Priming is a step that we all need to go through for a smooth finish. But, how many coats of primer on wood do you need for your surface to look its best?

Myself, having dealt with primers and painters before, I’ve come across enough knowledge to help you out with your project.

Whether you are working with bare wood or other surfaces, I can tell you all you need to know about applying primer. This way, your painting project will be successful.

How Many Coats of Primer on Wood?

Apply two coats if you use an oil-based primer on unfinished wood. Applying the two coats helps fill the wood’s pores and mask any of the knots on its surface. As a result, the paint adheres much better.

What Happens If I Don’t Use Enough Primer Coats?

Primer is a resin mixed with solvent and a dash of pigment. The resin part of the primer will seal off the pores, creating a smooth surface allowing the paint to stick effectively.

Therefore, if you skip the primer or use too little of it, expect the following;

  • The surface underneath will begin sucking up the new paint color
  • Visible blotch or imperfections beneath the paint
  • Limited stain-blocking efforts

What Happens If I Use Too Much Primer?

Over application of primer on the wood will cause peeling, chipping, and cracking of the paint. Just as using too little primer can show imperfections on the wood.

Moreover, a layer of primer that is too thick has a longer drying time. This means if you plan to finish your project faster, you won’t be able to stick to your timeline if you use too much primer.

Wood is also particularly fussy to paint since you will have a lot of imperfections to deal with. For example, a piece of furniture in a rustic style might have a lot of knots or uneven areas. Using too little primer can reveal those imperfections.

This is why you need to understand the type of surface that you are applying the primer on. Typically, two coats are just enough if you use an oil-based primer.

However, with latex or thinner primers, you might need multiple coats. Since the formula is thinner, you’ll have to make up for it in coats.

Does it Matter if it’s Unfinished Wood or Previously Painted?

When determining how many coats of primer you need for wood, take a look at the surface. For example, is it bare wood or previously painted wood?

The main difference between the two is that bare wood is very porous. This means that bare wood primers will get absorbed a lot more than they would if they already had an existent layer of paint. 

Previously painted wood has traces of paint color and will already have those primer molecules within its pores. 

Even after sanding the painted wood, the final prepped result won’t have all the naked pores as bare wood. And it is much easier to apply primer to it compared to unfinished wood.

Still, it doesn’t mean you can skip on the primer if you are dealing with previously painted wood. You want the new paint to hold on to the wood for the longest time. Therefore, you must give it a solid primer base for the paint to adhere.

Since you probably also want to cover old paint, get a stain-blocking primer for excellent coverage.

How Many Coats Do I Need Based on the Color?

Depending on the color of the wood, you may need one coat, two coats, or multiple coats of primer and paint. Here’s the breakdown;

  • Two coats of a quality tinted primer when working with stained wood to cover the stains efficiently. Even safer, go for a stain-blocking primer to hide even the most stubborn stains.
  • One coat of primer if you’re priming and painting wood in the same color.
  • Two coats of tinted primer if you’re painting in a different color. This way, you will cover up all of the paint showing off from underneath the primer.

When Can I Use One Coat of Primer?

Usually, you need two coats of primer for a paint job. However, there are some circumstances where you will only use a single coat of primer. For instance;

  • If you are painting over a very light paint such as white paint. In this case, the wood is mostly prepped and ready for its first layer of paint. 
  • If the surface you are painting has old paint in a medium to light tone.
  • If you already used latex paint on the old paint job
  • When using tinted primer. You can just add a bit of paint instead. 

Take note; when you do this, but the paint still shows beneath the primer, then you might want to add a second coat of primer. This is usually the case when the old primer and new paint differ too much. 

Types of Primer to Use

The type of primer you use will often determine whether you need one coat of paint and primer or two. Here is how much primer you should use based on the type. 

– Oil Based Primer

Oil-based primer is very often the standard when it comes to painting wood. Due to its thickness, one coat of oil-based primer should be sufficient on previously painted surfaces.

If you’re looking to apply latex paint, check out this comprehensive latex paint over oil based primer guide.

– Latex-Based Primer

Latex primer is also referred to as water-based primer. This means that it is not as thick as oil-based primer. As a result, you will have to use two coats of latex primer for it to stick to the coat of paint effectively.

– Shellac Primer

Shellac is known to be the best stain-blocking primer, as it is quite thick. As a result, if you are painting surfaces with a similar paint base, you will only need one coat of primer.

