Wood Panels

I wanted to try painting on wood panels. So I purchased several 12" x12" boards to give it a try.
How to prep the raw wood surface? Do I gesso or can i just paint directly on the wood?


  • dencaldencal -
    edited March 2019

    Fiind a quality wood primer and treat back, front and sides, to avoid moisture absorption and warping.
    Apply two or more coats of gesso, lightly sanding surface as you go.
    Finally, apply a toning layer in oil or acrylic.

  • Wallpaper glue can be used to seal the back and sides--it's by far the cheapest option and does the trick quite nicely.
  • Presumably by "wood" you actually mean plywood, or "Masonite"/hardboard.  As a woodworker, I am not a big fan of Masonite, it is yucky stuff, I prefer real wood, and part of the reason is that I know what is in real wood.  Though by real wood, for paneIs, I mean a very high grade of plywood which is a miracle material that is an incredible value.  Birch, aircraft, or marine grade plywood.  That said, it seems the vast majority of painters love "Masonite".  I read somewhere the name was sold on, today, you get whatever HD, or whomever can find for a price, and there is no way of knowing what is in it.  Not exactly archival, in my way of looking at it. 

    With high quality ply, the only risk is the glue, the wood is wood.  I just bought for a non-art project some 5 layer plywood for about 20 dollars a sheet, US.  It is the industry's highest rating marine ply, 1088, and would normally sell for about 70 dollars, and there would be about 160 square feet of very high grade veneer in it, that at retail would sell for about 2 dollars a square foot.  The chance that the glue is bad is very low, as it is certified.  Because the material is made in quantity, if small by housing standards, deals like the one I mention are out there.

    To answer your "Masonite"/hardboard (likely) question, Stefan Baumann has several videos where he says he just sprays the stuff with Rustoleum primer in gray, one side.  I am trying that, and I suppose it will work for a good long time.  He is an oil painter, and I believe the rustoleum also works for acrylic.

  • I/m not having much luck with panels. I'm going to cape york in september and I want to do some plein air painting pn my trip so I bought 2 drying boxes and 8 oil primed panels to fit in the boxes. They cost 50 dollars a piece from Jerry's artaeama by the time I paid for postage. 

    They look good but I want to do some local oractice pieces on a cheaper alternative so I tried the masonate route. I bought a frame and got my husband to cut an a4 piece for me. Totally destroyed the frame when i tried to fit it in. It was also a lot of work for him to cut it our so I dont think I'll bother him to cut more,

     I bought 4 untreated boards from the sydney art store at 25 dollars a piece but now I've got to go to the bother of priming them. The other problem with them  is they are so thick I can only fit 2 into the drying box. Stefan bpughmann says one coat of rustaleum pn one side then you're ready to paint but from what I've gathered from these threads is you have to spray all the way around. Do you think one coat would be enough?

  • dencaldencal -
    edited June 2019

    As an experiment place the panel on a table in the sunshine. Within two or three hours it would look comfortable on the base of a rocking chair. Yes it rehydrates from the air and relaxes almost back to flat.
    On a less dramatic scale this happens daily with untreated wood as humidity and temperature cycles.
    Paint and varnish will not tolerate this stretching and shrinkage.
    When set up to prime and gesso the panels, it is only a little extra effort to cover the sides and back.

    If you want to avoid all this effort try an aluminium composite panel.

  • anyway I *and by I I mean Tom" sprayed the panels with rustileum and it got lumpy in spots. wou;d it be ok to sand these back?

  • Veronique

    I need to to know what material the untreated panels are?
    I also need to know which of the fifty varieties of Rustoleum was used.

    The lumps could be swollen wood fibres or overly generous spray treatment.
    The swollen wood fibres may revert as the solvent boils off.
    A lumpy spray can be sanded using a cork block.

    A pic would help me help you.

