What is the Best Oil-Based Primer? — For Interior & Exterior Wood (2024)

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Priming your wooden surfaces isn’t just about slapping on any old product. Think of it as setting the stage for your masterpiece. But here’s the kicker: not all primers are created equal. Use the wrong one, and you could end up with damaged furniture or, worse, a breeding ground for rot and mold. No one wants that, right?

So, I’m excited to share with you the top oil-based primers out there to help you pick the right one for your next project.

Premium Option
KILZ Original Interior Oil-Based Primer
Editor’s Choice
Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Primer
Budget Option
Zinsser by Rust-Oleum 3609 Oil-Based Spray Primer
KILZ Interior Oil-Based Primer
Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Primer
Zinsser by Rust-Oleum 3609 Oil-Based Spray Primer
• Versatile on interior surfaces
• Used for severe stains
• 300-400 square feet per gal
• Blocks most stain
• High hiding formula
• Sticks on interior and exterior surfaces
• Extra shine
• Enamel undercoating
• Seals porous surfaces
• Dries fast and flat
• Seals water stains
• All purpose primer
Premium Option
KILZ Original Interior Oil-Based Primer
KILZ Interior Oil-Based Primer
• Versatile on interior surfaces
• Used for severe stains
• 300-400 square feet per gal
• Blocks most stain
Editor’s Choice
Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Primer
Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Primer
• High hiding formula
• Sticks on interior and exterior surfaces
• Extra shine
• Enamel undercoating
Budget Option
Zinsser by Rust-Oleum 3609 Oil-Based Spray Primer
Zinsser by Rust-Oleum 3609 Oil-Based Spray Primer
• Seals porous surfaces
• Dries fast and flat
• Seals water stains
• All purpose primer

Reviews of the Top Oil-Based Primers

1. Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain

The Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Oil-Based Primer adheres perfectly over wood surfaces and has stain blocking formula that hides smoke stains. This product’s formula also doubles as an exterior oil-based primer and dries quicker than other brands. 

I’m genuinely impressed by the efficiency of this stain-blocking primer. With just one gallon, you can cover an impressive 300 square feet of wood surface. It ranks among the top primers for bare wood. 

However, for the best results, always ensure you prepare the area, especially if you’re working on a surface that’s been painted before. Trust us, a little prep goes a long way!

What i Like

What i Don't Like

2. KILZ Original Interior Oil-Based Primer

For interior priming projects, my top pick is the KILZ Original Interior Oil-Based Primer. This brand gets better over the years and has been a standard-bearer of doing a fantastic job in covering stains, especially on interior surfaces. 

It does a great job of patching up holes and mimics a final coat of paint that looks exactly like the former undamaged wall. Not only is the KILZ versatile with different kinds of wall surfaces, but it’s also the formula is unique enough to block pungent smells from seeping into the walls. 

While it dries in a little less than an hour, I still suggest letting it completely dry for a day before applying another coat. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

3. Zinsser by Rust-Oleum 3609 Oil-Base Spray Primer

If you’re working on objects of irregular shape or those that have a lot of cracks, and crannies, then this Rust-Oleum primer here is your perfect choice. 

It makes application easier, and with its impressive spray mechanism. This version of the Rust-oleum product is best for beginners who are working their way around applying primer on complex-shaped materials. 

However, it also has common downsides that you should consider before purchasing. Like all other spray primers, the Zinsser by Rust-Oleum 3609 Primer has a limited quantity and needs to be replaced now and then. Also, be careful of over-spraying to a certain area, and I advise only using this primer on small-scale projects.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

4. KILZ Adhesion Primer

If you’re looking for the best oil-based primer that has excellent adhesion properties to porous and tough surfaces, the KILZ Adhesion Primer is an option that you should consider. 

It has a high adhesion quality that can bond tough materials like vinyl, formica, or glass. I used it on an exterior surface and it displayed an even more secure bond. It has a different formula but isn’t compromised in terms of quality. 

During the test, KILZ Adhesion primer sealer didn’t disappoint. Whether aiming for a sleek surface or a flawless topcoat, this product delivers. And guess what? You have the flexibility to brush it on, spray it, or use any method you find easiest.

What i Like

What i Don't Like

5. Diamond Brite Paint 1 Gallon Industrial Oil Base Enamel Primer in Gray 32900

Another exterior oil-based primer that displayed impressive performance based on my testing is the Diamond Brite 32900 Oil Base Enamel Paint Primer. It provides a durable enamel mimicking glossy surface after the finish. 

