There are few topics as widely misunderstood as painting and finishing. I

know the topic very well and still am learning. Here are some easy and

idiot-proof ways to make your casework beautiful. (And you know what

they say -"When you improve something to make it idiot-proof -someone

else finds a way to improve the idiots.")



I like particle board.  Goodness knows I use a lot of it.  I do recognize, however, that it is not attractive.   It certainly needs to be painted, but more importantly, it needs to be fussed-up a little before you open the can of paint.  The edges are the hardest part.  You can use either spackling or dry-wall mud.  I prefer the later -spackling is much tougher, and MUCH harder to sand.   What I do is to take a handful of the stuff and smear it on the edges.  Neatness don't count here.  You can use a putty knife, but such will actually slow you down.  Fingers work best -at least to get started.  Once it's on, the putty knife might serve to scrape the excess that has slobbered over the edges.  You might also use the knife to flatten out the mud on the edges.  Excess or lumpy mud will need to be sanded, and sanding is no fun.  Sanding is unavoidable, but best to do what ever you can to make it as easy on yourself as possible.    To review -use your fingers to smear it on the edges, -use the putty knife scrape the excess off the sides, -flatten / smooth it with the putty knife and use a little pressure to do so, and then scrape the sides again.  Let it all dry overnight.



I have at least one of every sanding power tool ever made in my shop, and still do a lot of sanding by hand. It's tedious, but does the job better, and a power sander used to sand drywall mud will blow dust all over hell-and-gone.  Use 120 or 180 grit sandpaper.  A sanding block is nice, but not essential.  You will probably want to do this outside.  What you are sanding is gypsum and a tiny amount of starch binder. Gypsum is actually good for the soil, so don't worry about it.   Don't use up all your patience because there is more sanding to come.  


If you go to the home improvement store and find someone who IQ is higher then his or her age -and this is not an easy these days- they will tell you more then you want to know about primer.  Listen to them -particularly if it's a good old boy who knows his stuff.  Buy what he or she recommends.  On the other hand, if you have some latex wall paint -any old latex- sitting around, and don't have any other compelling reason to go the he hardware store, slap it on and be done with it.  I like cheap rollers for this step.  The good ones are worth the money, but only for the top coat.  

If your top-coat is similar to the primer, let it dry overnight.  If you are using something else -something that cleans up with paint-thinner for example, let it dry for at least as long as the can suggests.  In fact, leaving it in the sun on a warm day will harden up even the gunkiest primer, and you MUST have a good hard -well cured base before you sand.  The whole point here is to make life as easy as possible for yourself.  The water in the latex will make the 'fuzz' stand up.  This is what you want.  You can now sand it lightly, (190 or 220 grit), and you will get yourself a good flat finish for the next coat.  If your primer is something else, you want to be sanding a completely cured finish.  Life is too short to be fighting with something that is still gummy.  Either way, you end up with a smooth surface that will hold the top-coat.  


This is where you want to use a good brush or roller.  Everyone who has ever painted any-danm-thing has opinions on what the best paint is.  I'm no different.  A good gloss oil enamel is the best.  But it's a pain in the butt to get on smoothly, smells, takes forever to dry & cure, and is a total pain to clean up.  Acrylic latex is nice.  Easier to clean up, but it always seems to take two coats.  Regular old latex wall-paint is perhaps the easiest and covers in a single coat, but the surface will NEVER cure out hard and durable.  Once in a great long while I break down and try spray paint.  I do this less and less as I get older.  I like to think this is because I get (a little) smarter.  I am inevitably disappointed in the results I get from spray paint.  And talk about EXPENSIVE !  If you ever look at the actual net weight of what you are paying for, this is not a smart way to buy paint.  The plastic finishes are also nice but unless you have a PHD in polymers chemistry, I’d be very careful with mixing then with any other paint of primer.

A few more words on good-old-latex-paints are in order. The biggest problem with the stuff is that it never cures quite hard.  Stays -for want of a better word- "spongy."  I find that one of those lemon scented spray things sort of fills in the pores, and makes it all slipperier and nicer on the finger-tips.  The slipperiness makes it harder to scratch and scrape it.  


If you are really ambitious and want the last word in elegance, (and are good at this sort of thing), buy yourself a roll of oak (or whatever hardwood you like) veneer and some contact adhesive. Stay away from the water based adhesives because they don’t get along with particle board. Find a how-to book. Veneering isn’t hard, but there are tricky bits that I haven’t room to go into here.

Another option is to do a faux finish.  You can't go into a paint store without tripping over the where-with-all and books advising on how to do faux finishing these days.  Lovely technique.  Provided you have LOTS of time to kill.  If you don't, check out my advice on the busy person's approach to Faux-Finishing Case-Work


Diddling about with fabric is just not my bag. The stuff isn’t nearly as cooperative as a piece of wood -(and sewing machines, it must be said, are a pretty poor excuses for power tools). Still and all, the following is a brief outline of a method of lining drawers that can be used even by a ham-fisted woodworker such as myself. Begin with a piece of appropriate fabric, (crushed panne velvet work, nicely), that is about 20' square. Wrap it around the cardboard square included in the box. with the back (less attractive) side facing out. Tape it to the cardboard -sort of like a big diaper, smooth/stretch the side opposite the taped edges and hit it with spray mount from the art supply store. If you are good at this sort of thing, you might consider using spray adhesive which sticks better but sticks so much better that you had better get it right the first time because you can’t reposition it the way you can with spray mount.

Turn the whole thing upside down, and push it into the drawer. Don’t undo the diaper before you then spray it again -round the inside edges of the drawer and the exposed fabric. Then pull off the tape, and stick it to the drawer sides. There might well be a clever way to make the corners neat and even wrap the fabric over the top and down the sides of the drawer sides and back, but it’s beyond me, -you are on your own here.  (I just cut it off flush with the top of the sides and face.) Use a brand new straight razor here.  Try to save yourself 15 cents and you will end up with raggedy -frayed edges that look terrible.  And if you follow my lead re. the spray stuff, you had better mask off the parts you aren’t gluing fabric to, particularly if you are using spray adhesive.  Have a look at my How-TO article entitled A Visit to the Fabric Store.



I kind of like my wood to look like wood.  Like it to feel like wood too, but only to a point.  What I really like is a nice paste wax.  Most of the stuff that leaves my shop goes out with paste wax put on / worked in with OOO or OOOO steel wool.  Lemon oil and all well and good, but it's most important contribution to wood is making it smell nice.  Use one of those spray waxes that have silicone only if you plan to NEVER use anything else on your wood -NEVER refinish it, NEVER wax it,  NEVER nothing.  The silicone precludes anything else from ever sticking -and I mean EVER!   Otherwise, spray waxes make for nice smells and I suppose make dusting easier, but this as about all they do.  One exception is spray wax on latex.  This works surprisingly well.  See above. 


These cases are carefully designed to be modular. This really means that I am hoping you will want to buy more from me sometime down the road. If you think this is likely, close up your cans of finish very carefully and hide them from your spouse or kids. Otherwise, you will not be assured of matching the color etc. on your next case.  For that mater, if you are paying for a good high-quality paint, consider the further investment of an empty quart can.  This is so you can paint out of one can and use the other only for storage.  Don't care how neat a painter you are, the can is going to get gunked up.   Best plan is to store the left-over paint is a pristine can just big enough to hold the paint.  Minimal air in the can this way.

© 2005  Bill Harvey