Enamel Paint on Wood: All to Know About

Enamel paint is a versatile coating that can be used on most surfaces with adequate preparation.

It’s a solid solution for surfaces exposed to the elements or excessive amounts of wear. Some homeowners shy away from enamel paint because it requires a little more time and effort to apply correctly.

Drying times are longer than latex-based paints, but the finished results can be more dramatic and satisfying. It’s worth the extra effort if your goal is to achieve a long-lasting finish with enhanced durability and luster.

wood staining

Whether you’re a seasoned painter or just learning about the various types of paints and how to apply them correctly, we have a few tips to equip you with everything you need to know to apply enamel paint without hassle, for a flawless finish that will hold up far longer than latex coating.

This guide provides an overview of the benefits of enamel. It will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with enamel paint and make the process faster and easier. Our focus today is on how to use enamel paint on wood.

Pitfalls to avoid when using enamel paint on wood

Peeling and uneven coverage are the two pitfalls that can ruin the appearance of a surface treated with enamel paint.

Peeling is one of the most common frustrations when using enamel paint. It’s usually caused by failure to prep the wood surface before painting.

Oily substances beneath enamel paint can lead to bubbling and peeling. A rough surface can also cause the paint to peel. Another cause is not allowing the paint to dry properly.

Touching a tacky surface can leave prints that dull the finish in spots. Another issue is uneven painting. It’s essential to apply enamel paint in even strokes that ensure even coverage for a flawless finish.

The key takeaways to avoid peeling and a substandard finish are to thoroughly prepare the surface before painting, paint the surface correctly, and allow enough time for the paint to thoroughly dry before touching the surface.

Apply even layers of enamel paint. If you’re not familiar with how to accomplish these tasks, continue reading for step-by-step instructions.

Choose the right kind of enamel paint for the project

Enamel paint is typically oil-based. It’s available in a range of colors and levels of glass. Choose the finish that best suits the project. It comes in gloss, semi-gloss, high gloss, flat, and satin finishes. The shiniest type is high-gloss.

It is the most durable and dries to a hard finish. Consider the light reflectivity when choosing the finish of enamel paint. For example, surfaces that are in bright sunlight will create light flashes if you choose a high-gloss sheen.

The gloss level can add to the beauty of a project or serve as a distraction. Brightly lit kitchens may not require an ultra-shiny finish because it can be hard on the eyes.

If your goal is to achieve the ultimate in durability and long-wear, the rule of thumb with enamel paint is the higher the gloss, the more durable the paint, although all levels of enamel are longer-lasting than most latex paints.

Some enamel paint types are water-based. They’re valued for their non-toxic properties. The benefits of water-based enamel paints are the faster drying time, they’re easier to clean and they’re easier to work with than oil-based paints.

It’s a trade-off that requires consideration, as oil-based enamel paints are stronger, more durable, and deliver a smoother more attractive finish. They’re also more suitable for outdoor applications because they hold up better under harsh weather conditions.

Gather your supplies

High-quality brushes

Before you begin your project, gather the necessary supplies. You will need high-quality brushes for this project because enamel paint is thick.

The brush will make a difference in the ease of painting and the quality of the strokes. It’s recommended that you choose a brush with softer bristles with synthetic fibers. Angles edges can help achieve smoother paint lines.

Choose one brush type and stick with it for the duration of the project. You can buy them in assorted sizes for broad strokes on larger areas and small strokes in recessed areas, corners, and spots that require fine details.

Start with new brushes that have not been used for other painting projects for the best results.

Primer paint

You’ll need a primer to ensure that the paint adheres to the surfaces you plan to paint.

The preliminary primer fills in tiny crevices in wood and helps to create a smooth finish. Choose a high-quality primer that is suitable for use with enamel paint.

If you purchase enamel paint with primer added, skip this step. If you work with primer, choose a color close to the paint color. Avoid choosing primer darker than the paint color because it could affect the hue of the final finish.

Brush cleaner and other supplies

Enamel paint can be hard to remove from brushes when finished with a painting project or phase of the project. Clean the paintbrushes immediately. Dried enamel paint in the paintbrush can be nearly impossible to remove.

You’ll need a paint thinner, mineral spirits, or vinegar solution to loosen the enamel paint from the bristles, a glass jar, and a cleaning rag. When finished, let the brush soak in one of the solutions of your choice for 20 to 60 minutes.

Remove the paintbrushes from the solution, and wipe it clean with the cleaning cloth.

Dispose of the waste properly. You will also need painter’s tape, fine-grit sandpaper, gloves, eye protection, a dust mask, drop cloths, and extra cleaning cloths.

How to use enamel paint on wood?


Safety is first. To avoid getting dust in your eyes, wear protective glasses. You may also use a dust mask before sanding wood surfaces.

Use painter’s tape to protect the edges of adjacent surfaces if applicable, and put the plastic drop cloths on floors or other surfaces to avoid paint splashes.

