Different Types of Paints to Use on Wood (With Examples)

With several types and brands of paints out there, it becomes tricky to know which one to go for when you want to finish your wood furniture, door, table, trim, or fence.

But not to worry. Today, we are going to look at different types of paints and see the best ones to use on different wood items. Let’s dive in.

Does Painting Wood Damage It?

Painting wood doesn’t damage it as long as you use paint that is designed for wood. Paints designed to be used on wood items contain no chemicals that can damage wood so such paints are safe to use on wood.

A few coats of paint on wood will protect the wood from scratch marks, dents, and moisture. The only case where a paint will damage wood is if you use the wrong type of paint or you paint over rotten wood.

Not all types of paints can be used on wood. For instance, paints like Rust-Oleum spray paint and Krylon color shouldn’t be used on wood because these paints are designed for metal surfaces. If you use such paint on wood, the additives can discolor or stain the wood. So only use wood paints on wood.

Next, let’s check out the best types of paints for wood.

Different Types Of Paints For Wood

Different Types Of Paints For Wood

Here are some of the best types of paints to use on wood:

Oil-Based Paints

Oil-based paints are made from the same compounds as other types of paints. But, the difference is that oil-based paints are dissolved in oily solvents, usually linseed oil.

Oil-based paint is fairly easy to apply to wood and it offers good coverage with few coats. Oil-based paints are mostly used on wood for protection and durability. The paint is common on wood that sees high traffic like stairs, countertops, and floors.

Since the paint is dissolved in oils, it has a thicker flow than other paints. The thicker film of oil-based paints makes the finish withstand wear and tear and last longer on wood. You should know that most oil-based paints give a glossy finish when dry due to the high sheen levels in the paint formula.

Pros of Using Oil-Based Paint On Wood

Here are the perks you’ll enjoy from putting an oil-based paint on your wood:

  1. Oil-based paints last long on wood.
  2. Oil-based paints give good coverage so you don’t need many coats.
  3. The paint is water-resistant when dry.
  4. Oil-based paints offer good wood protection.
  5. Oil-based finishes are smooth.

Cons of Using Oil-Based Paint On Wood

Here are some reasons you may not want to use oil-based paints on wood:

  1. Oil-based paints take a long time to fully dry
  2. Oil-based paints tend to yellow after a few months
  3. The paint isn’t compatible with other types of paints so you can’t mix
  4. Oil-based paints have a high level of solvents and additives making the paint slightly toxic
  5. Oil-based paints have a strong smell

The high-gloss finish common with most oil-based paints can be a pro or a con of the paint depending on your needs.

Water-Based Paints

Water-based paints are made from paint pigments, binders, and other additives. The difference between water-based paints and other paints is that water-based paint is dissolved in water.

This gives the paint a thin flow. Water-based paints are very easy to apply on wood and you can do this using any application method including paint sprayers.

There are several types of water-based paints for wood such as latex, chalk, milk, and eggshell.  However, one thing common amongst all types of water-based paints is that they are all used to beautify wood. Water-based paints have a high level of pigments or color giving the paint a beautiful finish on wood.

Pros of Using Water-Based Paint On Wood

Here are the perks you’ll enjoy from having a water-based paint on your wood:

  1. Water-based paints are easy to apply.
  2. Water-based paints can be mixed with other paints to tint the paint or to produce a particular shade.
  3. Water-based paints help to give wood color and beauty.
  4. Water-based paints dry quickly.
  5. The paint is affordable and comes in different colors and sheen levels.
  6. Water-based paint finishes are easy to wipe, clean, and maintain.

Cons of Using Water-Based Paint On Wood

Here are some reasons you may not want to use water-based paints on wood:

  1. Water-based paint finishes are usually fragile and can be damaged easily.
  2. Water-based paints are not very durable.
  3. A water-based paint finish isn’t waterproof and can be easily affected by moisture.
  4. Water-based paints are not weather-friendly and as such not recommended for outdoor wood.


Varnish is a paint/sealant commonly used on wood. The paint is solvent-based and it dries and evaporates to reveal a glossy, hard, and transparent film on the wood. When the finish dries, it reveals the wood grain or existing finish on the wood.

Most people use varnish after staining or painting the wood but the finish can also be used on bare wood. Different types of varnishes can be used on wood but the purpose of varnishing wood is to protect the wood from scratches and dents.

Pros of Using Varnish On Wood

Here are the perks of having varnish on your wood surface:

  1. Varnish is waterproof.
  2. Varnish gives a natural finish on wood since the wood grain and texture is highlighted by the varnish.
  3. Varnish can be used on detailed woodwork to highlight the wood grain.
  4. Varnish can be used on both finished and unfinished wood.
  5. You can tint clear varnish with any water-based color to create a colorful varnish finish on the wood.
  6. Varnish is durable and it withstands wear and tears brilliantly.
  7. Cleaning and maintenance are easy with varnish since stains hardly stick.

Cons of Using Varnish On Wood

Here are some reasons you may not want to use varnish on wood

  1. Varnish takes days to fully cure.
  2. Varnish takes some level of difficulty to be applied.
  3. Varnish tends to produce yellow or amber tints on wood after some time.
  4. Varnish doesn’t cover imperfections in wood – Instead, it highlights and reveals them.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint commonly referred to as artist’s paint is another common option for wood. Acrylic paint is water-based which means that it dries quickly and is easy to apply on wood.

Over 60% of acrylic paint volume is filled with pigments or colors which makes the finish very colorful. Acrylic paint is common on wooden walls and the paint is used to create artwork, murals, and designs.

The best part with acrylic paints is that you can mix the paint with other water-based paints to create unique colors and shades. However, you should know that you’ll need many coats of acrylic paint for proper coverage – This is because the paint is thin.

