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

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

There are several types and brands you can use on your wooden surfaces. But, which one will offer the best protection and appearance? Let’s see.

Paint Doesn’t Damage Wood

Painting doesn’t damage wood as long as you use the right type. Wood is a porous surface that allows liquid to penetrate its pores. Paint is a penetrating finish that needs to penetrate a surface to stick. So, they are compatible. A few coats of paint will protect wooden surfaces from scratches, dents, and moisture.

However, not all types of paints can be used on wood. For instance, Rust-Oleum spray paint or Krylon color are made for metal surfaces and have extra additives than normal paint. If you use those paints on wood, the extra additives can discolor or stain it.

Different Types Of Paints For Wood

Different Types Of Paints For Wood

Oil-Based Paints

Oil-based paints are made from the same additives/compounds as other paints. But, the paint is dissolved in oily solvents, usually linseed oil.

The difference in solvent gives the paint a longer dry time and a different type of finish. Oil-based paint has a glossy finish and dries slower because oil evaporates slowly. Since the paint dries slower, the particles have more time to harden, making the finish more durable.

This paint is easy to apply and offers good coverage with a few coats. It’s mostly used for protection and durability but also for aesthetic purposes.


  1. Lasts long on wood.
  2. Offers good coverage with fewer coats.
  3. It’s water-resistant.
  4. Offers good wood protection.
  5. Has a glossy and smooth finish.


  1. Takes a long time to fully dry.
  2. Tends to turn yellow after a few months.
  3. It isn’t compatible with most paints, so you can’t mix it.
  4. You can’t paint over it without sanding.

Water-Based Paints

Water-based paint is made of pigments, binders, solvents, and other additives. Compared to other paints, water-based paint uses water as its solvent.

The difference in the solvent makes the paint dry faster and have a textured finish. That’s because water evaporates from the coating much faster, and since the paint doesn’t have oily deposits, it produces a dry textured finish.

Since the paint dries fast, the particles don’t have enough time to harden, so this paint isn’t durable. However, it has a high level of pigments or color, so this paint is used to beautify a surface, not protect it.

You can choose several types: latex, chalk, milk, and eggshell paint. All of these water-based paints have a thin flow and are easy to apply on wood.


  1. Easy To Apply
  2. It can be mixed with other paints.
  3. Give wood color and beauty.
  4. Dry fast.
  5. Affordable.
  6. Have different colors and sheens.
  7. Easy to clean and maintain.


  1. Not durable.
  2. It can be damaged easily.
  3. Not waterproof or water-resistant.
  4. Water-soluble.
  5. Not weather-friendly.


Varnish is a sealant used over painted or bare wood. It’s solvent-based and dries to reveal a glossy, hard, and transparent film over the surface. Once it dries, it reveals the wood grain or existing finish.

Varnish will protect the wood from moisture, scratches, water, and other damage. For instance, spar varnish has good moisture-resistant qualities and will protect a surface from water.

If you want to have a colored finish, use acrylic varnish. Acrylic varnish is a colorful and durable finish that will stick over paints or bare surfaces to form a glossy protective finish.


  1. Waterproof or water-resistant (depending on the type).
  2. Clear finish that reveals the wood grain and texture.
  3. You can apply it over paint.
  4. You can tint it with any water-based paint.
  5. Withstands wear and tear.
  6. Protect wood.
  7. Easy to clean and maintain.


  1. Varnish takes days to fully cure.
  2. It’s hard to apply.
  3. Tends to produce a yellow or amber tint on the surface.
  4. Doesn’t hide or cover imperfections on the surface.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic is a water-based paint commonly used over wooden surfaces. Compared to other paints, acrylic has more paint pigments, making its finish more colorful. Over 60% of the paint is filled with pigments or color.

You can mix it with any water-based paint or sealant to create unique colors and shades. However, acrylic paint doesn’t have good coverage — you need many coats to cover a surface. Also, the paint isn’t durable and can get washed off easily.


