Q: Several months ago, I completed a poplar cabinet and painted it with latex enamel. Today, the paint surface is soft, and articles left on top will stick to it. The paint store man said latex paint never gets really hard. Is there anything I can put on it at this stage, like maybe a coat of shellac, to solve this problem?
A: Nope. A finish, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. If you have a finish that, for whatever reason, is too soft, remove it and start over. Trying to put a harder finish on a softer one will be similar to making a couch harder by putting a piece of glass over the cushions. When you sit down, the glass will crack as the softer cushions give way under it. The same will happen if you put hard or brittle finish over softer coatings, though the harder topcoat will crack and chip (even if you don’t sit on it). By the way, it is not true that latex paint does not get hard. There are a host of different types of paints that fall into the category of latex, and while some are formulated to stay soft, most are formulated to harden enough to take normal wear. My guess is that you have the wrong coating on the wood, or that something in the finishing process conspired to prevent your paint from curing properly. Either way, removing it and refinishing with the right primer and paint will solve the problem.