Best Primers for Wood Paneling + How to Prime for a Smooth Finish

Last updated: May 28, 2021

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A closeup of wood paneling coated in primer

If your walls are made up of older wood paneling, you might be considering giving them a fresh, modern look. The easiest way to do this is to paint over them; however, you’ll also want to be sure to use a high-quality primer.

With the amount of primers available, it can be hard to know which ones will work well with wood panels. This article will help you find the best primer for wood paneling by covering the following:

Before we get into how to use primer on wood paneling, let’s dive into some of the top choices for primers for wood paneling. If you need to protect your floors while painting wood paneling, check out the best drop cloths for painting.

9 best primers for wood paneling

With the amount of options available, finding a primer for paneling can be tricky. To get you started, here are our recommendations for the best primers for painting paneling.

1. Zinsser Cover Stain Interior & Exterior Primer-Sealer & Stain Killer

Zinsser Cover Stain Primer

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Size: 500 ml

Coverage: 9.8 sq. m./litre

Finish: Flat

Type: Oil-based

Best Feature: Quick-drying

For a quality choice in protection against stains, opt for Zinsser Cover Stain Primer. This primer is an ideal oil-based primer for wood paneling that’s known for its coverage and stain-blocking abilities. It offers great protection and will work well anywhere.

2. KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer

KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer

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Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 75-100 sq. ft.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Mildew resistant

KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer is a foolproof option, especially for wood panels. This multi-surface primer can be used almost anywhere to conceal previous colours and block stains. It’s very adhesive, has a low odour, and is mildew resistant.

3. INSL-X STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer

INSL-X STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer

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Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300-400 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Semi-gloss

Type: Urethane acrylic

Best Feature: Strong adhesion and sealing

If you want a primer with quick and easy application, INSL-X STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer is for you. It’s made to work with hard-to-coat surfaces and will leave you with professional looking results. It has a low odour and works with a variety of paint types.

4. Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer

Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer

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Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Shellac-based

Best Feature: Blocks odours

If blocking stains is your top concern, you need Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer. This primer works on all surfaces to block stains, seal knots, and block odours. It also dries in 45 minutes.

5. KILZ Restoration Interior Primer

KILZ Restoration Interior Primer

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Size: 1 gallon

Coverage: 300-400 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Oil and shellac performance

For the toughest stains and odours, try KILZ Restoration Interior Primer. This primer has a performance similar to oil and shellac-based primers, despite being made with a water base. It’s also a great option for disaster recovery.

6. Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Premium Latex Primer

Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Primer

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Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Latex

Best Feature: Wet or dry sandable

Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Premium Latex Primer. This grey primer is ideal for providing you with a base for darker-coloured paint and providing a long-lasting finish. It can be used on bare or painted wood and a variety of other materials.

7. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Primer

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Primer

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Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: High hiding

Another option from Zinsser is their Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Primer. This primer is designed to block oil and water stains on all surfaces. It has a low odour and is resistant to mold and mildew.

8. KILZ Original Interior Primer

KILZ Original Interior Primer

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Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300-400 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Oil-based

Best Feature: Blocks heavy stains and odours

KILZ also makes their Original Interior Primer, which is great for this type of project. The primer is made with strong adhesion and is able to block water and smoke stains. It dries in 1 hour and is easy to sand.

9. INSL-X Seal Lock Plus Primer/Sealer

INSL-X Seal Lock Plus Primer/Sealer

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Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300-400 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Alcohol-based

Best Feature: Seals smoke and fire damage

Also by INSL-X is their Seal Lock Plus Primer/Sealer. This primer is specially made to stop bleeding on wood and other surfaces. It’s great at blocking stains and can block odours caused by smoke and fire.

How to pick the right primer for painting paneling

Choosing the best primer for paneling can be tricky with the amount of options available. It’s important to understand what options are available and what ones will work best with these types of projects. Follow the guides below to choose the right primer for your paneling.

How to choose the right primer finish for wood paneling

Your primer’s finish will contribute to the final look for your paneling and how compatible your paint will be with it. Here are the finishes you’ll need to choose between when working with wood paneling:

  • Clear: Provides the benefits of primer without impacting the finish.
  • Flat/matte: Has no shine; most popular choice for building a strong base.
  • Semi-gloss: Produces some reflection; has characteristics found in both flat and glossy primers.
  • Glossy: The shiniest primer; creates a smooth surface while enhancing approved paints.

How to choose the right colour for wood paneling

The colour of your primer is more important than you’d think, as it provides coverage and helps enhance your new paint. Here are some common options to choose from for your paneling:

  • Clear: Dries with no colour; only ideal for projects where full coverage of the paneling isn’t required.
  • White: Most popular colour option; provides a strong base for light colours.
  • Grey: A great option for achieving full coverage with dark colours.
  • Neutral: Different colours are available if you’d prefer a primer closer in colour to your new paint.