Self-priming paints tend to adhere less on metal surfaces, but since this is best used in the industrial setting, you’ll be surprised with how bonded the primer will look on your paint project. It’s also a trusted base for exterior paint, due to its fast-drying property.  

Although this item carries a higher price tag compared to the alternatives listed, its distinct characteristics justify the cost. Thus making it a worthwhile investment, providing added value and benefits that set it apart from the competition.

What i Like

What i Don't Like

6. Zinsser 272479 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Spray Primer

Not all priming needs require shine, especially when working on matte-painted surfaces. This is where this Zinsser 272479 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Paint Primer comes in handy. 

This spray is made up of a coat oil-based formula that has excellent stain-blocking resistance. It does a great job both when used on interior and exterior surfaces. It blocks stains even those scents as harsh as nicotine, and pungent materials.

And with a few coats, the quality of paint and sealing it provides, whether on a painted metal or painted wood is rather commendable. You won’t have to worry about peeling paint as this primer works both as an oil or latex topcoat. 

What i Like

What I Don't Like

7. Kilz Odorless Oil-Based Primer/Sealer

Most oil-based primers tend to work best with properly prepared surfaces free of rust, and peeling paints and this one is no exception. The Kilz Odorless Oil-Based Primer/Sealer blocks stains easily and creates a durable protective coating on interior surfaces. 

It’s white pigmented and has a high hiding formula that blocks severe stains such as lipstick marks, pens, and even grease and oil stains.  

For better bonding, I suggest letting the formula cure for at least an hour before applying the second coat. Despite its quick drying time, you can expect more adhesion with this tip.  

What I Like

What I Don't Like

Oil-Based Primers: Buyer’s Guide

Surfaces

When choosing an oil-based primer, opt for brands that have a high-hiding formula and are compatible with different surfaces. There are oil-based primers that are only suitable for wood, and or metals, and there are also brands that are multi-surfaced. 

Application

Depending on the performance of the primer, you’ll have to apply one or more coats, as its coverage will also vary on the application method and area of application. 

Working on inside projects and interior surfaces requires interior primers, but if you are painting on an external setting, then opt for a primer that can withstand harsh weather conditions. 

Price

Applying oil-based primer on a previously painted drywall can be a little costly, but some primers come at an affordable price for your preference. 

Pick one that suits your wall type and budget. The best trick is to apply it on properly prepared surfaces to avoid wasting oil paints.  

Drying Time

One vital aspect when choosing an oil-based primer is the drying time. Depending on your timeline of finishing the project, choose a brand that has a drying time you can work your way around with. 

How Long Do You Wait for Oil-Based Primers to Dry?

Generally, some brands promise 30 minutes of drying time. While this is partially true, letting the primer dry for at least 24 to 48 hours is still more advisable. This way, you can ensure a better bond between the primer and the wall. 

More articles to check out: 

Coverage

Modern primers now have solved the common dilemma with paints when used to cover up stains. More often than not, paint looks cheap when used as a cover-up on different materials. 

There’s also a tendency for the stains to still show through since it looks different than the other colors and textures on the wall. Oil-based primers do an effortless job of covering up the stains from their base material itself. 

wall painted with Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain

However, as much as primer can set a good coverage, it isn’t meant to repair other damages such as structural ones. 

Therefore, always ensure that you fix all other problems before starting your paint job. Using primer to cover up wet drywall or furniture pieces, will only cause extreme damage to your project. 

Smell

Before starting any paint job, always consider the smell both of the paint, and the primers that will be used. Some primers can lock the smells that have seeped into your walls. 

Smell-fighting primers are suitable for homes that house pets or smokers, as they can absorb and accumulate such smell. Different primers vary in smell, so you might want to check the primer’s label if you’re sensitive to strong fumes, or hesitant to on a smelly task. 

Products with low-smell formulations are higher in cost, but it’s the best option to make application easier and more convenient on your end. It’s more possible to work with smelly primers on exterior surfaces, but if you’re painting inside, always wear protective masks. 

Stain Blocker

Oil-based primers with stain-blocking properties are getting more traction now, as it makes the job of repainting, or covering up more efficient. 

Not only do oil-based primers with stain-blocking properties hide watermarks or imperfections, but it also seals the area preventing future stains from showing. 

Prevention from Rust

For rust-prone areas or walls, choose an oil-based primer that has a rust protection formula. It’s also important to consider rust-resistant oil-based primers as exterior primers, and when priming metal. 

Paint Workability

Even the best primers differ in texture and formula, so the rule of thumb is to choose one which will best complement your surface area and patience on application. 

