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For an indoor project that is likely to get bumped, knocked, etc. (e.g., door or window casing, cabinets, built-in bookshelves, etc.), should one expect that a good quality paint will resist chipping and peeling as about the same as a good quality stain sealed with a good quality polyurethane?

The specific circumstance we are evaluating is a kitchen island which has a cabinet base. The base is pine, and we're debating between either white paint, or white stain sealed with polyurethane.

However, it is highly probable that this item will be subject to a lot of bumps, knocks, and so forth. We're less concerned about the difference in appearance between the two finishes, and more interested in choosing the finish that will be the most durable, and the most resistant to chipping, peeling, and getting easily soiled.

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Polyurethane is basically liquid plastic. It forms a hard shell, which will protect the wood underneath. Since pine is considered to be a soft wood, the poly will add some impact resistance. The poly itself may chip, but the wood underneath will be better protected than regular latex paint.

I wouldn't be too concerned about the durability difference between paint and polyurethane. They are both quite durable, and should last roughly around the same amount of time.

The thing with woodwork is that once it is painted, it will always be painted. If the wood is nice enough to be stained, then I would go this route.

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In the comparison between polyurethane and a premium latex paint, the latex paint is less likely to chip. The reason is because latex is resilient and can flex when subject to blunt forces.

The opposite is true for urethane-type sealers (and for enamel and oil based paints). Once the solvent evaporates the binders and solids form a rigid and plastic-like shell. When completely dry it is susceptible to cracking and chipping.

If you prime the pine cabinets first and finish with a final latex coat, even if the cabinets were struck sharply the wood will dent before the paint chipped.

  • Also, if you use white paint, any damage will be easily concealed by applying a quick additional coat of paint. With stain/varnish it would be less easily concealed. – Jimmy Fix-it Jan 2 '16 at 5:53
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I would not poly pine in a kitchen. Jason is right in that poly is basically a form of plastic. But the problem with pine is how it reacts to strikes - it splinters off. I have rehabbed more than my share of cabinets and old pine cabinets usually have a few deep splinters. The main issue with poly in this application is that it binds so well. So when it is struck and chips there is a good chance the poly will pull more off.

Latex paint is probably the best protector of pine, however it is probably the worst solution for kitchen cabinets. It provides a more rubbery barrier but under performs with liquids, people with dirty hands, and especially kicking and shoes around a kitchen island.

I always paint my kitchen cabinets with oil based paints. My past two houses and all flips that I have done the past 20 years. It looks better and the performance is incredible. With latex and poly you get more of a layer of protection where oil based paints actually seep into the wood.

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Almost all products on the market today have advantages beyond the old school days. I have worked in this industry for 40 years plus. My advice is apply latex paints of preferred sheen (flat, matte, eggshell, semi-gloss or gloss) to walls and back drops. Anything less than semi gloss will be less effective when cleaning smudges etc. Flat latex, low luster etc. hides blemishes and gives a warmer soft look on walls. This is usually ideal in living rooms, dens, halls etc. A higher sheen is used in kitchens and bathrooms.

Regarding your wood work, (Base boards, doors, trim, cabinets, etc.) you can use acrylic based latex. This is easier to work with but it is not as durable as oil based paint. The chipping issue with oil paint is not like in the old days. Products are much better now. You can now buy products that have infused stain and poly finish all in one. Rust Oleum in quart size works well for limited areas and priced right.

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