How to Prime Plywood for Painting? How to Paint Plywood In 4 Simple Steps

Although applying a primer takes longer and costs more, it minimizes the chances of a rough finish and uneven appearance, leading to paint peeling and chipping. Thus, the process saves you from redoing the project sooner than intended.

Further, priming benefits all plywood grades, regardless of the number of knots. In addition, a higher-grade plywood surface has a smoother and even surface with fewer imperfections. Thus, you can get away with a lower-quality primer.

Generally, priming is recommended for all painting projects for guaranteed success and project durability. And since evading it is impossible, let us learn the nitty gritties of how to prime plywood for painting.

Begin by sanding and cleaning the surface to remove imperfections, such as dirt, dust, and uneven areas. Then, apply the primer in smooth, uniform strokes to prevent streaks and drips.

Cover the entire surface and inspect it for flaws to determine whether sanding is necessary before the next coat. But sand the plywood gently lest you ruin the wood veneers.

Also, read the primer directives to determine the best drying duration and how many layers to use.

Thankfully, plywood primer is easy to apply with a roller or paint brush, and you can tape its edges for a tidier application. Moreover, read the write-up below for more insight into the process and tricks guaranteeing a good finish.

What Is Wood Primer?

Wood primer is a preparation formula applied to the wood before painting. It helps the paint adhere better to the surface and protects it from UV damage and other elements. Hence, you remain with an intact finish for a long time.

Moreover, wood primer is easy-to-apply, fast-drying, and available in multiple colors to accommodate various paint jobs. As a result, the project takes less time while guaranteeing a satisfactory outcome.

Types of Primer

Below are the primary wood primer types, each suitable for particular circumstances and certain surfaces.

Oil-based primers. 

These wood primers are compatible with latex and oil paint, making them ideal for various surfaces. Besides, you can apply them on metals, wood, steel, and interior and exterior walls and expect a satisfactory outcome.

The formula is a perfect stain-blocker, preventing stains from showing through the paint coats. In addition, it seals porous wood surfaces and enables the paint to cover the lumber better.

Oil-based primers slow down or prevent paint cracking, blistering, and peeling. Thus, they maintain the paint job’s integrity and beauty.

However, the product is slow-drying and releases high VOCs, which harm people. In addition, they need harsh solvents and thinners to clean applicators, and you need to dispose them of carefully and correctly.

Latex-Based Primer

These primers are perfect for preparing unfinished drywall for painting. They smooth the wallboard’s surface, joint compounds, and patched areas.

Besides, the formula is fast-drying, flexible, and less brittle than its oil-based counterparts. As a result, it is less vulnerable to cracking and peeling.

In addition, latex-based primers are excellent for priming brick, concrete, galvanized metals, and softwood, such as pine. They also cover and seal minor stain imperfections from crayons, lipstick, and smoke.

The product is water-soluble and offers easy clean-up. Furthermore, it has low or no VOCs: thus, a healthier alternative to shellac and oil-based wood primers.

Shellac Primer

This primer is suitable for interior painting applications and is the best stain-blocking formula. Moreover, it works well on severe smoke and water damage on walls and wood surfaces.

Shellac primers prevent rust, smoke, and water stains from bleeding through the finish. They are also compatible with metal, wood, plaster, and plastic, delivering highly adhesive attributes.

In addition, the formula is fast drying and accommodates latex and oil-based paints. But it is not as versatile as the latter and produces more toxic fumes. Even worse, you need to use denatured oil for thinning and cleaning.

NB: Wood primers give the paint a better surface to adhere to and enhance the project’s durability. The product seems like an ‘extra step’ but saves time and money since it lessens the paint coats needed to deliver the desired finish.

Below are the primary uses of wood primers.

Uses of Primer

Some of the uses are:

  • Seal Raw Wood

Always prime raw lumber before painting. Otherwise, it soaks up more paint, leading to more required topcoats.

Also, primers have high-solids content, filling the wood grain and delivering a smooth surface for the paint. So, they are the perfect strategy to save paint, effort, time, and money.

However, use oil-based primers for Redwood and Cedar as they penetrate deeper into the lumber and prevent tannin stains.

