Choose the Right 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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  1. Phillip Carver

    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. Susan miller

    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.

  3. Pete C Peterson

    I need to seal marine plywood for a boat. What is my best choice?

    • 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.

  4. Ross

    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.

  5. Sue Seablom

    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

    • 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.

  6. PENNY

    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?

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