Painting Tips by a Professional

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Painting Stained Trim: Modern Look Sells Homes Quicker

Making white wood stain from oak boards
Painting stained trim and painting varnished wood trim is very do-able, but the sequence is a bit time-consuming. The one "must" is deglossing, and using a quality primer. Doing it yourself will likely save you many hundreds of clams.
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If you have stained or varnished wood trim or cabinets in your house your realtor has probably suggested (very strongly) that you should paint any stained wood, including doors. Good economic choice. Smart realtors. Luckily, painting stained trim, is not brain surgery, and we have some time-saving tips.

Power through a lot of trim/cabinets with a .

The 4 basic steps to painting over stained wood are:
  1. De-gloss even satin finishes by sanding and/or chemical wipe. Big timesaving tip: painting over stained wood without sanding is an option (see “Deglossing” below)
  2. Apply only a top-notch primer that will block stains
  3. Apply two coats of a trim/cabinet paint (harder than other paints)
  4. See our quick way to clean up: it’s really not that bad

These are expanded below.

The key step in this process is using a primer that creates a bond between the old and the new…and not any old primer will do. Wow, poetry. In poetry school, they called me a fool.  

Use the very best primer for this key step,   by Benjamin Moore. Read carefully our explanation of the process below. Did you ever see paint flake off with a just a nudge from a fingernail? Bad painter! Bad boy! No bonding was created.

There are three basic steps, that all take time, but we give some tips and some power options:  painting stained trim is not rocket science.

How to paint over varnish or stained wood:

Painters get a lot of money painting oak trim white, or any wood trim for that matter. But they charge a lot because it’s time-consuming: not because it’s hard. Here is how to paint over stained wood.

1. Degloss — I want you to Bond, Mr. Bond.

Prep here means two things: blocking any stain and de-glossing any varnish (even satin, etc). We are asked how to remove paint from wood trim, and we have a post on removing paint, but still, if you want to paint after that, you have to go down to step #2 here.

Deglossing can mean wiping or sanding, sanding, and more sanding (painting over stained wood without sanding is below). The main weapon for this is sandpaper, and you’ll need a ‘contractor sleeve’ if you’re doing a house (best deals linked below). 

One sheet of sandpaper will get you through about one door and a few window frames. We use 150 grit paper (shown here) but even   (much finer) will scratch the shine off well enough. These links are really good prices for 20-25 sheet sleeves. Sanding for smoothness? Use 150 then repeat with 220.

 Power through a lot of trim/cabinets with a DeWalt orbital pictured here. Save your wrists for guitar practice. It works with any round   Nice.

Big Shortcut: Liquid Sandpaper: Wipe it on and take the gloss off. It’s really quite nasty—very toxic—but has the great advantage of no dust from sanding, less labor and very fast. You can paint right away after using it. This is how to paint over oil-based paint without sanding. painting over stained wood without sanding.

There is a ‘green’ competing product called Krud Kutter, but we have not used it and the reviews are mixed.  Liquid Sandpaper (company website) is great but cannot touch your skin! You really need to wear chemical gloves   and a respirator (we simplified the complex system of filters here). It’s very toxic so you need very good ventilation and you really must wear a respirator.

2. Block bad guys — Only the very best primer should touch your wood.

The main event: you need to use the top level primer on the market: this assures that the stain will not bleed through your paint (which it will with low-level primers*). When painting over varnish you need bonding and when painting stained trim, you need stain blocking power.

You cannot afford to miss this point. As we mentioned above,   by Benjamin Moore is necessary. It’s oil-based but dries fast. If you use a primer without all the power you need, you’ll have stains bleeding through.

A coat rack without stain blocking primer shows a stain bleeding into paint
A coat rack without stain blocking primer shows a stain bleeding into paint

The best and first choice to paint wood trim should always be an oil-based stain blocking primer. Yes, we put latex paint on top of this later.

Why not go with the stuff on sale or the less-expensive stuff? Again, bonding. If you use a primer that cannot bond your prepped wood with your top-coat, you’ll have paint chipping off easily and will have to remove all that and start over. Ouch. Big.

This is our Prime Directive: using the best quality products saves money in the end.

* Let’s be sure to avoid a catastrophe: we must block stains by using a strong stain blocking primer, not just any old can called “primer”. If you do not have enough stain-blocking power in the primer, the stain will bleed through every coat of paint you put over it. We have a complete explanation on stain blocking primers, with our #1 pick at the top of that post.

3. At last…the fun part (with our biggest time-saving tip).

People rave: “You’re so fast”. Meh. We have a secret. But first, pick your paint. Here we send you over to a post great options, by one of the top 2 paint makers today: you do not want to skimp on the paint. We also have a whole post just on how to paint trim: you would do this after your prep is done here. (Do you paint trim or walls first? Trim).