Pros of Using Acrylic Paint On Wood

Here are the perks you’ll enjoy from having acrylic paint on your wood:

  1. Acrylic paint makes a wood item look better and more attractive.
  2. Acrylic paint dries fast and multiple coats can be applied quickly.
  3. Acrylic paint is easy to apply.
  4. Acrylic paints are non-toxic.
  5. The paint is affordable.

Cons of Using Acrylic Paint On Wood

Here are some reasons you may not want to use acrylic paint on wood:

  1. Acrylic paint is not durable and would need a top coat to last long.
  2. Acrylic paints have poor waterproofing.
  3. Acrylic paints have poor wood protection.
  4. You need multiple coats of acrylic paint for good coverage.

Next, let’s check out different wood items and surfaces to see the best types of paint to use.

Type of Paints To Use For Different Wooden Surfaces

Wood Furniture

The best type of paint to use on wood furniture is latex paint. This is because wood furniture isn’t frequently used. Acrylic paint is a very close second. You should go for a semi-gloss finish with either paint.

Since the wood furniture wouldn’t see constant use, the latex finish would be strong enough to protect it. However, if the furniture will see frequent use, you would need a tougher paint than latex or acrylic paint.

Wood Trim

The best type of paint for wood trim is semi-gloss enamel paint. The semi-gloss finish of the enamel paint will prevent dust and debris from accumulating on the wood trim. The enamel paint is also oil-based and durable enough to withstand wear and tear so the wood trim would be protected.

Wood trims are commonly used in high-traffic areas of the home. Whether you installed the wood trim on your floor, stairs, or door frames, one thing is sure – The wood trim will see frequent traffic and dust.

As such, you need a paint strong enough to withstand the traffic and also glossy enough to resist the stains and dirt. Enamel paint will do fine in this case.

Wood Doors

The best paint for wood doors inside the home is latex paint. But, for front doors and exterior doors (doors outside the home), you should use exterior enamel paint.

You can use latex paint for doors inside the home because the door will not be exposed to the elements. But, for exterior doors that will be exposed to UV rays, heat, dust, and moisture, you’ll need a durable and weather-friendly paint like exterior enamel paint.

Wood Floors

The best type of paint for wood floors is high-gloss acrylic enamel paint. This paint is a combination of acrylic paint beauty and enamel paint protection which is very much needed since you are painting a wood surface (or wood floor) that will see high traffic. You can also use varnish on wood floors.

When you want to paint a wood floor, you need the most durable paint that you can find. This is because the wood floor will see high traffic, dust, filth, and furniture weight.

As such, you need paint that can withstand the traffic that the floor will be made to support. The best paint for this is varnish but the transparent shade doesn’t appeal to all homeowners. So, if you want a colored finish, you can go for high-gloss acrylic enamel paint.

Wood Table

For wood tables, you can use any water-based paint including chalk and latex but you’ll need to seal the finish with varnish to make it last longer.

Tabletops, tables, and desks are not high-traffic areas. These surfaces don’t carry much weight either so you don’t need a strong finish on the table.

What you need is a durable finish that can withstand the pencil scratches and dents that the table will see. A water-based paint with a varnish top coat is good enough.

Wood Fence

For wood fences, you need exterior varnish paint. This is because exterior varnish is strong and always reinforced with additives like UV blockers that make the paint weather friendly.

Using exterior varnish on a wood fence will protect the wood fence from damage because the paint is strong, durable, and weather-resistant. Other types of paints especially water-based paints will not last more than 6 months on a wood fence.

Wood Cabinets

You can apply any water-based or oil-based paint on wood cabinets. But, the paint should have a semi-gloss finish to protect the paint from stains and grease.

Wood cabinets don’t see a lot of traffic, use, or moisture. As such, any wood paint can go over the cabinet. It all depends on your taste and needs. However, whichever paint you use has to have a semi-gloss finish to protect the wood from greasy hands and stains.

Unfinished Wood

For unfinished indoor wood, you can use water-based paint like acrylic or latex. For outdoor unfinished wood, you need an oil-based paint or varnish to protect the wood from the harsh exterior environment.

You should know that unfinished wood should be sanded and primed if necessary, before painting.

Pressure Treated Wood

The best paint for pressure-treated wood is exterior varnish. This is because you need to protect the wood from every factor that can cause it to get damaged and the best paint to do that is exterior varnish.

Pressure-treated wood contains several additives, solvents, and compounds used to give the wood special qualities. If the wood isn’t fully protected especially from UV rays, then the additives in the pressure-treated wood can react and go bad.

Laminate Wood

The best type of paint on laminate wood is water-based or latex paint due to its smooth texture and because latex paint will stick to just about any type of wood.

You should know that laminate wood is not 100% wood. The wood contains synthetic materials like plastics and wood fibers which are used to create a wood-like appearance. So, you need paint that can stick to synthetic materials and latex paint would do that.

Pro-Tips For Painting Wood

Here are expert tips to follow before, during, and after painting wood:

  1. Always wipe and clean the wood before painting
  2. Ensure to sand down unfinished wood with medium and fine-grit sandpaper before painting. This smoothens the wood so the finish can be smooth
  3. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  4. Let each coat of paint dry enough before laying another coat
  5. Use the right type of paint for the wood
  6. Use varnish on high-traffic areas like stairs and floors since it is durable
  7. When painting, it’s advised to do so in the direction of the wood grain and not against it.

Final Words

In summary, painting wood is a great way to beautify and improve the durability of any wood item but you should always use the right type of paint for the wood.

Also, ensure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when painting to prevent mistakes and errors. Remember to use water-based paints in low-traffic areas and oil-based paints in high-traffic areas for protection. Finally, you should follow the pro tips discussed in this article while painting wood.

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