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How to Paint Bare Wood

Want to save time and money when painting wood? House One’s Jenn Largesse shares her process for getting the best results when painting bare wood. 

Have you ever ended up applying too many coats of paints to wood, only to have stains bleed through and ruin your finish? Read Jenn Largesse’s recommended steps for painting bare wood.

Steps for Painting Bare Wood

Step 1: Sand the Surface

It may seem unnecessary to sand bare wood before painting, but stock lumber is often coated in a glaze to help protect it.

Removing that coating will help the paint adhere. In addition, sanding opens the grain of the wood, which can also help with adhesion. This Old House Painter Mauro Henrique suggests using 150 grit sandpaper and then vacuuming and wiping the surface clean.

Step 2: Seal the Knots

I work with a lot of pine and nothing is worse than seeing the stain of a knot bleed through a fresh coat of white paint. No matter how many coats you apply, knots will eventually ruin your finish, so seal them with a primer.

I prefer using a spray primer that gives me the benefits of sealing with an oil-based product without the cleanup. The oil-based spray can be a product like Kilz, which offers a low-odor spray option, or shellac which is a favorite of Mauro because of how well it seals and how quickly it dries.

Step 3: Smooth the Surface

Before you reach for a “paint and primer in one”, know that a dedicated primer typically has a higher concentration of solids, which will better fill the grain for a smoother topcoat.

And remember that bare wood loves to soak up paint, so it’s normal for the first coat or two to look fairly uneven.

Once dry, lightly sand the surface between coats to knock down the grain, which raises from the moisture.

Step 4: Consider Tinted Primer

A brightly colored topcoat painted over primer (versus bare wood) will achieve its final hue with fewer coats. Likewise, a dark color painted over a custom-tinted primer will reach its darker tone with fewer coats.

Mauro suggests only tinting primer up to 50% to retain the strength of the primer.

Step 5: Choose the Right Base for your Color

When it’s time to paint, as with any project, your paint expert should be able to recommend the correct base for your paint color before tinting. This will give your color the foundation it needs to achieve its hue.