(Originally posted to Facebook on September 27)
I’ve had to write two self bios this week...and while that feels uncomfortably strange, even for this girl who writes about pretty personal shit on a regular basis, it made me realize it’s been a really long time since I actually introduced myself here. I think the last time I did this, I had a few hundred people following along and most of them were already my friends and knew far more about me than I could fit in a few paragraphs. There’ve been quite a few new faces around lately and I’m going to step outside my little box and say hello....
So, uh, hello. 😘 I’m Sam...I’m the owner, designer, builder, and artist behind The Copper Elm. I have lived around the world, but for quite a few years have called Colorado my home. I’ve got two shops here, one in the incredible RiNo District of Denver and one in my quaint little town of Castle Rock. I sell paint (Wise Owl 💗🦉💗), refinished furniture, repurposed home decor, and odds and ends that I find beautiful, fascinating, or both.
I have a passion for teaching, but was recently told by a student/friend/human being that I admire incredibly that my teaching skills play a far second to my mentoring skills....and that was probably the biggest compliment I’ve ever received in this business. I get a rush from selling my own furniture but it doesn’t even compare to the thrill when one of my friends or clients sells a piece of theirs. I love nothing more than watching and (if I’m lucky enough) helping someone see their true potential, unlock their hidden artistic talents, and become the creative person they always dreamed they could.
My life is absolutely centered around the most important person on earth...my four year old son. He’s a spit fire, smarter than I can handle, funnier than he thinks, and cuter than anything in my world. He’s the reason I created this business and the reason I continue every single day. I’m a work from home mom who wakes up every morning and hustles from dawn to dusk so that I can support this teeny family of ours and watch him grow on the daily.
I’m a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve and that gets me into more trouble than anything else. (Well, besides maybe my mouth...that gets me into quite a bit of trouble too....) I love incredibly hard, even when people don’t deserve it. I’m one that forgives easily, and instead of harboring anger, I tend to put all my emotions back into helping those who hurt me. Often times, that leaves me with very little left for myself and that’s something I’m working on...
I’m in my mid thirties and it’s beginning to show in all the best ways. Ive got wrinkles near my eyes because when I laugh, I laugh with my entire soul and it tends to contort my face in ways that don’t show up so cute in photos. I’ve got scars on my body from the things I’ve conquered, and I wear them with pride because they remind me just how much I have survived and just how much more I can endure. I spent a lot of years apologizing for who I was, conforming to what others found to be appealing, and hiding behind lies that made me more attractive to the world. I’ve spent the last twelve months of my life changing that. I was hurt in ways that are somewhat unimaginable, even to myself, and they’ve taught me such a great deal about where I truly stand on this earth. If I love, I say so. If I’m hurt, I say so. If I feel indifferent, I walk away. It’s incredibly cliche, but life is too short to hold back and so, I don’t.
This is me. I’m just a girl trying to do something good in this world, hoping to find some folks to do that good with, while having a few good drinks and a lot of good laughs along the way....
If you’d care to share, I’d love to be formally introduced...who are you? Where are you? Are your wrinkles from smiles or frowns? Do you drink whiskey or wine (I switch back and forth depending on the day)? What brings you here?
Who’s ready to paint?? We’ve talked about priming your furniture, we’ve talked about what IS in Wise Owl paint and what so amazingly is NOT, we’ve talked about the two awesome badass chicks that run this incredible company...and it’s ALMOST time to dip that brush in and have some fun, but first, a necessity….
Let’s talk about that awful four letter word that we all despise: PREP.
Prep work is a beast that most of us hate to tackle, and plenty of folks skip altogether. But if you want your beautiful paint job to last...prep work is a non negotiable. I don’t care what any paint brand tells you, you NEED to prep. (And yes, I am fully prepared to receive major backlash for saying this, and I don’t care...I’m unwavering when it comes to prep work. Period.) Depending on the condition of your furniture, your prep work can vary quite a bit. You might get away with 20 minutes of light cleaning or it might take a whole week of work. You need to assess your surface, come up with a game plan, and jump in.
There are four main steps of prep work: Cleaning, Repairs, Sanding, Priming. Some projects require all 4, some are fine with just 1. You can never do TOO MUCH prepping, but you sure can cut corners and pay for it later. If in doubt, go above and beyond. It’ll make your painting a million times better, I promise. Let’s break these steps down and get to it…
-Cleaning: This is the one prep step that is absolutely necessary, NO MATTER WHAT. Dirt, grime, grease, oils, residue, cobwebs…they all can cause major headaches with your paint (the finish, the adhesion, the durability, etc). If you are dealing with a brand new piece of furniture, straight from the factory, made entirely of raw wood, with no sap, no splintering, no issues what so ever...you can likely get away with a dusting. But just about every other scenario will require some sort of actual cleaning products. Depending on how dirty your piece is, you may go the gentle route with warm water and some dish soap or a little more hardcore with an all purpose cleaner (I have two major preferences: LA’s Totally Awesome Cleaner from the dollar store - cheap, tough, but super stinky and not eco friendly or Whip-It from Walmart/Sam’s Club/Amazon - plant based, strong enough to eat straight through paint, eco friendly and non toxic). If your piece has a wax coating or was previously cleaned with Pledge or a similar furniture polish, you’ll want to grab Mineral Spirits and a scrubby pad or even better, steel wool...get to scrubbing and that top coat will melt away. If your piece has a somewhat shiny finish, a good deglosser can help dull it and give your furniture a little more tooth for your paint to stick to. I personally try to stay away from harsh cleaners like TSP. TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) is actually banned in plenty of states, thanks to its crazy dangerous nature. It can cause difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, vision loss, and skin irritation. It can lead to oxygen depletion in water sources (so think twice before washing it down the drain) and if used to encapsulate lead based paint, it’ll do a good job of converting that lead dust into lead phosphate, which is great for removal...and awful at the same time because lead phosphate is a possible carcinogen. I just steer clear.
