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Prepare and paint interior woodwork

Date posted: 3 March 2014

If you would like your woodwork to look fresh, smooth and crisp after you paint it, we have some DIY-friendly 'professional' tips that will help you achieve the very best results.

Whether you are tackling doors, windows or trims, the majority of the work is actually in the preparation rather than the painting itself.

If you are repainting old woodwork, a quick coat applied over the top of existing paint or stain may look satisfactory for a short time, but it won't last. For longer-lasting results you will need to prepare the woodwork properly so that it is clean and paint-free*.

Tools & materials for the job

You will need a sander or an electric sander; abrasive paper; some wood filler and a filling knife; white spirit; a ladder or step ladder; paintbrushes; a clean cloth and a sponge; some masking tape; dust sheets; a bucket; sugar soap or detergent; some knotting compound; a quick-drying, water-based wood primer; and some paint (you can choose satin or gloss finish, depending on your personal preference).

If you don't own all the necessary equipment yourself, contact your local tool hire centre. They should be able to supply ladders, step ladders, electric sanders and any other equipment you need to complete the job safely and efficiently, often at very affordable rental rates.

Initial preparation & priming

  • On new, bare wood, start off by repairing any cracks or holes using a wood filler, and brush some knotting compound over any knots to seal in the resin. Black knots are dead and will fall out anyway, so prise them out at this stage and fill in the holes.
  • If you are repainting old woodwork, wash down the old paintwork with some soapy water or sugar soap to clean off any dirt or grease. Remove flaking paint using a sander, an electric sander or a filler knife. If you are tackling large areas of painted woodwork, it may be well worth hiring an electric sander to save a lot of time and effort.
  • Next, sand the entire area using some fine sandpaper, smoothing off any filler in order to create a good, even surface for the fresh paint to adhere to.
  • Wipe off any sanding dust using a cloth and a little white spirit. Seal bare wood using a quick-drying wood primer, working the brush into any mouldings to ensure they are coated. Avoid overload the brush or you will end up with drips forming on the surface.
  • Leave the area to dry thoroughly.


  • Read the instructions for the specific paint you have chosen, and apply undercoat if it is recommended. Dip your brush only a third of the way into the paint and brush it onto the paintwork using smooth, vertical stokes first, followed by horizontal strokes to brush the paint out, finally finishing off with light brush strokes following the direction of the grain.
  • Allow this to dry before brushing on the topcoat. Avoiding stopping for a break half way through painting a single section, because you will end up with a line between the old and new paint. Panelled doors are easier to paint flat to avoid drips, so unscrew the hinges and lay the door flat on a bench or trestles, if you have them. Start with the mouldings around the panels using a smaller brush, then paint the panels followed by the central vertical section and the top / bottom cross rails. Finish by painting the long, upright sides.
  • You may need two coats of paint for good coverage. It is better to apply two thin coats rather than trying to paint one thick coat, which can get messy and leave you wish unsightly drips.

*If your home was built before 1979, check the paint for lead before you start work. You should not use scraping or sanding techniques on paint containing lead because this will release dust, which is the main cause of lead poisoning.


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