High Bar Renovation. An easy upgrade using MDF and Paint.

Before we can start.

Finished High Bar
High Bar Renovation

This project was not on the to-do list. The contractor who built the house used very cheap paint and after a few years, it showed. We decided to paint the family room and kitchen in the future but with all the rain this past year we moved forward and repainted. The original color was called Greige and is somewhere between brown and gray. Cleaning the paint without it showing was impossible and literally would wipe off as you tried. We opted to change the color to one that was slightly brighter and of better quality. We also applied primer over the original paint to ensure the new paint would last. For our High bar Renovation, we added to our painting project to tie the whole space together.

This post is not about painting the living space. We chose a neutral Grey which ties in better with the trim. However, when it came to the kitchen island we knew it needed something more. Also, the Grey did not contrast with the Granite countertop which is grey’s whites and blacks.

The color was one decision but the high bar did not fit the Craftsman theme of the home. With the painting project done we moved onto updating the look of the high bar.

Building the wall panels.

The panels are made from MDF which is a fiberboard material that sands well and paints easily. The current wall is standard 2 x 4 construction and drywall with typical contractor trim applied. It’s nothing that stands out.

We were in a funny mood the day we were deciding on what to do about the high bar. We knew that we would be upgrading the panels to replace the drywall. I asked my wife if I should paint the existing wall a different color. She inquired what color? I had paint leftover from the Upgrade shed project and said well let’s just try it. The paint color is dark blue. I applied 2 coats of it on the wall. We were immediately hooked on the contrast it had with the granite and how well it tied into our grey.

While I was feeling creative I also painted the trim the same color. Unfortunately, I was excited to start the project that I forgot the first picture and removed the trim. I’m sure you can imagine it with the blue trim installed.

Making the panels for this high bar required support for the countertop. I searched for brackets that fit the theme. Most of the brackets were not proportioned correctly. Because we are using paint from the floor up I designed and cut my own brackets out of the same material for the wall panels.

I will have another post on how to make them coming soon. The panels are 1/2″ thick MDF and the rails and stiles are 3/4″ MDF. Both of these sizes are available at your local big-box store. I have a local supplier that also carries 5/8″ and 1/4″ material.

Typically trim is 5/8″ thick. I use 5/8ths for wainscoting and custom trim on my projects. I wanted this to seem a bit more substantial and it tied in better with the custom brackets.

Working with MDF

For our High bar Renovation, MDF was the economical choice. Working with MDF requires a bit of work but the results are worth the effort. When cutting MDF it leaves a rough surface on the edges. The surface is very smooth. After the trim pieces are cut to size I sand the ends smooth, then lightly sand the corners to reduce the sharpness of the corner. There are several ways to deal with the edge and this is where preparing ahead will give you flawless results.

The edges will absorb paint like a sponge and you will see this in the topcoat. The way that I resolve this is a multi-step process and is a bit time-consuming. The easiest way I have found is to sand prior to assembly. After sanding I use wood glue on all the edges wiping it in with my finger and then smoothing with a damp rag. After this dries you lightly sand and move on to step two. Primer is then applied and in most cases, you are ready for paint. You may see the primer absorb as well but at this point, the paint should look fine with one or two coats. Any quality Latex paint is fine for MDF. I’m ok with just fine in most cases but this is the center of the room. I also make cabinets and want to go a bit further.

How I paint MDF

As I described in the last paragraph preparation is key to a quality finish. I use wood glue and primer on all exposed MDF edges. With the panels installed they are sanded at the corner where they meet to give the appearance of a solid cabinet. I then used the glue to seal the edges. It’s the primer that makes the difference. A primer that can be sanded is where fine meets outstanding. The primer I am using seems to be in a shortage at the moment so I opted for a new or new to me Primer. Kilz Restoration Primer.

This primer sands fairly well. I tinted my primer for this project because it is a dark color. I tinted it a gray color so I can use it for other projects. An added bonus to tinting comes when sanding. As you sand you can see the high and low spots aiding in achieving a flat surface. It applies like any other primer or paint but it is also thicker. Applying it as smoothly as possible will result in a better finish and save time during sanding.

Sanding Latex

When trying to sand any Latex finish you soon discover that your sandpaper clogs with paint. Even the primer I am using. To offset this I use a razor blade back and forth over the surface like shaving. This removes all the highspots without wasting sandpaper. You still need to sand all surfaces. The highspots removed by the razor leave the surface too smooth for the paint to adhere. I used a cabinet roller and brush to apply the Primer.

Every post you read about painting cabinets tells you to sand, sand, and sand some more. This is true even with my method. For our High bar Renovation, time-saving comes from the use of the razor blade. I spent 2 full days sanding these panels. There are several reasons for this. One, the lighting will show any flaws as light spots and shadows. Two, dark colors show flaws more. Three, well I might be a little obsessed. The first one is easy to fix. I use lighting to show anything that requires sanding. If you place a light across the surface it highlights any imperfection that may not be visible. This technique is used in painting cars. I let the primer cure overnight prior to sanding. Any spots that required a second coat were applied and then a final sanding.

Preparation for Paint

Time to paint. Not so fast. Sanding creates a lot of dust. Even with cleaning as I went a final and thorough cleaning prior to paint is an important step that should not be taken lightly. I vacuumed the entire surface several times. I followed this with a complete wipe down with a damp cloth, and finally with a tack cloth. With everything wiped down, I created a paint booth of sorts. I am using an HVLP spray gun by Earlex. I have been using this for several years now and love the finish it produces. Although it produces little to no over-spray I opted to be safe. I am using Valspar Cabinet Enamel in Semi-Gloss from Lowes.

I have used this for past projects. For our High bar Renovation, this is the first time I have tinted this paint. It can be color-matched to over 2000 colors. It dries to a very hard smooth surface providing a factory-like finish.

I thinned my paint with Flood following the instructions on the label. This is not required if you are using a brush and roller. I wanted to ensure I would have no problem spraying. I applied several thin coats. This is better than one heavy coat. This paint is also thinner than most Latex paints so careful application is required to prevent runs and drips.

Applying the Finish

In the pictures, of our High bar Renovation, the Blue appears bright. As the paint dries it will darken to the final color. This paint dries to the touch in 4 hours but if you spray it seems to dry much faster. Spraying also reduces the chance of runs and drips. I recommend practicing with The HVLP gun prior to painting a finished project. This does not mean you need to hire a pro. Paint mix, gun settings, and type of paint can affect the outcome. The paint I am using is more expensive than your typical interior paint so getting it right can affect the bottom line. I could have used a typical wall paint but wanted the added durability this paint provided. It also has the benefit of being able to be touched up.

The final result of Our High Bar Renovation

Our High bar Renovation is complete. The pictures do not do it justice. We are happy with the way this turned out and hope you enjoyed reading this post. Please like and share if this inspires you to create something for your space.

Finished High Bar
Finished Shaker/Craftsman High Bar