No matter what your approach, it’s important to get your furniture in the cleanest shape possible…..and then wash it one more time. Yep, I know, I know. But you need one more quick cleaning with plain water to get any possible cleaning product residue off before you move forward. So give it one last rinse before moving on.
***One more little tip about cleaning. A lot of folks choose to clean as a LAST prep step after they do repairs and sand. I completely understand that you’ll have to clean that sanding dust, wood glue residue, etc off in a bit anyway, so cleaning twice seems stupid. But if you sand BEFORE cleaning, you can actually cause more issues in the long run. Let’s say your furniture was cleaned with Pledge. If you don’t remove the Pledge first, and just jump right in with your palm sander, the heat and pressure from your sander can actually melt the wax coating on the furniture and push it further INTO your wood. This means you’ll have a much harder time removing that coating later, and dare I say, it may never come up. Clean twice and save yourself the stress.***
-Repairs: Now is the time to fix any defects. Starting with the absolute basics, give your piece a little push...is it wobbly? Are the legs all sturdy or do they need their bolts and screws tightened down? If you have a little give, tighten that bad boy up. I’m a huge fan of wood glue and brad nails to reinforce sides, backings, etc. If the veneer is lifting, inject a little glue under the surface and clamp, clamp, clamp. If the sides are pulling away, glue it, tie it all down with ratchet straps, and throw some nails in to lock it up. For major separation, I prefer to drill holes and glue in dowels for extra durability and strength. (I love this kit! Its five bucks and comes with a drill bit, guard, and dowels so everything will fit perfectly) If you’ve got chips or divots in your wood or veneer, fill with wood putty or bondo (I prefer the automotive bondo, and actually skip the wood bondo.). Pull your drawers out and tighten all the slides down with a screw driver (If they are broken, replace them now before you start painting! You can get replacement kits at any hardware store). If you have missing details, trim, feet, etc...make a mold of the existing pieces and match it up! You don’t want to glue trim on AFTER you’ve finished painting, so take the time to get it in proper shape now!
-Sanding: This is step that may or may not be necessary, depending on what you are dealing with. You may need to sand for two main scenarios...smoothing it out and roughing it up. If your piece has splintered edges, scratches, or imperfections, you can sand it all smooth to create an even canvas for your paint. If your piece is super slick and shiny, sanding can rough it up and give your paint more tooth to grip on to. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is really adhesive, but it won’t stick to a high lacquered surface, so scuff it up, make it ugly, and give your paint a fighting chance. Start with a rougher grit sandpaper and gradually work your way up to a finer finish. You don’t want to just attack a dresser with 80 grit and walk away...you’ll have a super rough, damaged surface, and it’ll show through your paint finish. Work up to a 220 grit to get a smooth surface that still has enough grip for your paint. (If I’m planning to stain instead of paint, I prefer to go all the way up to 400 grit for the most even surface.)
-Priming: I did an entire series of posts about priming (I’ll link them down below), but the main thoughts are this...If you are worried about tannins or stains bleeding through your paint job, prime. If you are worried that your paint won’t stick to a slick surface, prime. If you are painting a super dark piece bright white, prime. If your furniture stinks, prime. If you are painting with enamel, prime. If you are in doubt, prime. Wise Owl Primer is a piece of cake to work with...its water based and low vocs...it goes on just like paint and will give you the best chance at a quality finish.
I hate seeing posts that make major assumptions, saying that your piece just needs a quick cleaning before you can paint. Each piece of furniture is different and each will require different levels of prep work. For me personally, I tend to go a little above and beyond with my prep work because I sell my pieces professionally and I NEED them to last the long haul. Take the extra time to properly prep your piece, no matter which brand of paint you are using, and you’ll have a far better experience painting, guaranteed.
And as always, if you are in doubt, send me a picture!!! I’m happy to look over your piece, assess it as much as possible, and come up with a game plan to get it in the right condition before you pick up your paint brush.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-Clean your piece no matter what
-Repair any damages or blemishes before you start painting
-Sand to smooth rough areas and rough up smooth areas
-When in doubt, prime!
Next up…..we gonna paint, baby!
(This post contains a couple affiliate links. These links don't cost you a single penny, but they help pay my bills. As always, I absolutely stand behind the products I recommend!)
We’ve talked about what’s NOT in Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint, so now, let’s talk about what IS. What makes it so stellar? What benefits does it have over paint from a big box store? Why would you want to give it a try??
So first...what is it? You’ve likely heard the term “Chalk Paint”, and for most folks, that’s a blanket term that describes a pretty large group of paint….its fairly adhesive, dries to a chalky finish, and distresses with ease. But that term is actually trademarked by a pretty major paint brand in the industry. Yup, no other brands can actually use the term...which is why everyone else has a “chalk style” or “chalky finish” or in the case of WO, a “chalk synthesis”. So why “synthesis”? Because they’ve taken the best parts of mineral (chalk, which is a form of limestone), clay, and acrylic paints and combined them to create one rockstar product. But let’s break down some of those rockstar components, one by one….
-Adhesion: Wise Owl, on a molecular level, is incredibly porous. What does that mean to you? Most importantly, it means its going to stick to most surfaces, with little prep work required. Take note, I said “little”...you all KNOW I don’t believe in skipping prep work. But lots of pieces are ready to paint after a good cleaning. (Yes, you NEED to clean!!! Do not even think about painting over those cobwebs, no matter what any paint company tells you. Once your surface is super clean, give it one more wipe down with plain water to be sure you’ve got all the cleaning chemicals off! If your piece has a somewhat slick surface or has obvious scratches, give it a quick sanding to smooth out imperfections and give the wood a little more tooth for the paint to grip onto. If it’s super slick, then grab some primer for your best chance at adhesion. I can’t recommend Wise Owl primer enough...it’s the bee’s knees, for sure).
