What is the Best Primer for Bare Wood? (2024)

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Using a primer can result in a smoother surface, ultimately improving the overall look of your project. However, it is crucial to understand that primers vary in quality. 

Selecting the wrong one could result in inadequate adhesion and an uneven finish, compromising the aesthetic appeal you are aiming for. That’s why I’ve listed the best primers for bare wood that will not only last but also create a stable base.

Premium Option
Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer
Editor’s Choice
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
Budget Option
KILZ Oil Restoration Primer
Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior Exterior Oil Primer
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
KILZ Oil Restoration Primer
• High-hiding formula
• Adds extra shine
• Oil-based stain-killer primer
• Full penetration and flexibility on exterior surfaces
• Suitable for use on both interior and exterior surfaces
• Excellent Coverage
• Compatible with Oil and Latex Topcoats
• Stain Blocking
• Quick Drying
• Water-Based Formula
• Interior/Exterior Use
• Excellent one-coat hide
• Blocks tough stains and odors
• Innovative modified acrylic epoxy formula
• Provides easy clean-up
• Acts as a primer, sealer, and stain blocker
• Superior Coverage
• Suitable for most interior surfaces
• Low odor and low VOC
Premium Option
Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer
Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior Exterior Oil Primer
• High-hiding formula
• Adds extra shine
• Oil-based stain-killer primer
• Full penetration and flexibility on exterior surfaces
• Suitable for use on both interior and exterior surfaces
Editor’s Choice
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
• Excellent Coverage
• Compatible with Oil and Latex Topcoats
• Stain Blocking
• Quick Drying
• Water-Based Formula
• Interior/Exterior Use
• Excellent one-coat hide
Budget Option
KILZ Oil Restoration Primer
KILZ Oil Restoration Primer
• Blocks tough stains and odors
• Innovative modified acrylic epoxy formula
• Provides easy clean-up
• Acts as a primer, sealer, and stain blocker
• Superior Coverage
• Suitable for most interior surfaces
• Low odor and low VOC

Reviews of the Top Primers for Bare Wood

1. Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer

The versatility of this primer is remarkable as it can be applied to a diverse array of surfaces, such as metal, masonry, concrete, drywall, and even glossy surfaces.

This made it easy for me to tackle my project without switching between different surface primers. The primer dried to the touch in just 35 minutes, allowing finishing the topcoat in just an hour.

Another benefit of the Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer is its excellent stain-blocking resistance, ensuring topcoats go on smoothly. The one-coat hide also saves time and money by improving the hide and coverage of topcoats.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

2. Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer

This premium Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer not only adds shine to the final product but also has high-hiding formula blocking most stains. Besides, it helps seal smoke, water, and nicotine stains.

It sticks perfectly to exterior and interior surfaces, making it versatile for all painting needs. It also sands easily, which saves a lot of time and effort in the long run.

It dries quickly on interior surfaces and provides excellent enamel undercoating performance, which ensures a smooth and durable finish. You can use Rust-Oleum on wood and it works perfectly on exterior surfaces, delivering flexibility and full penetration.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

3. KILZ Oil Restoration Primer

This Kilz primer is truly a game changer, offering the performance of traditional oil and shellac-based primers while also being water-based. It’s low in VOC with no strange odor and is one of the affordable options.

This modified acrylic epoxy formula of the KILZ Oil Restoration Primer also offers excellent adhesion and blocks tough odors and stains, suitable for disaster recovery and restoration paint jobs. It can be sanded easily and dries hard, making it a great enamel undercoat.

This is particularly helpful if you’re saving time and effort in painting. It covers a large area, with the 1-gallon covering approximately 400 square feet.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

4. Rust-Oleum Zinsser 00904 B-I-N Pigmented Shellac Oil Primer-Sealer

One of the loveable things about this Rust-Oleum Zinsser 00904 B-I-N Pigmented Shellac Oil Primer-Sealer is its ability to seal sap and knot streaks. I had a particularly stubborn sap stain on the kitchen countertop, but this Zinsser B-I-N could seal it perfectly, leaving no trace behind.

It also seals musty, pest, and smoke odors, which is great for those with pets or who live in areas with high humidity.