  • thanks Denis
    the board was birch see the link above. the rustoleum was 2x ultracover paint primer white. it was smooth before spraying so im guessing its over generous spraying. cant take a picture at the moment because its . dark outside.  Is the gesso step essential? Stefan kinda put me off it from an archival point of view. My paintings are very slowly getting better so one day I might actually paint something worth keeping

    Had a look at aliminum composite panels on ebay. free shipping so they do look like a cheaper alternative and I like the idea of being ultra modern. Do you paint straight onto these?

  • Veronique

    The bracing on the panels should prevent warping.
    The solvent based primer should not have swollen the birch wood fibre. (A water based primer would).

    Are the lumps an even overall coverage or just here and there?
    Get some medium sandpaper and test one of the lumps. When flattened, do you see wood or white paint?

    Aluminium panels can be painted on after a light sanding to roughen up the surface.
    If you wish they can be Rustoleum primed. Or go the whole hog and gesso / tint as well.

  • Veronique

    This is mob has a complete range including brushed and raw finish (paint straight on, no prep) ACP and will cut to size with outlets in most Australian State capitals.

    Try a sign shop or hardware store near you.


  • What wood is it,... ? All differ in prep 
  • dencaldencal -
    edited June 2019



  • I’ve used “Masonite” from the lumber yard glued to a pine backing frame. I paint all surfaces with PVA drywall primer (cheap), then multiple gesso coats on the painting surface. Sometimes I’ve added shellac to the backside for additional protection from moisture. Some examples are over forty years old with no noticeable damage to acrylic paint. No peeling, cracking, discolorations, etc.
  • For the aliminium sheets does thickness matter? I was thinking of getting a black/undercoat 2440X 1220 sheet with 16 cuts (so I'll have to ring them) to make 16 aprrox 12x16 sheets but am unsure as to whether a thicker on or thinner one would work better.
  • Veronique

    3 mm is quite rigid and will flex but not bend. The main vulnerability is dropping a panel on a hard floor. This invariably dents a corner. At 12x16, 3 mm is fine, above 16x20, a thicker panel will tolerate more abuse unframed. 


  • edited July 2019
    Anyone tried painting on a slab of gold plated marble? I'm sure it would work a treat. Anything painted on such a substrate would surely be a masterpiece, no?. :)
  • Baumann recommends Rustoleum grey primer.   Whenever you spray you need to shake can well and frequently; hold back the recommended distance; and spray only enough paint to barely cover, add extra light coats as required to cover.

    I cut my early panels to size, and only then had the thought of checking to see what size the frames of the same dimension really are.  It seems that reducing by at least 1/16" is wise.  Another option is to check what size your canvases are, to get an idea of the correct panel sizes for framing, or check your existing premium panels for size.

    If a person has a saw, it should only take, maybe 1/2 hour, or even a lot less, to reduce a whole 4x8 sheet to panels in the sizes encountered for PA.  I reduced my first sheet to 6x8 and 8x10, in about that time.  And my saw while precise is pretty slow given I move it outside, etc...  I made half in those dimensions, and half in golden mean versions, which took extra set-up.  There is also clean up.  You should get around 70 panels at that rate.

    One should be able to get the likes of HD to cut the sheets, and the cut charge would be low compared to 50 dollars a piece, though I would not trust them to do supremely accurate work, it depends on the operators, and the maintenance of the saw.  The actual equipment they have is excellent, but I was recently in there to have a sheet cut in half, and the saw was out of order due to dust.

    It is not necessary to coat both sides with paint, though it will do no harm.  One should not be painting PA in direct, glaring, hot light, so if one takes minimal care it should be OK.  Though, covering both sides is preferable, so far I have not seen the need.  Local conditions can make a significant difference, if you built your panels in Arizona, and went to the wettest parts of the pacific northwest, you are likely to have surprises because your wood will deferentially absorb moisture, if only one side is coated.  But if there are only minor differences between home and the field, you shouldn't have a problem.  If I was selling work, and did not know where it would end up , I would probably do more to make it bullet proof.  You never know what people will do, like place your masterpiece in the the bathroom next to the shower.  Once you paint one side with primer, then maybe gesso (not for me, thank you), then build up oil or acrylic over that, even if you spray the obverse side, it will still absorb moisture unevenly.