-Self Leveling: One of the biggest headaches in the painting world is trying to avoid brush marks/strokes. If you are using a natural bristle brush and a super thick or super runny paint, that headache just got even worse. Not with Wise Owl...it actually levels out beautifully as it dries. No ridges, no lumps and bumps, no frustrations. If you combine the self leveling paint with a damp Cling On brush?? Oh, baby, then you get that flawless finish that you’ve been striving for. It won’t matter if you are a seasoned pro or you’re picking up a brush for the first time, you’ll get a smooth, enviable finish every time.
-Water Based and Water Activated: The paint dries fairly fast, but thanks to its water based nature, it can be reactivated with a spritz of water, a damp brush, or even a baby wipe. As long as you approach it before the paint has begun curing (so within the first day or so) you can use a little bit of water to distress your finish, blend paint colors, remove drips, etc. Any imperfections or mistakes can be cleaned up with just a touch of water….and cleaning up any actual messes is a total dream. I am the sloppiest painter on earth, and when I’m finished with a paint job, I usually have paint all the way up to my elbows. A quick wipe down with a baby wipe is all I need to get every bit of paint off.
-Made From Scratch: All paint is most definitely not created equal. Did you know that a ton of paint brands actually use big box store brand paint and simply throw in a few additives and call it their own recipe? Why is this a big deal? Well, first, if they are using latex paint as a base, it likely contains crystalline silicates which can be extremely dangerous if inhaled (scroll back to my post about what is NOT in Wise Owl for a full rundown on this!). And second, when minerals are added into a premixed paint, they will never be flawlessly incorporated. Creating a recipe from scratch insures that all the components are evenly distributed and will stay that way. This extends the paint’s shelf life and also drastically aids in that self leveling aspect we just chatted about!
-Acrylic Binder: Paint needs a binder to help with adhesion and provide strength and durability. A lot of brands use a latex binder in their recipes, while Wise Owl chooses acrylic binders. The acrylic gives your paint a stronger finish that distresses beautifully. Distressing a latex based paint can lead to quite a few frustrations as the paint rolls and gums up under the friction of the sandpaper.
-Heavily Pigmented: Wise Owl doesn’t cut corners when it comes to pigments. They choose high quality, heavily saturated pigments which means your project will be completed in fewer coats. Most colors will see full coverage in just one to two coats. A pint of paint doesn’t look like much, but it will cover an average of 75-80 square feet. I can finish a decent sized dresser with just one pint.
When you combine all of these benefits, with all of the incredible lengths Wise Owl has taken to avoid causing harm to its users or the environment, and then throw in the two outstandingly talented and intelligent women that run this company….you’ve got a pretty damn stellar paint. Period.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-It will stick to most surfaces with minimal prep work
-It self levels so you’ll look like a pro
-You can reactivate the paint with water to correct imperfections and blend colors
-Its made from scratch so all the particles are fully incorporated and won’t separate
-It has a strong acrylic binder that promotes adhesion
-High quality pigments mean less coats to achieve full coverage
Next up??? We’ll break down the painting process, step by step, to fully transform your furniture with Wise Owl! Stay tuned
So your piece is prepped and now you are ready to paint….but why choose Wise Owl Paint??
Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is single handedly the easiest paint I’ve ever worked with. I’ve pushed it to its limits, and have only been able to truly mess it up once. Yup, once. (I’ll fill ya in on that big ‘womp womp’ moment soon, I promise!) It glides on like butter, self levels like a dream, and blends like nobody’s business. Add in the fact that it’s one of the most eco friendly paints on the market….and you’ve got a winner. We’re going to dive into all the incredible colors, the application process, and trouble shooting soon, but today I want to chat a bit about what actually makes the paint so impressive on an environmental standpoint.
I get asked quite often, “What’s in this paint that makes it so special?” but a far more important question to ask is “What’s NOT in this paint?” So, while the things that are IN the paint are impressive, today, let’s break down the things that are MISSING in Wise Owl Paint:
VOCs: You’ve heard the term, but do you know what it means? Volatile Organic Compounds. This is regulated by the EPA….but their decisions on what can be classified as a VOC is actually kind of ridiculous. In short, VOCs are compounds that cause or contribute to smog, which is why the EPA is involved. But in humans, they’ve been linked to everything from mild skin, nose, mouth, and throat irritation….all the way up to damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. VOCs can also leach out of your painted furniture long after you’ve finished painting. Some studies show off gassing for up to six months, and others are now saying that number is closer to five years. So painting a piece with a high VOC paint can actually cause damage for far longer than the time it takes you to paint! (So if you are painting furniture for other people, you can actually be putting your customers at risk) The problem with the EPA’s classification of VOCs is that it leaves A LOT of dangerous chemicals off the list. So simply finding a paint that is low or no VOCs is not enough!! You need to dig in and ask more questions to see what other dangers are lurking in your paint. (Also, be sure to question if the paint base AND the colorants are both ZERO VOC...there have been claims of companies advertising that their paint is Zero VOCs, because their base doesn’t contain any, while their colorants actually contain high levels.)
Crystalline Silicates: These are tiny crystals found in MANY paints on the market. When crystalline silicates stay in the paint, they don’t actually cause much of a risk. But if you distress that painted furniture, that’s when it becomes a major concern. Crystalline silicates become airborne when sanding...and these itty bitty microscopic bits get drawn into your respiratory system and cause SERIOUS and PERMANENT damage. Imagine tiny shards of glass scratching the inner lining of your lungs, and then scars forming to heal the damage. Sound familiar?? Probably because it’s similar to the damage caused by asbestos. Yup, that crazy crap that you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole?? Does the same damage as that paint dust you are breathing in. This is typically a non issue when painting walls...because you typically don’t sand them. But if you like to sand your paint between coats or distress your finishes...you are putting yourself at risk!
