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primer for painting ikea furniture

louise80's picture

Hi, I was wondering if anyone knew of a good primer that i can use after i scuff up my ikea dresser.I was told to sand lightly, then prime, then sand lightly again and then paint the dresser using a primer and paint all in one.  Hopefully thats right.   Just wanted to know if anyone had success with a certain product.  Thanks so much!!

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Nestor_Kelebay's picture

Louise80: Hope I'm not too late.  Coupla comments:1.  I like Zinsser's Bullseye 123; I use it as the primer for all plaster and drywall wall and ceiling repairs I do.  But, I would not use it as a primer for painting furniture.2.  It's true that it sticks well to a wide variety of smooth surfaces, but just like all latex primers and paints, it dries to a soft film.  For any working surface, such as a floor (which you walk on) or a table top or the shelves in kitchen cupboards, cabinets and bookcases, mantles and window sills wide enough top put potted plants on, you need a primer and paint that both dry to a HARD film.  The harder the film, the less it will be damaged by hard materials (like stainless steel pots or ceramic dishes) that get slid across it's surface.  This is the reason why every paint company will use it's hardest drying paint (typically an epoxy or polyurethane paint as it's FLOOR PAINT).  And, it's also why oil based polyurethane replaced Carnauba Wax as the finish of choice over hardwood floors.  Carnauba wax was soft enough to be polished to a nice shine by a little machine that weighed all of 5 pounds, whereas oil based polyurethane is too hard to respond to polishing with such a machine.  But, that hardness also means that it stands up to wear and tear without showing damage much better than Carnauba wax.3. If I were you, I would use an INTERIOR ALKYD PRIMER on your dresser after sanding it.  Then, top coat with an INTERIOR ALKYD PAINT.  The word "alkyd" kinda sorta means "oil based", but not really.  An alkyd resin is basically a "clump" of souped up vegetable oil molecules.  Just in the same way that linseed oil will dry to a solid film when exposed to the oxygen in the air, modern chemistry allows us to take a much less expensive oil (like soy bean or corn oil) and modify those oil molecules so that they also form a solid film when exposed to the oxygen in the air (just like linseed oil).  But, such souped up oil molecules not only react more aggressively with the oxygen in the air, but they contain many more sites where they can react with oxygen.  The result is an oil molecule that forms a much harder film faster than linseed oil ever could.  Paints made from such souped up oil molecules are called "alkyd" paints, and that's what all modern "oil based" paints and primers actually are.  This is why the old linseed oil based paints that pretty much ended in the 1980's took several days to dry, whereas modern "oil based" (that is "alkyd") paints are dry to the touch in a few hours.Now, you don't want to use an alkyd paint over a latex primer.  The reason why is because then you're putting a hard coating over a soft one.  When you do that, the top hard coating will be prone to "chipping" if it receives any impacts because it's not properly supported from below.  The latex primer will compress on impact, causing the hard paint to crack, and the result will be "chips" in the paint.  If you're planning to use a hard paint, you want the primer under it to be just as hard (or harder) to avoid the combination being prone to chipping easily.You don't need to know the rest...4. Not all alkyd paints are created equal.  Wood is a natural material that swells and shrinks with changes in it's moisture content caused by seasonal changes in temperature and humidity.  However, it's really only outdoors that you get large changes in temperature and humidity from day to night and from season to season.  The problem with paints made from interior alkyd resins is that with high hardness comes high rigidity and little to no elasticity.  That is, interior alkyd paints dry so hard that they don't have the elasticity to accomodate the swelling and shrinking of wood that is located outdoors.  To solve this problem, paint chemists invented EXTERIOR ALKYD paint, which is made from oil molecules which simply aren't souped up as much.  The result is a softer paint that still retains enough elasticity to stretch and shrink with a wood substrate.5.  Since the temperature and humidity of air indoors doesn't vary by nearly as much throughout the year, it's only on wood outdoors that you need to use an exterior oil based paint.  All latex paints (both interior and exterior) are very soft and will stretch and shrink with wood outdoors, it's just that exterior latex paints have UV blockers and mildewcides added to them to prevent them deteriorating from exposure to the Sun and fungii growing on them.6. Oil based polyurethanes use exactly the same kind of souped up oil molecules that alkyd resins do.  However, when cooking these oil molecules to form "clumps" of oil molecules, or alkyd resins, they add chemicals called di- and tri- isocyanates.  An "isocyanate" is any molecule with a nitrogen-carbon-oxygen group in it that looks like this: -N=C=O, and di-isocyantes and tri-isocyanates have two and three of them.  When you add these isocyanates to the pot when cooking alkyd resins, the NCO groups react with -OH groups to form "urethane" groups (-NH-(C=O)-O) right inside the clump of oil molecules.  These urethane groups are very strong and act very much like the steel roll cage inside a racing car, making the "clump" harder (if you tried to squeeze it) and stronger (if you tried to stretch it).  So, oil based "polyurethane" is merely a special kind of alkyd resin that dries to a harder film than normal alkyd resins only because the resins themselves are harder and stronger.  Oil based polyurethane dries to a solid film by reacting with the oxygen in the air just like linseed oil based paints and varnishes, interior and exterior alkyd primers and paints and other "oil based" coatings like Danish Oil and Spar Varnish.Hope this helps.

gmcauley's picture

Hello louise80,

Yes, that's right, if you sand and then use a primer + paint, you should be able to freshen up your Ikea dresser. The Home Depot has paint/primer combos that would work, but ask at any hardware store, and they'll be able to help you.

Good luck!

Gwen McAuley (gmcauley at

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