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How do you paint burnt wood?

Painting burnt wood can completely transform the look of damaged and charred surfaces. With the right prep work and painting techniques, you can restore burnt wood to look as good as new. This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps for prepping, priming, and painting burnt wood surfaces. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to revive your fire-damaged wood finishes.

Assessing the Damage

Before you begin painting, take time to fully assess the extent of the fire or burn damage on your wood. Check for any charring, blistering, cracking, or peeling of the existing paint or finish. Use a putty knife to scrape away any loose charred material. The goal is to remove all the damaged wood fibers so you are left with a sound surface for painting.

It’s also important to determine if the burnt area is aesthetic damage only or if the fire compromised the actual wood structure. Areas with only superficial burns can be prepped and painted. But if the fire burnt through thicker structural beams or posts, you may need to replace that wood prior to painting. Consult a contractor if you are unsure about the extent of any structural damage.

Cleaning and Sanding

Once you’ve assessed the damage, the next step is to thoroughly clean, sand, and prep the burnt wood surface. This will remove any soot, ash, and loose charred material so the new paint has a clean surface to adhere to.

Start by wiping down the burnt wood with a damp cloth to remove surface soot and debris. For thicker deposits, use a wire brush or putty knife to gently scrape away the residue. Avoid using too much pressure, which can dig into the wood.

After cleaning, sand the burnt wood starting with medium grit sandpaper (100-150 grit) to smooth the surface. Then use progressively finer sandpaper (up to 220 grit) to feather the edges and create a smooth painting surface. Always sand in the direction of the wood grain.

Make sure to sand a few inches beyond the damaged area to blend it with the surrounding finish. Tack cloth the wood after sanding to pick up any remaining dust or debris. The surface should look clean, dull, and uniformly sanded when prepping is complete.

Filling Holes and Gouges

It’s common for burnt wood to have cracks, gouges, or missing chunks from the damage. You’ll need to fill these areas so the surface is level and smooth before painting. Use a wood filler designed for exterior or interior use based on where you are painting.

Apply the wood filler over all holes and damaged divots using a putty knife. Push the filler into the cracks and gaps to fully fill them flush with the surface. Let the filler dry completely as directed on the label, usually about 8 hours. Once dry, sand the filled areas starting with 150 grit sandpaper until smooth and level with the surrounding wood. Wipe away all dust with a tack cloth when done sanding.

Priming Burnt Wood

Primer is a must when painting burnt wood. The specially formulated primers will seal the damaged porous surface and provide maximum adhesion for the new paint. Use an exterior primer for burnt wood that is outside. For interior burnt wood, opt for a high-quality primer safe for household use.

General prep guidelines when priming include:

– Shake or stir the primer thoroughly before and during use.
– Apply with a high-quality mini roller, paintbrush, or sprayer.
– Work in thin, even coats and maintain a wet edge to prevent lap marks.
– Let primer dry at least 8 hours before sanding or painting.
– Lightly sand primed surface with 220 grit sandpaper to ensure smoothness.
– Wipe away all sanding dust with a tack cloth.

Be sure to read and follow the specific primer label instructions as well. It often takes 2-3 coats of primer to fully seal burnt wood and create an optimal surface for painting.

Primer Type Product Options
Exterior KILZ Exterior Primer, Zinsser Bulls Eye Exterior Primer
Interior KILZ Original Primer, Zinsser B-I-N Primer

Topcoat Paint Options

Once your burnt wood is fully prepped and primed, you get to choose the fun part – picking the topcoat paint color! You can paint burnt wood any color you like to match your home’s existing color scheme or go in a brand new direction. Here are some topcoat paint considerations:

Sheen: Opt for paint with a satin, semi-gloss, or gloss finish which are more durable and washable for high-use areas. Flat and matte paints absorb more grime over time.

Exterior Paint: Use 100% acrylic latex paint fortified for outdoor use. It will hold up to sun, rain, snow, and temperature changes.

Interior Paint: High quality acrylic latex or enamel paints work best for residential use. Make sure to get one marketed as stain- and scrub-resistant.

No matter what color or finish you select, always follow the manufacturer’s application instructions. You may need 2-3 coats for best coverage and durability. Allow proper drying time between coats.

Painting Techniques for Burnt Wood

To get a flawless painted finish on your burnt wood, pay attention to these key technique pointers while applying the topcoat:

– Maintain a wet edge to prevent lap marks by brushing/rolling into previously painted areas before they dry. Work in manageable sections.

– Apply paint in a thin, even coat using overlapping strokes (about 50% coverage). Avoid getting too thick.

– Use a high-quality Purdy or microfiber roller cover for smooth results with less lint.

– Paint in the direction of the wood grain whenever possible.

– Work methodically and pay extra attention painting burnt edges and crevices.

– Let paint fully dry between coats according to the label instructions.

– Sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper between coats if needed to smooth the surface.

– Apply any additional coats following the exact same painting steps for full coverage.

Painting Charred Wood – Extra Tips

If your burnt wood surface is heavily charred or cracked, take these extra steps to ensure the paint adheres and lasts:

– Consider using an oil-based primer which penetrates into charred wood better than latex-based.

– For stubborn charred areas, apply painter’s putty after priming to fully seal the damaged spot before painting.

– Expect to need 3-4 paint coats on badly charred or grainy surfaces. Make sure previous coats are fully dry first.

– Add a coat of clear polyurethane over the topcoat paint on charred areas for added protection.

– Monitor your painted burnt wood closely the first year, touching up paint as needed.


It is possible to successfully prep, prime, and paint burnt wood surfaces – even badly charred and cracked ones. With patience and using the right painting products and techniques, you can revitalize the look of fire-damaged wood. Just be sure to properly assess the wood and remove any structurally compromised areas first. Prepping is also key – carefully sand and clean before priming. Oil-based primers are ideal for maximum adherence to charred surfaces. Finally, apply your topcoat paint in thin, even layers following the direction of the wood grain. Your restored burnt wood will look fresh and new again.