Tips for Spraying Shellac-Based Primer on Cabinets

Updated on May 2, 2019
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

Using Shellac-Based Primer On Cabinets

White pigmented, shellac-based primer, is great for use on kitchen cabinets as a stain blocker and base coat for paint. The primer prevents wood tannin and annoying stains from bleeding into top coats, and the primer forms a solid bond with paint too.

Shellac Primer vs Oil Primer

Shellac-based primer dries hard, similar to oil primer, but without the extended dry time associated with oil-based coatings. The dry time of pigmented shellac primer, depending on the coating thickness, is typically 45 minutes, with a re-coat time of roughly 1 hour, which is short compared to oil. Opening windows dries the primer fast.

The faster dry time allows me to spray two coats of primer on cabinets, followed by the first coat of paint, all in the same day. With the longer drying time of oil primer, you probably wouldn't even be able to spray the second coat of primer on the same day.

Like oil-based primer, this primer smells horrible too, but the smell doesn't linger all day long like oil does. Shellac primer contains alcohol, which evaporates as the coating dries. With a couple windows open, the smell is gone in a couple hours.

The Best Shellac-Based Primer for Cabinets

The most widely used shellac primer that you've probably heard of is Zinsser BIN. It's sold in most major home improvement stores. Depending on sale prices at the time of purchase, I'll use either BIN, or the white shellac primer from Sherwin Williams, which is the same exact product as BIN.

Both products have the same time specifications for dry time and re-coating, and both products perform the same. The primer reaches maximum hardness in seven days.

Having used both brands many times for priming cabinets and interior wood work, either one is fine, but check sale prices, because regular pricing is around $46 per gallon without a sale, as of this writing. Oil-based primer is usually under $30 per gallon.

Spraying Shellac-Based Primer

Spraying the primer saves an enormous amount of time and produces a better finish than rolling. Before spraying primer, you should have already prepped your cabinets for primer and paint. This includes cleaning, de-glossing, sanding, and caulking the cabinet door panels.

If you're spray painting oak cabinets, there's one extra step of grain filling involved, but one benefit of using this primer is that its very thin consistency fills wood grain a lot better than oil primer does, even without filler.

Control Over-spray and Dust

When I spray cabinet doors, I remove the doors and hardware. I spray the doors in a homemade spray booth, using the Zipwall dust barrier system to control over-spray. These work great indoors.

This primer produces a very fine dust that makes a huge mess if you don't contain it. I recommend spraying cabinet doors outside if possible, or in an empty garage, if the weather permits. When spraying outdoors, spray the doors inside a spray shelter before carrying them over to an enclosed drying rack. These are cheap and prevent over-spray from blowing onto the neighbors house, or car.

Airless Sprayer vs HVLP

You can spray shellac-based primer through either sprayer, but when you're spraying over twenty cabinet doors, an airless sprayer is the best option for speed. With an airless sprayer, you can siphon the primer directly out of a 5-gallon bucket, or the can, but with an HVLP, you are limited to a small cup that needs refilling for extended use.

In terms of the finish, this primer levels over the surface really nice as it's sprayed on, regardless of the sprayer being used. It levels a lot better than oil primer does, producing a nicer looking base coat. This enhances the look of your painted finish at the end. I spray and store cabinet doors horizontally. You have to be careful not to spray heavy on the door edges, or the primer will drip.

Using an HVLP sprayer to spray the primer onto the wall cabinets produces much less over-spray than an airless. You still need to mask everything in the kitchen very carefully before spraying, regardless of the sprayer being used.

Best Spray Tip Size for Shellac Primer

When spraying cabinets, you don't want to be using an oversized tip, otherwise you're going to waste primer and produce excessive over-spray. With my Graco 495 airless sprayer, I use a 210 tip, which produces a 4-inch spray fan. I use this size for the cabinet doors and the wall boxes. The size 310 is fine too.

I definitely recommend the Graco FFLP (fine finish, low pressure) spray tips for spraying primer onto cabinets. These produce a softer finish with a little less over-spray than the regular RAC 5 tips by Graco. If you're using a different sprayer brand, see if they offer a fine finish spray tip.

