How Many Coats of Primer on Wood? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On September 22, 2023

Are you wondering how many coats of primer you should put on wood?

You've come to the right place!

In this ultimate guide, you'll learn:

  • What you need to know about priming wood
  • What types of primer you should use
  • How many coats of primer you should use
  • Essential steps to priming wood

And much more!

How Many Coats of Primer on Wood? (5-Step Guide)

So, if you're wondering how to get an excellent paint job on your bare wood, keep reading to learn everything you need to know.

What Do You Need To Know About Priming Wood?

Priming wood is a deeply important part of any DIY project whether you're priming bare wood, or repainting a piece of wood that's been painted many times.

Primer is a professional painter's best friend!

Why? Because in order to get new paint to really shine and create that beautiful color you're looking for, it's essential to make sure your wood surface is ready to accept paint.

Yes, you read that right. You need to prepare your wood grain to be ready to hold on to that paint color because...let's face it, wood can be picky!

It's a finicky (and beautiful) surface that, when treated right, can create a beautiful end-result.

So, when painting wood, there are a few key things to consider when you're trying to figure out exactly how much primer you'll need!

Did you know: Using a primer when you paint can actually save you money! This is because it creates a much better surface for your paint to adhere to, so you'll likely use less of it.

Unfinished Wood vs. Previously Painted Wood

One of the first considerations here is to evaluate whether your wood surface is unfinished wood or a piece of wood that you'll be repainting.

This is important because unfinished wood is a porous surface!

Meaning: it's going to absorb much, much more of what you place on it than wood that is being repainted.

That's because if this wood has been previously painted, it's still going to hold on to some of those old paint molecules deep inside the wood grain.

So even if you plan on sanding it off, it still might not need as many coats of primer as a completely bare piece of wood.

However, even if you're working with a previously painted wood plank or surface, you should still use primer on your surface to make sure it holds on to the new color as much as possible.

Quality & Color Of Wood

Another huge consideration when choosing how much primer you should use as well as what kind of primer to use, it's also important to consider the quality of the surface of your wood.

For instance, are you working with a stained piece of wood?

If so, you should consider a tinted primer to thoroughly cover that stain before you start painting to make sure it's not going to show through that paint color.

Or, are you working with a piece of wood that has a dark color on it already?

You'll probably want to use more coats of primer to fully cover it up so it can accept the new paint color well.

Where Will The Wood Item Be Placed?

This is another question most people don't consider, which is where is your finished project going to be placed when it's finished?

Is it a piece of furniture that will be placed outdoors or used in high-touch, high-traffic situations?

If so, you might want to consider using more coats of primer, and potentially a stain-blocking primer to prevent any staining on your nice new paint color in the future.

This is something that a quality primer should typically take care of.

Read More >> How Do You Get Primer Off Your Hands?

Removing primer whether it is old or new paint is going to take some work.

If you are removing it from a large surface like a wall, it may be necessary to whip out an electric sanding tool like an orbital sander or palm sander to get the job done fast and efficiently. 

And remember, if you are painting over an old wall, it's not necessary to remove the existing paint and primer first; you can smooth out the surface just by roughing it up with 220 grit sandpaper and go to town on the actual painting.

Priming the wall, however, is a great idea and necessary when painting over oil-based paints with water-based(latex) paint products.

What Types of Primer Should You Use?

Now that we've covered how to evaluate your wood surface, the next important question to address is:

What type of primer should I use?

Well, before we jump into that we should address one thing first...avoid self-priming paints!

Why? Because self-priming paints just don't do the trick, especially for bare wood surfaces.

While they can be nice in certain situations, they're not ideal when you're trying to ensure the highest quality finish coat possible. that that's out of the way, let's run through some of the best primers to look for in different situations!

Read More >> What Are The Best Paint Primers For Wood?

What Type of Paint Are You Using?

So let me ask you a question: for this home improvement project of yours, have you chosen a type of paint yet?

This is important to understand because if you're using exterior paint, you'll want to use a high-build primer to make sure it can maintain the durability of your paint long term. 

However, if you're using latex paint, you'll probably want to make sure you use a latex primer as well.

What Are The Best Types of Primers Out There?

There are several amazing brands of primers out there that you can find in pretty much anywhere!

Whether you're looking at Home Depot, Amazon, or your local paint store.

One of the best all-around primers on the market is this Zinsser Bulls-Eye 1-2-3 Primer which is water-based and can be used for interior and exterior purposes. It's also high coverage and can cover dark paint as well.

Another excellent all-purpose primer is the Kilz Multi-Surface Sealer & Stainblocker which is also mildew-resistant and blocks light to medium stains.

