What kind of paint do you use on unfinished wood?


Paint quickly beautifies unfinished wood surfaces. You can transform your new kitchen cabinets, old furniture, or even the exterior of your home into a beautiful new surface.


However, painting raw wood does require a little bit of knowledge. For a long-lasting, beautiful paint job, you need to know the right type of paint to use and proper application techniques.


Considering painting your new unfinished wood kitchen cabinets? Before you begin, we want to warn you that this is no small task. Kitchen cabinets have a significant amount of detail, and the task is time-consuming even for professionals. If you want to be sure the task is done correctly the first time, then consider getting a quote from us (we love giving people free estimates as they consider making their home more beautiful!).


However, if you’re confident you’re ready to invest the hours into putting a fresh coat of paint on your new cabinets, keep reading to learn how. Also, know that the following advice applies to other raw wood applications, like furniture.


Best cabinet surfaces for painting


Good news: raw wood is one of the best surfaces for painting. Other great candidates include stained wood (without gloss) and painted wood (if the paint is still in good condition). Other surfaces, like glossy finishes, require some stripping and painting. They can be painted, but they require more work.


Raw wood, however, makes for an ideal painting surface. With minimal prep, raw wood is ready to receive paint and looks great for years to come.


How to prepare unfinished wood for paint

  • First, sand the surfaces. 


Start with a coarser grit and move to a finer grit. Unless the wood is very rough, start with 120-grit sandpaper and finish with 150-grit. Use a sanding block to sand corners and details. When you finish, vacuum the dust off the surface, then wipe the cabinets with a wet cloth. This guarantees the best possible finish.

  • Second, prime the surfaces. 


Using a primer is especially important for raw wood. Unpainted wood is porous; but primer seals the surfaces, helping later coats with coverage and adhesion. Do not rely on “primer and paint in one” labels. Purchase a dedicated primer designed for raw wood and apply it first.


When you pick your primer, be sure it works with the type of paint you plan to finish with. Some primers are designed for acrylic-latex paint while others are designed for oil paint. If you mix up the types of paint and primer, your paint will peel off within weeks.


What type of paint to use for unfinished wood


Again, be sure your paint matches your primer! If your primer is designed for oil-based paint, use that; if it’s designed for latex paint, use that.


Beyond that, we have a few more suggestions to give the best possible finish:

  • Invest in high-quality paint.


Kitchen cabinets require a lot of time, either from you or a professional. Not only that, but they receive a lot more wear and tear than your home’s walls. Don’t risk a paint job that will fail after a few years, costing you either a lot more time or a lot more money. Invest in a great, high-quality paint that will last for years to come. Cheap paint generally lasts half as long as the more expensive stuff. This is especially true with heavily used surfaces like cabinets.


One final reason to use high-quality paint: better coverage. Better coverage means fewer coats and a more attractive finish.

  • You can choose either oil-based or latex paint.


One more time: make sure it works with your primer! 


Historically, kitchen cabinets were painted with oil-based paint. However, manufacturers have improved water-based paints to the point that they work as well as any oil-based paint.


Water-based alkyd paints (like Benjamin Moore’s Advance Interior Paint1 or Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd paint2) have been designed for cabinets and trim-work and have the durability of oil-based paint. However, since they are water-based, you can clean up with water and don’t have to deal with the powerful smell of oil-based paints.

  • Go with a glossy finish.


You might like the look of a flat or matte finish. But, if you use it on a high-contact surface like a kitchen cabinet or wood furniture, you are asking for trouble. These finishes are more difficult to clean than glossy surfaces. You’ll regret choosing a matte finish the first time you accidentally dribble some spaghetti sauce down the front of your freshly painted cabinet door.


Not only are glossier surfaces easier to clean, but they are harder and more durable. They can take the scrapes and nicks that they often must endure from dropped silverware or accidentally slammed doors.


Go with one of the glossiest, hardest finishes available: semigloss, gloss, or satin.


Great paint: the secret to great cabinets


With great paint and proper preparation, your new cabinets will look great for years to come. Although painting cabinets is a huge task, with the right know-how and a lot of work, you can end up with a great product.


Remember, if you’re in our area, give us a call before you make the decision to tackle this yourself. We would love to give you a free estimate to help you make the best possible decision as you invest in your home.


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