  • Seal New Drywall

New drywall is absorbent, soaking up paint like a sponge. As a result, you use more paint than necessary.

Even worse, the finish lays unevenly on the surface, causing ‘flashing’ or an inconsistent appearance.

Nevertheless, wood primers seal the porous surface and deliver a smoother substrate. Hence, you get an improved overall paint appearance and superior durability.

  • Block Stains From Bleeding Through Surfaces

Stains from fire, water damage, pets, and smoke are extremely challenging to clean up. Even worse, they bleed through new paint coats, compromising the final finish.

But there is hope! High-quality wood primers block stains and tannins from bleeding through lumber. They also remove smoke odors, leaving the project feeling fresh and new.

  • Making Color Changes

A wood primer is necessary for significant color changes within a reasonable duration. For instance, the formula hides darker lumber before applying a lighter paint coat.

Likewise, the primer helps you get a rich, darker color when painting over light wood. Tinting the primer at 50% of your desired hue is also possible. This way, you get the desired hue in fewer paint coats.

Just like all products, the wood primer has its advantages and disadvantages. Check them out for informed decision-making.

Pros of Wood Primer

  • Smooths the Surface for Painting

Primer coats level the surface to deliver a more consistent, smooth paint finish. Otherwise, unfinished wood surfaces absorb the paint unevenly, creating a blotchy and sub-par outcome.

But first, sand the glossy surface to enhance the primer’s adhesion. In addition, clean the wood thoroughly to remove imperfections that hinder a flawless finish.

The exercise also ensures the lumber is friendly to the paint and the primer.

  • Eliminates Wood Flaws and Covers Stains and Grains

The primer’s overall ability to hide various blemishes is the most essential characteristic. Further, you only need a few primer coats to conceal these imperfections and get a flawless paint finish.

Nevertheless, you do not simply toss some primer and paint on the workpiece and expect a professional outcome. Instead, take considerable caution and minimize mistakes that leave marks, blotches, and stains.

  • Affordable

Wood primer is less pricey than paint, allowing you to use fewer paint coats while ensuring a long-lasting finish. Also, the formula fills in porous surfaces and reduces the paint needed.

Otherwise, painting unfinished wood without priming requires more paint as the surface absorbs more formula. Worse still, you’ll get an inconsistent and uneven finish.

Cons of Wood Primer

  • Easy to Make Mistakes

Priming wood before painting is an added process to the project, making it more complex. As a result, you are prone to making more errors.

Further, although you can cover primer mistakes with paint, some can lead to issues in the final finish.

  • More Time-Consuming

Painting wood, especially large workpieces, takes time. Besides, adding priming to the equation lengthens the project work time. Thus, you must allocate sufficient time to the work and exercise patience.

What Is Wood Painting?

Lumber painting involves applying a topcoat on wood to protect it from water, UV rays, and extreme weather conditions. Moreover, it decorates wood pieces to match or complement your style.

The topcoat used here is paint, consisting of a pigment and binder carried in a solvent. Further, the solvent evaporates after painting, leaving the pigment and binder as the protective film.

We have several paints to use for wood, including water-based and oil-based paints. Water-based formulas are eco-friendly, quick drying, and affordable, whereas their counterparts deliver better protection.

Unfortunately, oil-based paints are slow-drying and produce high VOC emissions, harming people and animals.

Painters paint wood for various reasons. For example, some do it to protect the surface from elements, while others for decoration. Also, sometimes people paint old lumber to revive it for personal use or sale.

But before painting, clean and prime the wood to ensure the project looks good and lasts longer. Further, replace rotted lumber pieces and repair minor damages when working with older workpieces.

Knowing the benefits and drawbacks of painting wood helps determine whether it is the best strategy for your project needs. They are as follows.

Pros Painting Wood

They are:

  • Painting Lengthens the Lumber’s Life

Generally, quality wood structures last at least 20 years. Even better, this timeline does not shift if you keep the workpiece in calm surroundings and commit to regular maintenance.

Moreover, you add 15 more years to the workpiece with paint as it extends the wood’s value duration. But ensure that you prepare the surface well and use the correct products.

  • Paint Gives You Variety.

