Satin latex paint on my bookshelves?
April 30, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I have recently put up some wooden shelves (pine shelves on hardwood brackets) in my living room that I will use to hold records and books. I have a new can of white satin-finish latex paint. Can I use the paint on the shelves. (i.e. Will it look decent and not stick to the books and records?) What would be the reasons not to use this paint and instead get some other more appropriate paint? What might that more appropriate paint be?

I'm most interested in making a cost-benefit analysis of using this paint that I have, so I don't have to get yet another can of friggin' paint. I want it to look decent, but it does not have to look perfect. If it's an absolutely disastrous idea to use this paint, please say so.
posted by OmieWise to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you may need to use a primer before using latex paint on unfinished wood. I once tried painting some unfinished pine planks in a screened-in porch and the latex didn't adhere very well. I ended up having to re-do it after priming.
posted by Alexdan4 at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2009

Definitely prime it first. This stuff is fantastic. If you don't prime it, the paint probably won't adhere that well, leading to streaks, bubbles, peeling, and tackiness. If you prime it, the paint will last longer, chip far less, and not be as sticky.
posted by barnone at 1:43 PM on April 30, 2009

And let it dry a long time-- even if it's dry to the touch, the books and records will stick if the paint's not dry all the way through. If it's at all humid where you are, I'd give it a few days at least.
posted by Rykey at 1:55 PM on April 30, 2009

Response by poster: I have some wall primer, will that work for this kind of priming, or do I need a specific type of wood primer?
posted by OmieWise at 2:00 PM on April 30, 2009

Agree that the paint must be bone dry or the edges of the records and books will bite into the softer paint, also place the support bracket locations well in relation to the weight or over time it will begin to dip.
posted by Freedomboy at 2:07 PM on April 30, 2009

I have done exactly what you're describing -- white satin latex paint on (unprimed) pine boards. Worked fine; the paint hasn't peeled or chipped and doesn't stick to anything. The only real issue is that where there were knots in the wood, they're still visible through the paint: this probably would've been solved if I'd used primer. (I think the paint soaked into the knots more than into the regular woodgrain.)

I also tried (for a desk surface) putting a thin coat of varnish over the top of the latex paint, on the assumption that heavier use would make the paint look dingy or wear off. In retrospect this was a bad idea; the varnish yellowed quite a bit as it dried, and in the areas that get the heaviest use the varnish has completely worn away, leaving plain paint.

It definitely doesn't look awesome, but it's good enough.
posted by ook at 2:10 PM on April 30, 2009

Knot sealer, aka shellac, will make the knots disappear. Second the 'let it dry' advice. Latex is soft-ish for the first month, so be gentle with it.
posted by x46 at 2:12 PM on April 30, 2009

As your main concern is not wasting paint, I think that it'll come out fine. But given that you’re on the east coast and it’s a rainy Spring I would be sure to give the painted shelves plenty of time to dry and cure (i.e. about 3-4 weeks or more) before loading on any heavy items, especially your important delicates like books and records. (I’ve done too much DIY painting with latex and learned the hard way that “dry” for a wall that no one touches, and “dry” for a contact surface are two entirely different things. Good luck!)
posted by applemeat at 3:17 PM on April 30, 2009

Worked fine; the paint hasn't peeled or chipped and doesn't stick to anything

I'm wondering how long ago the paint job was.

Which raises the real question, how long do you want this to last? If this is theoretically forever, or at least until you want it to look good when you sell/leave the place, don't cheap out. Use primer sealer. And yes, let it wait a long time before your put books or records on it. The base for latex is, after all, the same stuff they use for Elmer's glue.

(And remember, multiple thin coats with long drying time between them are better than one or two thick coats.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:09 PM on April 30, 2009

I don't agree with most here. I would not use latex paint, unless it was for something quick n dirty—certainly not on shelving in a living room.
Enamel (alkyd/enamel) is the way to go for a smooth, long lasting finish on wood book shelves. Though you'll need to let it dry for several days before loading with books, the finish will far outlast any vinyl latex paint. You can get it matched to the latex wall color if you want that look.

You need to decide what level of quality you want to achieve.
posted by artdrectr at 4:58 PM on April 30, 2009

Based on some bedside tables I painted with latex paint, don't do it. It will peel and stick to anything you set on it.
posted by MsMolly at 5:22 PM on April 30, 2009

I'm wondering how long ago the paint job was.

Must be six or seven years ago now.

Like everyone else, I agree that it'd look better if you used better material. But I can certainly sympathize with not wanting to have yet another gallon of leftover paint moldering in the basement.
posted by ook at 7:57 PM on April 30, 2009

I wouldn't use latex paint either. It chips when used on wood. If you don't want to be redoing it every couple of years, use enamel/alkyd ( a.k.a. oil-based paint, the stuff that smells like linseed oil.)
posted by zinfandel at 8:52 PM on April 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. I'm actually quite concerned about paint sticking to my books and records, so I may use enamel after all.
posted by OmieWise at 4:54 AM on May 1, 2009

You can sometimes get enamel paint in half-gallons. Or look at the mistint section if you're not super duper concerned with the exact color -- usually some great deals there on fairly innocuous paint colors (shades of white, grey, brown).
posted by barnone at 11:49 AM on May 1, 2009

I prefer oil paint for the look. Once dry, it certainly won't harm your books. However, it dries so hard that it's still prone to chipping.

For your purpose, I'd probably go with a latex enamel. Definitely would not use a satin finish for a bookshelf; you want semi-gloss at least. Every scrape and scuff will show up with your satin finish.
posted by torticat at 9:20 PM on May 1, 2009

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