9 Best Primers for Wood Projects

Primer for wood projects

Wood primer is an undercoat of the first coating put on wood, usually before applying paint on it. Using a wood primer makes your paint job much smoother as compared to not using one. It enhances your wood’s overall appearance and gives it a professional feel. Moreover, it protects your wood by increasing your paint’s durability and adhesion.

However, your primer needs depend greatly on the type of wood you use. For example, if yu haven’t stained your wood yet, you should use an oil-based primer. Whereas you’d rather use a stain-blocking primer for stained wood.

Choosing the right primer requires time, effort, and knowledge of several factors, and we are here to make the job easier. Here are our top nine picks in the best wood primers.

INSL-X SXA11009A-04 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer

It is one of the toughest primers to coat surfaces. You can also recoat it with paint or wallpaper. Just a gallon of this wood primer is good enough to cover up to 400 square feet of the surface. However, it takes about 4 hours to form a hard film that you can recoat.  It works best in temperatures above 35 degrees Fahrenheit


  • You can apply it without sanding
  • It conceals stains and odors very well
  • It kills mold
  • You can reapply paint as soon as the surface is hard and smooth
  • You can use it on both interior and exterior surfaces

The Con

  • You cannot apply it under direct sunlight

Rust-Oleum 2004 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer

This wood primer is ideal for both wooden and metallic surfaces due to its rust-resistant property. It stands out from the rest of the primers as it contains a rust-inhibitor. Moreover, it is also easy to apply, and you do not need to sand the surface before coating. It can be used on the interior and exterior wood and does not take a long time to dry. The best part about this wood primer is that recoating can be done after two hours of the first coat.


  • It gives a smooth satin finish
  • It is ideal for high pH surfaces
  • You can use it both indoors & outdoors
  • For metal surfaces, it has rust-inhibitor
  • It is water-based, so you won’t have to clean


  • It requires you to recoat at least twice
  • It doesn’t work well with hardwood
  • It does not give a good result on glossy surfaces

Zinsser B-I-N shellac-based Primer Sealer

Zinsser has some of the best primers in the Rust-Oleum family of paint and primers. Apart from being one of the oldest sealers in the market, it is also one of the most trusted primers.  Moreover, it is also one of the best exterior wood primers. Since it’s a shellac-based wood primer, people assume that it’s a heavy-duty product. However, this product is your best bet if you wish to cover up dirt, odor, and stains on wooden surfaces.

Remember that you would need ventilation in your room to apply this primer since shellac-based products have a high frequency of volatile organic compounds. In comparison with other shellac-based primers, it dries pretty quickly. Even though such primers dry faster than oil-based products, they don’t dry as fast as water-based products.


  • It seals odor perfectly
  • It also seals stains and dirt
  • It can be used on both exterior and interior spaces
  • It sticks on various surfaces without the need for sanding before application

The Con

  • It includes a high amount of volatile organic compounds

KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking

KILZ Premium High-Hide is a water-based wood primer that gives you a uniform and smooth surface to paint on.  It is also great at concealing imperfections in surfaces with holes, just the way most water-based primers do. It works well on softwood surfaces since it is not likely to lift the grain. What makes it different from other water-based primers is that it contains mildewcide, which kills mildew. It also sticks well to any surface with old paint due to its excellent adhesion properties.


  • It contains mildewcide that protects the surface against mildew
  • It is both manufactured and produced in the United States
  • It is a great choice for surfaces that have been exposed to moisture constantly
  • It can be used for interior as well as exterior projects
  • It does not contain volatile organic compounds

The Con

  • It is slightly hard on the pocket compared to other primers

Rust-Oleum Painters Touch 1/2 – Pint Latex

This wood primer is highly rated due to its versatility. It works on various surfaces including metals, plaster, unglazed ceramic, and, of course, wood. You can use it on both exterior and interior projects. If you’re in a rush to complete a project, this could be your best choice as it has a fast-drying formula.

However, you must prepare your wooden surface with sandpaper and a degreaser before applying this product. This is a great way to improve paint adhesion by creating a base coat. It dries to touch within an hour and covers an area of about 30-square feet.


  • It does not chip and has a low odor
  • It’s a durable water-based acrylic formula
  • It dries to touch in less than an hour
  • It is perfect for indoor and outdoor projects
  • It can be used on metal, painted or bare wood, plaster, and masonry, etc.

