Step 6: Prime the Boxes

John Dee priming cabinet frames
Photo: Brian Wilder
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Slow-drying, oil-based primers work fine on tight-grained woods like maple or cherry, or on man-made materials. But they just sink into open-grained woods such as oak, ash, mahogany, or hickory. Brushing putty, the pudding-thick, oil-based coating Dee used on these oak cabinets, fills the grain as it primes the wood. A couple of caveats: It should be applied with a good-quality nylon-polyester brush, which you'll have to throw away after each coat. And it doesn't become level as it dries; assiduous sanding is required to flatten it out.

Starting at the top of the cabinet, brush on the primer or brushing putty across the grain, then "tip off"—pass the brush lightly over the wet finish in the direction of the grain. Always tip off in a single stroke from one end to the other. Give it a day to dry. (If using brushing putty, apply a second coat the next day and wait another day for it to dry.) Sand the flat surfaces with a random-orbit sander and 220-grit paper. Sand any profiled surfaces with a medium-grit sanding sponge. When you're done, everything should be glass-smooth.

Pro tip: Follow the underlying structure of the cabinet or door with the brush. Where a rail (horizontal piece) butts into a stile (vertical piece), for instance, paint the rail first, overlapping slightly onto the stile. Then, before the overlap dries, paint the stile. Where a stile butts into a rail, paint the stile first.
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    Tools List

    • drill
      Drill-driver
    • paint scraper
      Paint scraper
    • putty knife
      Putty knife
    • shop vacuum
      Shop vacuum with drywall-dust filter
    • random orbit sander
      Random-orbit sander
    • chisel-tip paintbrush
      2½-in. chisel-tip with nylon-polyester bristles
    • eye goggles
      Goggles
    • dual cartridge respirator
      Respirator (fitted with organic-vapor cartridges)
    • rubber gloves
      Chemical-resistant rubber gloves (long-sleeve style)

    Shopping List

    1. Low-tack painter's tape

    2. Rosin paper

    3. 0.5-mil plastic sheet

    4. Tack cloth

    5. Liquid deglosser and abrasive pad

    6. Lint-free rags

    7. 100-grit silicon-carbide sandpaper

    8. Two-part polyester wood filler or autobody filler to fill dings or screw holes

    9. 220-grit silicon-carbide sandpaper to smooth primer between coats

    10. 280-grit silicon-carbide sandpaper to smooth paint between coats

    11. Sanding sponges, medium- and fine-grit12. Vinyl spackle

    13. Oil-based primer for use on smooth surfaces or tight-grained woods (cherry, maple, birch); or
    14. Brushing putty to prime and fill open-grained woods (oak, ash, hickory)

    15. Oil-based spray primer for touch-up

    16. Siliconized acrylic-latex caulk

    17. Oil-based paint Easier to clean and more durable than water-based, which softens when ex­posed to heat or oil.