The first step before painting with enamel is to clean the surface. Remove all oily substances. You can use a mild detergent with water on a soft, clean cloth. Avoid soaking the wood in liquid.

Instead, use a dampened cloth, then allow it to dry. Prepare the surface with a light sanding using fine-grit sandpaper. Smooth rough edges, then wipe down with a slightly damp, clean, soft cloth.


Put a coating of high-quality primer paint for enamel close to the paint color. Choose a primer color that is the same or lighter than the paint color to avoid interfering with the hue of the finished product.

White is also a good color choice for primer. The primer fills in small gaps and dents in the wood grain to create a smoother surface.

It also helps the enamel paint to adhere to wood surfaces. Apply the primer evenly, and allow it to dry thoroughly.

Depending on the temperature and humidity, primer usually dries within one to four hours.

If it’s wet or sticky to the touch, allow more drying time. If the wood absorbs the primer in spots, it needs another coat. You may add an extra coat of primer to ensure smooth and coverage for dry wood.

Painting wood with enamel paint

There are two methods for applying enamel paint to wood surfaces. You can use a brush or spray enamel paint. We address both painting methods in this guide with their pros and cons.

Using a brush

Start painting the wood surface in the far corner and work your way toward the center and downward. Make vertical strokes that move up and down.

Avoid using heavily loaded brushes. It’s better to start with a light coat. Maintain consistent up and down, long strokes. Pick up more paint in the paintbrush as needed. Try to get the layer as even as possible.

You may see some brush strokes on the newly painted surface. They usually fade as the paint dries.

Allow the first coat of paint to dry for one week. Hot and dry weather can make the painted surface feel dry within a few hours. Enamel paint continues to harden as it dries, and the extra days will allow the first layer to cure.

Some painters follow up with a second coat in a few days under optimal environmental conditions, but the longer the cure, the stronger the finish.

For the second coat, lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper, and wipe off with a dry cloth to remove all sawdust. Add the second coat of enamel paint using the same techniques.

Allow it to dry for an additional week. You can apply a third coat for maximum hardness and protection, but most of the time, it’s not necessary.

Spray painting

The spray painting method requires a few extra supplies. You will need safety goggles and a respirator to avoid inhaling harmful paint fumes and particles.

One of the drawbacks to spraying enamel paint is the health risk it poses to unprotected parties from breathing in the fumes.

It’s too thick for most spray equipment. You must thin enamel paint before it’s added to the sprayer. Check the label on the can to ensure that it is thinnable paint. Some are not.

You may need to add mineral spirits or paint thinner to the paint. The type of thinner you’ll need depends on the manufacturer’s directions.

Measure the amount of thinner you add to maintain consistency with all paint cans you use.

Stir the paint thoroughly. After adding the thinner, pour the thinned paint through a paint strainer, catching the strained enamel paint in an empty bucket. Straining removes all lumps that could clog the spraying equipment.

Pour a small amount of prepared paint into the spray gun. Test the sprayer by spraying a test run onto a board. If it delivers an even layer and sprays out fluidly, you’ve thinned it enough.

If not, you need to add more thinner. When you’ve achieved the right consistency, fill the spray gun.

spray painting wood

Spray the enamel paint on the surface of the wood with even up and down motions.

Spray a light coat of paint on the surface to avoid getting too much enamel paint in one area and causing runs. The first coat helps to create a solid bond with the primer.

Each subsequent coat of enamel paint sprayed on the surface creates chemical adhesion and a solid bond between the layers.

Allow the paint to dry in-between applications. Follow the same sanding and drying times you used for brush application.

Spray painting equipment needs immediate cleaning to prevent the paint from drying on the inside.

Remove the painter’s tape before the paint dries and adheres to the surface. If you leave it on until the paint dries, the new paint will peel off with the painter’s tape. You can add more painter’s tape before adding more coats of enamel paint.

Pros and cons of enamel paint on wood

Enamel paint provides wood surfaces with the highest possible protection from excessive humidity or dryness, weathering, and temperature fluctuations.

It holds up longer than most other types of paint and maintains a new look for longer.

Enamel paint is easy to clean. It isn’t prone to damage from mild detergents. When it is allowed to cure, it becomes hardened and durable.

The choice may be more expensive than other paint types, but it may save you money in the long run because it will last far longer than latex paint under certain conditions.

Brushing enamel paint takes longer, but brushed enamel paint is less likely to run. The paintbrush method helps avoid using a respirator or paint thinner.

A sprayer for enamel paint is a process that is faster than traditional brush application, but the work that is necessary for setup and cleanup is more intensive. Some painters find it easier to use the brush method.

It’s a powerful preservative for wood, but applying it can take longer. One of the most significant drawbacks is the amount of time needed for the coats of paint to cure.

Aside from the minor inconveniences, it provides a beautiful finish that can hold up for many years.

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