7th Dec 2022 -

Whether used for skirting boards, furniture, doors, or shed walls, there are many types of wooden surfaces in a house that can be painted. However, issues can arise when painting wood, due to absorbance, imperfections, and exterior performance. In this guide to wood paint from Building Materials Nationwide, we’ll be exploring the different options available for painting wood internally and externally, the levels of sheen commonly used for wood, and we’ll also give a quick explanation of how to paint a wooden surface.

The Importance of Buying Wood Paint

When using paint on wood, it’s important to opt for durable wood paint. While regular paint such as emulsion should still work on wood products, they will lack long-term durability, particularly on wood surfaces that will be used regularly such as furniture or floorboards. When shopping for paint, you’ll find many options specifically intended for wood, both internally and externally. This will be marked on the label and product description.

What Paint is Available for Wood?

There is a wide range of paints that can be used for wood, with some better suited to certain tasks such as panelling or furniture. When painting wood for exterior use, such as sheds or garden furniture, you should also be choosing exterior wood paint.

Oil-Based Paints

Oil-based wood paint is available in a variety of colours. Oil-based paints contain pigment and linseed oil within a mineral spirit. They offer a durable and rigid finish, a clear benefit for many wooden applications like drawers or stair rails. They will likely come at the higher end of the price range and will take longer to dry, whilst also posing a risk from toxic paint fumes in the initial week. Oil paints can also be difficult to work with for inexperienced users.

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Emulsion Paint

Emulsion paint offers an easier application than oil-based paint. However, there are a few drawbacks worth considering. Emulsion paint will not have the durability of oil-based, meaning that for wood items that will be having regular contact it could underperform. It also can have visible brush strokes, depending on how it’s applied. Emulsion paint is sometimes sold as water-based paint.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint benefits from self-levelling, meaning that it flows to create a solid surface. It dries quickly and is available in a wide range of colours. It also boasts chip and cracking resistance due to its flexibility. That said, it is most popularly used on smaller items or those with occasional use.


When looking to paint wood you will almost always be looking to use a primer beforehand. Primer creates a surface for painting, stopping the wood below from absorbing the paint. To give a consistent quality finish, you’ll need to use a primer.

Exterior Wood Paint For Sheds, Fences, and Furniture

Regular paint will perform poorly when used outdoors, as it is not designed to withstand the weather, quickly leading to peeling, cracking, and discolouration. When looking to paint exterior wood, be that garden furniture or a shed wall, you’ll need to choose specialist exterior wood paint. These will typically be water-based emulsion paints and come with resistance to exterior elements like water and sunlight. For the strongest options buy waterproof or weatherproof paint.

Wooden Floor Paint

Due to the high level of contact, a floor will need to put up with, there will be specialist paints available designed to be used on them. These will withstand feet, shoes, furniture, and spillages, offering a unique coloured look to your floorboards. This can also be used for bare wooden stairs, which will require a similar level of support against wear and tear.

What Sheen Options Are Best For Wood?

Paint sheen is the level of reflectivity it offers. Wood paints in the UK will be sold as a specific level of sheen, with options ranging from the unreflective matt to the reflective full gloss. While the terms used will sometimes differ, these are the general rankings from least to most glossy, with the level of sheen shown as a percentage:

  • Matt: Less than 10%
  • Eggshell: 10%-15%
  • Sheen: 15%-25%
  • Satin: 26%-40%
  • Semi-gloss: 41%-69%
  • Full Gloss: 70%-90%

Higher gloss levels offer better durability, but can also show up imperfections more easily. The level of shine offered by them might also not be to everyone's tastes. Satin paints are a popular choice for interior woodwork, making them pop compared to matt walls and ceilings, while not being overwhelming or drawing too much attention to imperfections. 

If you are trying to avoid the glossy look you can also opt for eggshell white on features like skirting boards. For more of a gloss and great protection from wear and tear, full gloss can be used on certain panelling features alongside doors, window frames, and larger woodwork elements. A full range of colours will be available, with traditional blacks and greys, alongside lighter colours like pink, red, and navy for those looking for something a bit different.

For exterior elements opting for full gloss is likely to reflect more light than wanted. If you are looking to paint a wooden surface that is damaged you can opt for matt paint to better obscure the damage. For cleaner flat surfaces eggshell or satin paints can give a relative level of sheen while offering better durability.

Should Wood be Painted?

There are a variety of alternative finishes for wood, with options like lacquer and varnish helping to give an attractive look without paint. These options can preserve the natural wood look and can also be used to rejuvenate an existing wooden item or surface. Especially when looking at older or antique furniture made from attractive woods like mahogany, painting over the wood can cause issues and devalue an item. 

Elements like skirting boards and doors are more typically painted, but for chests of drawers, wardrobes, cupboards, and other outdoor elements like sheds, it could be worth considering alternatives to paint and how they would look within or around your property.

How to Paint Wood

  1. Prepare Your Wood: If you are painting internally you should lay out a protective mat below where you will be working. Then, clean your surface carefully with water. If there is existing paint on a surface remove it with a trisodium phosphate solution, rinsing well afterwards. If there are surface imperfections you can fill them with wood putty to give a smoother surface for painting. You’ll then need to sand the surface of the wood. This is done in two stages, the first using coarse sandpaper to remove the worst imperfections and smooth sections where wood putty has been used. Then use fine sandpaper to smooth out the surface. There are powered sandpapering tools available if you can justify the expense. After sanding you should clean all surfaces carefully once more.
  2. Priming Your Wood: A good layer of primer should now be applied, either with a brush or roller. Either white or grey primer will be available, and you should use white for lighter paint colours and grey for darker ones. If the primer looks streaked or uneven, you can apply a second coat. You can lightly sand the primed surface with fine sandpaper if needed.
  3. Painting the Wood: Using a paintbrush or roller, apply the first coat of your choice of paint to the wood. You should paint in line with the wood grain, trying not to overpaint anything at this stage. Once dried, you can add another coat, using fine sandpaper to sand before applying it. Many wood paints contain sealants or topcoats to protect them, particularly exterior wood paints, but you should check this before applying. If the paint you are using does not contain a topcoat, you can apply one yourself, such as polyurethane, in two to three coats.

Paint Supplies Delivered Across the UK

Building Materials Nationwide work with professionals across the UK, aiming to provide everything they could need from a building supplier in one location, delivered to them at a competitive price. 

We offer trade accounts for those working in the industry, granting access to a dedicated account manager, a real person who you can speak to over both phone and email. Your dedicated account manager will be able to source whatever products you need, wood paint or otherwise, through our wide network of suppliers, offering it to you with competitive trade pricing and speedy nationwide delivery.

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