Can You Use Oil Paint on Wood?

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Many paint and sip students like to paint on furniture and other objects, and they often ask me if they can use oil paints on wood. The answer is yes, but there is a lot more to it than simply painting a design on the wood.

There are many painting surfaces for oil paint, but when it comes to using wood, it is important to choose the type of wood that isn’t going to warp over time.

Normally, cotton canvas is used, because it is easier to aerate than solid materials such as wood.

It is important to allow paintings plenty of drying time so they get the oxygen they need to dry out completely and properly. Otherwise, the material they are painted on could end up rotting away over time.

Luckily, there are things you can do to be able to paint on wood without having it warp or buckle later on. Keep on reading to learn more.

The Wood Needs to Be Primed

Similar to priming a canvas for oil painting, before you can paint with oils on wood, the wood must be primed. There are a few different ways to do this, and it only takes a few minutes (plus several hours of drying time, depending on what you are using for primer).

A primer will ensure that there is a thin barrier between the wood and the paint. This will help to prevent a lot of wear and tear that happens over time.

You are using a primer to dry the wood so there is no way that moisture can affect your finished artwork. If there is any moisture, you can expect mold and mildew after a while, which will ultimately become dry rot.

When you dry out the wood and add a seal, you don’t have to worry about this happening. Let’s take a look at the three different ways that you can prime wood for painting with oil paints.

#1. Turpentine and Tung Oil

I love using turpentine for this purpose, because not only does it dry the wood, it also seals it. Turpentine is often used for thinning out paints, and it is ideal for treating wood, especially if the finished product is going to be exposed to the elements.

I suggest creating a blend of turpentine and tung oil with a 50/50 ratio. This is best for priming wood for painting.

If you only use turpentine, it could cause the paint to separate. This is why you need to mix it with tung oil.

#2. Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is something that needs to be in every artist’s studio because there are so many uses for it. This includes using it as a primer for wood. I always say that if you aren’t using turpentine, linseed oil is the next best thing!

One of the great things about linseed oil is that it isn’t toxic like turpentine. It is relatively safe to use, and you don’t have to worry about it being a danger to children or pets. There are also no fumes to worry about.

Flaxseed oil is another option that will work just as well. This yellow liquid is safe for all wood surfaces, and it doesn’t take very long to dry.

#3. Gesso

Another excellent option is to use gesso. I always use it to prime all of my canvases (when I don’t use canvases that are already primed), and I have used it on wood as well.

Geso is great because it holds paint well, and can be used for smaller projects. It was originally used for canvases, but many artists have discovered that it can be used to prime other surfaces.

You can get gesso in a variety of textures, from smooth to rough, and there are two different grades available, student gesso and artist gesso.

Best Woods to Use When Working with Oil Paints

You may be wondering if certain types of wood are better to use when working with oil paints. The answer is yes. 

The quality and type of wood for oil painting will affect the final outcome. Here’s what I recommend:

#1. Birch

Birch is very popular, and often used to create frames for cotton canvases. Birch is quite porous, which is why it needs to be treated before you can paint on it. I suggest using at least two coats of gesso to make sure that no paint seeps into the wood.

#2. Maple

If you want to use hardwood, maple is the best choice for painting with oil paints. Maple is often used in many decorative elements in a home, on furniture, and for other decorations.

Maple can be ordered in full panels, and then you can cut it down to the size you need. It is one of the best wood surfaces for painting with oils.

#3. Plywood and Hardboard

If you are looking to save money, you can also use plywood and hardboard for oil painting. They are less expensive than birch or maple, but they do need more attention.

When using plywood or hardboard you will need to use two to three layers of a drying agent before you can begin painting. Plywood requires more sealing than other types of wood because since it is compressed there are areas that moisture can get into.

Make Sure the Wood is Sealed

When sealing a piece of wood for painting it is important to make sure that it is completely sealed, no matter what drying agent or sealant you are working with. Even if the wood has been partially treated before you buy it, it is still important to seal it again to be on the safe side.

I always tell paint and sip students to seal the front, back, and sides of the wood panel before they begin painting. This is going to ensure that no moisture is going to eventually seep into the wood fibers.

What Is The Best Oil Paint for Wood?

To achieve the best results for your wood oil painting, you need to choose quality oil paints.

When it comes to painting on wood with oil paints, it is recommended to use artist-grade oil paints that are specifically formulated for fine art applications. Winsor & Newton, Gamblin, and Old Holland are a few well-known companies recognised for their high-quality oil paints.

The qualities of the paint must be taken into account while painting on wood. Look for oil paints that create a long-lasting finish and have good adherence to wood surfaces. Choosing paints with a smooth consistency and ease of use is also beneficial.

Also check my guide to learn how to make oil paints dry faster.


While it is going to take some effort, you can easily paint with oil paints on wood surfaces. Make sure that you seal the wood, and add a coat or two of some sort of primer. My go-to is always gesso, just because it is what I am used to using.

I do recommend trying different mediums and sealants to see which one works best with the various types of wood you may be using for your paintings. After a while, you will have a system that works for you and your artwork. Oil paintings on wood look incredible once you master the art.

Check my guide on other painting surface substitutes you can try.

See more: Can you use watercolors on wood?

*image by K1tyara/depositphotos