Woodworking Painting 101

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Completing a woodworking masterpiece is a moment worthy of celebration, but what truly elevates it is the art of applying a flawless paint finish. I believe that the key to setting your creation apart lies in your understanding of the right paint type, the essential materials required, and the proper techniques for application. This knowledge will ultimately determine whether your project showcases your exceptional craftsmanship or ends up marred by a subpar finish.

Allow me to guide you through the intricate process of woodworking and painting, providing you with the expertise needed to achieve outstanding results.

Woodworking and Painting

Before our team breaks down how to paint woodwork, let’s first prepare the tools, materials and area.

Tools and Materials

Of course, you need high quality brushes and the right paint for the job. As a rule of thumb, if you are using latex paints, brushes with nylon bristles are unbeatable. As for oil paints, you will need to go for brushes that have natural bristles. Don’t worry as all of these tools are available at the paint store. You can even look into rollers for jobs with a lot of flat surfaces such as tables and touch up the finer details with the brushes. 

paint brushes and tools

When selecting the appropriate size, it’s crucial to consider the surface area you’ll be working on. I recommend relying on your best judgment to determine the most suitable choice. Moreover, I strongly advise against compromising on the quality of the rollers. Steer clear of foam covers to ensure optimal results.

Next come the paints. You will have a choice between putties, paints and primers, so assess your masterpiece and decide what kind of finish you want. There are three main types of paints — oil, latex and acrylic. Oil paints tend to be tougher, but they are also harder to clean up.

Prepare and Cover Work Area and Wood

The next step is to get the area ready and prepare the wood during the woodworking and painting process. Our team will dive further into the step-by-step instructions in a bit, so this section will focus on preparing your environment.

spray painting a photo frame with Rust Oleum 280711 American Accents Ultra Cover

Keep the area free of any tripping hazards and unnecessary fixtures. Remove everything you don’t want potentially covered in paint. Once you have a clear designated area, cover the floors, furniture and even walls if spray guns are involved with plastic covering or tarps.

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Steps to Paint Woodwork


First, we are going to prep the wood by sanding the surface so it’s more susceptible to coats of color. You can do this with sandpaper but also have a sanding sponge for curved surfaces. You can skip this step if you have already done this or have a pre-sanded piece from the store.

If there are cracks or flaws, it’s advisable to patch them up using a high-quality wood filler for painting later on.  

Remove Dust

When I start sanding, I always prepare for some serious dust—it’s inevitable. But here’s the deal: the paint won’t stick properly if I leave that dust all over my project. So, it’s crucial for me to clear the area before painting. I like to grab either a damp or tack cloth to wipe away the dust. And here’s a hot tip—even if I didn’t sand my creation, giving it a good wipe-down is a smart move to remove any surface dust. It’ll make a real difference!

cleaning the surface of a table

Priming the Wood

When you have a clean piece of wood on your hands free of any debris, we can move on to the primer. A primer is used to enhance the painting and woodworking job and it can be sprayed or brushed on using a spray paint for wood. Just a light coat will do, work from the front and sides then wait for them to dry before starting on the back.


Once the primer is all dry, you can start in on the paint [1] job. Start by choosing your colors and squeezing enough onto a paint palette. Aside from picking the best paint for your wooden piece, you also need to use the correct type of brush in correlation to your paint and coat your project. If a second coat is needed, wait until the first coat dries before starting in on the second one.

If there are any designs you would like to apply, they should be implemented after all the base coats have dried. When you are finished with the paint job, apply a coat of sealer and you’re done!

Filling in Gaps and Sparse Areas

To prevent any gaps or sparse areas, you can go over these tough to reach places with different tools such as smaller brushes, rollers and even a spray gun for a more even coating. Sometimes a tool that’s shaped differently can solve the problem of a difficult to reach spot.

applying wood filler to gaps

Painting Wood Trimming

If you are looking to paint wood trimming such as your door frame, cover the surrounding walls with protective tape. This will make sure that even if you do color outside the lines, your walls are safe. 

You need to first degloss the trimming, clean the area free from any dust and debris, cover the surroundings with painter’s tape, prime the trim, and then you’re good to go!

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Tips for Painting Woodwork

I’d like to share some key suggestions based on my expertise in painting and woodworking to help you attain the best results.

First and foremost, it’s essential to maintain a clean workspace before commencing any project. Take care to shield the surrounding areas from overspray and paint splatters. When it comes to preparing your surfaces, thorough sanding is crucial for ensuring proper paint adhesion. While using a brush, avoid excessive pressure and consider opting for a roller to achieve a smoother finish.

painting a bedside table with acrylic paint

One of the most important tidbits of information is to wait until each coat is completely dry before applying the next one. Otherwise, you will be looking at ripples and uneven surfaces.

(Must-Read: Tips on Painting Burnt Wood)


Can you paint directly onto wood?

No, you can’t paint directly onto wood without prepping the surface. This is true whether you are painting outdoor furniture or indoor furniture. This will result in paint that will peel and flake off easily down the line. The purpose of preparing the wood surface before painting is to make sure the paint sticks.

Do I have to sand wood before painting?

No, you don’t have to sand wood before painting. Although it’s recommended, you won’t need to sand your project if you aren’t painting the piece a very contrasting color, if it’s pre-sanded, or if the original finish is clean, flat and not damaged.



Woodworking and painting go hand in hand for many DIYers, so understanding how to properly prepare your piece for color is important. Without taking the proper steps, the paint could end up looking unrefined, unprofessional, and not sticking to the surface. It’s vital to keep your toolbox stocked with different types of brushes and accessories fit for any painting job.

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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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