Spraying and Storing Primed Doors

The way I prime doors is I spray and store them horizontally, using the Door Rack Painter system. I highly recommend this drying rack if you want to paint your cabinets fast. Without this system, you would have to wait for the wet side to fully before flipping the doors over to prime the other side, which takes forever. With this rack, you can spray both sides at once instead of waiting. The rack system I bought paid for itself the first cabinet project I used it on.

I always spray two coats of white pigmented, shellac primer, on cabinet doors, lightly scuff sanding in between coats. The primer is dry enough for sanding in usually under one hour. This primer blocks everything except marker stains. I keep a spray can of oil primer handy to spot prime if necessary.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • When painting cabinets do you have to paint the inside or just paint the frame?

    No, you don't have to paint the inside of the cabinets, but I do if the inside is visible through doors with glass. As far as durability, it doesn't matter if the outside part of the frames is painted and the inside is not.

  • How long do you wait after your last coat of primer to cure before applying your cabinet paint?

    I spray the first coat of paint the next day. The re-coat time for shellac primer is 45 minutes, but priming doors usually consumes an entire day, and letting the primer cure more overnight is good too because build-up in grooves and corners can remain wet beyond the re-coat time.

  • Does spraying bin require any thinning and will it clean with water alone from sprayer?

    No, BIN does not require any thinning. The primer is already very thin, similar to the consistency of milk. You need to use ammonia, or denatured alcohol to clean your sprayer and completely remove the primer. Ammonia is cheaper. Don't let the primer sit inside your sprayer for more than a couple hours either. I use a mix of warm water with ammonia and it cleans out the primer really well from my sprayer. You need to carefully clean all of the filters too if you're using an airless sprayer. I soak them in ammonia water overnight and they're clean in the morning.

  • Should I clean up my sprayer when I get done with applying primer?

    Yes, you need to clean your sprayer thoroughly after spraying primer. If you're spraying shellac-based primer you can clean the sprayer with ammonia or denatured alcohol. Ammonia is a lot cheaper and safer to use. Use mineral spirits to remove oil-based primer from the sprayer. You also need to clean the filter and spray tip.

  • For thinning down with HLVP, do you use alcohol or ammonia?

    With an HVLP sprayer, you shouldn't have to thin shellac-based primer at all. It's already as thin as milk and should spray without any problem.

© 2019 Matt G.


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    • Matt G. profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt G. 

      5 hours ago from United States

      You could do that, but the primer is really meant to be top coated with paint. I'm sure it would be fine to just clear coat it instead, but I've never done that myself.

    • profile image


      9 hours ago

      Hi Matt I used shallac primer on a mahogany Vanity it covered nicely is it possible to distress it and use a water base clear as a finish coat thanks Dave

    • Matt G. profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt G. 

      12 days ago from United States


      I use two separate sprayers for primer and paint. If you're only spraying primer and paint through the same sprayer a couples times, it's fine as long as you clean the pump and spray line really good, but for repeated spraying, using two separate sprayers is best because residue builds up inside the pump and spray line over time, even after a good cleaning, and this can cause cross contamination issues with your finishes. This is because cleaning with ammonia breaks down the paint and primer particles inside the line that can end up causing issues next time you spray. Don't reuse the flushed out ammonia water. It's dirty and you definitely don't want to cycle that back into your pump and line. Dump it out and use fresh ammonia for the next cleaning. You can buy cheap bottles of ammonia for a couple bucks each. It's cheaper than de-natured alcohol.

    • profile image

      Trevor B 

      13 days ago

      Do you use the same spray equipment after spraying BIN Shallac Primer, and then spay lets say a Latex paint? Have you had issues ?

      Also once you flush system with 50:50 ammonia and water, what do you do with that biproduct ? Is is reusable ?

    • Matt G. profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt G. 

      10 months ago from United States

      I'm not familiar with Wagner spray equipment or what coatings can be sprayed with them. I use a Graco airless sprayer to spray BIN.

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      Could I use a Wagner flexio 590 to spray this shellac primer? From all of my research, I want to say yes. But I thought the instructions that came In the box said not to use them together??


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