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Painting Over Stained Wood is Easier Than You Think

By Edited Aug 17, 2016 3 2

Can You Paint Over Stained Wood?

One of the quickest and cheapest ways to totally change the look and décor of your home or space is with paint.  With just a few cans of paint and some labour you can change the look completely.

This is especially true when it comes to the kitchen cabinets.  Painting over stained wood or other wood finishes can be done and look amazing.  You just need to follow a few simple rules, allow some time and before you know it you will have a kitchen that looks new and fresh for a fraction of the cost or new trim or pieces of old wood furniture.

With the money you save on replacing kitchen cabinets you can upgrade the hardware and maybe even treat yourself to a new countertop.  You just need a few simple tools and products to get this process going.

Painting Stained Wood

The first thing you need to do is set up an area to work.  If you have a s

Painting over stained wood(138219)
eparate work shop or garage that would be great but if you simply have no work place then get yourself a large painter’s tarp and spread it on the floor of another room so you have a work space.

This process works for stained wood of all kinds whether you are painting your kitchen cabinets or painting a stained door or furniture it will be the same.  If you can take the piece apart or off the wall such as

painting stained wood
with cabinets then do so now.  Make sure you remember where they came from because if it was a custom kitchen at one time, some of the doors may not work on other spaces, so best to keep track.

Start with a good cleaner and some clean rags.  TSP is a good cleaner to prepare any surface for paint but you can get TSP alternatives that work just as well and are not as harsh especially if using it inside such as this water based formula called Krud Kutter.

KRUD KUTTER PC32 Prepaint Cleaner/TSP Substitute, 32-Ounce
Amazon Price: $8.99 $6.00 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 17, 2016)

Take off the knobs or pulls or any hardware that you can, and wearing rubber gloves to protect your skin, give the door or piece you are working on a really good clean.  You need to make sure that any waxes and dirt are off the surface.

Most stained wood has a protective layer on the surface such as varnish.  It may be shiny or it may be matt but you need to sand some of this off to get the primer a good grip.  With medium grit sandpaper give your door or piece a quick sanding.  You don’t need to get it all off; you simply want to knock that shine off which is done by taking a slight layer of the varnish off.

Take a damp clean cloth and wipe away any sanding dust completely.  This part is really important or you will end up with sanding bits in the grooves or on the surface and it will not look very professional.

Use a High Adhesion Primer for Painting over Stained Wood

Once you have your door cleaned, sanded and all dust gone, you are ready to paint

Painting over stained wood
with a good adhesion primer.  It has to be this type of primer because it is different from painting a wall or drywall, it needs to “become one” with the surface and create a good base for your final coat.

Tip:  If you are painting your cabinets or wood furniture a darker colour, then get the primer tinted a darker colour so that you don’t need as many finish coats to cover.  If you are painting them white or a light colour you will not need to tint.

Zinsser Primer is my favourite.  I have used this product to paint everything f

Painting over stained wood(138218)
rom cabinet doors to trim to old furniture and it stays on.  It will go onto glass and not chip off, so this is perfect to stop the wood stain from bleeding through on your finished product. 

This will seal the surface so that the stain will not show, and is a necessary step to painting over any stained wood.  By using this primer you will be able to finish your wood in acrylic water based paint or oil paint.

Rust-Oleum 2004 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 White Water-Based Interior/Exterior Primer Sealer, 1-Quart
Amazon Price: $7.41 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 17, 2016)
this is my favourite primer especially for stained or painted wood.

Make Sure the Primer is Dry

Make sure you follow the can directions for drying time.   You will most likely need two coats for this primer to do its job well.  Make sure it dries between coats.

Now it is time for your finishing paint.  This is not the time to cheap out on brushes.  You want a good quality angled brush, this works well in the crevices.  Don’t put the first coat on too thick or you may end up with runs.  If you can paint the piece flat on your tarp that would be best, otherwise watch for runs and drips.

Let the first coat dry well.  Follow the directions on the paint tin for your finishing colour.  Then follow with a second coat.  Let dry for a couple of days if you can before re-installing.

While your cabinet doors are drying in another room, you can start on the frame parts that will show.  If you want to go completely wild you can paint the interiors of your cabinets too, but usually you do all the pieces that show between the cabinets with the same steps as above. 

If you are painting furniture, you may have to do it in stages depending on drying time.

If your cabinets have hidden hinges, then you can simply re-install but if you prefer the idea of new hinges and new knobs or pulls then install them now for a fresh new look.  You can get all kinds of knobs and pulls in hardware stores but you can get a good assortment online.

Tip:  It is best if you pick the hardware ahead of time, because you may need to fill holes from the old hardware with wood filler before painting stained wood cabinets and installing new handles.

Now you are done.  If you clean the surface, knock down a bit of the shine, and clean again, then the high adhesion primer will take care of the rest.  Painting over stained wood doesn’t have to be difficult.  You don’t have to take your wood back down to bare or strip it, if it is clean and you use the right primer. 

If you like the idea of painting your furniture but would like to go with a different look then check out how to do shabby chic for a different style.

Amerock TEN26201G10 Essential'Z Pull Arch Center-to-Center, Satin Nickel, 3-Inch, 10-Pack
Amazon Price: $16.34 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 17, 2016)
you can get all kinds of beautiful hardware for your cabinets or even your wood furniture to completely update the look.


May 19, 2013 12:51pm
Hi Sookie, this is a great feature article. I have used "Bulls-eye" primer sealer and it is a really good product. I have been thinking about painting over a varnished door, so this gives me very good tips on how to do it. Thanks, and thumbs up!
Jun 5, 2013 12:00pm
Just hit the home page and saw your article. It came right in the nick of time. I have this buffet that I am planning to paint white or sort of a (as they say) chocolate color and was sure where to begin. Your article covers all the bases so I will definitely follow your tips and instructions to complete my project. I particularly like your tip on tinting the primer if using a dark colored paint. Nicely written.

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