How to Prepare Woodwork for Painting
If you are looking to redecorate or decided you want a different color on paneling, baseboards, or any other woodwork in your house. How do you go about getting the best finish possible? You’ll need to know how to rub down and prepare your woodwork for painting but is prepping woodwork different from prepping other surfaces? and what skills do you need to get it right?
Preparing woodwork for painting will takes a little time and effort. The first task is to make sure your painting surface is clean and any holes and gaps are filled, your second task is to sand the surface so that it is smooth, and the third task is to prime the surface ready for top coating or finish.
Thoroughly preparing the woodwork ready for painting can take time, but the effort is worth it for a glass smooth finish, that will last for a very long time, and ultimately this process will ensure that your new paint sticks to the surface leaving a DIY project you can be proud of.
In this article, we will go over the step-by-step instructions on how to prepare your woodwork properly and give you some time-saving tips.
How Do I Get a Good Finish on Painted Woodwork?
Putting a smooth, glossy layer of paint on woodwork takes some patience, especially when it comes to preparation and brushwork. There’s no magical formula or solution that will automatically create a smooth coat of paint it takes a little bit of time and some effort but the rewards are worth the input.
A large part of the process includes painstaking surface prep work including the dreaded sanding, which like most people I dislike, and is not my favorite job, but with the right tools and skills with a little hard work, the overall finish and effect will be worth it.
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Which is better Oil or Latex Paint?
Some painters, myself included, prefer to use oil-based paints on woodwork, this is because oil paints dry more slowly than water-based latex paint, allowing the paint to flow and spread out evenly and allowing you time to easily fix brushwork mistakes this all helps to reduce the amount of sanding required to achieve a great surface finish often you can avoid the need to apply a second coat.
The downside is you have to wait longer for the paint to dry out before applying a second coat and the fumes give off a pungent and long-lasting smell, and the work area needs to be fully ventilated whilst you are using oil-based paints.
Luckily, these techniques also work with high-quality latex paints. Latex paint also has an easier cleaning process, since you can just use soap and water to remove it from floors, walls, and other unwanted surfaces.
I find that oil-based paints are harder wearing than water-based paints which can have a softer surface when fully dry, but over time, and especially on light colors and whites, oil-based paints can turn yellow and will need to be refreshed but this takes a few years.
Another downside to using oil-based paints is the cleaning process, brushes and tins need to be cleaner carefully and white, or mineral spirits are used to clean the paint out which cannot be done in a kitchen sink unlike water-based paints which usually can (but always check the label and instructions first!)
for more information on how to clean paintbrushes check out our guide on cleaning brushes in the kitchen sink
An Important Warning about Lead in Paint
If your home was built before 1977 and not updated, there may be lead in the old paint. Since you’re going to be scraping off old paint as part of your prep work, you’ll want to make sure there’s no lead. Breathing in lead and lead dust can be very dangerous and damaging to your health.
Make sure you wear the appropriate protective equipment when sanding or removing old paint, I always wear a good quality dust mask, goggles, and gloves.
You can also call your local public health department to find out how to test your painted surfaces for lead. They should also be able to tell you safe sanding and removal techniques for lead paint.
How to Prepare your Woodwork
Step One: Wash the Woodwork Thoroughly
The first thing you should do when preparing woodwork for painting is to clean the surface. This will help the new paint to stick to the area well and reduce any peeling or flaking.
If you don’t clean the surface properly and remove dirt and oils the paint will not adhere to the surface and you can expect the new coat to start flaking and chipping off much earlier than normal.
There are a few options for cleaning solutions. The most popular with professional contractors is Trisodium Phosphate or TSP. You can buy ready-made TSP solutions or mix your own. Stay safe while using TSP by wearing safety goggles and gloves during mixing and use.
Before using TSP, check and make sure whether it is legal in your area. If it isn’t, alternatives include Borax, Sugar soap, which can be purchased premixed or concentrated ready to be diluted with warm water, or try Dawn dish soap.
For really tough areas or on exterior surfaces you can also try pressure washing, though this method is usually best for outdoors.
I have seen sandblasting being used on some full house renovations, this blasts tiny particles or glass at the surface at high speed removing the upper surface but it is only really for major work as it’s very messy and needs to be done with specialized equipment and training.
Step Two: Scrape Off any Loose Paint
The next step is to remove any loose or flakey paint, I use a wire brush and a stiff putty knife or metal 5-in-one scraper to do this.
Using a stiff, metal scraping tool should also help you to get at the loose and cracked paint from multiple angles and in tight corners.
As long as you’ve cleaned it, and the bond between the old paint and the surface is good, you shouldn’t need to scrape off all the old paint that’s stuck to the surface.
Step Three: Fill Any Holes
After you’re done scraping away the old paint, you might notice a few more rough patches and gouges in the wood than before. That’s okay. You can easily fill the holes and smooth the surface before painting.
You’ll want different filling materials for shallow scratches and deep gouges. I recommend a two-part wood filler putty for dents deeper than an eighth of an inch. Keep in mind you’ll have to work fast with this wood filler since it becomes hard and unworkable in five to ten minutes after mixing.
