How To Spray Paint Wood (With & Without Sanding)

Using a paintbrush or roller can be a challenge when you’re painting furniture, a fence, or other wooden surfaces. Then there’s the question of whether to sand or not to sand. Spray paint is quick and easy to use, so it’s a clear choice for projects of all sizes. 

You can spray paint wood as long as you take the time to prepare the surfaces first. It’s also important to purchase spray paint intended for use on wood. To get the best results, be sure to sand rough spots and imperfections first, clean the area, and apply a good primer for a smooth finish. 

Can I Spray Paint Wood? 

Spray paint is a fast and easy way to breathe new life into old furniture and other wooden items. You can use spray paint for wood as long as you select the right materials and take some time to prep the surface. 

Not all spray paints are designed for use on wood, so it’s important to get the right product for the job. The prep work you’ll have to do depends on the wood’s condition and quality. For example, if you’re dealing with raw wood, you’ll definitely need to prime it first (or use a paint + primer combo).  

On the other hand, you may need to sand the wood down to remove old paint and varnish, or to smooth out the rough surfaces. 

Preparing to Spray Paint Wood

1. Choose a Primer

It’s almost always best to use a primer before spray painting your wood surfaces. Primers even out the surface and help prevent the paint from soaking into the wood. Primer also helps with adhesion, so your paint goes on smooth and doesn’t peel or bubble after it dries. 

Using a primer is also the easiest way to cover the paint that’s already on the surface. This is especially important if your new paint is a lighter color than the existing finish. 

However, there are spray paints available that are paint + primer combos, so you don’t have to use a separate primer first. This is a good option if you don’t want to wait for added drying time. 

2. Choose a Spray Paint for Wood

There are countless options when choosing a can of spray paint – seemingly endless colors, finishes, textures, and specialized products for different projects. So choosing the right spray paint for wood might seem like a daunting task.

Spray paint is typically grouped by type when it’s on the shelf at your local hardware or home improvement store. So, spray paints intended for use on metal will be together, all purpose paints together, and so on. 

Paint cans will include examples of acceptable uses on the label with the different materials the paint is intended for. Look for one that includes wood on the label. Typically an all-purpose spray paint will do the trick. 

Enamel, latex paint, or lacquer are all popular spray paint products for wood furniture, cabinets, or other DIY paint projects. Krylon and Rustoleum are some of the most well-known brands.

3. Sand the Wood 

While sanding may not always be required for every project, it’s still a good practice when dealing with wood. Sanding removes any imperfections and rough spots, evens out the surface, takes care of peeling or chipping paint, and makes the surface better for paint adhesion. 

Start by laying down a tarp or dropcloth to collect the dust, then use the SVT (sand, vac, and tack) process for this task: 

1. Sand using the appropriate grit level for the wood’s condition. You may need heavier grit (100-150) to even out blemishes in the wood, while fine grit (200-300) is good for basic texturing. 

2. Vacuum up dust from the wood’s surface using a shop vac or other vacuum with a brush attachment. 

3. Tack: Wipe the surface with a damp lint-free or microfiber cloth to remove any remaining dust. 

How to Spray Paint Wood Without Sanding 

It’s always a good idea to prep the surface before you start painting. However, in some cases, you may be able to get away with spray painting your wood surfaces without sanding first. 

For example, if you spray paint a piece of furniture and it’s still in great shape, it may be fine to spray paint without sanding. For that to be the case, the wood needs to be bare and in generally good shape without any rough spots. 

Many people assume they have to sand off any existing paint before they can repaint their wooden furniture.

If the finish is glossy or the wood has lacquer on it you’ll definitely want to do some sanding so the paint will adhere. However, if the paint is matte or flat and is free of chips and cracks, you should be able to spray paint on top of it just fine without sanding. 

What Happens if You Don’t Sand Before Spray Painting? 

If you don’t take the time to prepare your surface before painting (whether it’s by sanding and/or using a good quality primer), you may end up with results that you’re not happy with. 

For example, the paint may not adhere properly or the finish may look rough or bumpy. Or there could be streaking, peeling, or chipping.

Skipping the sandpaper now could end up costing your more time and money later on. So unless you’re dealing with one of the situations we just described where it might be okay to skip the sanding, be sure to follow through on this important step. 

How to Spray Paint Wood With Sanding

1. Use Proper Safety Equipment

Anytime you’re dealing with sanding (dust and debris) and paint products, you’ll need to protect yourself from airborne particles and fumes. Be sure to wear a mask that fits properly around your nose and mouth. Eye protection and gloves are a good idea, too.

