Choose the Best Alkyd Primer for Your Next Project


The core of the painting industry has always been alkyd primer, often called oil base primer. With a long history spanning decades, many varieties have been developed. All standard oil based primers are compatible with oil base paint and acrylic paint, making it a perfect choice for many painting projects.

Alkyd primer offers great advantages over other types of primer.

  1. High adherence to a wide variety of surfaces. These include unpainted or painted wood, masonite, MDF, steel, iron, galvanized metal, chalky paint and graffiti.
  2. Some oil base primers dry very fast allowing the application of the finish paint within an hour.
  3. Compatible with many types of paint, including industrial finishes.

Types of Oil Base Primers

Universal Primer/Sealers – All purpose alkyd primer is formulated for a variety of painted or unpainted surfaces. Such as painted and unpainted wood trim and siding, masonite siding and trim, glossy paint, doors, MDF, chalky paint, etc.

Oil base primer is excellent at sealing tannin bleed from redwood, cedar and other high extractive wood types. Dry times vary from 1 hour to 24 hours depending on product chosen.

Stain Blocking Primer – An economical paint primer providing fast drying and universal application over most interior or exterior surfaces. Will seal many stains including water stains, nicotine, crayon, marker, graffiti, gloss paint, wood tannins and sap from redwood or cedar, etc.

Effective at sealing many kinds of wallpaper. Might not seal oily stains and graffiti that are soluble in mineral spirits. Many products are easy to sand making them suitable for interior wood trim and doors prior to applying enamel finishes.

Wood Primer – Oil based wood primer is ideal for unpainted wood surfaces, both interior and exterior. Typically dries slowly, which allows it to soak into the wood pores and bind with the fibers.

Highly porous woods may require 2 coats before application of the finish. Dry time can be 24 hours or more depending on temperature and humidity. To decrease this time Japan Dryer can be added sparingly to the oil base primer.

Enamel Undercoat – The best choice for interior woodwork, such as base, casing, and doors. Dries very quickly, typically 1 hour and sands easily to create a smooth surface for either Alkyd or Acrylic enamels. 2 coats will be necessary before sanding.

Metal Primer – Many universal metal primers offer quick drying, 1 hour to topcoat, and good adhesion to iron and steel. Can be brushed, rolled or sprayed and top coated with either a Alkyd, oil base, or Acrylic, Latex, finish.

Galvanized Metal Primer – Galvanized metal, gutters and flashing, require special care before painting, this includes the use of a alkyd primer designed for galvanized surfaces. This oil base primer etches the metal surface providing maximum adhesion for the finish.

Common Rules for Choosing an Alkyd Primer

  • Universal primers-sealers are an excellent choice for most surfaces. But, choosing a product designed for a specific surface is better. No compromises are made with surface specific products.
  • Wood can have tannins and sap that can bleed through the primer and finish coats. Use a stain blocking primer to stop bleed through.
  • An enamel undercoater will provide smooth results on painted interior wood trim and doors.
  • Alkyd, oil base primer, will work very well for minor stains but a pigmented shellac is a better choice for heavily stained interior areas.


This type of paint primer is reduced with mineral spirits and has a strong solvent smell. Use adequate ventilation when used indoors. Application methods include brushing, using a natural bristle paint brush, rolled or sprayed, with either an airless paint sprayer or an HVLP paint sprayer.

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21 Responses

  1. I need to paint over old wood paneling not the slick shining kind. More wood grain stained finish. Which kind of primer do I use to paint over with water base latex paint. Recommendations please.

  2. An oil base wood primer is best for this application. I like Zinsser Cover Stain or original Kilz.

  3. I am looking for a primer I can use on a pressure treated Adirondack chair, that I can decorative paint over with acrylics. It would be for outdoor use.

  4. Depends on where the plywood is. If it is in constant contact with water then an epoxy will be a good choice, work well for the floor as well. A marine varnish can also be used, McCloskey Man O’War Spar Marine Varnish is a good choice.

  5. I am painting some old painted Masonite siding, and raw T1-11. From the research I have done, I am thinking that Zinsser Cover Stain is the best fit for what I am looking for, but want to make sure that makes sense.

  6. Cover Stain is an excellent primer, a little nasty to work with (oil based) but worth it. It should work well for you.

  7. I have a home at the ocean and I several hardie plank boards (siding) that the paint continues to peel in certain areas. What do you recommend

  8. Scrape and/or wire rush to remove the loose coating. Check the caulking or otherwise try to determine why the peeling is taking place and repair where needed. Now prime with a good acrylic universal primer. Touch-up or repaint the wall corner to corner.

  9. I need to paint over some oil-based deck stain that was oversprayed onto my latex painted siding, then allowed to dry. Do I need to rough up the oil spots first? And what kind of primer would be appropriate?

  10. Sanding isn’t needed but using a primer is a good idea. Any good exterior primer will work but a primer like Zinsser Cover Stain will be the best for your application.

  11. I want to paint over Venetian plaster. Any tips on primer? I thought about Stix primer from Benjamin Moore. Thanks

  12. Stix is a great bonding primer and will adhere to “hard to stick” surfaces. It will work but you can use less expensive universal primers like Zinsser 123. Allow a few hours of dry time before painting to make sure the primer is fully adhered to the surface then paint as usual.

  13. Hi – I’m looking to paint newly milled western red cedar siding. I assume I need an alkyd-oil stain blocking primer. Is that right? If so, is there one you would recommend?

  14. Yes, an oil base primer is best. A good primer is Zinsser Cover Stain, inexpensive and just works. Should be available at your local hardware or box store, Home Depot or Lowes.

  15. I’m making my own Board-and-batten shutters from commercial cedar boards, to replace original ones that are 90 years old and coming apart. The house is in Boston, tough winters and humid summers… I’ll paint them black, like the originals, and I’m considering acrylic paint, as I read it’s long-lasting. What primer do you recommend? Bleeding is not an issue with black paint, so I’m looking for adherence and long lasting. Thank you.

    (also: any chance they come in spray cans?)

  16. A oil base wood primer is best. If available in your area. Long-oil primers are a good to use and are available at your local paint store. These are slow drying wood primers that penetrate into the wood. Recommend 2 coats with the first coat thinned 25% for better penetration.

    Zinnser Cover Stain is a good standard universal oil base primer. Can be purchased anywhere. It dries fast, typically recoat in an hour. And available in spray cans.

  17. I want to repaint my front door, which is metal and painted but the paint is peeling in many places. What would be the best course of action in this case?

    • First a cleaning to remove any dirt or oily residue.
    • Now remove all loose or peeling paint. Sanding is a good way to do this. If your door is smooth then simply sand to remove all loose paint and feather the edges so their smooth. For embossed doors, with a wood grain texture, sand then use a wire brush to remove all loose paint.
    • Wipe off all dust from sanding using a cloth and water.
    • Prime and paint as normal.

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