For filling deep holes or knots, I find that using an epoxy compound works well and prevents future cracking. Totalboat has several high-quality epoxy products that can be used for filling and finishing woodwork.
Spackling compound, or light single-part wood filler meanwhile, is perfect for shallow scratches or small holes in the wood. I like to use a more flexible putty knife or plastic filling knife to apply spackle or filler.
Take special care around knots in the wood, if they aren’t treated correctly before painting the sap can weep out and lead to the paint bubbling and peeling, I always use a Shellac base knotting compound before applying paint, you can follow our guide to knotting compound for more details on how to use it properly.
Step Four: Spot-Prime and Sand
Before applying an overall primer, you should spot-prime the areas you filled with the putty and spackle. Holding a light up to the surface will point out any other scratches and imperfections you may have missed.
For initial sanding use 80-grit or 120-grit sandpaper to remove the bulk of the filler, then move on to lightly sand the areas you haven’t spot-primed using a fine sanding sponge or 180-grit sandpaper.
Always wipe the woodwork with a damp cloth to remove all dust between sanding and painting, if you are using a palm sander or detail sander connect it to a shop vacuum to help remove the dust and use the brush tool to clean the surface before wiping it over with a damp cloth.
Once you have obtained an even and hole-free surface gently sand the whole area with 180-grit sandpaper to provide an even key for the paint, you can do this by hand or with a power tool, check out our guide to the best detail sanders for great time-saving tools.
If you are working on baseboards, skirting, or architrave that meets the edge of plaster or masonry wall apply a thin bead of flexible decorator’s caulk to any long cracks or gaps on the surface or between the woodwork and the rest of the wall.
Step Five: Paint Time!
Now for the fun part!
when buying color paints from your local DIY or paint store make sure the paint store employees mix your paint well before you bring it home.
Invest in high-quality paints and brushes I highly recommend Hamilton Perfection natural brushes they are very high quality and if looked after, will last for years.
You can choose to add a latex additive to your paint before working with it. This will help to smooth out your paint strokes and keep latex paint from drying too quickly, making it behave more like oil-based paint.
If you like to go over your mistakes, a latex additive might be a good choice. However, it isn’t usually necessary and will require careful brush strokes to avoid runs and drips forming. Most latex paints are ready to use right out of the can.
I recommend using a plastic paint kettle when painting woodwork with a brush, once you have opened and carefully mixed your paint, pour a small amount into a separate paint kettle and dip your brush into this rather than the main can.
This helps prevent any dirt, dust, or old paint flecks from contaminating your paint which can ruin the rest of the contents of your new paint tin
Make sure you protect the rest of the wall or areas you are not painting, including furniture from your new paint by applying painter’s masking tape to edges, moving furniture out of the way, and covering it with a dust cloth or plastic sheet.
I always use a plastic-backed dropcloth with some old newspaper to protect the flooring, you can use an old shower curtain to protect your floors and furniture from paint drips.
How Do I Paint Woodwork?
When using a brush to apply paint, make sure the brush is clean and dry first, load your paintbrush from a small plastic paint kettle rather than the new can of paint to avoid contamination.
You’ll want to make sure your brush is loaded with the right amount of paint. Too much, and it’ll drip everywhere. Too little, and it’ll take you much longer to apply a full coat.
Fill the paint kettle so that the paint is between 3/4″ and 1″ deep then dap the paintbrush gently into the paint allowing the bristles to pull or soak up the paint.
Then gently scrape or tap the brush against the side of your kettle or bucket to remove any excess paint, I also use a rubber band stretched across the handle of my paint kettle to help remove any excess paint from my brushes, this helps prevent paint running down the outside of the paint kettle and making a mess.
Just as when you are painting walls with emulsion, you can cut in the edges of your woodwork to make sure you don’t get paint on other surfaces, and then paint the larger flat areas.
Once you’re done cutting in I recommend using a top-down approach to painting, start your brush strokes from the top of the work area and work downwards. hold the brush with your fingertips and allow it to move with your hand,
Apply even pressure and let the brush do the work.
Let the tip of the brush touch the surface gently without applying too much pressure this allows the bristles to let the paint flow onto the surface evenly without too much paint that it will run or drip.
When your brush starts to drag on the surface go back to your paint kettle and load it with more paint.
Check the painted surface for runs or drips especially in corners, as the paint will want to collect in areas where edges meet.
Painting a smooth, glossy layer of paint onto woodwork takes time and proper preparation. You’ll want to clean, scrape, fill, sand, and prime before you get to painting. In the end, all this work will ensure your new paint sticks to the surface, so it’s well worth it.
For more information on painting read our article on painting exterior woodwork and check out our Home Page for more great DIY tips and information.
This article was written by: Richard Quinton – The DIY Help Desk Owner, Engineer & technical specialist.
Richard is one of the key partners in The DIY Help Desk team. He is a qualified Engineer, writer, and publisher, educated to Master’s level. He is a keen advocate of DIY and home improvements.
Richard enjoys helping others to learn new skills and reach their goals and believes that passing his knowledge and experience on through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the lifestyles and well-being of others on a larger scale.