Our final recommendation for an amazing primer is this Sherwin-Williams Multi-Purpose Interior/Exterior Latex Primer & Sealer.

This leads us ultimately to the meat of this article...

How Many Coats Of Primer Should You Use On Wood?

While this will vary depending on all of the above-mentioned factors, I'm going to outline what you should look for when deciding how many coats of primer to use.

When Should You Use One Coat Of Primer?

One coat of primer will often suffice for wood surfaces if you're painting over an existing coat of paint and even sometimes on bare wood. So how can you tell if it's enough?

If your surface looks like it's fully covered with your primer of choice after one coat of primer and it has dried to the touch with no ability to see through to the wood, you're probably good to go!

Worst comes to worst, you can apply an extra coat of paint if you're not happy with the paint color after a single coat of primer and paint.

When Should You Use More Coats Of Primer?

Those instances when you should use more coats of primer are the situations where you're working with a really worn down piece of wood that is just thirsty for coverage.

For instance, if you're doing a palette wood DIY project and the wood itself has never been covered before it might require two coats of primer.

The best way to prep that kind of wood, however, before you ever put primer on is to make sure you're sanding it enough with a high-quality piece of sandpaper.

This will help it accept the primer and paint color much better.

Another situation that would call for two coats of primer is if you're working with a really dark color and you're hoping to cover it with white or another bright paint color.

In that situation, you'll want to make absolutely sure that the underlying color won't show through when it's finished and you could stand to try out two coats of primer and maybe an extra coat of paint as well.

Read More >> What Are The Best Primers To Cover Dark Paint?

Supplies You’ll Need For Priming Wood

Now that we've covered the essential things you need to know before you start priming your wood, let's go over some of the key supplies you should gather before you begin!

  • Sandpaper (a few different grits)
  • Painting mask with ventilator
  • Several paint brushes (one for paint and one for primer at least)
  • Primer of choice
  • Paint color
  • Plastic drop cloths

How To Prime Wood For Paint (5-Step Guide)

  1. Sand Your Wood Thoroughly
  2. Clean Your Wood
  3. Apply First Coat Of Primer
  4. Optional: Apply Second Coat Of Primer
  5. Apply Paint Color

Step 1 - Sand Your Wood Thoroughly

This is a step that cannot be avoided, even if you're repainting a piece of wood.

Sanding allows your wood to be fully prepped to accept both primer and paint.

As in the example mentioned above, if you're working with a rough piece of wood like palette wood or old, worn-out wood, make sure you put it through several grits of sandpaper to smooth out that surface to accept primer.

Step 2 - Clean Your Wood

Now that you've sanded the wood enough for it to fully accept your primer and paint, make sure you use an air compressor to get all the little dust particles off the surface fully.

You can also run a damp rag over the surface to ensure that it's completely dust-free.

Just make sure you don't use a rag that's super wet since we don't want any additional moisture on the surface before we apply primer.

Step 3 - Apply First Coat Of Primer

Now for the main event: Primer!

It's time to apply the first coat of primer.

As with applying any form of paint or primer, you want to make sure you're using enough of it to fully coat the wood, but not so much that you're creating extra goopy spots and drip marks.

Just make sure you apply it in clean, even strokes and distribute it well so that the coating is even all the way around.

Step 4 - Optional: Apply Second Coat Of Primer

Alright, so you've applied your first coat of primer and you've decided it's best to apply a second coat just to seal in the deal (pun intended).

You want to make sure the first coat is fully dried before you move on to this step.

Then, apply the primer using the same method as before and ensure that there aren't any extra goopy spots.

Step 5 - Apply Paint Color

Finally! It's time for paint. 

Once your first coat (and possibly second coat) of primer has dried, it's time to apply your first coat of paint.

Make sure you follow the same method as with the primer to ensure an even coating and watch carefully for any spots where the primer color is peeking through.

You want to make sure that the paint color is bold, strong, and even everywhere when applying the first coat.

And if you decide you need a second coat as well, go ahead and apply that after the first coat is dry to make sure there is absolutely no lingering color from the primer (or the wood) coming through.

Final Thoughts On Applying Primer To Wood

Well, there you have it! Now you have a thorough understanding of how to evaluate your wood surface and figure out how much primer you need.

Of course, there is a lot of room for trial and error here as every home improvement and DIY project is different and calls for different steps.

But luckily for you, wood is one of the easiest surfaces to work with for paint so long as it's not covered with lacquer, laminate, or other additional coatings.

So, here's hoping your next wood project turns out well and that you get the stunning paint coverage you're looking for.

Happy painting!

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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