How Many Coats Of Primer On Wood Before Paint Job?

Photo of a person applying a coat of primer on a wood wall. How Many Coats Of Primer On Wood?

If you’re getting ready to paint a wood wall or a cupboard, you need to know how many coats of primer on wood you should do before your paint job. Not sure? Read on!

You’ll need two coats of primer on wood that doesn’t have a stain, a finish, or any other paint before now (aka raw wood). You’ll get the best results using a latex or an oil-based primer. The first coat will soak into the wood since it’s never had anything on it before, and the second coat will replenish the surface for an even primer coat. While the primer amount may vary depending on your wood type, having two coats is the average.

Is primer really necessary before painting wood?

Some people skip the primer coat and go straight to the top coat. However, a primer coat is essential for creating a smooth surface on your wood before you put your top coat on. 

Primer will seal the pores in the wood and prevents imperfections from showing up when you put on the top coat. Most importantly, that primer on raw wood provides a gripping surface for the top coat.

Wikipedia also explains that primer can help increase your paint’s durability and protection, which is perfect for those who want their decor to last as long as possible with as little maintenance as possible!


Overusing primer by putting on more than two coats can cause peeling, chipping, and cracking. Don’t overdo it!

Is one coat of primer on wood enough?

I’ll discuss this more in the following sections, but two coats of primer are considered the average amount. You should assume that your surface requires two coats of primer and plan accordingly! 

Why do I need two coats of primer?

A primer acts differently than a regular top coat. Primer is designed specifically for raw wood and will act as a sealing coat on the wood’s surface. It will seep into the wood and create an even and uniform surface for the second coat of primer.

When the second coat of primer goes on, it won’t have any wood grains or imperfections of the wood (such as knots) show through. It’ll be easy to cover with your top coat and look clean and uniform!

If you only put the first coat on, it can create an imperfect surface on which you start to paint your top coat. Any imperfections will be much more obvious in a top coat than in a primer coat!

How do I know if I need two coats of primer?

Remember how I mentioned that two coats are considered the norm? The thing is, there are lots of exceptions to this rule that you should know about when you’re working with wood. Take a look at some of the key ones.

  • Exterior wood
  • Interior wood
  • Unfinished wood
  • Prepainted wood

Exterior wood

Exterior wood prep and painting require an exterior-grade product. When working with an exterior primer and paint, you’ll notice that most will only require one coat of primer. The reason, in this case, is that exterior-grade primers are designed to hold up against the elements and are much stronger for adhesion. Also, since exterior painting takes more work, applying only one coat of primer helps reduce the prep time needed.

Interior wood

This could be anything from board and batten wall coverings to railings to cupboards. Working with interior wood, you can sometimes work with only one coat of primer. If you’re getting suspicious of my explanation of needing two coats as a norm, don’t be! Keep reading.

Interior wood typically needs only one coat of primer because the wood is already treated with something. It could be a primer coat in the wood itself or some sort of stain. Perhaps a pre-colored panel (such as with a cupboard). Even if you are painting the wood a different color, that pretreatment means that you can get away with only a single coat of primer since the wood already has something on it. 

The exception to this is if you are taking a dark wood and making it a light color. The second coat of primer helps create that blank slate that you’ll be looking for.

Unfinished wood

This is where that rule comes in! Unfinished wood is raw wood with no stain, sealant, or prep work. Any time you’re working with raw wood, you’ll need to use two coats of primer! The raw material makes the difference here. 

Fun Fact:

While you can get 2-in-1 paints with a primer coat built right in, it’s still best to have at least one coat of classic primer on unfinished wood!

Prepainted wood

Let’s pretend that you’re repainting a wooden object in your home. If so, you’ll be working with wood that already has some sort of treatment to it! Even if you sand it down to rough up the surface, you’ll still have something on that wood. You can get away with a single coat of primer on it if you want to. Experts still recommend going with two coats, though.

This is one situation where the 2-in-1 primer and paint products can come in really handy!

Will multiple coats of primer hide imperfections?

Wood naturally is going to have imperfections to it. If you use multiple coats of primer, it makes sense that those imperfections will disappear. The results themselves may vary. Most of the time, primer won’t hide imperfections.

The reality is that it depends on the primer’s quality and the wood’s quality combined. Primer can only do so much, after all.

How long should I wait between layers of primer?

The waiting time between coats of primer is the most important part of getting that base layer just right! You’ll want to wait until the first coat is completely dry before working with the second coat of primer. It’s typically 2-3 hours, but you’ll want to visually check it out before starting back into work.

What happens if you apply a second coat of primer too soon?

The waiting time is essential for a reason. If you apply the second coat when the first is still wet, you’ll get peeling paint, streaks in your primer coat, and uneven color on the wood surface. Since the primer’s main job is to create an even surface, this completely defeats the purpose!

Should I sand between coats of primer?

If you’re using a quality primer, you shouldn’t need to sand between coats of primer. However, you will certainly want to sand before you put a coat of primer on your wood, especially if it’s been painted before.

If you want to sand between coats of primer, you can. Sanding can smooth out and soften the natural wood grain, offering fewer visual imperfections that make the coverage easier.

How thick should a primer coat be?

Primers are matte finish and are thinner than paint. They’re designed to go on before painting. All this is to say that you should apply it thinly but evenly. Putting it on too thick creates more potential for imperfections and means it’ll take longer for your primer to dry. Use a roller or brush that you trust to put it on smoothly and evenly for the best effect!

Reminders when applying primer coats

Here are a few reminders to help you make primer coat application as smooth and straightforward as possible for the best starting point on your wood.

According to Bob Villa, a quality-made primer is explicitly intended for untreated and raw wood. The two coats are recommended on your can when you buy primer. You may find alternate instructions on your cans for pretreated surfaces. Follow those instructions.

Another detail is that most primers assume (through their manufacturing) that you are coloring your wood with actual color. If you are going really light with your finished top coat (such as white), then you might be able to go ahead with one coat of primer and two coats of top coat.

If you want to make the most of your money, consider using a 2-in-1 primer and paint combination that will help you save time and effort for priming and painting. If you are going for a dramatic change (such as black to white), you’ll still want to go with a solid two coats of primer before starting with your top coat! 

It comes down to understanding what your primer can and can’t do for your specific job. When in doubt, going with the two recommended coats of purpose-designed primer can only help your project, not hurt it! That’s why it’s still considered the norm!

Primer serves an important role in your wood and its overall effect at the end of your job. To give yourself the best chance at success, apply two even, light coats of a purpose-designed primer. This is essential with untreated/raw wood.

If you have pre-treated or finished wood (including wood that has already been painted), you can get away with a single coat of primer or a 2-in-1 primer and paint product. However, two coats of primer are still the recommended amount for prepping and painting wood. Make sure you know what’s right for the wood type that you are using!

If someone you know is approaching a painting project, consider sharing this with them to help them prep properly!

Rosa Peterson

Rose is the writer and creator of Better That Home, a blog about home design and decor. Rose has been designing spaces for over 10 years and writing home design and decor for big publishers. She has been inspired by many other creatives from around the world and loves to share those inspirations with her readers. Read more about Rose here