Another feature that sets this primer-sealer apart is its ability to stick to all surfaces without sanding. Plus, it has a lightning-fast dry time of just 45 minutes so I could complete my project in record time.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

5. INSL-X SXA11009A-01 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer

This top-notch primer-sealer exhibits an exceptional ability to stick to extremely difficult surfaces such as shiny tiles, galvanized materials, fiberglass, pre-coated sidings, glossy paint, glazed blocks, glass, plastic, vinyl, and PVC.

Its ability to adhere to difficult surfaces and be top-coated in nearly any product makes it an excellent choice for various painting projects—from drywall and wood trim to masonry walls and concrete surfaces.

The INSL-X SXA11009A-01 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer also has a low VOC and is easy to clean with soap and water. Additionally, this primer-sealer has excellent enamel holdout. It fully cures in temperatures as low as 35 °F, which is a huge plus for those in colder climates.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

6. KILZ Original Interior Primer

If you’re looking for a high-quality and affordable product, then this Kilz  primer is perfect for you. It’s particularly useful when painting bare wood since it creates a great foundation for the paint to stick to.

The Kilz Original Interior Primer has excellent adhesion properties and helps intensify your paint’s color. This means you won’t have to use as much paint to achieve the desired finish.

Kilz oil-based primers are also designed to block stains and odors, making them a versatile option for covering all stains, including grease, water, and ink. But before applying the primer, it’s important to prepare the surface properly.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

7. Rust-Oleum Brush On Paint 224430T

The water-based acrylic formula is low odor, which is a huge plus for me as I am sensitive to strong chemical odors. Despite the low odor, the Rust-Oleum Brush On Paint 224430T provided excellent coverage and protection for the surfaces I was working on, which included wood and metal.

This paint went on smoothly and evenly, and the flat finish minimized any imperfections on the surface. The drying time was also quick, allowing me to finish my project within the day. 

The paint covered up to 120 sq ft, a considerable area for a single can. If you desire a shiny appearance, this primer is ideal for you.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

8. KILZ Oil Adhesion Interior/ Exterior Primer

This high-adhesion primer is specifically formulated for difficult to adhere to surfaces, making it an excellent choice for situations where a secure bond is critical. The KILZ Oil Adhesion Interior/Exterior Primer works on metals, tile, glass, and vinyl, providing a solid anchor for topcoats.

It’s also one of the best primers for bare wood because of is its advanced styrenated acrylic polymer formula, potentially eliminating or reducing the need for sanding. This is a huge time saver.

In terms of coverage, a 1-gallon can cover approximately 300-400 square feet, which is quite impressive. Its drying time of 30 minutes, after which it can be touched without smudging.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

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

If you’re searching for a spray primer, you’ll be satisfied with this Zinsser primer spray. This option is convenient for handling small projects such as priming wood trim. Its 13-ounce capacity can easily cover 12 square feet.

The Zinsser 272479 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Primer Spray has a quick drying time. However, the surface may feel rough after application, so sanding it down before painting is recommended. The good news is that it sands easily and leaves porous surfaces smooth.

Despite being in a spray can, the product offers high coverage and effectively conceals stains like water, smoke, and knots.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

10. KILZ 3 Premium Primer

The Kilz Premium High-Hide is a water-based latex primer. It has a milder odor, making it more environmentally friendly. Additionally, its water-based formula makes it easier to clean up accidental stains.

It comes in a one-gallon size, covering around 300-400 square feet. However, this primer is available only in white, making it a better choice for lighter-colored surfaces. This primer has strong stain-blocking properties. It can effectively cover knots and imperfections to have a smooth surface.

The KILZ 3 Premium Primer also protects against mold and mildew, which is ideal for high-humidity areas. Its zero VOCs make it a safe choice in occupied homes and workspaces.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

Why Should You Prime Bare Wood Before Painting?

Priming bare wood before painting is an essential step for several reasons. First and foremost, priming seals the wood’s surface, preventing it from absorbing excessive amounts of paint and ensuring an even, smooth finish.

Primers help provide better adhesion for the paint to reduce the chances of paint peeling or chipping over time. It can also block stains, knots, and tannin bleed from the wood, which could otherwise bleed through the paint and mar the appearance of the final finish.

Priming can also help enhance the paint’s overall color and appearance by providing a uniform base.

Finally, using a primer on bare wood can help improve the durability and longevity of the paint job, protecting the wood from moisture and other environmental factors. Priming bare wood ensures a better-looking, long-lasting paint job with improved performance.

