How to Spray Paint Wood – Avoid the Most Common Mistakes

How to Spray Paint Wood – Avoid the Most Common Mistakes by Valentin | Last Updated: May 7, 2021
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Painting wood can be quite tedious especially if the wooden project that you want to paint has a lot of hard-to-reach corners. Luckily you can simply spray paint it.

As a whole, spray paint can be used on wood. It is important though to check the description on the packaging of the spray paint and make sure that it is meant to be used on wood. But most spray paints will stick to wood and the results are just as good as with regular paint.

There are some things that you need to keep in mind regarding the project that you want to paint with spray paint though. Sometimes the wood has to be prepared with a primer before it can be painted with spray paint, for example.

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Using Spray Paint on Wood

There are some advantages and some disadvantages to spray painting wood. So before I go more in-depth on how to actually spray paint wood let´s first take a look at the advantages and the disadvantages. This way you can decide for yourself if you want to use spray paint or regular paint for your project.


  • It´s quick
  • Smooth and even finish
  • No brush marks to deal with


  • The Paint is More Expencive
  • Bad for the Enviroment

I think the biggest disadvantage when using spray paints is that they tend to be quite expensive when you compare the amount of paint you get out of them with the amount of paint you would usually get in a paint bucket.

But using spray paint is much quicker than applying the paint with a brush or a roller. This is why I tend to use spray paints for most of my smaller to medium-sized projects. For bigger projects, however, I would recommend using regular paint.

So if you want to paint a large area or if your project is quite big then I would recommend using regular paint but if your project is medium-sized or smaller then spray paint will typically yield the fastest and best results. Spray paint is especially useful if your Project has a lot of nooks and crannies.

Spray paint will generally give you the smoothest results in all areas, which is also why I prefer it for so many of my projects.

When a Primer is Necessary for Spray Painting Wood and When it isn´t

A lot of beginners are confused when it comes to priming a surface for painting. Do you have to prime a surface before spray painting it or is it generally just good practice but not really necessary? And what exactly does a Primer do anyway?

As a general rule, wood does not have to be primed before spray painting it unless the surface of the wood has been sealed with varnish, or something similar, or it is damaged or the previous paint job is peeling off. Otherwise, the spray paint can be applied directly without the need for a primer.

So if you just want to paint on unsealed regular wood that hasn´t been painted yet then go for it. You don´t need a primer to achieve a great result but I would still recommend using one anyway.

That´s mainly because a primer prepares the surface for the paint application. Meaning it will unltimatly ensure that the paint does not peel off, bubble up, or discolor after you applied it.

If you are curious what happens if you don´t use a primer then feel free to check out this article that I wrote where explain in depth why and when to use a primer and what happens if you don´t use one!

So it is generally a good idea to use a primer when painting pretty much anything but you really only need one if the surface that you want to paint has some imperfections or if the paint would usually not stick to the surface because it was treated with varnish, for example.

By the way, you can also get spray primer if you don´t want to apply the primer with a brush or if you don´t want to use a primer at all even though you would need one then maybe consider using a 2 in 1 (primer and paint in one) spray paint.

By using a 2 in 1 spray paint you don´t have to apply a primer first you simply apply the spray paint directly on the wooden surface and it will stick to almost anything including epoxy and varnish.

You can get a spray primer or a 2 in 1 spray paint at your local hardware store or on Amazon.

Here is the Spray Primer on Amazon and here is the 2 in 1 spray paint on Amazon.

Preparing Wood for Spray Paint

Before we can start spray painting, however, we have to prepare the surface to make sure that the paint sticks properly to the surface of the wood and to make sure that the result will be even and smooth. And by “preparing the surface” I don´t necessarily mean Priming it.

As a general rule, to prepare wood for spray paint the surface has to be smooth and free from dust and debris. So sanding the wood with fine-grit sandpaper and cleaning it with soapy water afterward is mandatory. For a perfect finish applying a primer is recommended before spray painting the wood.

The approach to preparing a wooden surface for spray paint will vary depending on whether you want to paint raw wood or if you want to paint wood that has already been painted or sealed.

Preparing Raw Wood for Spray Paint

When you want to paint raw wood then the most important part is making sure that the surface of the wood is smooth and has no cracks or holes in it.

Small imperfections are ok but you may have to use a primer in order to achieve a perfectly smooth final result.

Sanding the Surface

First up is sanding. Sanding is important to get rid of any imperfections in the wood and to make the wood as smooth as possible. Sanding will also allow the primer or paint to adhere better to the surface.

Depending on how rough the surface of the wood is you might want to start with rough-grit sandpaper. Something like an 80 grit, if the surface is very rough.