How to choose the right type of primer for wood paneling

The type of primer you use will determine its overall compatibility with both your wood paneling and your paint. These are the common types of primer you’ll likely encounter:

  • Oil-based: Very versatile and weather and stain resistant; works well with enamel paints.
  • Latex: A healthier alternative to oil-based primers; can be used with a variety of surfaces, including wood.
  • Shellac-based: Works best on interior projects; often quick-drying and stain resistant.
  • Water-based: Often mimics oil, latex, or shellac primers; a healthier alternative best suited to acrylic and latex paints.
  • Urethane acrylic: Most ideal for surfaces that pose difficulties with adhesion.
  • Alcohol-based: Great on surfaces prone to bleeding; can also help fight bacteria.

Best way to prime wood paneling

Once you’ve selected the best primer to use on paneling, you should also know the best way to prime. Follow these tips to get the best results when priming wood paneling:

  • Clean the surface – Use a damp cloth to remove any dust and debris from the paneling. Anything left behind can negatively affect your work, so be sure to clean everything.
  • Repair any damage – Be sure to fill any cracks or holes before your prime. You don’t want to ruin your work by choosing to do your repairs after the fact.
  • Sand the surface – Use sandpaper to buff up the surface for your panels. This will help your primer and paint stick more easily.
  • Protect the surrounding area – Use painter’s tape and drop cloths or sheets to protect the surrounding trim, flooring, etc. You want to remain focused on your work, not what you’re trying to avoid while priming.
  • Use the right tools – For the best results, use a roller to apply primer to your panels and a brush to work the primer into the grooves. You should also consider using a foam brush or foam roller to blend any drips into the rest of the primer.
  • Apply multiple coats – To get the best coverage, be sure to apply 2 or more coats. You want to apply enough to hide the original colour.
  • Sand between coats – For the smoothest results, sand each the wood paneling in between each coat of primer and paint. This will also help you remove imperfections.

Top 9 mistakes to avoid while painting paneling

Even if you feel fully prepared to paint your wood paneling, everyone is prone to mistakes. If you’re painting wood panels for the first time, these are the most common mistakes you need to avoid doing.

1. Not cleaning beforehand

Your wood paneling might look clean, but it’s still important not to skip this step. If there’s any dust or debris left behind, it could cause various issues with your work, including unflattering results and even chipped paint.

2. Not repairing holes and cracks

Another step that’s really important to complete before you start priming is filling any damage on your wood panels. Doing this will help you get the smoothest surface and also save you from damaging your work and having to redo everything later on.

3. Not sanding before you prime

Another commonly skipped step is sanding. Even if you don’t think it’s necessary, or are using a primer that claims to not need sanding, you should still do so. Sanding not only removes any old material or imperfections, but also creates a buffer that your primer will stick to. You should also consider sanding between each coat of primer and paint to get the smoothest finish possible.

A closeup of aging wood paneling covered in chipped paint

4. Not using a primer

Many first-time painters want to go straight to painting, which is another big mistake. Priming is a big part of all paint projects as it adds durability to your paint and assists with coverage. Not priming wood paneling before painting can result in bleeding and leave your paint vulnerable.

5. Using the wrong primer

Almost as bad as not using any primer is using the wrong primer on your wood paneling. Some primers are not compatible with wood, while others will pair poorly with your paint. Be sure to carefully review your choices and use one with a type, finish, and colour that works best with your project.

6. Not letting each coat dry

As tempting as it might be to rush, allow each coat of primer and paint to dry completely before applying a new coat. Working on wet coats can cause lifting and damage to your work and will prevent you from maintaining a smooth surface.

A closeup of wood paneling that has been painted teal

7. Using an incompatible paint

Once you’ve determined the primer you need, you also need to make sure your paint can be used with your primer. Using a paint that is incompatible with your primer’s type or finish can result in poor results and a loss in durability.

8. Not getting enough material into the grooves

When priming and painting panels, it’s important to use a brush to work both materials into the grooves. Not doing this properly can result in uneven coverage across your paneling.

9. Not giving yourself enough time

A project of this scale is meant to take a long time. Be sure to plan accordingly so you’ll have lots of time to properly complete each step of the project and avoid feeling rushed.

Now that you know everything about selecting and using the best primer for painting wood paneling, it’s time to get started. If you think you’d prefer to hire a professional, the City Painters are here to help. Contact us here or give us a call for a free quote.