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How to Paint Over Stained Wood Trim

In this article: Can you paint over stained wood? Yes, you can! Learn how to paint old dark wood trim with these easy steps. The shocking results can totally transform a room.

If you live in an older house like we previously did, you have probably encountered decades worth of interesting building supply surfaces. Also, if you are like me…you want to paint them! Our former house brought with it a boat load of 70’s dark paneling, varnished-on wallpaper, plywood walls, and cement floors. My painter brother-in-law told me years ago that ANY surface can be painted with the correct process. I’ve tested that theory to the max!;)

After painting the varnished board walls in the Master Bedroom, it was time to learn how to paint the old, stained trim in my son’s bedroom.

(For reference, we figure this trim is probably from the 1920s and is stained fir boards.)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience.

Gather supplies needed to paint old stained trim boards

  • Primer – For this project, we used oil based Kilz primer in spray can form
  • Latex paint in semi-gloss finish
  • Basic paint supplies (My checklist of basic painting supplies is found here)
  • TSP for cleaning
  • Cleaning bucket and rag
  • Rubber Gloves

I have found my local paint store to be a great help when I’m looking for paint for specific projects. If you have questions, be sure to ask the paint experts in your local area. They are very helpful!

Step by Step Instructions for Painting over Stained Boards

  1. Clean the surface to be painted – Clean the wood with a mixture of TSP and water. TSP is a powdery substance that is packaged in a cardboard carton and can be purchased in any hardware store. It is a type of dirt stripper. And, believe me, you will be shocked at how dirty your water gets! (Be sure to wear rubber gloves when using it.)
  2. Tape off the areas you don’t want to get paint on- Tape off all surfaces you don’t want paint on. I used old magazine pages and green painters tape to cover the glass. Also I carefully taped up all the hardware I didn’t want paint on. Be sure to cover the floor as well. In this case, I was going to paint the wall afterward, so I didn’t worry about any over-spray on it.

  1. Prime the wood with a good oil-based primer. The type of primer you use is very key. You must use an oil-based primer to cover old stained wood! If you use a water based primer, the oils from the wood and stain just seep through and dis-color your final paint color. I’m telling you…been there, done that. It’s not fun.

As a disclaimer to that statement, though, there is a very good latex primer that Benjamin Moore makes called “Fresh Start”. It works amazing, and sometimes you can get away with using it on stained wood. However, I would definitely test it first on the surface you are painting. I’ve learned through trial and error that this old wood in my house requires the oil base primer.

I recommend talking with the knowledgable salespeople at your local paint store to find what primer they would recommend for your specific situation, and then test it first on your project.

I discovered my favorite Kilz primer in a spray can, and decided to use it on this window frame.

  1. Apply the primer according to the directions given on the container. As per recommendations, I used even, thin coats that dried quickly between coats. I painted when the day was sunny and warm, so I could keep the window open while spraying it. (You don’t want to paint your window shut!)

Keep in mind this is only a primer. It’s purpose is not to color the surface completely white, it is just for preparing the surface to accept paint. You just want to make sure it is all sealed well. Then your paint color will color it as you wish. The good news is this: Once your surface is primed with oil-based primer you can forever after use latex (water-based) paint on that surface!! Yippee!!:)

This is what mine looked like after it was primed:

If you have much priming to do, however, you’ll want to get the primer in a regular paint can and paint it on. The spray can doesn’t go too far…but it sure is less messy!:)

  1. Brush on 2 coats of latex paint

As mentioned previously, once the stained wood is sealed with oil- based primer, it can forever be painted with latex paint after that. Isn’t that great? You only have to deal with the stinky stuff once and then you’re good to go!;)

I used this method in painting dark trim all throughout our house. My photography got better (thank goodness!), so here you can see better the dramatic difference paint can make on trim:

Our Dining Room Before:

And after:

To see the Dining Room turned Coastal Cottage Office Makeover, click here.

For other painting tips, you might want to check these out:

paint brush sitting on paint can

How to Paint over Stained Wood

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Can you paint over stained wood? Yes, you can! Learn how to paint old dark wood trim with these easy steps. The shocking results can totally transform a room.

Materials

  • Primer – For this project, we used oil based Kilz primer in spray can form
  • Latex paint in semi-gloss finish
  • Basic paint supplies including painter's tape, paint brush, drop cloths, and stir stick
  • TSP for cleaning
  • Cleaning bucket and rag
  • Rubber Gloves

Instructions

  1. Clean the surface to be painted – Clean the wood with a mixture of TSP and water. TSP is a powdery substance that is packaged in a cardboard carton and can be purchased in any hardware store. It is a type of dirt stripper. And, believe me, you will be shocked at how dirty your water gets! (Be sure to wear rubber gloves when using it.)
  2. Tape off the areas you don’t want to get paint on- Tape off all surfaces you don’t want paint on. I used old magazine pages and green painters tape to cover the window glass. Also I carefully taped up all the hardware I didn’t want paint on. Be sure to cover the floor as well. In this case, I was going to paint the wall afterward, so I didn’t worry about any over-spray on it.
  3. Prime the wood with a good oil-based primer. The type of primer you use is very key. You must use an oil-based primer to cover old stained wood! If you use a water based primer, the oils from the wood and stain just seep through and dis-color your final paint color. I’m telling you…been there, done that. It’s not fun.
  4. Apply the primer according to the directions given on the container. As per recommendations, I used even, thin coats that dried quickly between coats. I painted when the day was sunny and warm, so I could keep the window open while spraying it. (You don’t want to paint your window shut!)
  5. Brush on 2 coats of latex paint As mentioned previously, once the stained wood is sealed with oil- based primer, it can forever be painted with latex paint after that. Isn’t that great? You only have to deal with the stinky stuff once and then you’re good to go!;)

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

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One Comment

  1. Wow Rita Joy, Thanks for breaking it down to an easy to manage project. We have 140-year-old, dark stained wood trim around windows and door frames. I have painted tons, but never over stain. Hiring it done is not where I want to spend my money right now. Sure wish I could blink you here to my Lake Erie home as a cheerleader! Thank you so much for sharing your creativity, know how and ambition with us!!!

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