Ammonia: Paint needs a preservative (called a ‘biocide’) to extend its shelf life. One of the cheapest, and most readily available biocides added to water based paint is….ammonia. Have you ever opened a gallon of latex paint and gotten that nose hair burning stench, also known as “fresh paint smell”? Yup, that would be thanks to the ammonia. Ammonia stinks. Bad. Low levels of ammonia can cause irritation to the nose, eyes, and throat...high levels can have a dangerous effect on the respiratory system and can even cause blindness. Typical levels used to preserve paint can cause asthma issues and migraines. The much safer alternative to ammonia costs around ten times the price, which is why tons of companies take the cheaper route. Wise Owl refuses to sacrifice the health of its consumers just to save a few bucks. So, yes, the paint may cost a bit more than the latex paint you buy at a big box store….but there’s a damn good reason. (And one more tidbit since we are talking about stinky paint….just because your paint doesn’t smell, doesn’t necessarily mean its non toxic. Lots of paint companies are now adding MASKING AGENTS to cover up the stench, making you think it’s safe to use indoors...so ask questions!!!)
Formaldehyde: This is an embalming agent and one of the most effective preservatives on the market. Unfortunately, it can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, allergies, asthma flare ups, nose and throat irritation….and even cancer. But, it does a darn good job of preventing the infection and growth of microorganisms, so paint companies add it to their mixture to extend their paint’s shelf life and avoid growth issues. Once again, this is a strong NO from Wise Owl. The risks far outweigh the benefits.
Ethylene Glycol: Anti-Freeze. Yup. Thanks to its low freezing point, ethylene glycol is commonly added to paint to prevent it from freezing. When exposed to skin, it can cause mild irritation, and when inhaled at high levels, it can cause irritation of the upper respiratory tract and mucous membranes. The real danger though? The real danger lies in ingesting ethylene glycol. Yes, we all know you shouldn’t eat paint, right? But what if you’ve got small kiddos or pets in your home? Ingestion of ethylene glycol produces similar effects of ethanol (alcohol) intoxication...dizziness, depression, nausea, vomiting, and in severe cases, coma and brain damage. Keeping it out of our paint is the safe choice...but it does put the paint at a higher risk of freezing! So, you stay safe, but you need to be a little more cautious of where you store your paint in the winter months!
So, those are the big dangers that are NOT present in Wise Owl’s chalk synthesis paint. Next up, we’ll discuss what is IN the paint, what makes it so fantastic, and the science behind why it rocks. (Yes, more science, and I won’t apologize for boring you....having a paint company owned by an environmental scientist is no small thaaang and should be truly honored and discussed! And so we shall!) Stay tuned!!
Too Long, Didn’t Read: (Yep, I see you!!! 😆)
Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint contains NONE of the nasty stuff-
VOCs - compounds that contribute to smog and pose all sorts of health risks
Crystalline Silicates - airborne crystals that if inhaled can cause irreversible lung damage
Ammonia - cheap preservative in paint that triggers asthma attacks and migraines
Formaldehyde - preservative that prevents the growth of microorganisms, but causes cancer
Ethylene Glycol - Anti-freeze agent that can cause intoxication like symptoms
Last week we talked about primer...this week, it's all about paint, baby! You all know I'm a huge fan of Wise Owl Paint, so much so that I joined their team 💜🦉. But, what makes it so amazing? What makes it better than other paints? What makes it different than paint you can buy at the big box stores? This week, we are going to jump in and not just brag about how great it is....but what actually MAKES it great. (Hint: Its science)
But today? Today, I’d like to introduce you to the women behind the brand. Because I feel it’s just about impossible to truly pay homage to the products without giving you a peek behind the curtain. Knowing the women of Wise Owl, their background, their passions, and their drive...it gives everything else a purpose. This is not a company run by women who just wanted to make pretty paint. It’s not a company that was founded on a simple goal of financial freedom. It’s not just another paint line...not...even...close.
Without further ado:
Karen...The owner, creator, CEO, and the big beautiful brains behind the products. Karen is a scientist. And not in the “oh cute, she likes science” kinda way. She’s an actual environmental scientist with a focus on forestry. Growing up, Karen’s mom rehabilitated wild animals, specifically birds of prey (starting to see where the company name came from, huh??), so being aware of how our actions impact the world around us was ingrained at a young age. As an adult, she saw first hand how the products we use can negatively affect not just our environment, but the wildlife she was raised to protect….and she decided to build an entire career on reversing that impact. She has a beautiful talent of explaining things that are incredibly complex in a manner that simply makes sense to the masses, without ever making you feel less intelligent. She’s yet to ever fail me when I’ve asked her why a product works the way it does, what specific ingredients bring to the table, or to break down the science behind a concept. She’s the smartest gal I know, and yet you just want to hang out and have a beer with her….and to me? That’s probably the best personality trait a person can have.
Erin...The COO, runner of daily operations, artist, wrangler of retailers and all our chaos, and all around badass. Erin spent a large chunk of her adult life working in the finance industry with Merrill Lynch in Chicago (yep, she’s no dummy either), but her true passion was always art. She’s got the knowledge and insight needed to run a hugely successful business, but also sees the world in a constantly evolving series of color pallets. She is an absolutely rare breed of human that has a mathematically inclined mind, combined with insane artistic talent...she blows away theories that people are either right brain or left brain dominant, because this girl fires on all cylinders at all times. (Bonus fact: She also has an INCREDIBLE singing voice, like, she was actually a competitive vocalist, and she has the dirtiest sense of humor I’ve found besides my own).
These two women have been friends for over twenty years and their perfectly balanced relationship is a key part to the success of this company. They have the same vision for Wise Owl, but both bring separate, but equally integral, talents to the table. Years ago, they saw a need for change in the paint industry. There were plenty of professional grade paints. There were plenty of eco friendly paints. But there were no products on the market that were BOTH. They knew there was a need for a top quality product that wouldn’t sacrifice our health or the environment. And so, Wise Owl was born. First, in Karen’s kitchen…paint being poured into mason jars and sold on social media...and eventually, being produced under the eye of our very own chemist at a paint manufacturer that has been in business for over a century and has won awards for their dedication to creating green products.
This is not your average paint company. And these are not your average women. If you’ve ever wondered WHY I so proudly represent Wise Owl, these two women are it. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this company, but even more importantly, I’m incredibly honored to call both of them my friends. They embody what it means to be strong, independent, successful women, both in business and in life. And we can always use more of that.
