Painting wooden surfaces may seem like a straightforward process that takes little thought to start. But it is not like that.
Wood is probably one of the trickiest surfaces to paint. And if you don’t pick the right paint for the job – you may end up making a huge mess.
So, what kind of paint to use on wood? How to know what to use depending on the type of wood? And how do you know you’re painting correctly?
Well, we’re going to answer all those questions below. You’re going to learn everything you need to know about wood paints and a little more. So, don’t waste more of your time and keep scrolling for more!
Wood Paint Types: Our Top 5 Recommendation
We need to go into the nitty-gritty right away. So, we decided to go over the main types of paint for wood you’ll find.
While other types of paint may also get the job done, these are the most common and useful ones. Here’s what you should know about each:
1. Oil-Based Paint
What makes oil-based paints an excellent choice? Well, it all starts with the capacity to leave a super-smooth surface. Once it dries up, you get the matte/glossy finish that few other paints offer. But of course, it depends on the exact type of oil-based paint you pick.
On top of that, this paint for wood is easy to apply. While it is not the easiest, oil-based paint tends to go deep into crevices and paint over inconsistencies in the wood surface. And that’s something you can’t dismiss.
The only downside is that oil-based paints don’t mix well with other types of paints – so it is essential to only use it over primer or the bare wood.
Just be sure to clean everything properly after painting (brushes, rollers, sprayers, etc.), and that will be enough to get the most out of oil-based paint.
Advantages of Oil-Based Paint
- Leaves uniquely smooth and glossy surfaces
- Covers all kinds of surface inconsistencies
- Adheres well in previously finished surfaces
- Awfully durable and resistant
Disadvantages of Oil-Based Paint
- Tends to have a strong smell
- Pretty challenging to clean up
2. Latex Paint
When it comes to ease-of-use, few paint types compare to latex paint. The ability to stick to wood and demand little to no priming beforehand is impressive. On top of that, latex rarely sticks to brushes and makes for an easy-to-clean paint.
The smoothness of the paint is also superb. A few swipes are enough to cover a wooden surface. And because it comes in a wide array of finishes, you can give wooden objects any type of texture and look you want.
But because latex paint is so easy to use, it loses when it comes to durability and resistance. Similarly, it is somewhat thin, so it may leave brush marks on the surface. Overall, it performs amazingly well and demands little to no time to use.
Advantages of Latex Paint
- Adheres well to any type of wood
- Delivers amazingly smooth finishes
- Available in different colors and finishes
- Extremely affordable for the quality
Disadvantages of Latex Paint
- May leave brush marks if not used properly
- A bit fragile against exterior elements
3. Water-Based Paint
If you think latex is easy to use, then you’ll find water-based paints a no-brainer. The ability of water-based paints to stick to a wide array of wooden surfaces (including previously painted ones) is just outstanding.
On top of that, water-based paints dry ultra-fast. You won’t have to wait days for the paint to cure so you can use the surface. Instead, a few hours will be enough for the water paint to dry up.
And if all that wasn’t enough, water-based paints are the easiest to clean. If you make a mess by mistake, then you can easily take the paint off – even if it has already dried out. Cleaning it from utensils is also the easiest thing to do.
But because it is so easy to use, just like latex paint, it tends to lose some durability. So, if you need paint for outdoors or something that withstands harsh environments, water-based paint may not be your best bet.
Advantages of Water-Based Paint
- A piece of cake to paint with
- Dries faster than other paints
- Cleans effortlessly from surfaces and utensils
- Works well on different wooden surfaces
Disadvantages of Water-Based Paint
- Doesn’t last as long as other paints
- Not the most resistant to outdoor factors
4. Acrylic Paint
When it comes to leaving a uniquely beautiful surface on wood, acrylic paint is probably the best option to go for.
Acrylics dry fast, deliver no odor, and provide exceptional finishes that surpass expectations in beauty and smoothness. And to make them even better, they offer the chance to mix well with each other – so you can make all kinds of acrylic-paint combinations.
Acrylic paints are also affordable and come in a wide array of quantities. And sure enough, they don’t stick much to brushes and other painting utensils, so you can clean them swiftly in most cases.
