Reader Question About Wood Prep

Written by on February 8, 2014 in Ask the Topcoat Team! with 7 Comments

Dave from Canada asks:

Scott, I’ve been searching for someone like yourself to help me out for quite some time. Thanks for the information and time you spend on educating people in this extremely complex coatings industry. I’ve been dealing with this issue over quite some time now. A few years actually. And it’s been mainly just a trial and error type situation. Obtaining a surface with zero texture. No stipple, no orange peel, nothing. As of now my best results have come from laquer primers and laquer finishes, and starting from bare wood. Starting from pre-primed surfaces is where I have basically polished the primer with sanding the heck out of it so there is no texture to the primer, then spraying finishes overtop. I don’t know how I’m suppose to make a perfect surface without eliminating the crappy surface given by the moulding manufacturers prime job before proceeding to do my thing. I did a project and have seen many other projects where that person primes overtop Are you saying that in your experience, you can take any piece of moulding off the shelf and make it look perfect, and not have to worry about sanding the primer your given first? I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Or a link to something that answers my question.

Scott Replies:

This is a great question, Dave. The short answer is “yes”. But with a longer explanation.

Several factors come into play.

Most notably:

  • wood species
  • milling quality
  • primer quality
  • finish used
wood prep

Manipulating a slow lay down is the key to eliminating stipple or dried texture.

The first is out of our control, we get what we get, but it is our job to identify the species and know it’s characteristics. On paint grade, most of what you see us doing on this site, we are painting poplar or maple (and MDF, which is another beast). Understanding grain, and how to reduce it are important.

The second, milling quality, is also something to be aware of. Getting rid of burr marks or chatter from the milling is important, as they broadcast through the finish. Wood prep sets the stage for priming. Make sure it is right before you prime. On preprimed stuff, we usually reprime, because of filling and cosmetic work required.

Primer quality, and priming heavily, so that you can sand hard to a smooth base coat is very important. On interior, SW Wall & Wood primer is the best we have found for this purpose.

wood prep

Putting on enough paint to stay wet long enough to lay down before it tacks up is important.

Finish is important, and something you might want to revisit. We find that the best way to eliminate stipple is to control your temperatures. Keep it cool, and use paints that lay down slow. In other words, let it level before it dries. But, keeping your work area dust free, traffic free and controlling contamination are critical. It is possible to get waterborne acrylics to lay down slow. That is what used to make the old oils so nice.

Final tip:

If you study our videos and pictures in our articles, you will find that Todd and I are constantly “sighting down” and using inspection lights (LED) in all phases of prep, prime and finish. We also do a lot of clear and stain finishing at cabinet grade levels, which are more extreme prep and finishing disciplines, to stay sharp.

Developing your eye for what is happening, knowing the substrate and products, and your application methods are the areas to focus on.

Let us know if you have further questions.

Scott Burt

Scott Burt is a contractor and freelance writer whose column "From the Field" has appeared in American Painting Contractor magazine (www.paintmag.com) since 2008. His writing and projects also appear in other print and digital venues. This site is an extension of Scott's publication work, and he encourages readers to leave comments and questions about articles published here. Hope to hear from you!

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7 Reader Comments

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  1. Bryan says:

    11 often times I have used lacquer based sand sealer to achieve smoothness on wood. after that I would apply oil paint. I love how fast the sand sealer dries and it sands very easy. Will this method work with hybrid wb latex top coats.

  2. Chester Burgess says:

    What do you recommend for a weathered, 22 yr.-old pressure treated wood deck with the remains of solid color latex paint/stain coatings?

  3. troy stevens says:

    I would agree with you as far as re-priming pre-primed woodwork for best results. Your reader, “Dave from Canada”, was interested in trying to obtain the smoothest finish possible and eliminate stipple. I think it would be beneficial to mention the fact that viscosity plays an integral role in determining how smooth the finish coat turns out. Each product has its own sweet-spot, and skilled painters will find that fine-line between a product which has been thinned perfectly and a product which has been thinned too much or not enough.

  4. Oisin Butler says:

    Hi Scott, I’ve writtena blog on hand painted kitchens and how to do it yourself for D.I.Y.ers. I’d love to hear any feedback you might have!
    http://oisinbutler.ie/hand-painted-kitchen-a-how-to-do-it-yourself-guide/
    Thanks, Oisin.

  5. Oisin Butler says:

    Nice blog Scott. This isn’t too much of an issue for us here in Ireland because we still use a lot of oil based paints which are heaps easier to get a good finish with. That said, because of the VOC changes the oil based paints are becoming worse. It won’t be long now untill we have only water based paints to work with. I’m starting to work with water based more and more now and I agree with you about painting in a cold area, it does help to keep the water based paint wetter for longer which helps it to settle down.
    http://oisinbutler.ie/

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