Image of surface prepared with the best oil based primer

Paint offers woodworkers an instant update and protection for their wooden items. However, bare wood is highly porous and has different grain variations that absorb paint at variable rates.

Before applying your paint you need to observe the right preparatory procedures like applying a primer. But…

What Is Wood Primer? 

Wood primer is a preparatory coating applied on wood to even out the porous surface and guarantee optimum adhesion.

It hides the surface imperfections and prevents the existing colors from bleeding through after painting.

Types Of Wood Primer

Applying a primer coat improve adherence, reduces the coats needed to complete the job, and prevent peeling, whether you’re painting bare wood or finished wood.

Though all primers integrate more resins and fewer pigments than paint, formulas differ based on the manufacturer. 

The best primer for your woodworking project depends on the surface you’ll paint, the environmental condition, and your preferences for the final look of the job.

Here are some of the wood primers you will likely come across:

  • Oil-based Primer

The oil-based primers are excellent for hiding knots and stains from cigarettes, fire, and pets, preventing them from showing through your newly painted surface.

They also work well for areas subjected to extreme moisture.  

Oil-based primers have durable ingredients that can withstand temperature fluctuations and high-stress areas.

They penetrate the wood better than other primers, making them suitable for preparing old wood for paint.

You can achieve the best penetration by using the slow-drying primer. However, you will want to wait longer before top coating. 

If speed is more critical than the level of penetration, you can opt for oil-based primers that dry within 3 hours.

However, they contain harsh synthetic additives, so you should apply them in a well-ventilated workspace to avoid health concerns.

You will also realize that cleaning oil-based primer is uneasy, and it has disposal requirements for all supplies used to apply it. 

  • Water-based or Latex Primer

Water-based primers are suitable alternatives for those concerned with the harsh chemicals in oil-based versions.

They are easy to apply on various surfaces, including new wood and old wood.

However, latex primers only bind well with old wood if sanded correctly and in good working order.

Latex primers remain elastic after drying, allowing them to expand and contract with temperature fluctuations. This prevents cracks and scratches on your surface even under high stress.

You should also know that water-based primers don’t cover heavy stains and tannins in cedar and redwood. They also raise the wood grain more than shellac and oil-based primers.

  • Shellac Primer

The shellac-based primers offer the best adhesion and durability on wood. They use denatured alcohol as the primary solvent in their formulation.

This kills the elements or bacteria that cause an unpleasant smell. They also excel at covering heavy stains and block knots.

Shellac primers don’t penetrate the wood’s surface quickly, but they are the quickest-drying wood primers. However, shellac primers only work in freezing temperatures.

They are likely to soften in high temperatures, meaning their use on exterior projects is limited to spot-priming.

Is Primer Necessary For Wood? 

Whether or not primer is necessary for wood depends on the type of wood you want to prime. For example, priming is not essential for old wood.

Before painting, such woods can benefit from filling the cracks with a wood filler and smoothing out the surface with fine or medium grit sandpaper. 

However, the only exception to this rule is if you’re aiming at changing the wood color from light to dark or vice-versa.

Applying light-colored paints over dark colors need extra paint coats to prevent the existing color from bleeding through your new shade.

You can reduce your working time and costs by priming your wood before painting. 

Besides previously painted wood, people ask whether it is necessary to prime bare wood.

Bare wood is the most challenging material to paint since it has highly absorbent fibers that absorb too much paint.

The variations in the grains can also create a rough finish when painted without a wood primer. 

Fortunately, you can use a wood primer to fill the absorbent fibers, preventing the new paint from going patchy into the wood.

The primer also offers a smooth surface for a professional-grade finish while saving money by minimizing the paint coats needed to finish your priming project. 

What Primer Should I Use For Wood? 

Primers offer wood surfaces an opaque base coat to block stains and prevent surface imperfections from showing through your final coat.

They contain rich solid contents that soak into the wood grain to protect the wood from constant moisture, making the finish coat smoother. 

Furthermore, the binding agents in primers are more adhesive than for paint, so they adhere to wood better. But what primer is best for wood?

Before deciding on your desired primer for wood, you should be well-versed with the qualities of various primers.

Latex primer, for example, dries quickly, but it doesn’t provide the stain-blocking power offered with other primers. 

Oil-based primer fills pores nicely and hides stains, but it is harmful given the high VOC content.

Shellac-based primer, though odorous, is the best stain-blocking primer. However, it only works best for tannin-rich wood species such as redwood. 

Choosing the best primer for wood depends on the wood type you want to prime.

For instance, new wood that is not stained can benefit from high-quality latex primer or an oil-based primer. 

You’ll need to prime with a quality stain-blocking primer for previously painted or stained wood. However, if the paint is in good working order, you don’t need to prime it.

Older or more weathered wood requires high-quality oil-based primer or latex primer. 

Tip: I recommend KILZ premium latex primer for new wood that is not stained. This wood primer offers an excellent foundation for oil-based or latex topcoats.

