Refinishing: Using the Right Primer

With the new flooring install in full force, I’ve decided our master bedroom needs a little face lift. Nothing major, but a few updates – refinishing our dresser, making a new headboard, making new nightstands, replacing the lights that are above them, and (what we really need the most) making a barn door for our *new* bathroom. I decided to start with the dresser refinish because I knew it would be a quick and easy project that would have a lot of impact in the room.

I love this dresser! It completes a set that I got from my grandma’s when she passed away and its very dear to my heart. In all honesty, I really wanted to bring the finish back to life, but the top is that retro laminate/formica stuff. There’s no way to refinish that except to paint it. Boo!

So the first thing I did was prep the dresser – I painted the outer shell and stripped and stained the drawers. So I sanded everything and made sure to clean off any and all dirt. With the outer shell prepped and ready to go, I primed it, painted it with charcoal chalked paint, and sealed it with satin poly. Easy peasy right? WRONG!! I had the little voice inside my head tell me “Amanda, don’t use your latex primer – use the shellac one!” Did I listen to little Amanda? Nope, not even close. And you know what happened…the top bubbled up and looked HORRIBLE! Horrible, I tell you! Ugh! And then it just peeled right off <insert lots and lots of cuss words here>

Why did it mess up?

Laminate/formica is a very, very slick surface. Even sanding it like I did, it still wasn’t enough for regular ole latex primer. Surfaces like that, latex primer will just peel right off – which essentially what happened to me. For very slick surfaces like that, you need shellac based primers like BIN primer. This stuff is amazeballs! It goes on relatively smooth and dries super fast (45 mins). I used a paint brush to paint it on and had a few brush strokes showing so I took a piece of 220 grit sandpaper and sanded wherever I felt brush strokes. This stuff sanded so well and I never had a spot where the primer scratched off. It was on there to stay!

I’m not sure why shellac based primers work so well like that. I’m sure it has something to do with the way that shellac operates – I’m pretty sure it will stick to anything – but I’m not sure. Of course, you want to have a clean, dry surface to paint it on. I sanded my entire piece back down to bare wood and cleaned off all of the primer/wood dust. The primer worked like a charm! This primer is also great to hide knots in wood. Its my go-to for priming knotty pine because you don’t have to worry about bleed through.


  • great for knots – no bleed through
  • great for hiding smells on surfaces
  • dries incredibly fast – recoat in 30-45 mins
  • a little goes a long way
  • sands smooth


  • its pricier than most primers
  • it puts off fumes – open a window, have a fan pointed towards you, wear a mask
  • its harder to clean up – ammonia or denatured alcohol are the only things that clean it
  • it dries super fast – more likely to have brush marks if you touch a spot that’s already drying so sanding is usually essential

Despite the cons, this is my new favorite primer to use on furniture. You still want to scuff sand like you would with any other primer, but it will stick to the surface you put it on. Even though its more expensive, a quart will go a very long way and paint a decent amount of furniture. You don’t have to worry about bleed through and scrape off like you do with other primers – once the primer dries, your piece is sealed!

With the BIN primer done, I repainted the dresser and sealed it (using my paint sprayer). It worked beautifully! The surface was nice and smooth – I did the scratch test before sealing it and the paint didn’t budge. I like to throw a coat or two of poly on my painted furniture projects. Living in the south, we are always battling that dreaded monster, Humidity! I’ve found with sealing the paint with a water based poly, the humidity doesn’t get to the paint and make if feel tacky or stick to other painted surfaces (like drawers getting caught because the paint is sticky). You also don’t have to worry about decor that you put on the top of furniture sticking and leaving lines/rings/etc on it. It makes for a nice smooth surface!

Next up were the drawer fronts! Usually, I don’t sand vintage furniture. A lot of it is veneer and you don’t want to accidentally sand through the veneer, but I was being impatient and since it was my piece and not a client’s….it was ok to do this time! LOL So I sanded them, cleaned them with mineral spirits, and stained them. I let the stain sit overnight to cure and polyed them the next day. This project was officially done son!

It might have taken me 2x as long to do it, but hey! sometimes you gotta learn things the hard way. I now know that I should listen to little Amanda every time she talks…because I have learned (the hard way. Every. Single. Time) that when I don’t listen to her, things go wrong. C’est la vie! Now its time to move on to the next project – I can’t decide what to do next….barn door or headboard sign. What do y’all think?

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Until next time! Laters on the Menjay!