Painting wood gives you an endless color and sheens list at your disposal. In addition, you can choose from mixed tints and shades or current color choices to create new ones. This way, the project meets your style preferences.

Thanks to tinted paint, you can cover wood flaws. For example, painting is the best option for wood with stubborn stains.

Also, you do not have to worry about imperfection showing through the paint film with a stain blocker primer.

  • Painting Preserves Workpiece’s Structural Integrity

Mold and mildew growth is expected with bare wood. Furthermore, these organisms eat away the wood without proper protection, causing rot. As a result, they compromise the lumber’s overall integrity.

Fortunately, paint film hinders agents encouraging wood rot from contacting the workpiece. Thus, you guarantee its durability and beauty.

  • Painted Wood Is Easy to Maintain

Paint is more durable than other lumber coatings. Hence, the surface does not need frequent repainting to maintain its lovely look.

Also, although retouching old paint is inevitable, you’ll only do it every five to ten years. Just follow the recommended wood painting process.

Finally, painted wood is easier to clean. You only need a damp towel and Trisodium Phosphate when removing stubborn grease stains.

Cons of Painting Wood

  • Paint Wood Hides Its Beauty

Paint is often opaque, forming a film over the surface instead of penetrating the wood fibers. Besides, though it shields the wood from the elements, it hides the surface’s natural beauty.

Therefore, you need an alternative coating if you prefer the lumber’s natural texture and appearance.

  • Painted Wood Is Harder to Touch Up

Paint films eventually deteriorate despite delivering a flawless finish. Furthermore, high-traffic areas, such as kitchens and children’s bedrooms, need frequent touch-ups.

Color matching is also a primary drawback during these remodels. You’ll have to get the same paint shade and brand to compliment the finish. Otherwise, without the exact hue, the touch-up stands out more than the flaw being removed.

  • Painting Lumber Is Time-Consuming

The painting process involves repairing damaged wood, cleaning it, applying the primer, and painting. Hence, you need more time to deliver a satisfactory outcome.

Besides, though the process has only a few steps, each needs precision and accuracy to deliver a durable finish.

Allowing the paint and primer to dry correctly is prudent. Otherwise, painting over a damp coat cause bubbling and peeling.

  • Painting Workpieces Is More Pricey

Believe it or not, painting wood requires skill for correct execution. Therefore, you need to contact a professional painter for extensive projects.

But these laborers charge by the project’s size or hour. And either way, you’ll spend money to get the desired outcome.

Finally, you can do a DIY job but cannot guarantee an expert finish, especially if you are a painting newbie.

What Is Plywood?

This material is an engineered wood sheet comprising thin strands or delicate layers of wood veneers. Further, these pieces are attached, placing lumber grains 90 degrees to one another.

Plywood is a manufactured board type described as a Particle Board and Medium Density Fibreboard mixture. It is also a complex material attaching resin and wood fiber sheets.

The material is famous among woodworkers thanks to its low moisture content, making it ideal for various tasks. Even better, it delivers incredible results for interior and exterior applications.

A typical plywood panel features face veneers with a higher grade than the core ones. These core layers increase the gap between outer layers at high-bending stress areas, thus improving resistance.

We have multiple plywood types available. Check out the summary below to determine the best for your work.

  • Softwood Plywood. This material originates from softwood, such as Pine, Spruce, Poplar, and Cedar. It has maximum durability, moisture resistance, and bending strength.
  • Hardwood Plywood. This lumber type comes from hardwood, such as Teak, Eucalyptus, and Gurjan, making it heavier, stronger, and denser. In addition, we have alternate plywood from a 50-50 combination of Poplar and Eucalyptus wood.
  • Marine Plywood. Interestingly, this plywood type does not fail with prolonged water exposure. It undergoes treatment and bonds with marine-grade BWP resin: thus, enduring extreme weather conditions and alternate drying and wetting.

We see various plywood uses in our everyday life. Here are the common ones among woodworkers and painters.