    I certainly wouldn't trust the foam core in the aluminum panels.  Nothing made of foam has really done that well over time, so far.  As Baumann says, if you paint a masterpiece, future conservators will figure it out.  Particularly true if the skin is aluminum.  So I am not worried.  But neither am I worried about wood, which has a known track record.  Mesonite I am not a big fan of, but people are using it and one should minimally be able to get the same results they are.  I held my nose an used some Masonite as it is well good enough for my current efforts.  I also go through a ton of marine ply for other reasons, or baltic birch, or aircraft ply.  I have full confidence in those materials.
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    TamDl said:
    It is not necessary to coat both sides with paint, though it will do no harm.
    It is necessary, because otherwise it warps.
    Local conditions can make a significant difference, if you built your panels in Arizona, and went to the wettest parts of the pacific northwest, you are likely to have surprises because your wood will deferentially absorb moisture, if only one side is coated. 
    No. Humidity cycles daily, as well as seasonally. This makes it a non-rigid support.
    I certainly wouldn't trust the foam core in the aluminum panels.  Nothing made of foam has really done that well over time, so far.  
    No. It's not foam, it's a polyethylene core.

    This is misinformation.
  • >It is necessary, because otherwise it warps.

    Plenty of people are not having that result.

    >No. Humidity cycles daily, as well as seasonally. This makes it a non-rigid support. 

    There is a time factor as well.  And the degree of variance.  You can't just categorically say that all daily cycles, or seasonal cycles are a problem.  I buy plywood and composite products by the lift.  Your comment is a vast exaggeration relative to normal conditions.  I live right on the shore of Lake Ontario, and we get get a fair range of conditions.  I do not have problems.  You should do a wet test and see how your finish actually excludes moisture.  Even 100% solids materials like boat epoxy will normalize to ambient humidity, sprays or other high solvent based materials will bead water, but are a poor buffer to humidity. 

    >No. It's not foam, it's a polyethylene core.

    Fair cop, but it is still a crapshoot as to what long term stability of these materials will be.  It is certainly easy to prepare wood in the home shop to an industry standard level of finish, the long term durability of which are well know.  Materials like Dibond are surely superior for outdoor, and short term uses, but they are not designed for, and do not seem to seriously support fine art uses.

    Dibond for example clears it all up by stating that :  "For oil on Dibond aluminum composite panel, each artist has their own process for prep, paint and coating the products."   They sure aren't getting in the way of whatever amateur science project the artists are up to.  You can satisfy yourself, but I am not aware of any industry standard process for bonding to aluminum that involves gesso, or the chemistry of gesso.  I don't know what their coilcoated paint is either.

    I am not suggesting these oil painted panels will fail down the road.  I am just not buying into the idea that there is any serious coating science behind what people are doing on them.  Whereas we have countless centuries of experience with wood, and and quite a long exposure to plywood and composite wood panel products, so I am not worrying about those in favour of the latest wonder guess.

  • edited July 2019
    I just don't get all this navel gazing about substrates  Mark Carder paints on canvas. That's a good enough recommendation of traditional supports for me.  Masterpeices done on canvas have lasted centuries. Conservation science has advanced greatly and skillful conservators in musems do a great job and, as science advances, we can expect they will be able to look after anything we might create.  So, FFS,  stop procrastinating and fretting over substrates and get on with painting your masterpiece on tried and tested supports and let posterity look after itself.  :p
  • Rob

    If it comes to that, what was wrong with cave walls? They are cheap, last for millennia and solid as a rock.


  • Hmm got a trip to genolan caves coming up ....
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