Do I Have to Use a Primer Before Painting Wood

Do I Have to Use a Primer Before Painting Wood?

Are you planning to paint some of your wooden furniture but don’t know where and how to start? Or perhaps you figured that repainting your fence is one of the best ways to make the most of your yard?

One of the most common questions asked by furniture-painting newbies is “Do I need to use a primer before painting wood?” To find an answer to this question, keep reading – we’ll be explaining everything you need to know about proper surface preparation.

What’s a Primer?

Also known as the undercoat, primer is a type of preparatory coating whose purpose is to increase paint durability, ensure better adhesion, and provide some extra protection for the surface that is going to be painted. It is the very first coat that has to be applied to a surface in order to make it paint-friendly.

The use of a primer is especially important when painting wooden surfaces. This is because wood is a good absorbent – just like canvases. As you probably already know, canvases need to be prepared before they’re painted on, and the same goes for wood. Both canvases and wood can and will absorb some of the paint if they’re not prepared beforehand and make the colors look very dull.

A primer works by filling all those small gaps that are present in porous surfaces. It fills both the larger and smaller holes and cracks and, in that way, smoothens the surface. Painting untreated, bare wood without priming the surface first is a big no-no – the color is bound to lose its sharpness and become easily damaged.

Do I Need to Prime Wood Before Painting It?

As we said, primer is a preparatory coating whose job is to cover the grains and stains and to even out the blemishes. In addition, it helps the paint of the user’s choice to stick on the surface and enhances the sharpness of the colors. All of this increases the paint’s durability and allows it to remain resistant to potential damage for the years to come.

In case you’re planning to paint a wooden surface that isn’t new and raw, priming probably won’t be necessary. In such situations, one can simply use some wood filler to fill the cracks and then make the surface smooth by using fine or medium-coarse sandpaper.

However, there’s an exception to this rule – those who are planning to change the color dramatically (dark to light or light to dark) should still prime the wood even if it’s not raw and new. This is because darker colors can appear through the new coat of light paint (and vice-versa) regardless of the number of coats you apply to the surface.

Painting bare wood, on the other hand, is a must. A primer has a high solids content whose job is to fill all those grains that are typically present in the bare wood and, in that way, prevent the paint from sinking into the material and going patchy. It seals the absorbent new wood – applying a single coat of primer can make a huge difference and make the surface so smooth that you’ll only need to apply one topcoat of paint.

If you decide not to prime bare wood, the results will probably look acceptable for some time. However, after a few years, you’ll undoubtedly wish that you had used a primer when you notice the paint flaking and peeling off of your wooden furniture or walls.

Benefits of Priming Wood Before Painting It

Priming wood before painting won’t harm the wood in any way. As mentioned above, this preparatory coating prevents the paint from sinking into the wood and fills out its imperfections. It will provide you with a smooth surface to paint on and also form a long-lasting, protective layer.

Let’s take a look at all of these benefits in more detail:

A Smoother Surface for a Flawless Finish

The final outlook always depends on the texture of the surface you decide to paint on. To balance out the blemishes, some wooden surfaces will require more than just one coat of primer.

On the other hand, when the surface is unequal or rough and you decide not to use a primer, you’ll have to use quite a lot of paint. This is because the rough surface and blemishes can easily soak up your paint. It goes without saying, but you won’t end up with a good-looking product, too.

In order to achieve that flawless, perfect finish, you will need to apply a couple of coats of primer – this will build up a protective layer and even out the surface.

Another important thing to mention here is that an excessively gleaming or glossy surface (i.e. the exact opposite of an uneven surface) can also be problematic. Applying a coat of primer on such a surface (or painting it, as a matter of fact) can be extremely difficult as the primer won’t be able to penetrate it, and this often results in a disaster.

This is precisely why it’s so important to make sure that the wooden surface you’ll be working on is both primer and paint-friendly.

Evening Out the Blemishes & Covering Grains and Stains

One of the most important characteristics of primers is their ability to conceal blemishes or deck stains. When these are properly covered with a few coats of primer, it’s very easy to achieve a perfect look and get those eye-catching hues.

However, priming wood and then just splashing some color over the surface is not enough. You will still have to be very attentive while painting – get it wrong and you might still see blotchiness, color bleeding, marks, and stains.

Saving Your Money

When compared to paint, a primer is very affordable. This is precisely why it makes a lot of sense to prime the wooden surface before painting it.

Not only will the process of priming save you a lot of paint, but it will also assist you in achieving a durable, long-lasting finish that will save you some bucks in the long run.

What Kind of Primer Should I Purchase?

Primers come in two main types:

  • Latex-based variants, which are newer
  • Oil-based variants, which are more traditional

Those who decide to go with an oil-based primer should always use it in a well-ventilated area, as it can give off unpleasant fumes. While many new oil-based primers dry very fast, it takes around 24 hours before this type of primer can be re-coated. For clean-up, you’ll have to use a turpentine substitute.

Latex-based primers, on the other hand, can be cleaned up with just water. In addition, they dry significantly faster and aren’t as smelly. However, latex-based primers can’t be used with just any type of wood. Some woods, such as cedar, require the use of oil-based primers as only these can prevent the appearance of tannin stains.

You’ve probably heard about the so-called “all-in-one” solutions, i.e. paints that combine topcoat and primer in just one product. While they work well on drywall or previously painted surfaces, they’re never as effective as an individual primer-paint duo (separate products).

Make sure to purchase a primer whose color is close to that of your paint. This is particularly important in case you’ve chosen a darker shade. Don’t forget that you can always pay a visit to a paint-mixing shop and ask for an appropriate color to be added to your pale primer.

How Do I Prime a Wood Surface?

Giving your wooden furniture a new look will make your home cozy and can be done in three simple steps – sand, seal, and paint.

Use two or three grades of sandpaper to rub-down the wood while following the grain’s direction. Always keep in mind that sanding across the grain is a sure way to break the fibers of the wood and make the entire task a lot more difficult.

In case the wooden surface you’ll be painting on has knots, use a knot sealer to seal them. Failing to do so will cause the knots to start leaking sap which can and will get through the paint and ruin its appearance.

Take a roller or a brush and apply the primer while following the directions on the tin. You can even spray the primer if you’re working on a particularly large area. Give it some time to dry out, but not longer than a couple of days. Keep in mind that primer can dry out too thoroughly and then it won’t bond that well to the topcoat.

Before applying the paint, gently sand the primer coating in order to remove any imperfections. Then you are ready to apply the paint to your outdoor or indoor design elements.

The Conclusion

Using a primer helps block oil, water, grease, tannin, and other substances that may bleed through the paint. This preparatory coating can also ensure the durability of the topcoat and enhance the overall finish. To put it simply, it’s something that successfully seals the original product, protects it from the paint, and prevents the substances mentioned above from bleeding through it.

Once we combine these benefits with the fact that primers are inexpensive and that there’s no harm in using them, the answer to the question “Do I have to use a primer before painting wood?” becomes pretty obvious – yes, priming wood before painting it is never a bad idea.

If you are a landlord who wants to spruce up their property, take a look at my rental maintenance checklist for landlords as well.

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