It’s good at hiding imperfections on wood like other water-based primers. However, it dries faster, denying users the chance to address mistakes mid-project. 

Rust-oleum painter’s touch latex primer is another excellent priming option for new wood, considering its thick consistency and great quality.

This quality bargain provides decent coverage in one coat, courtesy of the thick density. However, being thick limits its delivery method to brushes because it can clog the spray nozzle If applied with a sprayer. 

What Happens If You Don’t Use Wood Primer? 

Priming wood may be the least controversial debate anyone wants to discuss, but the pay-off is even coverage and a durable surface that is less likely to peel, crack or bleed through.

For beginners, using a wood primer seems like an unnecessary step which is not true because skipping this step has severe consequences. 

You may recognize some of the effects after painting your wood, but some won’t be noticeable until the paint dries.

Find out what happens if you don’t use wood primer in the guide below.

  • Uneven Coverage

When you don’t use wood primers, you will first notice uneven coverage. Primers penetrate the wood grains to seal them and offer a smooth surface for better paint adhesion.

Without it, paint soaks into the wood unevenly, creating apparent blemishes and rough areas.

  • Uniformity In Color Sheen

Thanks to the beautiful seal that primers leave on wood surfaces: paint covers the wood as it should without surprises in color changes.

However, skipping the priming step results in less pigment ratio of the paint.

That means too much pigment penetrates the wood, and the final color will appear washed out in certain spots.

  • Poor Adhesion

Since wood primer has a glue-like consistency, it helps the new paint adhere as expected. Failure to use wood primer causes peeling paint primarily in humid weather.

Additionally, the water in the paint will lift the wood grain. The second paint coat may address these imperfections, but the paint will peel off with time since you didn’t use a binding coat. 

Poor adhesion can also make cleaning more complicated after the paint dries. When you wipe off fingerprints or dirt, you will notice the paint wearing off.

If the paint has a lighter color, your attempt to wipe it clean can make it look dirtier.

Ideally, you might denounce the quality of paint you used, but the truth is that you didn’t use the wood primer.

How Do You Apply Wood Primer? 

Priming your wood before painting is a beautiful experience, and it offers many benefits, including improved adhesion.

However, you can only get the best outcomes by practicing thorough surface preparation and using the correct supplies for this DIY project. Discover how to apply a wood primer in this guide. 

Step 1: Clean the Wood

If your wood has old paint, you will need to remove it using a chemical stripper or scrape it off using a putty knife. Apply a high-quality TSP to your wood if treated with a stain or a finish. 

Step 2: Repair the Deep Gouges If You’re Priming Old Wood

Old wood has deep gouges and dings that you need to fill with wood putty before priming it. Use your putty knife to apply the wood filler to these damaged areas and let it dry before sanding. 

Step 3: Sand the Wood

Start by scuffing down the repaired areas before continuing to the entire surface for an even finish.

Use 80 to 100 grit sandpaper for this step, ensuring you scuff up the whole paint remaining on the wood surface.

Sanding the wood creates a fine texture and opens the grain for your new paint coat to stick. 

Check your sandpaper to see if it has accumulated too much sanding dust. If that’s the case, finish off with rougher grit sandpaper to even out the surface.

Always sand following the wood grain direction. Rubbing against the wood grain will break the fibers, making adhesion more difficult. 

Step 4: Clean the Sanding Dust 

Wood primers have poor adhesion on dirty surfaces. Therefore, it pays to remove the sanding dust using a damp rag or a vacuum cleaner.

Vacuum your wood thoroughly to remove all the sanding dust, then let the wood air dry before priming. 

Step 5: Mask the Parts You Don’t Want to Catch Paint

Use high-quality tape to mask off areas you want to remain unpainted. A frog tape works well for this case because it bonds well with wood and minimizes paint oozing out of the restricted areas. 

Step 6: Prime the Wood

It’s now time to prime your wood. Pour your dedicated primer into a paint tray and mix it thoroughly to create an even consistency.

Soak the tip of your paintbrush into your chosen primer and dab the brush’s edge against the paint tray.

You do this to remove the excess paint on the brush, so you remain with adequate paint for good coverage. 

Start priming your wood with short strokes from the top until one section of the wood gets fully covered.

Load your paintbrush again and start priming the remaining part and try not to overlap to avoid visible brush marks in the final coat.

Wait for the first primer coat to dry according to the product’s guidelines printed on the package. Then add a second coat for the best outcomes. 

Once the primer dries to the touch, sand it with medium-grit sandpaper to even out the surface for improved paint adhesion.

Tip: Avoid using a foam brush for priming wood because it offers less penetration and could introduce bubbles in the final finish. 


Preparing your wood before painting guarantees the smoothest and cleanest finish possible. One practical way of achieving a consistent finish is using a wood primer as a basecoat.

However, it would help to consider the current wood condition before priming. For example, a high-quality latex-based primer will work best if your wood is more weathered.

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