Or you can start with finer-grit sandpaper if your surface only needs a little bit of smoothing. In that case, 100 grit sandpaper for the first pass would be just fine.

After the first pass, I usually do a second pass with very fine-grit sandpaper, something like 150-grit sandpaper, to get a very smooth finish on the surface before I apply the primer.

Cleaning the Surface

Cleaning the surface is very important to avoid any issues with the paint later on.

It is more than enough to wipe the surface down with a piece of cloth or a towel that you dip in some soapy water. Just make sure that no dust or debris is left on the piece before you apply the paint or the primer.

It´s also important that you don´t use too much water. A damp towel is more than sufficient for cleaning the wood properly.

Apply the Primer

You don´t always need a primer but I would recommend using one for painting raw wood mainly because the primer will ensure that the paint is smooth and it will prevent discoloration between areas.

You can read more about primers and what happens if you don´t use one right here.

For smaller and medium-sized Projects I would recommend using a spray primer but they can get quite expensive if your project is larger.

So I usually use a regular Primer that I apply with a roller or with a brush. If the surface has brush marks on it then you can simply sand the primer smooth with some fine-grit sandpaper before applying the paint.

It is a little more work but it´s also a lot cheaper.

Preparing Already Sealed or Painted Wood for Spray Paint

If you want to repaint already painted wood then you have to consider a few things first.

First of all, if the surface that you want to paint is damages or uneven in any way then you have to repair it if you want a smooth and beautiful finish. So you will have to sand the surface if you see any holes, scratches, or something like that.

If the surface is smooth, however, then you only have to apply a primer to prepare it for painting.

You can read more about repainting already painted wood and painting already sealed wood in this article that I wrote.

Sanding the Surface

Carpenter sanding a wooden block on a workbench in a woodworking factory or workshop by hand

You have to sand the surface if the previous paint job is peeling off, if the paint is bubbling up, or if the surface of the wood is damaged.

You don´t have to sand the surface if the surface is smooth and the paint job is not damaged in any way, or If the surface is varnished or sealed. You can simply apply a strong adhering primer directly on sealed wood to prepare it and you don´t have to seal it.

The process of sanding the surface is quite simple. You have to do three individual passes with three different sandpapers.

The first pass has to be done with very rough-grit sandpaper (~70 grit) to remove the paint and roughly smooth the surface.

Use 100 grit sandpaper for the second pass to smooth out any bumps and medium imperfections.

The final pass will be done with a 120 grit sandpaper to get rid of any small imperfections.

Cleaning the Surface

You have to clean the surface much the same way as you would with raw wood.

So use a piece of cloth or a towel and some soapy water to clean any dust and debris off of the wood.

Make sure that the cloth is not wet but only damp.

Apply a Primer

And finally, applying the Primer.

You can apply the primer directly to a varnished surface but only if you use a high-bonding Primer.

You can find High-Bonding Primers in your local hardware store or right here on Amazon.

This Primer will stick to pretty much anything including sealed wood and varnished wood.

A regular Primer will be more than enough when you sanded the surface.

Simply apply the primer with a brush or a roller and let it dry. I recommend applying two or three thin layers of primer instead of one thick one.

Let the Primer dry in between layers.

You can get rid of brush marks or other imperfections on the surface of the primer by simply sanding it lightly with some fine-grit sandpaper.

Painting Wood With Spray Paint

Finally, we get to the part where actually apply some paint!

You have already done the most important thing by preparing the surface. Now, all that’s left is choosing the right type of paint and applying it.

My two favorite spray paints for painting wood are the spray paints from Rust-Oleum and Krylon.

They are both primers and paint in one and they both have quite a substantial selection of different colors.

You can get both of them in most hardware stores or on Amazon (Rust-Oleum Spray Paint on Amazon and Krylon Spray Paint on Amazon).

Now all you have to do is put the project that you want to spray paint on a surface that can get paint on it. You can use plastic bags or newspapers for example.

If you have parts of your project that you don´t want to be painted then you can mask them off with some masking tape.

Once you are done with preparing the project simply apply the spray paint in thin and even layers to the wood.

Make sure that you shake the spray can properly before you use it.

It’s always better to apply the paint in multiple thin layers to ensure that no paint is running and to get an even and smooth finish.

Let the paint dry in between layers to prevent the paint from running. Spray paint usually dries very quickly. The paint is usually dry within 30 minutes after application.

Sealing Spray Painted Wood

There are some spray paints that will also seal the wood but most regular spray paints won´t seal the wood so a separate sealant has to be applied. The few spray paints that act as a sealant, as well as paint, usually say so on the can.

So with most spray paints you will probably need a seperate sealer so protect your new paint job.

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 these interactive props. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.