  • Roofing and Flooring. Most people use plywood for roofing and flooring due to its impressive strength-to-weight ratio, water resistance, and durability. It is also easy to install, making it suitable for DIYers and professional contractors.
  • Furniture. Depending on your preferred style, plywood creates excellent furniture. Moreover, you can use it for interior and exterior furniture while delivering a rustic and modern appearance.
  • Cabinets. Plywood pieces create multi-purpose cabinets; you can easily cut and assemble them using tools. In addition, it is affordable and easily stained or painted to match or complement the room’s decor.
  • Exterior Wall Sheathing. The material delivers a sturdy and durable base for brick and siding. It also comes in various thicknesses to accommodate different applications.
  • Interior Walls. Plywood’s strength supports a lot of weight, making it suitable for hung items such as heavy pictures and shelves. Furthermore, it is moisture resistant, accommodating areas of high humidity and dampness, like kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Ship Construction Material. Plywood’s user-friendly, lightweight, and sturdy nature makes it perfect for shipbuilding. However, it is not as durable and is vulnerable to insect damage and rot.
  • Construction Material. Generally, plywood is a construction material from thin wood veneer sheets. Further, it is an affordable option for solid wood boards and works for multiple applications such as walls, roofs, and floors.
  • DIY Projects. Plywood is perfect for DIYers, as it is sturdy yet lightweight and user-friendly. However, wear proper safety gear to protect yourself from splinters and wood dust during cutting, drilling, and shaping.
  • Space Shipping and Aviation. The material is lightweight and robust, accommodating space shipping and aviation applications. Moreover, it is moisture-resistant and cleans up easily.

Plywood is handy in everyday life due to its versatile benefits. However, it has drawbacks that require you to examine its suitability for your work.

Pros of Plywood

  • Incredibly Strong

Despite plywood not being sturdy as natural and solid lumber, it is stronger than other engineered wood types. Furthermore, it gets a cross-grain pattern during manufacturing, making it more robust than Medium Density Fiberboard.

  • Can be Bent

Plywood is very flexible and easy to bend into various shapes. Thus, you can comfortably use it for guitars, skateboard ramps, and other thin wooden items with bends and curves.

  • Relatively Lightweight

Although plywood is not the lightest building material in woodworking, it is lighter than natural and solid wood. As a result, the material is ideal for building materials and portable workpieces.

  • Available in Multiple Sizes and Thicknesses

Plywood comes in three to 21 layers, meaning you can find a piece as thin as a quarter inch or less and as thick as one and a half inches or more. Besides, it comes in small boards and huge planks, making it versatile for small and extensive applications.

  • Comes in Different Types for Different Uses

You’ll find exterior, interior, marine, hardwood, softwood, and structural plywood versions. Moreover, it comes in various grades, with A as the highest and D as the lowest.

So, you’re spoilt for choice regardless of your project specifications.

  • Holds Nails and Screws Well

Thanks to plywood’s cross-grain pattern, it holds fasteners securely. Besides, the wood’s layers feature a 90 degrees orientation that wedges nails and screws in place, making it a preferred building material.

  • Resists Warping

Plywood consists of natural wood, glue, and a cross-grain pattern that makes it bend- and warp-resistant. Moreover, it remains flat and uniform even in extreme environmental conditions.

  • Relatively Inexpensive

Although higher grades from more specialized wood types are expensive, plywood is more affordable than natural wood.

Cons of Plywood

  • Vulnerable to Moisture

Unfortunately, most plywood types are not moisture-resistant and fail with prolonged exposure. They absorb moisture over time and eventually get weaker.

Further, the glue becomes undone at the edges, making the material soft and mushy.

Thus, get suitable plywood and waterproof it if you install it in high-moisture regions.

  • Challenging to Sand and Paint

Generally, plywood is rough, requiring more effort during sanding and painting. The material chips, splinters during sanding, and the paint layers do not look flat or uniform.

  • Unsuitable for Surface Use

Plywood’s rough appearance makes it ill-suited for surface work. Moreover, it does not look appealing, which is problematic when targeting an aesthetically pleasing project.

  • Difficult to Saw

Sawing the material is challenging as the veneer layers may splinter, creating rough edges. But you can maneuver the project with the correct saw blade and technique.

  • Releases VOCs

Lastly, plywood releases volatile organic compounds that are unsafe and harm human health. Further, it is problematic during construction processes involving cutting and installing plywood.