2. After Sanding, Clean the Piece

If you sanded your wood item, be sure to clean it thoroughly. Start with a damp, lint-free cloth to wipe away any dust and debris. Then, use another lint-free cloth to dry the wood and remove any remaining particles. Skipping this step may result in a bumpy finish or you may even see dust particles in your paint. 

3. Find a Safe Location for Painting

Choosing the right spot to do your paint project is important. Not only does spray paint have the potential to make a big mess, but it also creates a lot of fumes in the air. So you’ll want to be somewhere that’s very well ventilated, but you also don’t want to be out in the wind where your paint will blow onto nearby surfaces. 

Be sure to protect other items and the floor with a dropcloth or tarp. Check your paint’s instructions regarding the ideal temperature for the paint to cure before you set up outside when it’s too cold or too hot. 

4. Prime the Wood

Of course there may be times when priming isn’t necessary, but it’s almost always best to do so. Apply the primer to the wood according to the directions on the can. Then, let the piece dry completely before adding your coats of paint. 

5. Spray Paint!

Once you’ve done all the prep work and priming, it’s time for the fun part. Start by reading the directions on the can carefully so you know exactly how to use the product, the ideal conditions, drying time, and so on. 

When you’re ready to spray, start on the underside or bottom of the piece and spray with long, even passes. The paint can should tell you how far away to hold the can from the wood’s surface. Spraying too closely will cause pooling and dripping. Try to maintain even pressure so you don’t have some spots with heavier applications than others. 

Start with a lighter coat with even coverage. It’s okay if the wood still shows through because you’re probably going to need to do multiple coats anyway. Spraying the paint on too thick won’t give you good results. 

Follow the directions for drying and curing time. Some paints want you to wait 30 minutes or one hour before applying a second coat. Keep in mind that most paint takes at least 24 hours to fully cure. 

How to Seal Spray Paint on Wood

1. Choose a Wood Sealant

Wood sealants help protect the finish and keep your paint looking fresh for a long time. Start by looking for a sealant that’s designed to be used with whatever type of spray paint you applied. That way, you know you’ll have the right product for the best results. 

2. Use Proper Safety Equipment

Sealants typically have stronger fumes than paint, so you’ll want to take special care to protect yourself from breathing the in.

If you use a spray-on sealant it’s especially important to wear a mask to keep from breathing in the particles. It’s also a good idea to use eye protection and gloves, and wear long sleeves to protect your skin. 

3. Paint With Long, Even Strokes

Just like when you were applying the spray paint, use long strokes with even pressure while applying sealer. To get good coverage all the way to the edge, go slightly past the edge before you release the spray nozzle. 

If you’re using a brush-on sealer, try to get enough on your brush so you can do one long stroke from one edge to the other. Try to maintain even and smooth passes with each brush. 

4. Let Sealant Dry 

The specific sealant you purchase will have instructions on the label to indicate how long it needs fully dry. Be sure to follow the directions so the sealant gets a good, hard finish. Otherwise, you may end up damaging the surface and having to sand it down to repaint. 

How Long Does it Take for Spray Paint to Dry on Wood? 

The drying time for spray paint on wood varies depending on several factors. The type of paint you use and even the brand may impact how long it takes to dry. For example, oil-based paint typically takes longer than latex paint to dry. 

How thick you apply the paint and the number of coats will also affect the drying time. And environmental factors like temperature and humidity also play a role. For example, if you live in a humid environment, your paint won’t dry as quickly as it would in a very dry environment. 

Still, most spray paints are designed to be quick drying. That’s because most people want to do multiple coats, and they don’t want to wait for hours in between each one. Spray paint is typically dry to the touch within an hour, though some products may only take 15-20 minutes. 

However, for the paint to fully cure it can take 24-48 hours. So even if the piece feels dry, be careful not to bump or scratch it before the paint fully cures. 

Is it Better to Spray Paint or Brush and Roll? 

In most cases, spray painting is faster and easier than using a brush and roll on wood surfaces. This is especially true if you’re painting furniture or something with intricate designs and corners that would be difficult to paint with a brush. 

However, brush painting may be preferred in some cases. If you want a custom color mixed, you’ll have to use a brush or roller. If you’re doing a large surface area, it might be more cost-effective to use regular paint as opposed to spray paint. You also don’t have to deal with fumes and overspray when you use a brush or roller. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which paint type you prefer and which is best for your project. But for something fast and simple, spray paint is perfectly fine to use on wood.

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