Should You Paint Your Wood Ceiling?
- Painting a wooden ceiling takes several days. Plan accordingly.
- Only oil-based primer will work over stained wood. Be sure to ventilate your workspace. Dispose of primer responsibly.
- Cover everything with plastic.
- Two thick coats of primer are best, although I got away with only one. Dip the brush only slightly into the primer to avoid drips.
- Let dry between coats.
- To create the illusion of a higher ceiling, use a lighter color on the ceiling and a darker color on the walls and/or any raking.
- Never give up!
When my kids and I moved into our home in the forest, I thought the wooden ceiling was quite appropriate for our new habitat. It had a lovely honey-colored stain, with charming, low-hung beams traversing the planks. I thought we could live with it.
After the first several months, I knew I was wrong. The ceiling was dark and oppressive. It swallowed light like a black hole; it was evil.
I scoured the web for information on how to paint wooden ceilings. Surprisingly, I found little help. One afternoon, I’d had enough. I pulled out a gallon of primer and slapped a couple of bright, white layers onto a small patch of ceiling. I figured once I got started, I’d get it done soon enough. I lay back on the couch and smiled smugly at my patch.
It gloated back at me for the next 14 months.
It did worse than dare me to haul out the ladder and expand its boundaries during the time I didn’t have. It turned yellow. A sage young man at the hardware store enlightened me.
“You can’t use a water-based primer over stained wood,” he explained, kindly. “No matter how many layers you use, the stain will bleed through.”
Now the battle had escalated to chemical warfare. I faced a gallon of deadly, oil-based primer and some noxious paint thinner to clean it up. I opened all the doors and windows and banished the kids from the house. I got to work, breathing lightly.
It is not a good idea to lug the full gallon of deadly, oil-based primer (DOP) around with you. You may spill some. Take it from me. Instead, I learned to use a nifty, plastic bucket. I’d pour a little DOP in and set it on the ladder.
I covered every square millimeter of flooring with plastic drop clothes from the hardware store. Drops of DOP have sensors that guide them to the exact location of any uncovered floor space. I covered my furniture, too.
I learned to dip the brush only slightly into the DOP. If the DOP traveled too far up the bristles, drips of it squeezed out the sides and onto those uncovered square millimeters of flooring. This was especially true if I had any residual paint thinner in the brush.
My brushstrokes soon rivaled those of Rembrandt. I learned to angle the brush at about 45 degrees and sweep it back slowly, laying the DOP on as thickly as I dared. Do not be thrifty when applying DOP. You want a good, thick layer.
I learned never to try cleaning up my brush and DOP in the laundry sink. Instead, I poured a little paint thinner into a glass jar and jabbed the paintbrush up and down, clearing out the DOP. The lid could be replaced, and the thinner reused the next day. When the war was over, the whole fuming mess could go to those poor Hazardous Materials guys at the dump, and simply fade out of my blissful existence.
The key to finishing the primer layer is patience.
I had won! (My lungs have yet to verify that.) My ceiling was now primed and ready to paint. What a feeling!
Applying the paint was much easier. I used water-based paint, so the toxic demons were driven out. My only setback at this stage was painting an entire section of the ceiling the wrong color. I find paint color to be very deceptive. Once I had the shade right, I finished up quite quickly. I brought the wall color up the raking, creating an illusion of a higher ceiling. The color difference is subtle, but enough to work.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Did you sand the wood before priming it?
No, I didn't have time or energy to sand the ceiling first. I just put the primer on the previous stain. It worked fine, but sanding is probably not a bad idea if you have time, especially if you want to use a more transparent stain to see the wood, instead of simple paint.Helpful 2
Do you still see the knots of the wood and the individual characteristics of the wood through the paint?
Not at all. The paint is completely opaque on my ceiling. However, I know you can use a tinted stain to get that effect.Helpful 2
© 2011 Columba Smith