How to Prime Plywood for Painting

Priming plywood involves cleaning the surface and applying the primer. Also, give the project another once over when you doubt whether it’s clean.

However, avoid leaning in too hard lest you damage the freshly sanded joint compound.

Below is a step-by-step procedure to guide you.

Step One: Prepare the Plywood

  • Mask off Surrounding Areas

Cover areas that could accidentally get primer, paint, or dust. Moreover, you can use a combination of plastic sheeting, drop cloths, and painter’s tape.

For example, use plastic sheeting when considering the spraying technique or painter’s tape for small areas.

  • Fill Gaps and Holes

Examine the plywood for gaps and holes and fill them. Otherwise, they compromise the final finish. In addition, these blemishes may not show up on the unpainted surface but are noticeable after painting.

Most products require putty knife application and sufficient drying before sanding. But check out the manufacturer’s directives on the wood label.

  • Sand the Surface

Start with rougher paper, say 100-grit, for rough plywood to break down significant blemishes. Then, change to fine grit, say 180-220, to deliver the smoothest finish possible.

Remember, plywood consists of multiple thin wood layers, making it possible to sand too hard and break through to a lower layer. Thus, use caution during sanding by rubbing the surface lightly and patiently.

  • Clean the Plywood

Use a dry microfiber cloth to remove sawdust. Otherwise, these particles will deliver a rough finish.

These tack clothes are available in most paint and home improvement stores.

Step Two: Prime the Plywood

  • Apply the Primer to the Edges

Use a paintbrush for floors and areas needing detailed work on the edges. The accessory gives you more control than a sprayer or a roller. Also, you can tape off the plywood’s edges to ensure the work is tidy.

Prime a three to four inches border along the edges to deliver plenty of clearance when you come with the sprayer or roller.

  • Use Smooth, Overlapping Strokes

Priming plywood seals the surface to facilitate perfect paint adherence. Hence, cover the entire area and ensure complete coverage.

Fortunately, long, uniform, and overlapping movements deliver an effortless application. In addition, you can make a “W” with the roller, brush, or sprayer to even out the strokes.

  • Apply Two Coats

Generally, aim for two primer coats, allowing four to six hours of drying time. Also, sand the surface lightly after each layer to prevent dust and other particles from contaminating the surface.

How to Paint Plywood

Painting plywood with little know-how is possible if you adhere to the recommended procedure. Besides, the process is similar to painting any wood type.

You need the correct tools, proper surface preparation, and priming to deliver a durable and beautiful finish.

The above section captures in-depth how to prepare plywood and prime it for a professional finish. So, let’s dive into the painting process.

  • Cut In With the Paint

Paint the plywood’s edges as you did with the primer before applying the general paint coat. In addition, take your time and determine the desired detail before using a roller, sprayer, or paintbrush.

  • Apply the First Paint Coat

Cover the entire surface with a thin, consistent paint layer. And do not worry about seeing the primer underneath, especially if you have subsequent paint coats.

Also, apply the formula in uniform and overlapping motions to guarantee a uniform coat.

  • Sand Between Coats

Lightly sand between the paint coats to guarantee a smooth finish. Use 180 or 220 fine-grit paper to ensure the surface is dry. This way, you remove imperfections that occurred during painting.

Clean the surface with a dry cloth or vacuum cleaner to remove sanding dust. Then, proceed to the next step.

  • Apply Additional Paint Coats 

Add more coats to deliver a sturdy and durable surface, especially if it experiences more human traffic. But let them dry thoroughly.

Also, consult the product manual for recommended drying times and test an inconspicuous plywood edge for dryness.

Finally, applying thin multiple paint coats allows each to harden and dry, unlike thick ones that remain slightly pliable.

Here’s How to Paint Plywood:

What Are Some Tips for Painting Plywood?

Fortunately, painting plywood is a straightforward project if you adhere to proper directives. Also, remember that a few things can go wrong, inevitably delivering a poorly painted surface.

Therefore, you need patience as sometimes you need several paint coats that must dry before sanding. In addition, clean the surface before applying the formula for a flawless finish.

Below is a summary of what to look out for!