  1. Offers a colorful and bright finish.
  2. Makes wood items look better.
  3. Dries fast, and it’s easy to apply it.
  4. It’s affordable.
  5. You can use it to tint any water-based paint.


  1. It’s not durable and can get washed off.
  2. You must seal it.
  3. Offers poor wood protection.
  4. It isn’t waterproof or resistant.
  5. Doesn’t offer good coverage.

Different Types of Wooden Surfaces:


To paint wood furniture, use latex paint. That’s because this type of furniture isn’t frequently used and doesn’t need much protection. Semi-gloss latex paint is strong enough to protect it.

However, if the furniture is constantly used or exposed to water, you must seal the latex paint with varnish or polyurethane. That’s because unsealed latex paint isn’t durable enough to withstand constant usage or water.


To paint wood trim, use semi-gloss enamel. This paint will prevent dust and debris from accumulating and is strong enough to withstand wear and tear.

Trims are used in high-traffic areas of the home and will be exposed to constant traffic and dust. So, you need durable paint to withstand the traffic (enamel or oil-based paint) and a glossy finish to prevent dirt or dust from sticking (semi-gloss sheen).


To paint indoor doors, use latex paint. That’s because indoor doors aren’t exposed to handling, water, or scratches, so you don’t need strong or durable paint. Latex or acrylic paint will work in this case.

However, for outdoor doors, use exterior enamel paint and seal them with spar varnish. That’s because outdoor doors are exposed to weather and outdoor elements such as rain, wind, and dirt. So, you need a durable and weather-friendly finish to protect it.

If you use latex paint on outdoor doors, the paint will get washed within one month and expose the door surface to weather elements.


To paint wooden floors, use high-gloss acrylic enamel paint and seal it with polyurethane. This paint combines acrylic paint (colorful finish) and enamel paint (durability).

Wooden floors are exposed to constant traffic, water, dust, and other elements that can damage a surface or paint. So, you must use durable paint that can withstand these elements.

You also must seal the paint with a strong sealant, such as polyurethane. That’s because no paint is strong enough to withstand traffic and furniture weight on a floor without a sealant.


To paint wood tables, use water-based paint and seal it with varnish. That’s because tabletops are not high-traffic areas, and don’t carry much weight, so you don’t need a strong finish.

All you need is a paint strong enough to withstand pencil scratches and dents. A water-based paint sealed with varnish is good enough.


For wood fences, use enamel paint and seal it with exterior varnish or polyurethane. That’s because outdoor fences are exposed to weather elements, such as rain, and need a strong finish.

Enamel paint sealed with exterior varnish is strong enough to withstand weather elements for years before showing damage.


For wooden cabinets, use semi-gloss water-based paint. Cabinets aren’t high-traffic surfaces and don’t need much protection. So, you can use all types of paint, but you need a semi-gloss sheen to prevent stains and dirt from sticking.

Unfinished Wood

For unfinished indoor wood, use water-based paint like acrylic or latex. For outdoor unfinished wood, use oil-based paint and seal it with exterior polyurethane.

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

Pressure Treated Wood

To paint pressure-treated wood, use exterior varnish. Pressure-treated wood contains several additives, solvents, and compounds that give the surface special qualities. These additives will get washed off if the wood isn’t fully protected.

More Tips:

  1. Always clean the surface before painting.
  2. Remove the existing finish.
  3. Sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper.
  4. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. Allow each coat of paint to dry before applying the next one.
  6. Use the right type of paint for wood.
  7. Use a sealant, such as polyurethane or varnish, for outdoor surfaces.
  8. Paint in the direction of the wood grain, not against it.

Final Words

In summary, painting wood is a great way to beautify and improve its durability. The paint you use depends on where the wood is placed. For outdoor surfaces, you need durable and water-resistant paint or sealant. For indoor surfaces, you need a colorful and bright finish.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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