See Also: Best Exterior Primers

Should I Apply Oil-Based or Water-Based Primer on Bare Wood?

When priming bare wood, oil- and water-based primers can be used. However, the best option depends on factors like the type of wood, the intended finish, and the project’s specific requirements. Here are some general guidelines to help you decide:

applying danish oil

Oil-based primer

Water-based (latex) primer:

Therefore, for woods high in tannin or when superior stain-blocking is necessary, opting for an oil-based primer could be the more advantageous choice. 

On the other hand, a water-based primer would be more apt for those who favor a quicker drying time, a less potent odor, and a more eco-friendly alternative.

Always read the manufacturer’s recommendations on the primer label to ensure compatibility with the wood type and topcoat you plan to use.

Primers for Bare Wood Buyer’s Guide

Type of Primer

Shellac

This primer is made from natural shellac, a resin secreted by the lac bug in Southeast Asia. It dries quickly and provides excellent adhesion and stain-blocking properties. Besides, there’s a dewaxed shellac that you can use for your projects. 

Zinsser shellac

It is ideal for sealing knots, sap streaks, and other types of wood stains. Shellac primer can be used on bare wood, porous wood, metal, plaster, and even previously painted surfaces.

Latex

A popular choice for quick-drying primers is those based on latex. They are ideal for time-sensitive projects as they typically dry within an hour. Unlike oil-based primers, they do not tend to become brittle, resulting in less peeling or cracking.

Furthermore, latex-based primers are easy to clean since they dissolve in water. They also contain low levels of VOC [1], making them eco-friendlier and less harmful to health. 

Although a respirator mask is unnecessary, ensuring adequate ventilation during use is advisable.

Masonry

This type of primer is specifically designed for use on masonry surfaces, such as concrete, brick, and stucco.

It helps to seal porous surfaces and prevent moisture from penetrating the wood. Masonry primer can also improve adhesion and provide a smooth surface for the topcoat.

Masonry primer

Bonding

If you are dealing with surfaces that are typically difficult to paint, such as vinyl, ceramic tiles, and plastic, a bonding primer can be an effective solution.

This type of primer has excellent adhesion properties, so it is often recommended for exterior wood projects where a primer that can stick well to wood is essential.

Stain-Blocking

This type of primer is designed to block out stains and prevent them from bleeding through to the topcoat. It is ideal for use on bare wood surfaces with stains, such as watermarks or smoke damage.

Stain-blocking primer can also help prevent tannin bleed, a common problem with certain types of wood, such as cedar or redwood.

Multipurpose

Multipurpose primers are popular for their versatility in adhering to a wide range of surfaces. However, creating a formula that achieves this universal compatibility can be a complex task. 

For this reason, it is advisable to choose reputable brands to guarantee optimal outcomes.

multi purpose primer

Interior or Exterior Primer

Take into account the location of your project when selecting a primer. Projects situated outdoors generally necessitate a primer that offers enhanced resistance to moisture and greater durability to withstand the elements. 

On the other hand, indoor projects might place a higher value on a primer that has a low odor and is easy to apply.

Color

When selecting the best primer for bare wood, it’s important to consider the appropriate color for the job. This decision largely depends on the color of paint you plan on using. If you’re painting the wood surface with a darker color, a gray primer might be the best option.

On the other hand, if you plan to use lighter paint, a white primer would be more appropriate. If possible, consider using a tinted primer that suits the paint color you’ll be using.

This way, you can ensure that the final paint color is consistent and accurate without using more coats than necessary.

Type of Finish

Different primers can offer a glossy or matte finish to the surface. Selecting the primer that will provide the desired finish that matches your aesthetic preference is crucial.

If you prefer a glossy finish, choose a primer that provides a glossy look. Similarly, select a primer that produces a matte finish if you want a matte finish.

wood finish

Ease of Application

Water-based primers are generally easier to apply and clean up than oil-based or shellac-based primers. Consider your experience and comfort level when choosing a primer.

Odor

In certain cases, wood surfaces may have unpleasant odors due to various factors such as smoking, pets, or other sources of bad smells in the environment. This can make it difficult to apply paint.

Fortunately, certain primers can help lock in and eliminate these unpleasant odors. You can effectively control unpleasant smells and create a better painting environment by selecting an appropriate primer.