  • Preparing the surface is a primary rule when painting plywood. Avoid skipping steps or doing a half job as it makes it more challenging in the long run.
  • Evaluate the plywood sheets when purchasing the material. Always check the edges for holes and gaps.
  • Get high-grade and good-quality plywood for the best outcome.
  • You can tint the primer to match or compliment the paint color to save paint, especially for larger workpieces. But this aspect only works best for interior projects.
  • Avoid plywood for flooring or surfaces with high traffic flow and moisture.
  • Work in a well-ventilated space and choose formulas with fewer volatile organic compounds and a low odor.
  • Use a single-edge razor to eliminate drips and paint lines.
  • Use an oil-based primer on the material to prevent swelling and creating a bumpy surface.
  • Get a stain-blocking primer for low-grade plywood since it has multiple knots and seeping resins.
  • Apply the paint using high-quality rollers and paintbrushes lest they fall apart or shed bristles.
  • Lastly, read and follow the product label on drying times and application techniques for a successful result.

How Do You Seal Plywood Edges Before Painting?

Plywood’s rough exposed edges are often aesthetically desirable. So, check out easy, straightforward ways to conceal them before painting.

  • Apply Wood Filler

Generally, wood filler is an obvious way to cover plywood edges. It creates a solid surface and allows sanding to smoothen the roughness.

Furthermore, this strategy is affordable and friendly to DIYers.

  • Attach a Face Board

The other way to conceal plywood’s edges is to cover it with a solid board. For instance, you can use pocket holes to attach a 1×2 to the piece’s front edge. Then, fill and sand the joint smoothly.

  • Apply Edge Banding

Apply a thin adhesive veneer stip called edge banding. Moreover, it is available in multiple wood species to match the plywood and goes on effortlessly with a household iron. But do not use the iron on your clothes as the excess adhesive may ruin them.

Also, use a block plane, a utility knife, or a specialty-trimming tool on the edges. Then, sand the surface for a professional outcome.

How Many Coats of Primer Do I Need for Bare Plywood?

You need two oil-based primer coats for bare plywood. The higher solid content fills the wood pores, leveling the surface and masking knots.

However, avoid over or underapplying the formula. Only aim for two coats, allowing each to dry before adding the next.

NB: Most painters try to skip using a primer on plywood to save money and labor. But they do not realize they are depriving the project of quality and beauty.

Furthermore, a suitable primer delivers a successful finish, making it an all-important step in any painting venture.

Do You Have to Sand Plywood Before Priming?

Sanding plywood before priming is mandatory to deliver a smooth, consistent finish. A 120-180 grit paper or an orbit sander works efficiently.

But remember, plywood comes in multiple grades: thus, the sanding level depends on your specific grade.

For instance, grade AB plywood is high quality and offers consistent color and fewer knots. Therefore, it does not need much sanding.

On the other hand, grade BB has holes and knots needing filling. Hence, you need more sanding to guarantee a smooth finish.

So, always check the plywood’s grade and surface during purchase and choose the best sanding paper.

What Grit Sand Paper On Plywood?

Generally, 180-grit sandpaper works best on plywood. Stroke it over the surface three to four times in the wood grain direction. However, do it moderately, as further sanding creates more grooves and causes the wood veneers to peel.

You can also use 200-grit sandpaper to smoothen the lines created by the 180-grit. Follow the wood grain with three to four strokes and wipe the surface.


Painted plywood looks excellent regardless of whether you are creating a new furniture piece or decorative item from scratch. Besides, you can paint extensive plywood projects, such as kitchen cabinets and floors.

However, delivering a perfect paint job depends on the work tools, surface preparation, priming, and application techniques.

Priming is a make-or-break for plywood painting applications as it improves paint adhesion.

Luckily, the process is straightforward, as illustrated in the write-up above. Hence, refer to it for your next plywood project.

How to Prime Plywood for Painting

Always ensure that you prime clean plywood. Otherwise, dirt and debris will compromise its adhesion. In addition, use a paintbrush to cover corners and detailed patterns and a roller for extensive workpieces.

You can also use quality acrylic latex paint that is a primer and paint-in-one. It saves you the hassle of getting a separate primer and guarantees a successful finish.

Though oil-based and enamel paints work well with a separate primer, consider your project supplies and requirements for the best action.