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I'm going to be building a bed frame for my daughter and would like to paint it. I want the finish to be durable (no chipping, and be able take some abuse from toys being hit against it), so am wondering what the best procedure is. I saw this similar question but that didn't indicate if the built-ins would need to hold up to abuse from children.

The bed will probably be plywood and pine or poplar. My thought was to prime it, then put two or three (as needed for proper color coverage) coats of paint (most likely Sherwin Williams). Does it need more coats of paint, any polycrylic or similar sealant, sanding between? Would glossy be preferable to satin paint? Anything else I'm missing?

  • I've seen oil paint applied (in multiple coats) on the bare wood and then coated with polyurethane multiple times. I have no experience in that regard though and can't give a conclusive answer, maybe one of the pros will pick up on this. I guess the advantage would be that the color won't chip off that way. I think I saw Mathias Wandel do it to his homemade tools, and they see quite a lot of use :) I can't seem to find the video where he explains it :( – Stoppal Aug 12 '16 at 6:54
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No chipping at all is an unrealistic expectation, but obviously there are paints that are harder-wearing than others. In general if you can find a paint that specifically plugs its durability it will include an ingredient or additive that improves scratch-resistance and usually resistance to chipping as well.

The bed will probably be plywood and pine or poplar.

Perhaps surprisingly the wood underneath the paint plays a part in how well the topcoat holds up if it's subject to knocks and scrapes.

In brief, the softer the wood is the more easily it can be dented and dents along edges and at corners are places where paint can crack and start to flake or peel off.

So given a choice between modern 'pine' (which can be a number of commercially grown softwoods, but all tend to be quite soft) and poplar I would suggest you go with poplar if the budget allows.

My thought was to prime it, then put two or three (as needed for proper color coverage) coats of paint (most likely Sherwin Williams).

Priming is a good idea on general principle but I must add that wood is one material where priming is by no means a must-do, because paints in general bond extremely well to clean wood.... just try to get it off when you've made a mistake and you can see how well!

Does it need more coats of paint

Two or three coats is almost always enough on interior pieces, but for high-traffic areas four might be worth the effort.

I would resist the urge to add more coats because weirdly past a certain point applying more coats doesn't incrementally add to the durability. For paints on woodwork once you pass about five coats the paintwork can end up less durable, not more.

any polycrylic or similar sealant, sanding between?

You can apply a clear coating over paint but whether it's worth it depends on the paint really. Over certain paints varnish is a must-do if you need a wear-resistant finish, but interior trim paints and that sort of thing are specifically formulated to be a topcoat or final finish and have durability built in.

So as a rule you shouldn't need to use a varnish or other clear coating over paint if you pick the right type.

Would glossy be preferable to satin paint?

Probably makes no significant difference. It's said that glossy paints are most durable but the difference between full gloss and satin/semi-gloss is likely to be minimal.

Anything else I'm missing?

All surfaces to be painted should be equally 'clean'. This isn't just about removing finger grease from handling, wood itself exudes stuff over time that can hinder the adhesion of paints (just as it does with glue).

So try to have all surfaces freshly sanded before painting. Just a light pass with fine-ish paper (280-320 grit) following the grain should be sufficient if there's no visible grubbiness. Obviously this is a lot of sanding so you can concentrate your effort on areas that will see wear, on the backs of panels etc. you can probably safely skip this.

If you go with primer your process might be:

  • Sand all important surfaces lightly.
  • Wipe off dust.
  • Apply primer and let it dry thoroughly.
  • Apply paint as per directions (see point below though).
  • Wait for the paint to dry/cure thoroughly before putting it into service. For waterbased paints I'd wait at least a couple of days, for oil-based paints I'd give it a week if you can.

Note that it can help to achieve a good finish if you slightly thin the paint, for the first coat or two at least (adding 5-15% of the appropriate solvent). It's usually wise not to exceed that level of dilution, especially for paints thinned with water, except for a first 'wash coat' or primer coat.

If you choose not to prime it might go something like this:

  • Sand all important surfaces lightly.
  • Wipe off dust.
  • Thin your paint approximately 30-50% for the first coat only.
  • Apply finish coats of paint just as above.
  • Wait for the paint to dry/cure as per the above.
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    I would put in a vote for gloss paint here - it's generally easier to wipe clean. – aaron Aug 12 '16 at 16:43
  • @aaron, yes I had originally included a point on that too but this was already running very long. And again, probably not that much difference between gloss and satin but I would have left it in if the OP had asked the difference between gloss and matt. – Graphus supports Monica Aug 14 '16 at 7:08

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