How to Paint Over Painted Wood and Prevent Peeling Paint

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So you have a new wooden piece of furniture or a new wooden Accessoire and it doesn´t quite fit in your home color-wise. But it has already been painted. So do you actually have to remove all the paint then prime the surface and then paint it again just to change the color so that it would match the color scheme of a room better? Well, not neccesarrily.

As a Whole painting over already painted wood is possible by preparing the surface with a high adhesion primer first. Then simply paint the prepared surface with either latex-based paint, oil-based paint, or chalk paint. If the surface of the wood is too uneven then some sanding might be necessary.

As you can see painting over already painted wood doesn´t have to be hard or complicated. In the following article, I will tell you exactly how to paint over finished or varnished wood without sanding and I will help you choose the perfect type of paint for your project.

Painting Over Painted Wood Without Sanding First

I don´t know anyone who likes to sanding. That’s also why one of the most asked questions I usually get is how to avoid sanding at all costs. Most of the time you won´t be able to avoid at least a little bit of sanding when working with wood but in this specific case, you might be in luck!

As a general rule, it is possible to paint over already painted wood without sanding it first if the surface is not damaged or the previous paint job is not peeling or chipping off. Simply prepare the surface by applying a high adhesion primer. Once the primer has fully dried apply the paint.

Before you decide on painting over previously painted wood without sanding it first it is important to check if the surface is not damaged in a major way.

When it is Necessary to Sand the Surface First

Look very carefully at the piece that you want to paint and if you can’t see any major gaps, dents, scratches, or holes in the wood then you can go ahead and skip sanding.

The previous paint job should also be intact. So if the paint is peeling off or if it has chipped off somewhere then you have to sand the surface, unfortunately.

But if the Surface is intact and the previous paint job is also not damaged then you can start applying the primer!

How to Prime the Surface Properly

As I mentioned already you have to apply a Primer in order to properly paint over a previously painted surface.

What exactly is a primer?

A Primer can be applied to a surface to prepare it properly for a paint application. A Primer will adhere better to difficult surfaces that paint might not stick to normally. Then you can paint on top of the primer and the finished paint job will be smoother and more robust than without using a primer.

But not just any Primer will work, unfortunately.

The main problem is, that you might not be able to identify the type of paint that the wood was painted with before you got it. So you cant really rely on applying a primer that wil work on that specific paint.

Plus you can’t always know how exactly the wood was finished or if a top coat was applied in the first place. Did the previous owner use some kind of Varnish or maybe just oil or maybe even wax?

And because we can rarely tell with certainty how the piece was finished, except maybe by asking an expert to take a look, we will simply use a very strong adhering primer that will adhere to any surface no matter how it was finished.

I highly recommend using the High-Bonding Adhesion Primer from KILZ.

It is easy to use and it will stick to almost anything including glass, metal, and more. It is a little overkill but if you use this primer then you don´t have to spend another thought about the primer adhering properly or not because this one will adhere to sealed paint no matter what.

You can buy it in your local hardware store or right here on Amazon.

You can also get a Primer and a Paint in one. These Primers are already colored and provide a smooth finish so that you simply apply them directly on the surface. So you don´t have to apply paint separately later on.

One of the best chalk primers and paints in one is “The ONE Paint”. You can find it here on Amazon.

Before applying the Primer you first have to clean the surface with a little bit of soapy water and a piece of cloth.

Simply wipe down the surface in order to clean it from any dust and dirt. This will ensure that the primer adheres properly to the painted wood.

Make sure that the surface is completely dry before you apply the primer!

I would recommend applying the primer with a roller to get a better, smoother result. But if you don´t care about brush marks then you can simply use a regular brush as well.

You should apply at least two thin layers of the primer in order to cover the surface properly.

If you can still see areas where the primer hasn´t covered the surface properly after the second layer then go ahead and apply a third layer. It really isn´t a big deal if you need three or even five layers. It is just important that the surface is covered fully with the primer before painting it.

It is also important to let the primer dry for at least an hour in between layers.

Once the final layer of primer is dry it’s time to apply the paint!

Apply the Paint

Now its finally time to apply the paint!

You can pretty much use any paint that you like but I would recommend using either Latex-based paint or chalk paint depending on what exactly you want to paint.

For painting furniture, chalk paint will give you the smoothest result while Latex paint will give you a nice slightly glossy finish.

I especially recommend the chalk paint from Rust-Oleum. In my experience, it will give you the best looking results. The paint is easy to apply and they have a lot of different colors to choose from.

