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Old 11-19-2009, 06:02 PM   #1
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


Why is it about Zinsser Cover Stain oil base primer that sucks so much? I really want to like this product, but can't.

First off, I have been a professional artist, oil painter for 20 years. I spend my time using sticks with hair. I have used many oil enamels in my time and a variety of oil paints. I have brushed and sprayed many materials in my time. I have also finished allot of wood furniture with a variety of brush and spray finishes. I can brush oil modified polyurethanes and shellacs all with impeccable results so it looks like glass and looks just as good as a superior spray job.

I am doing renovation work including labor insane intensive stripping of 80 year old wood doors, moldings, and door/window frames. I’ve got the wood sanded and prepped to silky smooth perfection.

My first go round of priming bare wood baseboards, wall molding, and panel doors was using Zinsser 1-2-3 water base. It brushed on smooth. It laid down smooth. It leveled smooth. And dry, it looks so damn good it doesn’t need sanding and could actually never see a topcoat and still look impeccable.

Then I made the mistake and asked some more questions and the advice I got was that Cover Stain was the ticket for bare interior wood…everyone chimed in. It wouldn’t raise the grain, blah, blah, blah.

Well, this crude product is like painting with tar. I cannot speak for spraying the stuff, but when brushed, I got such coarse brush marks that sanding it out looks to be a major production and I do not think I have the stomach for it…too much work. My application was correct. I made sure temps were perfect: they were. I made sure prep was correct: it was. Brush loading, methods of application, yadda, yadda. Tried everything. I bought another damn brush (white bristle brush) when I already had a premium Purdy black China bristle that has performed with other oil base products masterfully. Nothing I did yielded any improvement to the level that I came to understand Cove Stain was a superior product. Too many driers, or fillers, or something in the formulation.

I tried Penetrol. Improvement in flow and diminution in coverage…doesn’t look so hot. And still brushes like crap,

Can someone explain why this product is being recommended for high quality priming tasks on raw wood indoors as if it is a god send?


I had originally bought the stuff to go over some doors that I didn’t want to strip all the way to bare wood and that had decades old oil paint which I wanted to prime, then top coat with acrylic/latex base paint. Everyone is saying “Use this stuff on raw wood!!!! “It’s the best!”. I have read exhaustively about how to apply the Cover Stain and tried so many ways to use it, I am pretty much disillusioned and think you guys must be smoking something. I am completely disgusted with this 2nd class product and I think I will return to the Zinsser 1-2-3 for bare wood.

On that note, can any one recommend a high build, brush on, interior primer that is easily applied over to both old oil and acrylic paint, and which will take a acrylic topcoat: this is for baseboards and doors. Some of these are not stripped all the way down, example some baseboards are still somewhat heavy with paint (and likely lead paint) and I want to get a good primer build and smooth it out just a little bit.

OK, Rant off.

Any suggestions?

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Old 11-20-2009, 02:45 AM   #2
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


Cover Stain is a fast drying alkyd that is best applied by sprayer. Any fast drying product should not be used for brush applications on bare wood, as the product has no time to level. A waterbased primer will dry slower but will raise the grain.

Also, if you're brushing bare wood and you're getting brush marks, you're probably putting too much on. Try thinning with mineral spirits. The product should absorb into the wood fairly quickly. Primer hide (i.e. appearance after a coat of primer) is of little consequence because it will be topcoated. The sole purpose of a primer is its sealant properties.


Last edited by Rcon; 11-20-2009 at 02:54 AM.
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Old 11-20-2009, 04:56 AM   #3
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


I would stick with the 123 or BM's Fresh Start, I never liked cover stain for anything except over residual wall paper paste, even then I would go with any other oil based primer,cover stain just plain stinks,as in smells bad, and as you said never applied easily.123 or fs will go over old oil or anything else and stick with minimal sanding.
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Old 11-20-2009, 06:00 AM   #4
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


Coverstain has it's uses. It's primarily for blocking certain types of stains that a water based can't block. For raw wood, it isn't the best product. A regular oil undercoater would work much better. In all honesty, oil is getting to the point that it all sucks. They are all so high solids and low solvent that they drag and don't level at all like they use to. I'm hearing a lot from a couple paint companies we deal with about the introduction of an extremely fine alkyd resin suspended in a water based system. I flows like the old oils and gets you most of the same benefits of the traditional oils. It cleans up mostly with water, is low VOC, and dries to recoat in about 15 minutes. I have a painter test a can of it. It actually blocked tannin bleed, at least for the first couple months it's been on. Time will tell the real story there though.
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Old 11-20-2009, 12:44 PM   #5
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


Does anyone have an oi/alkyd base primer they can recommend that will do the job AND also level out?
I'm so aggravated at having to sand this molding back down to get the brush strokes out...there's grooving and fluting so any sanding is going to hit raw wood again. It needs to be re-primed.

