How to prepare old exterior wood for fresh paint

Written by josh baum
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If you're putting a fresh coat of paint on older exterior wood, it pays to do a thorough job. You can strip the old paint as usual, but you'll be much better off if you spend a little extra time on the sanding. Exterior wood becomes grey and spongy on the surface over the years, creating pockets where moisture can seep in and ruin your new paint job. But there's fresh wood hiding right beneath the surface. If you can expose that fresh layer, you can paint with confidence.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Liquid paint stripper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Putty knives
  • Rubber gloves
  • Hand-held electric sander
  • Extension cord
  • Sandpaper or sanding discs
  • Liquid exterior primer
  • Paint can opener
  • Paint can stirrers

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  1. 1

    Put on a pair of thick rubber gloves. Shake a can of paint stripper to mix the contents, then open it and stir it the rest of the way with a paint-can stirrer. Use a paintbrush to apply the stripper to a small section of the exterior wood.

  2. 2

    Scrape the wood in the same direction as the grain using a sharpened putty knife. You may find it much easier to scrape if you hold the handle of the knife with both hands.

  3. 3

    Continue scraping the surface in small sections. Prepare each section by first painting on stripper, then scrape the surface completely clean with the putty knife. Continue the process until the surface has been stripped of all paint.

  4. 4

    Prepare the electric sander by installing the paper or sanding discs; refer to your sander's manufacturer's manual for specific instructions. Plug the sander into an extension cord that will allow you to reach all of the exterior wood you're treating.

  5. 5

    Sand the surface by working in small sections. In each section, sand the wood until the greyed, weathered surface has been completely sanded away and the fresh surface is exposed. Stop and feel the grain of the wood as you finish each section to see that it is even and consistent with the sanded sections touching it. Refer to your sander's manual again for specific instructions on how to hold and operate your particular model.

  6. 6

    Shake a can of exterior paint primer, then open it and finish mixing it with a paint-can stirrer. Use a paint brush to apply a thin, even coat of the primer to the stripped and sanded surface. Let this coat of primer dry completely.

  7. 7

    Apply a second thin, even coat of primer to the area once the first coat has dried. Exterior painting projects should all get at least two coats, but you can add additional coats for more protection. If you live in a climate where severe weather is common, you may want to add a third or even a fourth coat of primer before painting.

Tips and warnings

  • If you're unsure about your ability to sand the wood thoroughly and evenly enough, you could hire just that one step out to experts. You'll still save by doing all of the stripping, priming and painting yourself.
  • You should familiarise yourself with and follow all safety recommendations listed in the manual to your electric sander.

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