– Paint and Primer in One

Lastly, if you use primer and paint in one, you won’t have to add a coat of primer anymore. Instead, you may just proceed with the first coat of paint.

How Many Coats of Primer Will I Need Based on the Surface?

Each type of wood surface might need different primer coats as follows:

1. How Many Coats of Primer on Bare Wood?

On bare wood, you will typically need two coats of oil-based primer. For latex primer, you might need additional coats to get an effective bond. Two or more coats are ideal because bare wood is porous and will absorb most of the primer during application.

2. How Many Coats of Primer on Wood Cabinets?

Unless the primer’s container specifies otherwise, you will need to apply two coats of primer on wood cabinets to create a strong bond. Use thick primer coats before applying your paint in case you’re working with unfinished wood cabinets.

The choice of primer also matters a lot. Here is the best kitchen cabinet primer that I recommend.

3. How Many Coats of Primer on Wood Furniture?

Apply two coats of primer on wood furniture before painting. Before adding the second coat, brush on the primer and allow the first coat to dry completely. Don’t use too thick or too thick primer coats. Rem to test the paint color on a sample area before applying it to the entire furniture.

4. How Many Coats of Primer on Exterior Wood?

Exterior wood is more exposed to various elements, so you might want to use two coats of primer. This is a must if you are dealing with unfinished wood.

After the primer dries, you should always follow up with one or two coats of paint. Unless you are using self-priming paint, you should not leave the primer uncovered.

5. How Many Coats of Primer on Wood Paneling?

When priming or painting wood paneling, two thin coats of oil-based or water-based primer should be enough. Apply one coat, let it dry, and then proceed with adding two coats of paint. 

6. How Many Coats of Primer on Stained Wood?

If the wood you want to paint is stained, the number of coats you apply depends on the type of stain type. Usually, you will only need one layer when you choose a primer with a stain-blocking ability. However, if the stain is really bad and visible, you can apply two coats.

7. How Many Coats of Primer on Wood Trim?

Ideally, you should apply two coats of primer when you are working with wood trim. After applying the first coat, allow it to dry for 24 hours, after which you can apply a second coat. When it’s fully dry, you can proceed with 2-3 coats of paint.

Does the Primer Have to Be Perfect?

No, the primer coats don’t necessarily have to be perfect; you may smooth things up with oil or latex paint afterward.

Still, you should make sure that the primer covers the surface and that there is no blotchiness. Primer coats shouldn’t be perfect, but they should be uniform for the paint to look smooth.

The key here is preparation. Additionally, the finish you apply after priming matters as well.

Steps for Priming Wood

The number of layers you will need on wood will also depend on how you prime it. The smoother the surface is, the easier it will be for your primer to stick.

Here are some steps to take to add a few coats of primer and paint as possible.

Step 1: Gather the Supplies

The first step is obviously to gather the priming and painting supplies. You can get the following supplies from the paint store:

  • Painting mask
  • Sandpaper
  • Several brushes (primer and paint need different brushes)
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Plastic cover to protect your clothing 

Once you come back from the paint store, you may start with the priming process.

Step 2: Sand the Wood

Whether it has previous paint color on it or not, sanding the wood is a step that you should not skip when applying primer. 

You must make sure the wood grain has an even texture before going in with the primer and the new paint color.

Step 3: Apply the Primer Sealer

At this point, you should know how many coats of primer you should apply. Try to find the right balance of primer and paint so that you obtain optimal coverage.

If you use self-priming paint, you can skip the priming process and add the paint directly.


Can primer be mixed with paint?

How to Prime Wood for Acrylic Painting

Step 4 (Optional): Apply the Second Coat

After waiting for the first coat of primer to dry, you may apply the second coat. 

If the first coat was uneven, this one will finish off the surface and prepare it for the paint color.

Step 5: Apply the Paint

Once you are done with the primer, the final step is to add the paint. Make sure that the primer has properly cured before going forward with the paint. 

Depending on the surface and the paint, you might have to apply a single coat or double coat of paint. 

Other Posts: How Much Does a Gallon of Paint Weigh?

Do you Need Two Coats of Primer?

In the end, two coats of primer will be sufficient for any kind of wood. Of course, there are certain circumstances when you can get away with just one coat of primer before adding in the paint, but the second layer will smooth any imperfections.

Make sure to always remove the existing paint naturally first and then add the primer. This will ensure that both the primer and the paint will adhere properly, without any risk of peeling.

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