large flat surfaces should always be done using a sanding “block”, usually made of rubber, to help keep pressure against the surface uniform and spread over a larger area than a fingertip or even a palm. Where the new surface was “low”, I needed to “fill” it to bring it up to the level of the surrounding material. I used “body putty” of the type used in auto body work.

Again, I do not endorse any product or label, but am only showing you what I used. There are many different brands, but they all do about the same thing.

Generally speaking, these get mixed at a ratio of a golf-ball sized glob of the main putty to a pea-sized amount of the hardener.

These were well-mixed, but only once I was ready to spread a very thin layer over the damaged area, using a plastic “spatula” of sorts. The goal was to get the material as smooth as possible, and slightly “high” to allow for another sanding “down” to the final surface. Mixed putty sets rapidly, so I had to work quickly. Here are some pictures of the first layer. (It’s always better to do a little at a time to minimize sanding afterward.)

The real star of the whole process was the primer that I used. It’s a “high-build” type, made to fill in small imperfections. Note the information to that effect on the label:

The primer can go over or under the body putty, or both, and fills in a lot of imperfections. By spraying the primer and lightly sanding, it was easy to see which areas needed a bit more attention and body putty. Remember the old saying about surface preparation: If you can FEEL an imperfection, you’ll be able to SEE it. Paint doesn’t hide everything!

After several sandings/fillings/primerings, the surfaces looked good enough to me that paint could be applied.

A word about the paint, too. For projects like this, not just any paint will do. The best is actually called “cabinet paint” and goes on smoothly, without showing many brush marks. I took the cabinet doors to the store with me when I bought the paint, and the store custom-mixed the color to match them. That way, I only have to paint the doors and not the whole cabinet, and I have the exact formula (written on the can) in case more is needed. Cabinet paint works great using a foam roller specially made for it. Here’s what I used:

The key to good painting is to use light pressure, and thin, multiple coats. Here’s the first coat. You can see plenty of primer showing through. I didn’t spray primer over the entire surface, but did use a fine sandpaper (around 220 grit) lightly over everything. That removed some of the gloss on the original unprimered surface, and smoothed the primer a bit in preparation for paint. Of course, prior to painting, everything was wiped down to remove all sanding dust. The bit of “texture” showing in the wet paint pretty much disappears as it dries, so long as the underlying surface is nice and smooth.

Here’s how the doors look after an overnight of drying, and I think they are ready for hardware installation and re-attachment to the cabinet. Three coats of paint were applied to each side.

I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!


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