The Con

  • It is not a suitable choice for large projects because it covers a very limited area

Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer

If you’re a beginner, then the Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer is a great choice. It works well both indoors and outdoors. Therefore, even if you’re unsure where to use it, you can still get it and work your way out while using it. Whether your surface is sanded or not, this wood primer will stick well to it.

Overall, the product is fairly affordable when compared to other primers; however, the only drawback is that it does not resist mold or mildew


  • It is easy to use for beginners
  • It adds shine to your surface
  • It is affordable for a primer
  • It can be used for both outdoor and indoor purposes


  • Even though it works well on indoor and outdoor surfaces, it may not give the best results outdoors.
  • There is a chance that it may fade on outdoor wood surfaces
  • It is not mold and mildew resistant

Rust-Oleum Corporation, White Rust-Oleum 293163 Primer

This primer is a spray-on version of a classic primer. Even though it is different from brush primers, it has most qualities of them. The major difference between the two is viscosity. Wood primer applied through the brush is comparatively thicker. Howeve, the spray-on version is much lighter on use

The best feature of this spray-on primer is that it dries much more quickly compared to normal primers. It takes just five minutes to dry after application and less than thirty minutes for reapplication of paint coating.


  • It gives a shine after drying
  • It dries quickly
  • It is one of the best exterior wood primers that can also be used indoors
  • It costs more if you want to cover a larger area


  • It can get watery
  • It has a lot of volatile organic compounds
  • It does not work well on vertical surfaces
  • It gives better results on smaller wooden items like chairs, cabinets, etc.

 KILZ L211101 Adhesion High-Bonding Interior Latex Primer

If you want a wood primer that can lock in odors and coat stains while also being able to bond on any surface, you should opt for the KILZ L211101 Adhesion High-Bonding Interior. Its water-based property makes it a good candidate for your wood. Moreover, due to its extra bond feature, it can cover even the most complex surfaces. It does not need sanding before application and is one of the best exterior wood primers that can be used indoors.

Even though it can be used on various surfaces, it gives great results on hard-to-stick surfaces.


  • It has an amazing bonding feature
  • It makes your paint immune to scraping, peeling, or scratching
  • You can wash it off your skin easily
  • It can stick to surfaces like metal, tile, glass, etc.
  • It can be applied easily using a brush and a roller
  • It dries within 30 minutes, and you can recoat in an hour


  • It’s a bit costly
  • It cannot be used on floors

RTG 3014 Exterior Primer

The RTG 3014 is one of the best exterior wood primers because it can do everything all other primers can do while being environmentally friendly. This versatile exterior primer is rust and mildew-resistant that does not peel away fast. Moreover, it is easy to use. You can apply it with a brush and roller easily.


  • It has an eco-friendly formula
  • It hides stains well
  • It covers up to 100 square feet per quart
  • It is easy to clean and apply

The Con

  • It is still fairly new in the market

Types of Primers

There are generally three types of primers: oil-based, shellac-based, and water-based. While they all have distinctive features, the information given below is universal, which means that it may not speak for all products.

Oil-Based Primers

Oil-based primers are the most widely used types of primers. Even though they work well on any type of surface, they should ideally be used on wood surfaces. These primers prevent your paint from peeling and help prevent dirt from spilling through the wood. Moreover, they seal pores to make coating an easier process.

 Water-Based Primers

If you are searching for a primer that is easy to remove from paintbrushes, then water-based primers are the right choice. They have little to no VOC, which makes them a safer choice and also easier to clean. They are best for softwood, galvanized metal, and brick walls, but they do not cover stains as well as other types of primers 

 Shellac-Based Primes

This type of wood primer is probably one of the oldest to exist. It can cover various stains, such as those caused by smoke, rust, and even water. However, they are on the pricier side, but if it helps you get rid of strong stains, you should go for it. It can also seal in odors and scents permeating through the wall. It works best when used with either water or oil-based paint. The only downside to this type of wood primer is that it is tough to use and clean up.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Wood Primer Paint

There are several important factors you must keep in mind before purchasing a wood prime for your wood projects. Some of them include:

Coverage of stains

A modern wood primer should be able to coat or cover dirt and stains on wooden surfaces. If you’re using low-quality paint, it may react differently on different base materials. Therefore it may not be able to mask dirt and stains well. It is also possible for the stains to be visible through the applied paint if you used a wood primer that did not cover stains well.