Drying Time

Different types of primers have varying drying times. Water-based primers tend to dry more quickly compared to their oil-based or shellac-based counterparts. 

If you’re on a tight schedule and need to progress through your project swiftly, it might be beneficial to opt for a primer that boasts a faster drying time.

Coverage

Check the primer’s coverage rate (usually indicated in square feet per gallon) to estimate how much primer you’ll need for your project. Primers with better coverage may save you money in the long run.

mixing primer paint

Durability and Maintenance

For high-traffic or high-moisture areas, choose a primer with superior durability and resistance to wear and tear. Oil-based and shellac-based primers generally offer better durability than water-based primers.

Price

The cost of primers can vary significantly. While opting for the cheapest option may be tempting, investing in a high-quality primer can save time, money, and effort in the long run by providing better coverage, adhesion, and durability.

How to Prime Raw or Bare Wood for Painting

Step #1: Prepare the Surface

Before priming, ensure the wood surface is clean, smooth, and free of any imperfections. Start by cleaning the wood with a damp cloth or soft brush to remove dirt, dust, or debris. You can also examine the wood for cracks, holes, or dents and fill them with wood filler.

Then, sand the wood using medium-grit sandpaper (120 to 150-grit), moving toward the wood grain. This will create a smooth and even surface for priming. Finally, use a tack or slightly damp cloth to remove sanding dust and let the surface dry completely.

Step #2: Apply a Layer of Primer

After preparing the surface, apply a layer of the appropriate primer (oil-based, water-based, or shellac-based) to the wood. Stir the primer well before using it and pour it into a paint tray.

finishing curly maple wood

Use a high-quality brush or roller to apply the primer evenly, following the wood grain. Make sure to cover the entire surface, including any edges or corners. Allow the primer to dry for 6 to 8 hours.

If necessary, lightly sand the primed surface with fine-grit sandpaper (220-grit) to ensure a smooth finish, and then remove any dust with a tack cloth.

Step #3: Apply the Paint Next

Once the primer is dry and the surface is smooth, you can begin painting. Apply multiple thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next one. This will result in a more durable and professional-looking finish.

Jolie Paint Water-Based Non-Toxic Paint

FAQ

How many coats of primer on bare wood?

One or two coats of primer are recommended on bare wood, depending on the condition of the wood and the type of primer being used. If the wood is in good condition, one coat may be sufficient. However, apply two coats to ensure full coverage if the wood has noticeable imperfections.

What is the best Zinsser primer for bare wood?

The best Zinsser product for bare wood is Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer. It works on various surfaces without sanding, dries quickly, blocks stains, and can be used with oil and latex topcoats. It also offers one coat hide, saving time and money.

How long does primer take to dry when applied on bare wood?

The drying time for a primer on bare wood can vary depending on the type of primer used, temperature, humidity, and thickness of the application. Generally, oil-based primers can take up to 24 hours to dry, while water-based primers can dry in as little as 30 minutes to 1 hour.

What brush should I use when applying primer on raw or bare wooden surfaces?

When selecting a brush, look for one with bristles made of nylon or polyester. When used with a primer, these synthetic materials will hold up better than natural bristles, which can be thicker and more viscous than paint. Additionally, synthetic bristles are less likely to absorb moisture.

What type of paint should I apply after priming raw wood?

The type of paint you should apply after priming raw wood will depend on the intended use of the wood and the location where it will be used.

For interior woodwork, use an interior latex or oil-based paint. For the exterior, use exterior paint that is designed to withstand the elements.

Should I add tints to primers?

Adding tints to primers can be beneficial, especially when painting with dark or vibrant topcoat colors. It can help the topcoat achieve better coverage and require fewer coats for full opacity, saving time and money.

You’ll Also Like: Lemon Oil Finish for Wood

My Top Pick For a Primer for Bare Wood: Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer

The Zinsser 02004 is my choice for the best primer for bare wood. It has a versatile application on a wide range of surfaces, even difficult ones.

This primer is crafted with a water-based formula, ensuring exceptional stain-blocking capabilities alongside a feature that achieves full coverage in just one coat. 

Additionally, it stands out with its efficient coverage and notably rapid drying time, taking only 35 minutes to dry to the touch and becoming ready for a topcoat application within a mere hour.

robert headshot

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!