It will be difficult to apply on a porous surface if you have a very thick oil primer, so it’s better to use a spray primer like that of the Rust-Oleum. 

Color

Oil-based primers come in different colors, from white to gray and beige, however not all brands cater to an array of colors, so this is where it’s gonna be tricky for you. 

Choose a color that will not bring the undershade of the main paint coat. The best oil is the one that will do a great job hiding stains rather than highlighting it. 

Capacity

Some primers are huge in volume and can cover even up to 400 square feet of the wood surface. Yet this metric will still depend on the surface you’re applying the primer. 

house interior painted with KILZ Original Primer

If you’re working on a porous wood, then the surface will absorb the primer right away, making you need to apply more, thus lesser surface capacity to cover. A spray primer however has a smaller capacity than traditional primers. 

Why You Should Use Oil-Based Primers? + Key Advantages

Oil primer paints are a favorite amongst professionals because of how substantial it is in any paint job. 

Make sure to prep the surface correctly to make the oil-based primer adhere properly, and seal imperfections and visible pores. The first coat should be done properly to create strong bonding between the wall and the primer, as well as the primer and the paint. 

Oil-based primers are also good bases compared to water-based primers. Here are some other perks of using it:

Despite these advantages, you’ll need a lot of ventilation when working with oil-based primers as it may be a little difficult to handle. It’s also a necessity to wear a mask to prevent inhaling toxins. 

Different Types of Primers

Oil-Based Primers

Oil-based primers are best used as sealants on interior and exterior surfaces. There are products that are labeled as an “interior and exterior primer” that can seal both porous surfaces. 

There are also ones that properly prepare glossy surfaces, depending on their type. Generally, these are more expensive since it has properties that absorb into the wood fibers.

Water-Based Primer

Water-based primers are made up of water-soluble resins and have lower VOC (Volatile organic compounds) levels, so it has fewer fumes and is less harmful than other primer paint. 

A water-based primer creates more accent on colored surfaces, and even a single application can create a gloss on the area. 

Latex Primers

Latex primer is a water-based primer, that has latex resin as its primary binder. It’s formulated to improve the binding of latex-based paints, which are popular for their quick-drying properties. 

Using latex primer with latex paint improves adhesion and durability making these two the perfect combination. 

Shellac Primers

Another type of primer that’s versatile is the shellac primer. This primer is made up of a special resin that emanates from a female lac bug [1].

Shellac primers seal odors and block stains, making them very much effective when applied on walls or surfaces that are affected by smoke and water damage. 

Tips & Tricks for Applying Oil-Based Primers

Oil-based primers make every surface look incredibly flawless, even damaged ones. One culprit to why it won’t create the bond as strong as it promised is due to some necessary application tips that you might have missed: 

spray painting

What Type of Primer to Use on Top of Oil-Based Paint?

When deciding on which primer to use, keep in mind that you can only plaster oil-base primed walls with the same primer kind or on oil-based paints, or it won’t bond properly. Using an oil-based primer on oil-based paint promises a greater bonding capacity. 

However, if you’re dealing with latex paint, any type of primer such as an oil-based one will stick to create a great adherence. A latex bonding primer is also advisable if you are priming paints atop a matte surface.

FAQ

Are fumes of oil-borne primers harmful?

Oil-borne primers naturally have volatile scents that may prompt short illnesses such as nausea, skin irritation, and headaches. 

It also contains solvents that are highly flammable such as turpentine and mineral spirits which can immediately create flammable vapor, and spark a flame. Therefore, I recommend working with oil-based primer paint on a well-ventilated area to avoid triggers of ignition. 

Can you use oil-based primers on top of latex primers?

Generally, you can use oil-based primers on top of latex primers but it’s important to check the adherence before proceeding with the entire thing. 

To check, dab an oil-based primer atop the latex and wait for a few minutes to see whether it will crack or peel. If not, then it means it’s safe to use such brands together. 

Related Readings:

My Top Pick For an Oil-Based Primer:
Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain

Any of those that I’ve included in this list of the best oil-based primer products speaks true to its qualities. But what impressed us during the testing stage, was finding all the key factors I’m looking for in an oil-based primer: stain-blocking properties, quick drying and thrifty, and affordable in just one with the Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain

It’s a game-changer. This primer not only boasts excellent stain-blocking capabilities but also dries swiftly and won’t break the bank. In short, it’s the whole package. If you’re on the hunt for a top-tier oil-based primer, this one is certainly worth your consideration.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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