Using Drywall Primer to Paint Wood

Can You Use Drywall Primer on Wood?

In Technical Details by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

Drywall primer has two things going for it. It’s an excellent drywall sealant and it is cheap. It’s no wonder that you might be thinking about using it in other areas of your home, but it is called drywall primer for a reason. It’s meant to be used for drywall and drywall only.

Using drywall primer on a wood surface is not ideal. It will not give you a good finished product because it will not block the tannins in wood from showing through, and it will not provide the best surface for the paint to adhere to. Wood primer is the best primer to use on wood.

Not convinced? In this article, we’ll explain why drywall is a lousy choice for wood and go over why other products are far better.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Drywall Primer on Wood

You’ll find a lot of different opinions out there about drywall primer and whether it can be used on other surfaces or not, and a lot of that comes from not understanding what exactly drywall primer is and how it interacts with a bare wood surface. So, let’s get into the specifics of this age-old argument.

What is Drywall Primer Anyway?

Drywall is notorious for soaking up primer like a sponge. This is why a special primer just for drywalls was created.

The technical name for drywall primer is polyvinyl acetate primer or PVA. Polyvinyl acetate is a substance also used in glue, and it is what sets this primer apart. PVA primer is a water-based latex primer.

PVA primer provides a smooth finished surface for the paint to adhere to by sealing the porous surface, where normal primers soak into and build up the surface.

The Reason You Shouldn’t Use Drywall Primer on Wood

PVA primer might be great on bare drywall, but it isn’t very good for anything else, and it is especially terrible at priming bare wood for a coat of paint.

Here’s why:

  • Water-based primers aren’t good for wood. Water and wood don’t mix well. The water in a water-based primer can cause the fibers in the wood to swell, which could make the wood uneven.
  • PVA primer doesn’t block tannins. Tannic acid is a naturally occurring substance in many plants, including many types of wood. If a piece of wood is not properly primed and painted, this tannic acid will show through the paint and yellow it. This is especially important when painting with light colors.
  • PVA primer doesn’t soak into the wood. Wood primers need to soak into the wood and bind the wood fibers to be effective, and PVA primers don’t do this. Instead, they provide a seal. This works on the papery surface of the drywall, but not so for wood. 

All of this being said, if you do use a PVA primer on wood, it may work slightly better than just slapping paint on the wood, but not by much.

What Kind of Primer Should You Use on Bare Wood

So, what kind of primer should you use on wood then? Well, you’ve got some options. Let’s go over each of them so that you can make the best choice for you.

The Best Choice: Slow Drying Oil-Based Wood Primer

The traditional primer choice for bare wood is a slow drying oil-based primer. These are perfect for bare wood surfaces because:

  • They soak into the wood over a long period of time, binding wood fibers and creating a solid foundation for your paint.
  • They have stain-blocking abilities to keep the tannins from ruining your paint job.

Here’s what to look for when you’re shopping:

  • Clearly marked oil-based
  • Dry time of about 24 hours
  • Stainblocking abilities
  • Meant to be used on wood.

While this is the best option if you’re looking for the absolute best finished product, it is also important to note that oil-based primers tend to produce significant fumes and VOCs, which is a deal-breaker for many people.

The Next Best Choice: Fast Drying Oil-Based Wood Primer

Those slow drying primers are getting harder and harder to come by because they’re being replaced by fast-drying varieties. These work nearly as well as the slow-drying oil-based primers, but many feel that they don’t give the primer enough time to soak into the wood.

When shopping for these, you should look for all the same things that you would look for in the slow drying primer, except the dry time should be significantly less. Some of these primers dry in as little as 30 minutes, which means you can finish your project sooner.

If time is of the essence, a fast-drying oil-based wood primer is the best choice.

An Okay Choice: Latex All-Purpose Primers

If you’re concerned about the VOC levels in oil-based primers, then a latex wood primer is your best option. There are typically referred to as “all-purpose primers.” They don’t do nearly as good a job as an oil-based wood primer because they are water-based, which can cause the wood to swell.

However, they do have stain-blocking abilities, which means that you shouldn’t have a problem with tannins showing through after a few months. 

Here’s what to look for when you’re shopping:

  • Clearly marked latex-based
  • Labeled as low-VOC
  • Stainblocking abilities
  • Meant for use on wood
  • Mildew resistance is an added bonus

If you do decide to go with a latex-based all purpose primer, but wanted to use an oil-based paint, be sure to check the compatibility. Most of the time, it is not wise to use oil paint on a latex primer. The oil runs off the latex, and the end result is the stuff of nightmares.

What Kind of Primer Should You Use on Stained Wood?

Painting over wood that has been stained is a bit of an undertaking. Before you even think about primer, you need to take some very important steps.

  1. Strip any varnish, unless the wood was never varnished.
  2. Use a de-glosser or sand the wood.
  3. Clean the wood to remove any debris leftover from sanding
  4. Repair the wood, if desired

Once you have that done, you can apply a primer, but which primer is the best for going over a stain? After all, you can’t remove a stain the way you can remove paint. Stain sinks into the wood.

For the most part, an oil-based primer is your best bet for preparing stained wood to be painted. However, if a water-based stain was used, this could cause some problems with your oil-based primer. If you don’t know what the original stain was, we recommending testing some oil primer in an inconspicuous location.

An alternative option, if you’re painting a piece of furniture, you can use chalk paint directly over a stain without necessarily using a primer. It may take a few coats to get the finished look you’re after.

What Kind of Primer Should You Use to Repaint Wood?

If you’re repainting wood, you have the same options as if you were painting bare wood. This is because before you start priming, you’ll sand the wood down to bare wood or close enough to it. Oil-based primer is best if you’ve done a fantastic job of sanding, but if any latex paint or primer remains on the wood, you’ll likely have better luck with a latex primer.

Drywall Primer is For Drywall

For the most part, drywall primer is only useful for one thing, and that is priming bare drywall for its first coat of paint. It doesn’t work like other primers because its main job isn’t to build up a base layer for paint but to seal the paperlike surface of the drywall.

So, save yourself some headache and keep the drywall paint for using on drywalls, and if you’re looking to have a more versatile primer around, stick with an all-purpose primer. If you’re priming a lot of wood, spring for the good stuff—an oil-based primer.

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