We've talked about WHY you should prime, we've talked about WHEN you should prime, and we've talked about WHICH primer you should choose....but HOW should you apply it??
This comes down to your comfort and personal preferences....and also a little dependent on the piece of furniture you are tackling. To apply primer, you've got three main options and each have pros. Let's break 'em down....
-Brush: With a shellac or oil based primer, you typically want to grab a cheapo brush because getting the product out of the bristles is such a pain in the butt that you'll likely just toss the brush in the trash. Not the case here! Because Wise Owl Primer is a water based product, it washes out of brushes beautifully. (Just be sure to wash it as soon as you are done working...it dries fast and insanely tough so its not gonna budge if you wait too long!). I prefer a synthetic brush for primer, specifically my good old Cling Ons. The brush you choose will be determined by your project. If you are priming something with lots of curves, spindles, or details, pick a round brush. If your project is mostly flat areas like a large dresser, go with a flat brush. And if you've got a combo, or you only want to get one brush for all projects...get an oval, its the best of both worlds. When brushing on primer, be sure your brush is DRY first! With our chalk style paint, we recommend using a damp brush...but that is not the case here. Watering down your primer with a damp brush can effect its durability, adhesion, and stain blocking abilities...so stick with a dry brush for best results.
-Roller: For primer, I personally prefer a 4" high density foam roller. It provides nice light coats, even distribution, and little bubbling. If you do experience some bubbles or inconsistencies, lightly drag a brush over your freshly rolled primer and it'll even things out and pop any possible bubbles. I aim to apply long even strips of primer running the length of my piece. Working in 4" sections, roll from one end of the area to the other, and then back over again once or twice. Anything more than that isn't usually necessary and can actually start pulling your previous coat back up. The primer dries really fast, so its best to apply it and then step back and let it do its job!
-Sprayer: Yup, you can spray this primer too! For most sprayers, it doesn't even need to be diluted. If for some reason, you are finding that its too thick for your sprayer, it can be diluted, but no more than 10%. Adding too much water to it can drastically reduce its durability, adhesion, and blocking powers....so leave it as is for best results! Be sure to allow 4-6 hours between coats. This can be hard if you are spraying because it will likely dry a bit faster. But if you are using the primer for stain block purposes, its best to follow the recoat times to let it do its job to the fullest!
Can you use a foam brush? Sure, but get the higher quality ones because the super cheap foam brushes tend to fall apart and that's a bummer in the middle of a big job. Even with a quality foam brush, I still prefer my Cling Ons....I feel that they work better with the self leveling properties of the primer.
Can you use your old throw away brushes? Absolutely...but you'll probably want to give your primer a quick sanding to get rid of all the brush marks. And who really wants more steps? Just use a good brush and you'll save yourself a ton of time!
Can you just pour the primer on the furniture and hope for the best? No, no you can't. 😆
Whichever approach you choose, be sure to STIRRRRRR the primer really well! Make sure its fully incorporated to get the best results. Apply two coats for full coverage, and allow them to dry 4-6 hours in between. If you are worried about bleed thru, its also super important to wait 24 hours AFTER you are finished painting before you top coat! You don't want your varnish reactivating everything and having those tannins jump up and ruin your day.
Oh and one more quick tip....if you are experiencing tannin bleed thru, don't be alarmed if your primer turns yellow. Give it 6 hours to dry and then apply a second coat. Often times, the second coat will turn yellow as well, but then when it fully dries it will be amazing at blocking in further stains. So just because the primer looks like tannins have made their way through to the surface, doesn't mean its not doing its job. If you are in doubt, paint a small test area and see how it holds up. I've seen a few projects require 3 coats of primer, but its really rare!
I think that just about wraps up our little tour of primer. You've learned the how, why, when, and what....now its time to get your hands dirty! (Just be sure to wash them right away...primer likes to stick around!...extra side note, if you do let the primer dry on your skin, massage it with a little olive oil and it'll come right off) Is there anything we missed? Any questions about primer that weren't covered? Let me know!!
(This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links (for the sprayer and the rollers). When you make purchases through these links, you don't pay any extra, but I get a small kickback for the referral and that helps keep this lil website afloat! Thank you so much for supporting a small business!)
If you've been around here for any length of time, you've likely heard me preach about prep work. For me, its an absolute non-negotiable. I've talked to y'all at length about stripping old paint, sanding, cleaning (you KNOW I don't believe in painting over cobwebs...yuuuuuuuck).....but what about priming? Do you know when and why you should prime? A few days ago I broke down the different color options in Wise Owl primer...but how do you know you even need it and what does it do?
Primer is used for two main reasons: Stain blocking & adhesion. There are plenty of products on the market that can help with one or the other, but finding one product that does both AND is low VOCs and water based? Sign me up! But first, let's break things down and decide if you NEED primer...
*Wise Owl Primer*
-Stain Blocking: There are actually quite a few stains that can creep up through your paint and cause you all sorts of trouble, but the most frustrating can be tannins. Tannins are a substance derived from the acids inside plants. They serve all sorts of benefits in nature (particularly in fruit trees...if you bite into unripened fruit and get that pucker face, dry tongue, and acidic flavor, that's the tannins doing their job to deter you from eating the fruit before its ripe), they have been used for generations to tan animal hides, provide astringents needed in medicine, and even play a large roll in that glass of red wine you might be sipping (they leach out from the wooden barrels the wine is stored in and play a huge part in the flavoring and chemical breakdown of your fav cabernet). They also are used in many dyes and tints. Have you ever seen a body of water surrounded by mangrove trees? Chances are, that water has a brown tint, similar to tea....that's because tree roots are essentially steeping in the water, leaching tannins out of the bark, changing the color of the water. This is essential for plant life...but can be an absolute headache when painting furniture. When painting, particularly with water based products, tannins can bleed through your finishes and cause staining that is far from attractive. Sometimes, the tannins show up right away, but other times, they don’t appear until you add your last coat of varnish, or even worse, a few months later. This is particularly common in cherry, mahogany, and deeply tinted woods...those tannins show up in the form of ugly yellow streaks in your painting surface. Using a high quality, stain blocking primer can save HOURS of work by locking in all those tannins, stains, oils, and discolorations before you apply that first coat of paint. For optimal stain blocking abilities, apply TWO coats, and allow 4-6 hours to dry in between. After you’ve painted, be sure to wait 24 hours before adding a top coat!! When using a water based varnish, you can actually reactivate your water based paint, and reopen the pore space, allowing room for those tannins to leak back through. Waiting a solid day will give your paint enough time to begin the curing process and will help lock those tannins in beneath the primer.