But acrylic paints are not the most durable, and painting large areas with them can be a difficult job. They don’t stick well to most wooden surfaces, and they usually require several layers to look good. Luckily, they’re decently resistant and long-lasting.
Advantages of Acrylic Paint
- Ensures super shiny and smooth surfaces
- Odorless and easy-to-paint with
- Decently affordable for the quality
- Mixes well which adds versatility
Disadvantages of Acrylic Paint
- Doesn’t adhere well to some wooden surfaces
- Not the most resistant or long-lasting
5. Chalk Paint
You could say chalk paint is a type of water-based paint – but its uniqueness deserves a different section.
The difference between chalk paint and standard water paint is the ability to look and feel like chalk, almost like a matte finish. This adds a unique result that no other type of paint offers – making it super useful for those who want to achieve excellent rough and vintage finishes.
At the same time, chalk paint adheres to almost any surface. So, there’s no need for extra preparation before painting, and it still delivers the rustic surface you’re looking for.
But chalk paint is not the most resilient of all. It usually requires protective coats to withstand most elements. And it may take a little effort to stick well to most surfaces. If you want to paint an outdoor object or area, then chalk paint may not be the most resilient (even the exterior-oriented ones).
Advantages of Chalk Paint
- Requires little to no preparation
- Adheres to any surface at once
- Delivers beautiful rustic and rough finishes
- Totally safe and easy to paint with
Disadvantages of Chalk Paint
- Not ideal for exterior use
- Requires protective coats to last
How to Choose the Right Paint For Woodworking?
Now that you have a better idea of the wood paint types available for your projects, you need to consider which ones will meet your needs and which won’t.
For example, painting a wooden deck or patio will require a different type of paint than the one you use for painting a guitar. So, you have to pick accordingly, or you may end up regretting your last choice.
So, we decided to take a deep dive into the different types of projects you may face – and what kind of paint you can use for each. After several hours of research – here’s what we found:
These include everything from dinner tables to wardrobes, cabinets, chairs, dressers, headboards, TV stands, and so on.
Sure enough, most of these items are used indoors. So, you can use a matte-like paint like latex. That would be ideal for most furniture jobs. The paint comes in a wide array of colors, mixes well, and withstands occasional use.
But if the piece of furniture is used outdoors or tends to be used every day, then oil-based paint is your best bet. Especially for chairs, tables, and furniture that you’re using consistently – we recommend oil paint for its durability and resilience.
Last but not least, you can consider acrylic paint or chalk paint. But these two are mostly required if you want to get their unique finishes. You won’t be able to use them on large pieces, though. And outdoor use is almost a waste of money with these paints.
Now, wooden floors are tricky terrain, mainly because they demand exceptional durability and wear-resistance.
Here, you will have to go for paints that can withstand constant use without wearing off – and for that, you'll only find latex or oil-based paints to be useful.
With latex paint, you can expect a super-glossy and smooth surface. It will probably improve the looks of the wooden floor exponentially. However, it will demand a protective coat to last. Otherwise, it will wear off faster than expected.
Similarly, oil-based paints work amazingly well, especially for outdoor floors. Still, we recommend adding protective topcoats to make the paint last longer. But with oil-based paints, you won’t get the same exquisite finish that latex offers.
The trims on doors, baseboards, cabinets, and closets also deserve to be painted. But the paint is usually not the same as the thing the trim is covering.
For example, trims tend to receive more scratches and scuffs than the objects themselves, so they demand a little more resistance. In that case, an oil-based paint will do the job well – mainly if the trim is already damaged, scratched, or scuffed. It goes deep into grooves and crevices.
If the trim is more decorative and rarely gets damaged, then latex paint will do the job. It goes deep enough into the wood as well but offers an extra glossy look that makes decorative trims look amazing. And if you pick a satin finish latex paint, then it will probably deliver an even more gorgeous look.
Most decoration pieces of knickknacks are small and require little to no paint. But they need to be resistant, as most people like to grab and move them around consistently.
For this, we recommend oil-based paints. They usually handle these jobs well enough and can last several years with ease.
But water-based paints and chalk paint can also work well. They leave an exciting look, don’t cost much, and manage to be resistant enough. If the object is continually being touched, then adding a protective coat would be the best idea.
