Choosing the right paint can be daunting when you see row upon row of paint cans at the hardware store. Paint has to protect the wood, be durable and easy to clean. It also has to look good. Make the wrong paint choice and you either have to live with it, or rectify the mistake, which could mean a lot more work. Paint consists of pigment (color), solvent, binder and additives. The solvent is the liquid, which evaporates, leaving the binder and additives to provide the finish and protection.

It is essential to choose the right paint for the job.


Primer provides a base to which the surface coat adheres. It seals and protects the wood by bonding to the wood. There are self-priming paints available, but any professional will advise you to use wood primer to ensure an excellent finish. Choose a color similar to the topcoat.


Latex or acrylic paint is suitable for almost any wood surface. It provides a tough finish, but also lets the surface breathe, thus allowing moisture evaporation. The solvent in latex paint is water, which enables easy clean-up and creates fewer fumes. Latex comes in various sheens, such as flat (matte), eggshell (satin), semi-gloss or gloss. There is an almost limitless choice of color, as latex can be mixed to the customer's specification. Some disadvantages are that it is difficult to remove at a later date and is not durable enough for some surfaces, such as baseboards and high-traffic areas.


Alkyd paint is often chosen for areas requiring a high level of protective finish. It is suitable for baseboards, doors and even floors. It is extremely water-resistant and will endure frequent cleaning. It also is the best choice for exterior wood, because it offers protection against varying weather conditions. However, it does less well in areas where there is potential for strong sunlight, as it will oxidize when constantly exposed to ultraviolet rays. The solvent component in oil-based paint is mineral spirit, so ventilate rooms while painting.


Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are present in most paints, particularly in alkyd paint. They are chemical compounds that create ozone by reacting with elements in the air. If painting a child's room, or if a member of the household has allergies, consider using low VOC paint. Always look for the "Green Seal" mark, indicating that the paint is free from, or contains low amounts of environmentally-unfriendly additives. It also i possible to buy VOC-free paint from special suppliers.

Traditional Paint

Traditional paints---those used before the modern methods of paint manufacturing---are environmentally-friendly, as they are made from natural substances. Many people are turning to these paint finishes, particularly in period homes that require an authentic finish. Such paints include whitewash, milk paint and flour paint. If you like experimenting with finishes, then you may enjoy making your own traditional paint.

Decorative Paint

Decorative paint finishes are usually used on smaller areas, such as wooden furniture and accessories. Choose from crackle glaze, metallic paint, stone paint, textured paint and even suede paint. With a little know-how and practice, you can even create your own decorative paint finish; faux marble, distressed and sponge effects.