You might be able to buy Rust-Oleum Chalk Paint paint at your local hardware store or you can buy it right here on Amazon.

If you want to paint something that will be sitting outside, like outdoor furniture or fences then I would recommend using oil-based paint or latex paint.

Just make sure that the paint is meant for outside.

My recommendation when you want to paint fences is to use “the ONE Paint”. It is a Paint and a Primer in one and can be used for pretty much anything.

If you use this one then you don´t have to prepare the surface with a primer beforehand because this paint will practically do both. Simply apply it directly to the surface after you cleaned it properly and you are pretty much done!

You can find it right here on Amazon!

You can also use acrylic paint or oil-based paint for any indoor project however I personally don´t use oil-based paints that often because I don´t like the smell and the brushes are way harder to clean than with water-based paints.

Acrylic paints are perfect for almost any indoor project. So if you have them lying around then go ahead and use them!

If you are interested I actually wrote a detailed article about painting wood with acrylic paint. You can read it right here!

When applying the paint I prefer using a roller instead of a brush in order to get a more even finish. But you can use a brush as well if you don´t mind the brush marks.

I do use brushes if the item that I paint has a lot of little areas where the roller can’t reach properly. So most of the time I use both anyways.

You don´t have to use a lot of paint right away. It is almost always better to paint in multiple thinner layers instead of one thick layer.

Also, make sure that you let the paint dry in a room where the temperature and the humidity levels are not too high or your paint might bubble up later on.

You should also let the paint dry in between layers. You can refer to the package of your chosen paint to know how long your paint takes to fully dry.

When to Sand Wood Before Applying Paint

Unfortunately, there are some instances where you have to sand the prepainted wood before you can apply a new paint coat to it. Fortunately, these instances are quite rare!

As a whole, if the wood surface is damaged in any way then it has to be sanded or the new paint job will be uneven. If the previous paint job is peeling off or bubbling up or If the surface has dents, holes, or cracks in them then it has to be sanded before applying any new paint to it.

So realy, you only have to sand your wooden item if it is damaged or if the previous paint job is damaged.

The reason for this is because if you don´t smooth the surface by sanding it before applying the new paint then the surface of your new paint job will be uneven.

If that doesn´t bother you then, by all means, go for it!

But usually, you have to sand the surface and fix the cracks, holes, or the bad paint job.

Repair a Bad Paint Job

If the previous paint job is peeling off, bubbling up, or maybe even damaged then you first have to fix it before you can apply a new layer of paint.

Unfortunately, you have to sand the whole item down in order to create a new, smoother surface.

I usually start by using a spatular to scrape off the parts of the paint that already peel off anyway. Be careful though, you don´t want to damage the wood underneath.

Next, you simply have to sand it. Start with a very rough grit, something like 80-grit.

Go over the entire surface until most of the paint is gone and the surface is even,

Then go over the entire surface again with medium grit, something like a 150-grit is perfect.

Go over the entire surface again.

Finally, go over the entire surface again with a very fine grit, something like 220-grit sandpaper should be enough for a nice smooth surface.

Once you are done, you should have a fairly smooth surface. Now you can apply a primer and then you can move on to painting.

Repair a Broken or Uneven Surface

If the wooden surface has cracks, holes, or dents in it then you have to fix them before you can apply any paint. But only as long as the dents or cracks are big. SMaller cracks or holes can be filled in with some wood filler before applying the primer and you will be just fine.

But if the cracks or holes are too big then you have to sand the area where the hole is down a little bit using a 150-grit sandpaper in order to make the area a little smoother.

Then use some wood filler to fill in the hole. Let it dry and then use a very fine 220-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface of the wood filler again.

Once you are done and all the uneven parts of the wooden surface have been fixed it´s safe to move on to priming the surface.

It´s important to note that you don´t have to sand the entire piece if there are just a few cracks or holes. It´s more than enough to only fix the area where the crack or the hole is.

Priming Already Painted Wood

You don´t always have to prime already painted wood in order to paint it but if you don´t know what kind of paint was used before or how it was sealed then painting the wood without using a primer bears certain risks.

As a general rule, it is always better to prime already painted wood before repainting it. The only exception is if it is known what kind of paint the wood has been painted with and how it was sealed. Because then a type of paint can be chosen that will surely adhere to the surface.

But if you don´t know anything about how the piece was painted and sealed then it is always better to apply a primer before painting it.

Alternatively, you can also use a primer and paint in one. This way you can apply the paint directly on the painted wood and you can skip the need to separately add the paint later on.

Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.

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