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Ask the Craftsman: Which Paint is Best For Wood Windows?

wood windows
Image Copyright:
Scott Sidler

This week’s question comes from Dave in Minneapolis, MN.

Dave, before you paint anything I recommend priming your wood windows with a good oil-based primer. You can read more about primers here. Once you’ve primed you’re ready to pick a finish paint.

Oil-based Paint

Oil-based enamel is great for woodwork. It provides a hard finish that won’t cause your windows to stick like water-based paints have a tendency to do.

The downside is that they tend to yellow slightly over time and are more prone to mildew than water-based paint. Inside that isn’t too much of an issue but painting outside in a humid climate will likely yield mildew problems.

Here in Florida I use oil-based paints occasionally on the interior but never on the exterior. My favorite is Ben Moore Impervo.

Water-based Paint

This is what I use most of the time on wood windows. But don’t choose any old water-based paint. You MUST choose an enamel paint or else you will get windows that are constantly sticking in their jambs. A good choice is Sherwin-Williams Porch & Floor Enamel, but my new favorite is Sherwin-Williams Sher-Cryl.

Sher-Cryl is hiding behind the counter and is only available at Sherwin-Williams Marine & Industrial stores. It works phenomenally! Excellent adhesion and not tacky at all. It’s expensive but the best paints always are.

For tons more info on restoring wood windows you can visit my resource page How To: Repair Old Wood Windows


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21 thoughts on “Ask the Craftsman: Which Paint is Best For Wood Windows?

  1. Hi Scott, I have fastidiously read all of your posts about paint and primer for exterior wood trim, sashes and doors. I had it all down, with one problem: I live in California. We can’t use oil-based enamel paint here. The same for primers. What do you recommend for doors and sashes in this case?

  2. Is SherCyrl ok to use in Alberta Canada on exterior Windows. Temp could drop as low as minus 35-40 degrees .

    What do u recommend. Thank you.

  3. Scott I know this post is outdated but what are your thoughts on lindseed oil paint ? I heard it’s great but it can cause mildew even with the allback brands.

  4. Prepping for painting wood interior of windows (vinyl exterior) which were previously stained and given a polyurethane coating. My plan was to sand, then prime, sand again, then paint. What are your recommendations for interior prime and paint?

  5. My home is 100 years old.
    I have areas where the old paint is firmly attached and areas where it can be easily peeled or scraped.
    I remove and replace any rotted or heavily damaged wood.
    After carefully removing all loose paint and a light pass with sanding sponge I prime the old paint and bare wood with SW Oil Based All Surface Enamel primer.
    It dries fast. I typically wait 24 hours, then I then prime with water based SW Pro-Cryl.
    Then the final exterior paint coats.
    I’ve used this layering (which may be overkill) on both the house exterior and interior woodwork and so far it has held up nicely.

  6. Douglas fir wood windows to be painted. What is the best choice for paint? Two coats and primer?
    Thank you!

  7. I have Hurd windows that were not taken care of in a home we just purchased. The windows were varnished on the inside and from being left open the varnish has worn off in spots and molded. I have bleached them down and will have to sand the remaining varnish. What is a good paint to use on the interior of these windows? They will need priming and then painting. Thank you in advance for your help.

  8. Hi Scot,

    I’m refurbishing the windows in our 100 year old home and your site has been a great resource.

    I’ve removed all the previous coatings and we are back to a clean pine surface. The pine is quite dry.

    Do you use a primer under the Sher-Cryl?

    If so, what primer do you use?



      1. Forgive my ignorance, but if I am understanding your directions, i use an oil based primer under water based paint. That won’t be a problem?

  9. I don’t see where you say WHY acrylic is better for exterior window painting… I thought that when exposed to daylight yellowing isn’t an issue on oil, and that nothing beats oil on exterior surfaces?

    Would you clarify please?

  10. Are there any VOC concerns to keep in mind when using these enamel paints you recommend?

    By the way, I totally think your approach to this issue is right on, I’ve worried about “tackiness” of latex paint for my window project.

  11. Just a couple of questions regarding primer and paint:

    1. We are in the midst of restoring our old wood windows and had a contractor (who was going to make replica windows) tell us that they recommend two coats of oil-based primer beneath a coat of latex paint. Do you have any experience with this? We’re hoping that just one coat will suffice since we’re expecting to have to do two coats of paint for proper coverage (even with quality paint). We’re doing a dark color over cream.

    2. Speaking of paint, is Ben Moore Aura exterior paint in semi-gloss appropriate for windows and trim? Or do we need to find something specifically called “enamel”?

    1. Leslie, 2 coats of oil-based primer is great, but it will definitely need at least 2 coats of finish paint over top of everything. Aura is a good product, but more for the body. I would stick with an exterior enamel for the sashes. You want a very hard durable finish that will not be tacky like regular paints. A porch and floor enamel would work well for this application.

      1. Scott,
        3 quick questions in relation to this
        1) instead of 2 coats of oil based primer and the additional drying time, could one do a “wet on wet” “2 coats at once”?
        2) if the color scheme has the trim around the windows the same as the sashes, do you need to use the same paint for both to avoid an appearance mismatch (or do you paint surrounding trim and sashes different colors?)
        3) in painting cedar shingles to replace broken/badly weathered ones, I’ve been told that it is good to prime the backs as well. most primers say they are for priming only, to topcoat. I don’t know how much of that is because of UV which is not an issue, any primer that you would use to leave uncoated in such a situation?

        1. Mike, 1) I would follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for drying times between coats on primer and also how thick each coat should be.
          2) I prefer to use the same type of paint on the trim and sashes but it isn’t necessary. Matching the color is all you really need.
          3) We back prime everything we install on the outside of a house. Just good protective practices. So yes, prime them in my opinion.

  12. “Sher-Cryl is hiding behind the counter and is only available at Sherwin-Williams Marine & Industrial stores. It works phenomenally!”

    Aha! The old secret behind the counter trick…
    About 10 years ago when I started to paint my cedar shingled Queen Anne house, I was willing to pay a hefty price for paint if it would actually last longer than others, as the labor on this place is a monster. At the time, I stumbled upon “Duration” by Sherwin Williams, which had rave reviews by a fellow up in the Twin Cities, actually, who specialized in whole house repaints and gave a 20 year guarantee. I’ve been happy with it as a house paint (though it has some issues…). maybe I’ll need to look at this other when I get to my major multiple-window project.

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