-Adhesion: If you are painting an old, dry, rough antique...you’ll likely have zero issues with your paint sticking to the surface. (Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is super porous so its going to stick to most surfaces with ease! If you are using the One Hour Enamel...its best to prime first! It’s incredibly tough, but not quite as adhesive as the chalk line, so primer helps a ton!) But what if your piece has a lacquered finish? What if it’s laminate, glass, ceramic, or even metal? Some surfaces are just too slick for paint to grip on to. You can give it a go with some sand paper to rough up the surface and give your piece a little tooth, but lots of times that isn’t an option. If your piece has lots of intricate details...the idea of somehow sanding them can be super daunting. For lots of projects, you can skip the heavy sanding and instead give it one quick scuff up and then prime instead. The primer will stick to just about all surfaces. (Be sure the surface is clean though!! Kitchen cabinets that have 10 years of bacon grease coated on them? Ain’t nothin gonna stick to that!) Do 2 coats of primer, with 4 hours of dry time in between, and you’re ready to paint! If a surface is super slick, I let the primer dry overnight to get the best possible adhesion before I jump into painting.
If in doubt….prime!! The primer is water based, low VOCs, washes out of brushes easily (wash as soon as you are done priming though! It dries incredibly tough!), and goes on just as easily as paint. It’s far better to prime when you don’t HAVE to than to skip priming and regret it later. If you are contemplating priming for adhesion issues, but you aren’t 100% sure you need to….paint a little 2”x2” section, let it dry for an hour, and then give it a little scratch with your finger nail. Does the paint peel off or scratch right up? You need to prime! (If it just leaves a white chalky scratch mark, you are totally fine! Go ahead and paint!)
Keep in mind...these are just the two most common reasons you’ll need primer. The list is longer though, and each project is different! Have a dresser that smells like years of cigarette smoking? Prime that baby and lock that stink in. Painting a dark oak table bright white?? Prime and save yourself coats and coats of paint! And as always, if you have any questions or you have a project that is stumping you….reach out! I’m always happy to do consultations to discuss your project and figure out the best plan of attack. These consults are always free of charge and customized to your particular project. Get one on one help choosing your prep steps, the perfect color combination, and the appropriate top coat, so you’re piece ends up exactly as you hoped!
Too long, didn't read? (Yeah, I see you! 😆) :
*Painting mahogany or cherry wood and using a light color: PRIME
*Painting slick surfaces: PRIME
*Painting something stinky: PRIME
*Not sure that your paint will adhere and you are on the fence about using primer: TEST IT (paint a 2x2" square and scratch it an hour later...if it scratches, you need to prep more!)
Which primer should I use?!?!?!
Wise Owl Primer comes in three options: Clear, White, and Gray. So which should you pick? The different colors will provide different benefits in different situations. So let's break them down one at a time, shall we??
Clear: If you plan to paint a piece and then distress areas back down to the wood, but you still need help with adhesion or stain blocking....then clear primer is for you! The clear primer will lock in tannins and give you a great, grippy surface to paint on...while also allowing you to distress back down to the bare wood without having your primer peak through. It will also be your go-to if you are starting from a dark shade and painting to another dark shade. You don't want to prime those dark wood cabinets with bright white primer before painting them black. Instead, prime them with clear primer and you won't have to jump shades....and that means you'll use LESS paint!
White: If you are painting white, cream, or beige...white primer is your best friend. Trust me. If you plan to take a dark piece of furniture and paint it white, using a coat or two of white primer will cut the amount of paint you'll need in half. No joke. Its also got incredible stain blocking abilities which are super important when painting light colors. If you've got mahogany, cherry, or cedar...those tannins can creep through your paint and cause all sorts of headaches. The white primer will not only lighten your base shade, resulting in less coats of paint, but will also block in all potential stains and bleeds, giving you a flawless finish.
Gray: Are you planning to paint red? Pink? Orange? Use gray primer and you will thank me. Gray is the perfect base for any red toned paints, and it will drastically cut down the amount of coats you'll need for your paint. Reds are notorious for being the most finicky colors, sometimes requiring 4, 5, even 6 coats for full coverage. (Side note, start using Wise Owl and you won't ever use more than 3 coats of reds. Fo real.) Use the gray primer underneath your hot pinks, and you'll get away with just two coats. Take a look at the photo and you'll see just how much the color of primer can impact your paint. That board has only one coat of Republic Red. Over the gray primer, its just about full coverage. One coat of red paint?!? Yup! Gray primer is also perfect if you are going from a super light wood or something that was already painted white...and you want to go dark. Throwing gray primer underneath your blues, grays, and blacks will step up your color shade so you won't have to make such a drastic jump when you start painting.
If you need to snag the perfect primer for your project, you can find it here!!
Too long, didn't read, right?? Here's the short notes 😆:
Want to distress down to the wood? CLEAR
Going from a dark surface to a dark paint? CLEAR
Painting anything white, cream, or beige? WHITE
Going from a dark surface to a light paint? WHITE
Painting with reds, pinks, or oranges? GRAY
Going from a light surface to a dark paint? GRAY
And, as always, if you aren't sure, just send me a pic and we'll work through it together 😘
I've got an adorable little nightstand that I picked up at a thrift shop a few months ago. My original intentions for it were simple....bring it to the store and salve half of it to show how awesome Wise Owl Furniture Salve is. So, I did just that. I salved the right side, left the other side raw, showed a good 'before and after', and sold a few cans of salve. And then??? Well, then this cute little side table came to collect dust in my garage.