However, there’s a difference between stains that need to be covered and those that need to be scraped out completely. While there’s a lot that wood primers can do, they cannot repair structural damage. Therefore, avoid using paints or primers on wet walls; otherwise, they will lock the moisture in and cause damage to the wall.


The smell it creates or removes

The smell is the second most important factor when buying a wood primer. Some primers can lock in odors from your walls. However, if you have smokers or pets around your workroom, choosing a primer that can fight smell would be a lifesaver. Make sure that the source of the smell is something your primer can fix. If it is coming out of a carpet, for example, there isn’t much a primer can do.

Be wary of the smell the wood primer carries. If you apply paints and primers, it can give off a nasty smell. Moreover, if you are sensitive to smell, then go for a wood primer that has a low-smell formulation.

Smell-free or low smell primers can be a little hard on the pocket . If pungent odors are something you cannot stand, getting a slightly high-priced primer will be worth it.

Moreover, the reason why a lot of outdoor primers should not be used indoors is that it can cause a choking odor if it is used indoors.

There are ways to decrease the smell caused by primers and paints. One of them is to ensure ventilation. Keep the doors and windows open or take your project outdoors. 


 The time it takes to dry

Another reasonable factor to acknowledge as you buy wood primer is the drying time. It is important to note that different products have different drying times. Some companies create primers and claim that the drying time is 30 minutes to 1 hour; however, it is not entirely true. This is because in 30 minutes to 1 hour, the primer is not dry enough. You can still apply paint on it, but even the best quality primers need a good 48 hours to dry completely.

How to Apply Primer

There isn’t a lot of difference between applying paint or primer. However, knowing the right way to do it will help you set the base work much more efficiently.

Before application:

Ø Clean the surface on which you will apply the primer and paint

Ø Repair the surface if needed

Ø You can wash the surface of the wall with a mild detergent, cloth, and water

Ø If there is any flaky paint, scrape it off

While Priming:

Ø Use polyester or nylon brushes

Ø If you’re using oil-based primers, use natural bristle brushes

Ø For the interior room, cover any unpainted areas on the ceiling first

Ø Try to move in 6-inch square sections by using a roller applicator

Ø Use “W” strokes from the right-hand side to the left-hand side and then back from the left side to the right side

Ø Evenly spread the primer with horizontal strokes and keep doing it in 6-inch square sections till it’s completely primed

Take Safety Precautions

Fumes given off by paints and primers can be hazardous to your skin and health. Therefore, always keep your work area ventilated by opening windows or using fans. Moreover, just as an additional practice, keep your hands gloved too.

Additional Tips:

Ø Use a wood primer if you’re applying a light color to a dark one

Ø Semi-gloss and eggshell paints need a primer coat because they absorb unevenly

Ø If you don’t know whether the paint you have is oil-based or not, use a rag saturated with alcohol and wipe a section of the area. If your paint is oil-based, your rag will not get any color after wiping.

Ø Don’t wait for too long to apply the last paint coat after priming

Ø Follow the instructions on your wood primer to decide when you should paint



Frequently Asked Questions

Should I choose a specific type of primer for a specific type of paint?

Even though most primers go well with most types of paints, it is better to consult both your primer and paint labels. Your primer should be compatible with the paint if the paint is oil-based.

How many primer coats should I apply?

It varies from product to product and mostly depends on your needs. Some projects need more coating and protection than others. Figure out your needs and see how much protection your wooden surface requires. For example, indoor work would require less coating than outdoor work. It also depends on how thick your product is. The thicker the product, the fewer the coats required.

On average, how long does a primer take to dry?

This varies from product to product, too, but the general time frame is between 1 to 4 hours before you can apply the next coat. However, water-based products dry slightly faster. Some products also dry in less than 30 minutes, which is bare minimum.

How much primer should I buy?

You shouldn’t buy a large can at first, unless there’s a genuine need. However, as a general rule, think of how much primer you need and buy a little more than that.

What primer color should I get?

For bright paints, try using a white primer, whereas for darker coats of paint, use a gray primer.

Final Thoughts

When you think of a primer, the first thought that often comes to your mind is a drywall primer.  Uncoated drywall needs a primer, even if you are using a brand advertised as a combination of primer and paint. Furthermore, always do your research on the type of primer you should use on both interiors and exteriors. The best exterior wood primers may not always be suitable for interior structures, regardless of what most reviews say. Choosing and applying a primer requires time, material, ability, and effort.

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