How to Paint Old Stained Wood Trim

In this article: Learn how to paint old dark wood trim with these easy steps. The results can totally transform a room!

If you live in an older house as I do, you have probably encountered decades worth of interesting building supply surfaces. Also, if you are like me…you want to paint them! This house has brought me 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.)

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Steps for How to Paint Old Stained Wood Trim

Gather supplies

  • 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!

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.)

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.


Prime the wood

Here is where the fun comes in! I discovered this product in a spray can just a few months ago!



It is an oil-based primer. That 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.

(However, 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.)

Spray the primer according to the directions. Use even, thin coats. It will dry very fast. 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!:)

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.

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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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