It's kind of become a catch all for random junk in the garage, and its just way too cute to live out the rest of its life unappreciated. So??? Its time to paint it and let it move on to a new home!!
Juuuuuuust one problem.....that awesome salve I used to re-hydrate the wood? Yeah, that's gonna cause some MAJOR issues when it comes time to paint. Salve is made of a blend of oils and waxes, and paint does not adhere to oils or waxes. A general rule of thumb is that wax/salve is ALWAYS last. You can layer it on top of paints all day long, but nothing else can go on top of it. So, if you have a piece that has been salved, waxed, polished, etc., you'll need to get that coating off before you even think of picking up a paint brush. (Did you notice I added "polished" in there??? If your furniture has been fancied up with Pledge or any other furniture oils, you may have a hard time getting paint to stick to it! So read on and save yourself a huge headache down the road.)
To remove the salve/wax from your furniture before you can paint, you just need a couple things:
Get your furniture situated on a drop cloth to catch any splashes and then grab your Mineral Spirits. (I wear gloves for this!) You can pour some in a cup or dish, or you can pour it directly onto your steel wool. (I poured it directly onto my wool, hovering over the table so any drips just hit the furniture and didn't go to waste) Now get to scrubbing!!
Mineral Spirits is pretty powerful, so honestly, this process is a piece of cake. The chemicals do 90% of the work and you are basically just using the steal wool to move it around and break up the wax. My nightstand took about 2 minutes to complete. Not bad at all. Once I had it all scrubbed, I actually did it all over again just to be safe.
Now you've got the salve/wax/oils all scrubbed off...but you need to get any Mineral Spirits off before you can start painting. The best way to do this is to give it a good scrub with dish soap and water, followed by one more scrub with just clean water. (Mineral Spirits removes the wax, dish soap removes the mineral spirits, clean water removes the dish soap) Today, I got super lucky and we were in the mid 90's, zero humidity, and a decent breeze. So I worked outside, on a drop cloth for the Mineral Spirits portion of this project and then hauled the nightstand over to the rocks and busted out the garden hose. I sprayed it down, then gave it a quick scrub with soap, and finished with another spray of water. (Spraying furniture with a hose is a pretty big gamble! Only do this if your weather will allow it to fully dry and only spray furniture that is real wood!! If you spray fake wood pieces (think IKEA style), they are pressed cardboard and drenching them in water will cause the material to deteriorate fast!) The entire thing took ten minutes, max!! And it was so hot out that the entire piece was completely dry and ready for paint an hour later!
That's it!! Super easy and prevents a TON of adhesion problems down the road. Take the little bit of time to properly prep your piece and remove any waxes and oils and your paint will thank you!! Once your furniture has completely dried, I highly recommend painting a small test patch to see if the paint is sticking. I paint a 2" x 2" section, let it dry for about 20-30 minutes, and then lightly scratch it with my finger nail. If the paint sticks, I'm good! If it peels off, I know I need to do a little more work (you may still have residue left over, so give it another quick cleaning and try again. If it still peels off, either sand or prime and you'll be good to go!)
Are your cabinets basic, boring, not sparking joy in your heart, not enticing you to come cook a gourmet meal?? Time to change that, baby!! I know it can seem daunting to overhaul your kitchen, especially when you start adding up all the costs, weighing out the timeline, looking at contractors and cabinet companies...
What if you could give yourself a gorgeous new kitchen that YOU can enjoy NOW?? What if you COULD afford to do it!! You don't necessarily have to spend thousands upon thousands on new cabinets or professional painters. You can do it yourself. You can make it look flawless. And you can do it without breaking the bank!
This amazing kitchen overhaul was done entirely with Wise Owl Paint products and it made allllllll the difference. Their One Hour Enamel (you can find it here) is 90% cured in just an hour, which means no more waiting weeks before hanging your cabinet doors back up! It also just so happens to be insanely durable so unlike other cabinet paints, you don't have to treat your kitchen like a delicate flower for a month to avoid dings and scratches. Paint your cabinets, go for a nice walk around the neighborhood, and by the time you come back, they'll be ready for hardware and hanging, Yes, it really is that awesome.
Its also water based and low VOCs so you won't put your family or pets at risk while painting and to me, that is HUGE! And as an extra bonus...the top coat is built right in so no more fussing with finicky varnishes or urethanes!
So, what does it take to completely overhaul your kitchen cabinets?? Keep reading and I'll break down the entire process, step by step, and lay out all the products used (including a couple from the dollar store to save you even MORE cash!!).
(Be sure to repeat all of the following steps for your cabinet bases and trim as well!!)
First and foremost, you need to get your cabinets clean. Not just sorta clean...really, truly clean. Kitchen cabinets tend to be coated in oils, grease, grime, and residue and nothing effects paint adhesion more than a coated surface!! So before you even think about picking up a paint brush, its time to start scrubbing. I personally prefer to take down all my doors and drawer fronts first, remove all the hardware (including hinges), and mark a little note inside the hinge cutouts so you know exactly where to rehang the doors when you are finished, all before I begin cleaning. Once they are down, grab a good cleaner and a scrubby pad and get to work. I prefer a degreaser to really eat away at the built up grime. I've got two favorites that I tend to switch back and forth on. One is a little pricey but eco friendly, the other is more budget friendly but requires better ventilation.
For a hardworking cleaner that won't risk your health, my go to is "The Amazing Whip-It". You can find it here and also at select Sam's Clubs and Walmarts. Its plant based, virtually no smell, and strong enough to even eat through paint.
A slightly more budget friendly option comes from the Dollar Tree and is called "LAs Totally Awesome Cleaner". Its pretty stinky, likely not so health friendly, but it does a great job of cutting through caked on grease and grime. If you don't have a Dollar Tree nearby, you can find it in the giant jugs here.