Remember the Prime Directive, Captian Kirk—top quality paints cost less in the long run (even if you are selling, the rooms will simply look classier). Plus,  stop disturbing the aliens on those planets.

♦ Top Choice: No brainer:   A water-based “alkyd”, once only available in oils. This looks and behaves just like oil-based paint. The look is smoother than the next choice below, because it takes longer to dry. Wha? The slow drying lets it even out (or ‘enamelize’) just like oil (no brushstroke marks). Gorgeous. The best paint trim paint, period.

You can see the difference from across the room. Advance has been around about 10 years and is all contractors tend to use now to paint wood trim and cabinets. It has unique qualities we wrote in detail in the trim paint post. We love it.

I contacted the best, well, really the only brush company worth your money, and asked what brush is best for Advance. They replied that the   would be best, but that the Nylox  , is also fine.

Last cool point: you can paint with a roller only. The paint evens out so you don’t even need to brush it (unless you cannot get your roller into nooks and crannies).

♦ Second Choice: Also from Ben Moore, the go-to latex trim paint:   Oh, to have a nickel for every gallon of this we have applied. It’s tough, holds it’s color, cleans well, and goes on without drips/spits. Comes in satin sheen for trim or walls, also and flat, etc., for walls.

Disappointed to hear about brushmarks in latex? There is a way to use traditional latex paint but achieve a more even look. Simply mix with the additive   to your water-based latex paint: it slows down the drying so it can give the brushmarks a chance to disappear somewhat. It does not thin the paint, but it does expand the volume of the paint.

This is a good choice for painting oak trim white, including oak doors with white trim, or stained doors with painted trim.

How to apply:

We explain the simple steps in our post on how to paint trim. How fast this job can be will surprise you: so many self-taught painters just use a brush: Ha! Rookies. Repainting trim in any condition is the same as the steps for painting stained trim after the prep is done.

4. Clean up is not as bad as it used to be

Here are the highlights from our full posts showing how easy it is to clean roller covers and one just for cleaning brushes.

For rollers covers:

  1. Squeeze out what you can with your hands or even better with the curve in your   or the curve in your  
  2. Fill a large bucket with water and drop the cover in and soak it overnight. Most of the paint will fall to the bottom of the bucket. Good covers can soak for weeks and not suffer. 
  3. Either repeat again for another night or now that it’s nearly done, rinse and squeeze under water and repeat until you get most of the color out.
  4. But…

The faster way is to spin it. Watch me do it (on YouTube). There’s also a video on the product page (no sound needed).

We really clean our brushes

  1. Wire brush off any dried paint from the heel of the brush. We recommend the one shown as many budget tools easily lose wire bristles that go down your sink. 
  2. Submerge it in water or solvent and pump the bristles about 20 times. Change your solvent and repeat. With a good brush like Purdy, you only need to get about 95% of the paint out.
  3. To dry, comb the bristles with even a regular hair comb so they are good to go next time. Best to use the cover also (or wrap with paper).

Watch me do it. (YouTube)

If you used an oil-based stain, even white wood stain, we have to confess, we don’t clean them. After even brushes designed for oil-based products get wet, they don’t ever rebound to be like new. We buy very good brushes to go fast and do a good job, then… sorry… we throw them away. To recycle, do a quick cleaning and use as a dust brush. We have plenty of them.


Painting Stained TrimNatural wood trim seems to be less acceptable in a modern home.  Painting stained trim will look better in the eyes of a buyer, it’s true. We personally disagree about the look, but for selling a house, we’d have to agree with the realtors. So, very often, you’ll find us painting stained trim: maybe once every couple of months. We painters charge a lot for this, but the how-to go to paint from wood stain is exactly as we have described above.

If you don’t want to go all out, it’s easier just to paint the doors instead of painting stained trim as well. White doors with wood trim is a nice modern look also. Follow the same steps for the result of stained doors with painted trim.

how to paint woodwork trim

The opposite, stained doors with painted trim, has less white by surface area, but still uplifts an all-wood home to a more modern look.

Finally, a caution. If you are painting over stained wood without sanding (using the liquid deglosser), please wear that respirator and ventilate even in the dead of winter.


When painting stained wood knots will bleed through if wrong pimer is used
When painting stained wood knots will bleed through if wrong pimer is used


With this procedure, you can go over white wood stain, or any kind of stain and varnish and have a long-lasting painted-from-the-get-go look. Any comments? Please do.

That’s our look at painting stained trim

Painting stained trim is straightforward: follow these steps repainting trim with or without varnish. Do you have any questions or comments: please let us know below.

Related posts:

We have been asked many times if it’s hard painting oak trim white and now you see it’s not that complicated. The hardest part of painting stained trim is the prep. For trim in any condition, how to paint woodwork trim is the same as painting stained woodwork above: once it’s done, use the roller and brush method. You’ll rock-n-roll.

Here is what a professional set up looks like for painting wood trim:

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