The best ways to prime & paint bare wood

Updated April 17, 2017

Painting is one of the most popular methods for finishing bare wood surfaces. Kitchen cabinets, wood panelling, doors and furniture are just a few bare wood items that may be painted. Many homeowners are intimidated by the concept of working with bare wood, but these items are no more difficult to paint than previously painted surfaces. However, they do require specific techniques.

Wood Preparation

Bare wood needs to be prepared to accept paint. Patch any holes with wood filler, allowing repairs to dry thoroughly. Sand the entire piece with a block sander or palm sander. The smoother the wood, the more evenly the paint will adhere. Keep in mind that flat paint is forgiving and hides many imperfections, while glossy or semigloss paint highlights them.


Some woods, including cedar and redwood, contain chemical compounds known as tannins. These compounds can leach out of the wood, causing unsightly yellow-brown stains in the paint. To prevent tannins from spoiling your paint job, use an exterior-grade stain blocking product. These products are generally added to primer before it is applied. Some readily available primers include stain blockers, so carefully read the packaging to see what you are getting.

Bare wood must be thoroughly primed before painting. Use a roller and high-quality roller cover to apply primer evenly to the entire piece. Use a brush to "cut in" the areas that the roller does not reach. Cutting in is the process of priming or painting unrolled areas with a brush. Evenly feather the edges to avoid harsh lines. Apply two coats of primer, allowing the piece to dry thoroughly between applications.


Painting over primer is an easy job. The primer helps the paint adhere and minimises drips or runs. Use high-quality latex enamel for most jobs. Specialised tasks, such as glossy Asian-style cabinet painting, require specialised materials such as glossy acrylic paint. Consult with your local home improvement store if you plan to reproduce a particular style.

Rollers can be used on wooden pieces, although brushes provide a sleeker look. Whichever tool you use, take your time and step back frequently to check for thin spots or splatters. Two coats of paint usually provide the best coverage.

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About the Author

Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer specializing in disabled adventure travel. She spent 15 years working for Central Florida theme parks and frequently travels with her disabled father. Fritscher's work can be found in both print and online mediums, including She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Florida.