It's not a bad idea to grab a pick or small flat head screwdriver and run the edge along any joints or crevices in your doors to really pull out every last bit of gunk. Anything left on the surface can pop back up later to cause issues....so now is the chance to get a clean slate!! Be sure to flip the doors over and scrub the backsides as well! Once everything is fresh and clean, give it one more wash with plain water. You want to wash off any trace of the cleaning chemicals, so a fresh tap water rinse is important!!
Give everything a little time to dry and then its time to sand. Now, most cabinets don't need to be sanded down to the bare wood, but if your surface was previously painted, you may want to do just that. If the paint is chipping, peeling, etc you'll want to fully remove it either by stripping or sanding. If the cabinets are simply varnished, then you'll likely just need a quick scuff sanding to give your surface a little tooth for the primer to grip on to. A medium grit sanding sponge is perfect for this, but you can totally grab a power sander if you'd like to speed the job up! Pay a little extra attention to the trim pieces and edges. These are the areas that are most likely to get banged up, so giving them a little heavier sanding will allow the primer and paint to adhere even more, giving you a bit more protection in the long run. Again, be sure you sand both sides of each door. Once your sanding is finished, grab some water and a rag and give one last wipe down to remove any sanding dust.
Now that your surfaces are cleaned and scuffed, you can grab your primer. Since you'll be using the Wise Owl One Hour Enamel, its important to use Wise Owl's Primer. These two products were engineered to work together! For the primer (found here), you've got two color options, clear and white. If you are going to be painting your cabinets a darker color, grab the clear primer. If you plan to paint a lighter color or white, grab the white primer.
A quart of primer will cover 125 sq ft, so an average kitchen will use about two quarts of primer. Using a brush or a roller, whichever you are more comfortable with, apply in thin, even coats, allowing to dry for 4 hours before applying a second coat. The primer is dry to the touch in most conditions in about an hour, so if you are looking to complete your project as quickly as possible, you can do the first coat of primer, allow to dry for an hour, then flip them over and do the backsides. Keep track of the time and once you've hit that 4 hour mark, you can flip the doors back over and apply your second coat. If you plan to work in an assembly line fashion like this, I highly recommend grabbing some painting pyramids (like these) to rest your doors on. These will allow your surface to be raised off your work space without doing any damage to your primer or paint job.
One important thing to keep in mind when applying the primer is to wipe up any drips as soon as possible. I like to apply the primer to one side of the door, and then run my finger along the underside (against the surface facing my work space) to catch any drips and smooth out any excess primer before it begins to dry. Baby wipes work especially great for this as well!! If you do find drips or imperfections after the primer has dried, grab your sanding sponge and smooth them out before painting.
Once your two coats of primer have been applied and have dried for at least 4 hours, you are ready to start painting! The One Hour Enamel (found here) comes in 16 amazing colors in quarts and gallons or you can have your own custom color mixed in gallon batches. A gallon of enamel will cover 400-450 sq ft, so the average size kitchen will typically use right around a gallon. (Remember to calculate front and back of each door, plus the cabinet bases for your square footage totals!)
To apply the enamel, I prefer two tools. I use a 4" flocked roller from Whizz (the gray, velvet style roller meant for cabinets...I get mine at Lowes) and a Cling On brush. The F40 Cling On is a great option for cabinets, but I'm also a huge fan of the S30. The smaller S30 gets into all the crevices and does a great job of smoothing out excess paint, while the F40 is perfect for those larger flat surfaces. I highly recommend you do a test door to see what application technique feels best for you. Some folks swear by the roller, some feel more comfy with a brush. For me, I prefer both so that's what I'll dive into for the purposes of this post.
I start my cabinet doors with the backsides first. This allows you to get comfortable with your technique on a side that you won't be staring at on a daily basis once they are hung up! I personally prefer to do the inner corners and crevices first with my F40, and then immediately jump in with a roller after. To do the flat panels of your doors, grab your roller and give it a dunk in your paint. I let the excess drip off a bit, and then go ahead and roll it onto your surface. You may see tiny bubbles or bumps pop up as you roll....give it about 20-30 seconds and then do a VERY light pass one more time with the roller to pop anything that's risen up. The enamel dries insanely fast (90% CURED in one hour!!) so the MOST important thing to remember is to not overwork your paint, lay it on there and let it be! You'll want to apply the enamel slightly heavier than you might if you were using a chalk style paint, to allow for the full self leveling magic to happen, but be super careful to avoid drips. Once that enamel dries, it is ridiculously hard to remove so you'll want to wipe up drips and excess spots as soon as possible. Again, a quick swipe of the finger on the underside of your door will usually wipe up any possible issues.
Allow your paint to dry for one hour (slightly longer depending on your humidity levels or the color chosen...darker colors may require just a tiny bit longer dry time) and then apply a second coat in the same fashion. I personally allow my second coat to dry for a few hours before flipping them over to do the other side. (Let's be honest....by this point, you may be exhausted and just let them dry overnight to give yourself a break!) Flip your doors and repeat the same process on the fronts of the doors. For most colors, two coats is plenty, but assess your coverage and if needed, add a third coat to take care of any inconsistencies.
Allow to dry for another few hours while you repeat the process on your cabinet bases and trim and then....you....are....done!!! Seriously! That's it! The enamel has a rock hard top coat built right in so you don't need to varnish, wax, or poly at all. Your doors are now ready for hardware and all set to be hung back up.
To recap....the average kitchen is going to require 2 quarts of primer and one gallon of enamel coming to a grand total of about $210. Throw in the Cling On brushes I love so much and your brand new kitchen is costing you around $250. Compare that to the $20,000 you might spend on new cabinets, or even the $5,000-10,000 to have your existing cabinets custom painted and I'd say you are doing pretty darn good!!
If you have any questions about the products described here (some of which include Amazon affiliate links that help keep this little blog of mine afloat!) please reach out!! I'm happy to help calculate square footage, assist in choosing colors, or guiding you along the process with video tutorials!