Monthly Archives: August 2014

How to Refinish Oak Cabinet Doors

By Todd Sharrard –  Today the re-finishing of oak cabinet doors to a solid pigmented finish is a common choice amongst homeowners.  If this is what you decide to do you will be dealing with finishing issues specific to sealing wood stains and the gain of the oak wood which can be is very porus.  Use these tips to get a great presentation when refinishing oak cabinet doors.


Close up view of oak wood – notice the open and porus nature of the wood.


Sherwin Williams Shellac Product – aslo BIN by Zinsser is a shellac based primer.

1) Shellac – this is the right primer to use.  The shellac tackles a couple of  the key issues surrounding the refinishing of Oak.  Firstly the shellac will seal the grain the nicely.  The consistency of pigmented shellac is that of stain, almost water like; this is good for penetrating the deep crevices of the grain that we see in oak wood.

2) Spraying the Shellac – since the shellac dries so fast the best way to apply it is to use a sprayer device.  I have sprayed shellac using a suction feed spray gun with a 1.8mm tip – i think you could get away using a finer tip considering the consistency of the shellac; compared to other primers it is quite thin.   Brushing & rolling pigmented shellac primer.  Work fast and one piece at a time; like any other door do the detail first, keep a wet edge, dab the corners, pull out from corners, then roll the flats, use a depleted roller on the sides.  Always keep your roller wet and ready for the next board ~ don’t let the roller dry out.   Shellac cleans up nicely using Methal Hydrate (available at the paint shop).

3) Tannins – one of the bigger issues to deal with when refinishing oak cabinet doors to a solid finish is yellow stains that can bleed through the lacquer,  we refer to these as Tannins. These are the natural dyes that come from woods like oak and will definitely be an issue if your finishing the doors using a white or off white colour.  Again this is where the shellac primer reigns supreme – nothing is better at dealing with oak tannins and stains than pigmented shellac base primers.

4) Sanding after primer coats and each finish coat.  You’ll need to sand down between the primer coats and the finish coats if you want the grain of the oak to fully absorb the lacquer.  You will find that the effort to finish oak doors in a darker colour is less than finishing in an off white or white.  With the lighter colours the grain must be fully absorbed or else black pit marks will appear in the deeper crevices of the grain; sanding between primer coats and finish coat will both level off the grain and fill the deeper crevices with sanding dust to be absorbed or burnt in with next coat of primer or lacquer.

FINE FINISH TIP:  don’t recoat primers before the recommend dry time and try to let the primer coats dry at least a day before sanding.  You will sand away less edges and primer and leave a better build if you let the primer coat cure really well.


The picture above shows how the grain presents itself when oak is done in solid pigmented finish.  Even though we sand between primer and finish coats we still see the grain.

5) Surfacer (Lacquer Primer) after Shellac Primer.  Before applying a coat of pigmented lacquer some finishers will apply a lacquer based primer product called surfacer.  Unlike the shellac, the surfacer sands to a soft powder like substance.  The surfacer can be used to build up the finish and seal in the grain.

Sharrard Painting & Fine Finishing
487 Speers Rd, Oakville,
Ontario, L6K 2G4
Phone: (905) 334-3242


Primer Recommendations for Everyday Painting Projects

Picking the right primer is one of the critical factors to delivering  quality painting product on budget.  A good primer will seal the surface allowing both easy and even distribution of the finish product.  Primers can also be used to build up or level out a surface.  The right primers can be very effective at filling in subtle surface variations and moving you closer to creating that perfect finish.  Knowning the right primer to use will put you on the right path.

When to use primers.  Anytime you have unfinished or bare wood or unfinished drywall you should be applying a sealer or primer.  As well:

  • A lot of people also over look the fact that drywall  pulled back or exposed down to the brown paper is also an unsealed surface.  When the brown paper is visible you will need the application of a sealer BEFORE the application of polyfilla or drywall compound.  If you do not seal the exposed brown paper the polyfilla will not stick too well to the paper.  This will cause the pollyfilla to peal of the wall when rolling the finish coat – the water from the latex paint reacts with the surface and pollyfilla falls away from the wall.
  • Converting from high base colour (eg dark red, blue) to an off white colour will typically require the application of a complete coat of latex wall primer.

Types of Primers

shellacprimersShellac:  best type of primer to use for sealing in stains, wood knots, crayons, markers, etc.  Also good for sealing in open grain woods from tannis which is the yellow bleeding we see after we put white paint on wood such as oak.  Shellac primers are harder to clean up you will need to use Methyal Hydrate.  The Sherwin Williams product is a good solution – these can be purchased in gallons, quarts or spray cans.

Premium-Latex-PrimerLatex:  latex primers are great for drywall finishes.  My goto product for priming drywall is the Para Premium hi hiding primer-sealer.  This stuff has a very high solid content and is great for filing in subtle surface variations.  Two coats of the Para Hi-Hide on bare drywall is all I have on my basement ceiling.  It looks great.

Alkyd or Oil Based Primers:  should be used for sealing in wood trim.  MDF trim sealed using an alkyd based primer will not swell as much MDF primed using a water based or latex primer.  If your trim is made of wood the latex primer will also raise the gain = all your trim will need to be sanded smooth after the application of latex primer.

STIX is great for maple wood and various veneers

STIX is great for various veneers and glossy surfaces

UMA:  ureathane modified primers.  These are now the go to product for painting glossy surfaces such as veneers.  A lot of painters use them for painting cabinets since they can be brushed on and sanded easily.  STIX is an example of an UMA based primer.  I find wood surfaces that have been treated with STIX need to dry for full 24 hours before they can be finish sanded.

Surfacers:  these are light bodied primers that sand very well.  They should sand up to a fine powder and not a gummy film.  These are typically used in applications where finish appearance is of the utmost importance (eg. furniture and cabinets).  The surfacers are usually part of a lacquer based system such as Sherwin Williams Kem Aqua.

Red Oxide: used to prime metal surfaces.  As professional cabinet painters we don’t often have a need to prime metal but when we do we like to use the Rustoleum Red Oxide primer in 12 oz areosol cans.  These can be purchased at Home Depot.

88001C_4Concrete Sealer:  should be used when painting brick surfaces for the first time.  The sealer prevents all your paint for soaking into the brick.  The idea here being that the sealer is half the cost of a can of paint.  The Behr product from Home Depot is a product that I have used often.

Conclusions:  when it comes to primers you do really get what you paid for.  I learned this time and time again.  Cheap primers might due when it comes to painting drywall.  But for priming MDF, wood and special glossy surfaces you need more gusto – its gotta seal the wood but it should also sand nicely – to a fine powder like substance.