The Best Primer for Wood Furniture

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Learn more about the best primer for wood furniture.

Primer is very important when painting furniture. It helps to make dark furniture lighter, as well as helping the paint stick to slick surfaces.

the best primer for wood furniture

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Priming Furniture FAQ’s

What Does a Paint Primer Do?

Paint primer has a few functions. It seals raw wood so the paint doesn’t soak in too much (which alters the way the paint looks). It can also be used to seal repairs, such as Bondo or wood filler.

I like to use primer to easily cover dark paint or stain. Painting a few coats of primer is the best way to paint dark furniture white faster.

Primer is also good for making paint adhere better, which is especially important on surfaces that get a lot of use or are tricky to paint to begin with.

Can I Use Paint as Primer?

No. Paint doesn’t have the same qualities as primer that make it so useful. Primer usually adheres to wood better than paint.

Plus, primer is generally cheaper than paint, so for pieces that need several coats of paint to make it lighter, primer ends up being much cheaper.

Do I Need to Prime Before Painting Furniture?

It depends on your goals and how the furniture will be used. In general, I prime pieces that need to go white (or a lighter color) and pieces that get a lot of use.

The Best Primer for Wood Furniture

Since I paint a lot of furniture, I have 2 favorite primers, but they both have different purposes.

Zinsser 123

Zinsser 123 primer is a general purpose primer. It is the best primer for covering dark stain or paint on furniture quickly. If you want it to cover even better, use a paint sprayer.

primed cabinet
Priming this piece made painting it white so much easier!

I also like this stain for sealing raw wood or repairs.

It also comes in gray, which is perfect for painting before red or other dark colors.

We buy it in a 5 gallon bucket because it’s also perfect for painting walls. Primer is used on walls when you drastically change colors, like painting over a dark paint color.

It is also used to seal repairs from spackle that cause the paint to soak in unevenly and look funny.

Pro tip: Buy a small empty paint can to decant primer into the 5-gallon bucket. It’s much easier to use from a small can and it’s the perfect size for furniture.

The store-bought paint cans are not as high quality as the ones that paint comes in, so be careful opening and closing the lids. The rims can and will bend.

123 Primer can be cleaned with water, but I do find that it’s harder to wash out of a brush than paint. Consider using a brush cleaner soap.

Zinsser BIN

Zinsser BIN is my favorite primer for making paint adhere to pieces of furniture that get high usage or are tricky to paint. For instance, I used this paint on the top of my desk to get the paint to stick better.

I have also used this paint on IKEA furniture, which is known to be difficult to paint because it typically has a melamine surface.

Zinsser BIN is also great for sealing wood that has a tendency to bleed under white paint, such as cherry or pine.

dresser partially primed
This ombre dresser wanted to bleed through the white and light paint, so I primed the top part with BIN.

BIN is shellac-based so it has to be cleaned up with ammonia. I find it easiest to use a cheap chip brush and then let it soak in a cup of ammonia for a few hours before rinsing the brush out.

Do not use your expensive paintbrushes with this primer or you will be very sad.

Honorable Mention: Shellac

Shellac isn’t really a primer, but it does seal furniture. It’s great for sealing furniture than bleeds (pine and cherry) when you don’t want to paint a piece white. It also seals in odors.

Shellac also seals Bondo and other wood fillers.

Make sure you buy clear shellac for best results.

Brush on 1-2 coats and do not sand the surface. It looks like it needs to be sanded because it’s shiny, but sanding will break the seal and allow the tannins from the wood to bleed through.

Clean-up is the same as BIN. Use a cheap chip brush and soak it in ammonia before rinsing with water.

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the best primer for wood furniture

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One Comment

  1. You might try two really effective soaps, both for cleaning dirty furniture: Zote soap is made with lard. Comes in a white bar or a pink bar. Also, in flakes. It works good for cleaning brushes, too.
    Murphy’ Oil soap is good, but not as strong as Zote. I prefer Zote for hard dirt, like around knobs and kitchen cabinets.
    Learn this from my Prof in U. Mich. when I took ‘Painting For The Theater, 20 yrs. ago. That woman knew her way around manipulating paint Techniques.

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