If you’re working with a piece of furniture, deck, or decoration with an unfinished wood surface – then you need to use something that sticks well and delivers a beautiful finish.
In that case, you will find water-based and latex paints to be your best option. The semi-gloss and full gloss finish from these paints improve the appearance of the unfinished wood exponentially.
You can also use oil-based paints, as it can close crevices and grooves in the wood. But it will probably be overkill for most objects and pieces of furniture – so use it only for unfinished floors and decks.
Still, bare wood is always easier to paint if it is prepared. So, don’t hesitate to sand, prime, and stain the wood before painting it with any of these paints. And add a protective coat later for extra resilience.
If you’re painting a piece of wood that’s already been finished or painted – then you need to use something that adheres well. In that case, oil-based paints are your best bet.
In contrast with water-based and latex paints, oil-based paint sticks well and gets the job done in almost any surface with a finish. Especially if we’re talking about primers and other paints, then oil paint is the most effective paint to use.
Acrylic paint may also do the work. It mixes well with other paints. Yet, it doesn’t cover crevices, and grooves like oil-based paints do.
Undoubtedly, antique surfaces that have a distressed or rough finish are hard to achieve. And if the wooden surface is already harsh, then it can be tricky to paint.
For these types of wooden furniture, nothing compares to chalk paint. The distressed look chalk paint delivers usually surpasses expectations, making it easy to achieve vintage finishes.
Latex and acrylic paints can also deliver excellent antique like results. But that only works with proper coats and mixing – or the paint may end up in a glossy or matte finish instead.
Get away from oil-based paints for this type of finish. They will instead add a glossy look that you probably don’t want.
Tips for Painting Wood
Painting wooden surfaces are not easy. Even if you have the right paint for the job – it is vital to know how to paint correctly, depending on your needs.
Here are a few tips that will help you out with that:
Always Prime First
Whether it is finished or unfinished piece of wood, furniture, wall, deck, or even a small knickknack – you need to prime beforehand.
Primer tends to adhere well to the wood while protecting it at the same time. However, the primary purpose of the primer is to prevent the wood from absorbing the paint.
Especially with water and oil-based paints, you need to be sure the wooden surface is primed before you start. Otherwise, you may see how the paint fades away over time. And in some cases, the paint may not even adhere properly.
So, don’t forget to prime your wooden surfaces before painting, especially if the surface is pretty rough in the first place.
Use Quality Brushes
It doesn’t matter what paint you’re using, the brush will have a slightly more significant impact on how it looks than you expect.
If you want to use latex paint, for example, then nylon/polyester brushes will be your best option. But if you’re using oil or water-based paints – then go for natural bristles. And in case you’re using acrylic paints, then choose sprayers for the best results.
At the same time, if you need to paint a large wooden area – then use a roller made of foam. As long as you pick the right brush for the job, then you can ensure an excellent result.
Follow the Grain
Following the grain is a classic piece of advice for painting wooden surfaces. It prevents dripping and hides the brushstrokes within the grain itself – adding a more professional look to the finish.
If you’re using thin paint like water-based or latex, then try adding several layers for the best results.
Extra Tips to Consider
The previous advice is the most important. But there are still some smaller yet useful tips you can follow for better wood-painting results:
- For the best results with your smooth and glossy finishes, add protective coats after painting. Coats make the paint look better and prevent stains, scratches, and other issues.
- Use a proper primer for the paint you’re using. If it is latex paint, then a latex primer is the way to go. And if it is an oil-based paint, then use an oil-based primer.
- Try to make every brush swipe start from the top, and finish on the bottom. This will prevent the wooden surface from dripping.
- Clean surfaces, objects, and utensils after painting, especially if it is oil-based paint. Even the most harmless paint on the list can be challenging to clean once it dries up.
So, do you know what kind of paint to use on wood now? If you read our advice and recommendations, then there’s a high chance you do.
And sure enough, it’s time to get the job done. You just need to follow our instructions, and that’s it. You’ll paint even the most challenging wooden surfaces without wasting any time or effort.
What are you waiting for then? Go paint your wooden surfaces like an expert.
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