Yeah, it’s pretty demoralizing contemplating sanding out the brush strokes from the Cover Stain. Yesterday I primed the picture rail molding on one wall and one door frame. I think I am jumping ship on the Cover Stain (and yeah, it stinks to high heaven).

I cannot understand how, when I was originally asking about for a raw wood primer, Cover Stain overwhelmingly was the recommended product for brushing these areas.

What other products would work here…I need more informed advice and recommendations than I’ve previously received. My situation is, it’s an 80 year old apartment that had lots of sloppy abusive layers of paint applied over the years. In some areas I have stripped off all the paint to raw wood. Other places, like many doors, I did NOT go down to raw wood, but only scraped off the top layers of latex paint which hadn’t bonded well to older layers of oil (and where likely no bonder/primer was used). Other areas are a mix of raw wood and old paint…still other areas have spots with Bondo.
All these items will be top coated with BM Waterbase Impervo.

So I need a primer(s) for, 1) raw wood, and 2) a product to go over old oil/latex, and 3) Bondo.
The objects to be primed are a)wall/picture rail molding, b)door and window frames, c) baseboards, d) interior window sills.
Probably all of this will be brushed on.

Here’s what I have on hand now:
-Zinsser Cover Stain
- Zinsser BIN
-Zinsser 123


What about Zinsser BIN? Would that do the trick, flow out well, and seriously bond to various surfaces?

Last edited by Lovegasoline; 11-20-2009 at 02:04 PM.
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Old 11-20-2009, 05:54 PM   #6
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


already answered 123 will do it all


bin stinks even worse than cover stain
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Old 11-20-2009, 08:24 PM   #7
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


BIN is not a monster you want to tackle. It's for extremely aggressive stains, like smoke damage. It stinks, is thin and runny, and a mess to apply evenly. It's a niche product that you use in specific situations.
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Old 11-21-2009, 10:30 AM   #8
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


Put a little thinner in the paint. Also make sure the store throws it on the shaker before you walk out. Most paints and pimers will gell up and get tacky after sitting still for too long. The only reason I recommend oil is that I have seen latex primers fail, and fail miserably on bare wood. When you start doing a lot of repaints where you know they used latex primer on the previous paint job, you will see what people are talking about.
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Old 11-21-2009, 02:00 PM   #9
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


Is there an oil primer for this situation that levels better than Cover Stain?
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Old 11-21-2009, 04:50 PM   #10
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


The slower drying ones will tend to level better. The catch to those is that you have to wait an eternity before they are hard enough to do any sanding if you need to as they will just gum up.
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Old 11-23-2009, 02:02 PM   #11
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


Oh well, seems there's no easy solution (except for going with the Zinsser 123, but I'd like to stick with oil). I still have a ton of baseboard and a dozen doors that need to be primed overtop of older paint...and I think they are going to have to get Cover Stain. What a fiasco this will be. Maybe I can spray the doors.
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Old 11-23-2009, 03:36 PM   #12
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


I think if you try a little thinner in the Cover Stain primer you will see a world of difference in how it spreads and lays down. 9 times out of 10 I will thin oil based primer. Use just a little bit. You can always ad more if needed.
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Old 11-28-2009, 10:56 PM   #13
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


I hit the Cover Stain again (I have a gallon to play with).

I tried it on wooden bookshelves this time (pine with some knots, primed a decade and a half ago: cleaned with ammonia and water, dried, then sanded with 150 grit on a ROS to scuff it). I had the case laid on its side so as to give flat horizontal surfaces to prime with. I used lots of Penetrol. No significant leveling change. I dumped in mineral spirits. Still not leveling.

Are those that are offering advice offering advice for oil primers in GENERAL, or does your advice come directly from your use Cover Stain?
I could probably turn it to the consistency of water, but it will lose all block-out function. I suspect there such a large quantity of aggressive drier in the formula that to thin it down to the point that it levels well will demand destroying the integrity of the paint film and blocking power. It seems counter intuitive to take a primer that has all manner of additives formulated to dry very very fast, then to counteract greatly in the other direction by adding yet more ingredients to slow it down. It seems like a backwards way of getting a smooth leveling brushed finish and a method that can do nothing but impair the integrity of the formula.
I have to conclude either I am incredibly inept (possible!) or Cover Stain is meant to either be sprayed on and/or used in crude applications where a high level finish is not demanded (or a huge amount of elbow grease sanding it is part of the deal).
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Old 11-29-2009, 11:39 AM   #14
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


I have only sprayed it on. It sprays like a dream with little effort and covers great! I try and avoid brushes as much as possible.
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Old 11-30-2009, 09:54 AM   #15
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Zinsser Cover Stain Sucks


I am at a loss here. I have used it plenty and most times it is with a brush with great results. I even had a couple door frames done side-by-side with Coverstain vs. 123 and you could tell the 123 didn't penetrate as well. I think you should try a different brand.

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