Prep – Reasons You Should Prior To Painting

The Prep Edition – Part 2: When to Prep

Prep: Really?  In some cases, yeah, and sometimes it’s just good insurance.  CeCe Caldwell’s Chalk + Clay Paints’ artesian formula was developed to significantly reduce the extra steps of furniture painting.  The chalk, clay and other minerals are used to soften the elasticity of the paint, which increases its adhesion properties.  One of the reasons we use more than just chalk is because mineral particles are different sizes.  They form a better adhesion surface by filling in all of the tiny gaps. The great adhesion properties of CeCeCaldwell’s Chalk + Clay Paint is the reason that usually you do not need to prime before painting.

In the “The Prep Edition – Part 1: What is Prep?” I defined what prep is to me, and more importantly, what CeCe Caldwell’s Paints, as a company, considers prep. Once it has been repaired and cleaned, what I have to do to make it ready for the first layer of paint, to me that is “the prep”.

It is not the repairs needed to a piece of furniture, nor is it the cleaning of the piece; it is the extra steps that need to be done before you can apply your paint.   In this issue, we are going to check out the reasons and instances that may lead you to decide you need to do some prep work. There are three primary reasons you should prep to a piece of furniture: bleed through, to create tooth on a non-porous surface, and to create a single-surface finish.

I was about to write, “without a doubt, the number one reason to do some prep is to stop potential bleed through”, but then thought about that again and decided it probably isn’t the number one reason. It is probably one of the most talked about reasons. So, let’s discuss bleed through. Simply stated, it is when an unwanted substance below your layer of paint/finish is obvious after you paint/finish. It can be tannins, oils, grease, dyes, resin, gases, tar/nicotine and even cleaners that have not been thoroughly rinsed off.

  • Dyes: There are some pieces of furniture that you ‘just know’ are going to bleed; the pre-1950’s pieces with mahogany or cherry “stain” on them. Actually, the ‘stain’ is usually aniline dye and it very often bleeds when painted. When I am in a hurry, I will either prime the entire piece with a stain blocking primer or give it 2 coats of de-waxed shellac to prevent the bleed. If I am not in a hurry, I will paint my piece and wait a day or so and see if it is going to bleed. If the bleed is minimal, I spot treat those areas with de-waxed shellac.
  • Tannins: When the tannic acids, which are in all wood, rise to the top of the wood and come through your paint or stain, you get ‘tannin bleed’. While mahogany wood can have tannin bleed through, I find oak and cedar bleed tannins much more often. I rarely have issues of bleed on furniture pieces that mahogany and cherry colored stains that was manufactured post 1950. Remember, just because the wood is stained in a traditional mahogany color, it does not mean it is mahogany wood. As with dye bleed, I prime or coat with shellac the entire piece if I am in a hurry. If not, I spot treat with shellac.
  • Oil and Grease: You can get oil and grease bleed through when you have not properly cleaned you furniture. (I guess I need a post on “how to clean” sometime soon.) Clean area with degreasing cleanser, allow drying and then re-paint the area. A precautionary spot treatment with de-waxed shellac or primer is a good idea if you are not 100% certain you removed all of the oils.
  • Resin: Resin or sap bleed usually occurs in new, green pine and cedar wood and occasionally from the wood knots of older pine and cedar if it experiences a significant environmental change. If working with new wood, prime any wood knots prior to painting.
  • Tar/Nicotine bleed: Often ‘smokers bleed’ presents one of the hardest to control bleed. If the tar/nicotine has migrated into the fibers of the wood, you may never be able to clean it all off. I always use a stain and odor blocking primer when I suspect a piece of furniture has lived with a smoker.   I clean it as well as I can, then prime. It is usually a brown/yellow stain.
  • LP gas bleed: Liquid Propane is often used to heat homes as well as being used as the “gas” in a gas range, in rural areas. While new furnace systems are closed, it was customary in the not so distant past that the gathering rooms would be heated with a small LP gas stove, which had an open flame. I treat it the same as smokers bleed and prime for stain blocking.
  • Cleanser bleed: Ammoniated cleansers that are used to clean prior to painting must be thoroughly removed are they may discolor your paint.


 prep with sealcoat when you have tannin bleed

Zinsser’s Bulls Eye SealCoat is my go-to for de-waxed shellac. I have not been compensated in any way for this endorsement, but it would be nice!


Another reason to prep a piece of furniture is if it has a very slick or non-porous finish.   Plastic laminate comes to mind as well as some of the plasticized furniture finishes that became popular in the 1980’s. While I have had very good results painting over plastic laminate without any prep, I always suggest either scuffing to give the surface some tooth or applying an adhesion primer. When “scuffing to give the surface some tooth” I use sandpaper in a 120-150 grit or sanding sponge in a 80-100 grit range. Why would I chose primer over sanding to create better adhesion, is a question I am often asked. It really depends on the surface I am working on. If it is flat and easy to get all of the surface area, I will sand. If there are lots of crevices, nooks and hard to sand places, I will prime the surface.

Prep - when you need to prep using CeCe Caldwell's Chalk + Clay Paint

This dresser has so many surface finishes that prepping with primer will give the best results.

Another time I will prep is when repairs to the piece has left me with multiple surface finishes. As an example, often I have scratches and minor dings that I have to sand out. The result of sanding them leaves me with bare wood. I may have deeper defects that I have to fill with wood putty or perhaps I am changing the hardware and have screw holes to fill. Unless I am going for a rustic look, I like for my surface to be a single finish, prior to painting. This reason to prep is that the paint is going to be absorbed differently by the different surfaces. When a  piece has multiple surfaces such as wood filler, raw wood, stain and paint, like the one pictured above, I like to give the entire piece a coat of primer.  If the spot treatments exceeds 20-25% of the surface area, I will treat the entire piece so that it has a cohesive surface finish.


Yes, sometimes you may need to ‘prep’ in addition to structural, surface or cosmetic repairs and cleaning, but it is not always necessary. Unless you have a bleeder, a non-porous furniture piece or one with multiple surfaces finishes, it is generally not needed. One thing I always recommend is decanting your paint. After opening your can of CeCe Caldwell’s Chalk + Clay Paint, stir it well. Decant the needed amount from the can into a separate container. This prevents any contaminates from your brush from sneaking into your can of paint. Those contaminates can cause your paint to go skunky! Save any leftover, decanted paint in a separate airtight container.

Maybe you have a dresser  from “Uncle Mac and Aunt ClaraBelle” (who we all know was a crazed bat, so there’s really no telling what went on in THAT house). So, in the pursuit of no nasty surprises, you feel the need to run it through a deluxe car wash cycle, just in case. (Humor intended: please do not run your furniture through the car wash.) Maybe you are the ‘belt and suspenders” type and cannot leave anything to chance.  If you make your livelihood by painting furniture, your reputation is everything. I really do get IT.  Just as we take extra steps with our products because you are spending your hard earned money on them, you may take precautions also.  I do understand why you may go the extra mile.   I follow the steps I have outlined on the furniture that I custom paint for people, the pieces that I sell on spec and those I paint for myself and family. I have never had a paint failure by following them.

Stay tuned for the final installment of this series – Can you over prep?  Also, soon to come will be a tutorial on ‘how to clean’ your furniture prior to painting.