Why You Should Prime Before Chalk Painting

I finally finished the laundry room cabinets. Before, they were the common orange oak. Wood cabinets are beautiful, and typically I like them. But with our floors and color schemes, I did not like the orange/honey oak cabinets. Because refinishing floors is too big of an undertaking right now, I decided to paint the cabinets!

I did use a primer on the cabinets before chalk painting; I did it *just* to see if the paint covered better, and to fill in some of the wood grain.


  • Join the CHALK AND MILK PAINT PROJECTS facebook group. They are full of information, not brand specific, and can tell you the *truths* about using chalk paint, that manufacturers/professionals may not. It isn’t as simple as we have been made to believe. haha
  • Decide what look you are going for: Do you mind the wood grain showing through? I didn’t mind it- I knew my cabinets would look like painted wooden cabinets in a farm house. That doesn’t bother meBUT If you want a perfectly smooth finish with painted-from-the-manufacturer look, then you will need to use a wood grain filler first, along with a few more steps.
  • YOU HAVE TO PRIME WOOD. Period.  NO one tells you this, not blogs, not Pinterest posts, not the chalk painting industry, no one! And typically, brand-loyal reps will say “such and such chalk paint brand doens’t do this …” BUT if you are going to polyurethane OR polycrylic (and even wax sometimes) to seal your chalk painted wood you risk the tannins from the wood bleeding through the paint and yellowing the poly! Trust me, 3 projects an joining the above FB group later, I learned my lesson. Read below for WHY.
  • It needs to be an OIL based primer– water attracts tannins, which is why the water based poly shows tannin bleed through! (Really, all this info credit goes to the ladies in the above FB group, I did not know these things!) The OIL based primer acts as a “solid” barrier if you will, where as the water based primer we all love to use, allows bleed through. Save yourself the trouble later and just prime first.
  • Know your chalk paint- I have used only 2 different brands. Dutch Boy from Menard’s and a chalk paint from a company online (purchased on Amazon). The chalk paint from the shop on Amazon is superior to the Dutch Boy, in my opinion. I *think* what makes chalk paint special is the actual pigments that color it; I am unsure if chalk-style paint like Dutch Boy uses pigments, or just tinting like regular paints. This could be the difference I am seeing in my 2 paints? I should call and ask Menard’s what they use to color the Dutch Boy paint.
  • Ladies in the FB group really like some of the DIY chalk paint recipes even BETTER than the BIG name brand chalk paint… I’m telling, that group is awesome!
  • Gather everything you need-

Chalk Painting My Laundry Hall Cabinets

  • Washed well with soapy water (using Dawn dish soap). Let dry
  • Clean well with Krud Kutter, wiped dry, allowed to dry 10-15 mintues
  • Prime using oil based primer and priming brush (synthetic bristles)
  • After drying thoroughly, paint using chalk paint and chalk paint brush. After a few projects I discovered that YES, a chalk paint brush is necessary for chalk paint. The application and final coverage is amazing and much better than with a regular paint brush.
  • I applied each coat of paint as soon as the first dried; chalk paint dries quickly, so this part goes quickly
  • after thoroughly dried, apply polycrylic or crystal clear polyurethane. The longer you let the chalk paint cure, the better your poly application will look. Lightly sand with a fine sanding sponge between coats of poly. The more coats of poly you add, the shinier it will become-even if you choose flat poly… so if you’re going for a flatter/chalk paint look, then only apply 2 coats of poly!

****It is important to stir, stir, stir, SLOWLY, your paints and polys. Stir often because you need to keep the particles in the medium suspended, slowly because of bubbles. Also, if your paint is too thick or left open a while, you can water it down using distilled water. This often allows a better application anyway, prevents globbing, dripping, and it doesn’t take much water.

That’s pretty much it! I applied 3 coats of poly on my cabinet doors; it is a matte, but the 3rd coat made them more “satin” or shiny. I do not care for the shine, I wanted a matte look, so I am going to sand and try to get rid of the shine some.

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  1. Sherry Johnston says:

    What primer from Amazon did you use
    I have a cherry wood TV stand and I am going to chalk paint it. There are scratches on it. Bought it for 50 dollars. Could u let me know? I do not want any bleeding thru.

  2. Nicole Cobb says:

    Hello, I have intentions to paint my wall with chalkboard paint and use it for homeschooling this year. However, I really want to use chalkboard markers on my chalkboard painted wall. What do I need to do or how many coats of primer do I need to use to make my
    wall a non-porous surface? So I could use chalkboard markers for the homeschool year.

    • Meghan says:

      Hi Nicole. What a great idea! I have not used chalkboard markers before. i Have one small wall that is painted with chalkboard paint and it seems pretty non-porous… But I would do a coat or 2 of a really good primer to be sure! I hope you find the answers you’re looking for- and when you do come back and let us know what you found out! Thanks for your question

  3. Nefetari says:

    Thank you for these great tips. I have a question. What do you mean by bleed through with water based primers? Does this mean yellowing over time or the wood stain will show through? I only ask because of course I just primed my wood with yep a water based primer. I am okay if the wood kind of shows through because I like that look but yellowing not so much.

    • Meghan says:

      hi, thanks for your question- by “bleed through” I mean the tannins in the wood (usually an orangeish color/yellowing affect) happens fairly quickly over time. You can think of tannins like a natural color in the wood, that the water based primer sort of pulls up to the surface. Let me know if you have more questions. =)

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