How to seal and paint basswood like a pro

By Mego Kimani •  Updated: 05/28/23 •  5 min read

Basswood, a beloved choice for whittlers, stands out as an exceptional wood for carving. Its unique characteristic of being one of the easiest hardwoods to carve makes it a favorite among both amateur and professional artisans, who appreciate its knife-friendly nature. However, when it comes to finishing, basswood presents a different challenge.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the art of properly finishing your basswood masterpiece with paint, equipping you with all the essential knowledge and techniques you need for a flawless result.

Is Priming basswood necessary?

Whether you have hands-on experience with paints or have delved into our comprehensive guides on painting wood, you likely understand the importance of priming. However, when it comes to basswood, the question arises: Is priming truly necessary?

Is Priming basswood necessary

While priming is widely recognized as a crucial step in the painting process, there are certain projects, such as finishing whittled figures, where skipping the priming step may be deemed acceptable. In such cases, some individuals may choose to directly stain the basswood with acrylics without priming. This approach is often suitable for small carvings that don’t require extensive protection and are intended for indoor display purposes.

Related: Sealing stained wood with poly

However, for carvings that aim to achieve color consistency and enhance surface durability, priming becomes absolutely essential. Priming basswood provides numerous benefits, with one of the most significant being the effective sealing of the wood. The following sections will shed light on the importance of sealing basswood and why priming is a must for achieving the desired results.

Prepping Basswood for painting

Once your piece of basswood is ready, there are key actions to take before applying paint. These steps include finishing, sanding, dusting, and cleaning the wood surface. After completing these preparations, you can choose between two approaches based on your desired outcome: sealing or painting the basswood directly.

Complete the carving first

It is crucial to ensure that the wood is appropriately finished before proceeding with painting. Before applying paint, it is important to complete all necessary carving or shaping work on your piece. It wouldn’t make sense to begin painting while there are still unfinished surfaces that require carving or shaping.


Sanding plays a crucial role in preparing your piece for priming or sealing. While certain whittling techniques may intentionally preserve knife marks for their iconic appearance, sanding remains essential when a smooth or flat surface is desired. When sanding is done the piece can be dusted.

sanding basswood

Cleaning the surface

After dusting, the wood surface should be cleaned thoroughly. This can be done using a mild cleaning solution or simply wiping it down with a damp cloth. Cleaning removes any remaining dust, oils, or contaminants that could affect the paint adhesion or the final appearance of the piece.

To seal or not to

Once the basswood is clean and prepared, the next step depends on the desired outcome. If a natural wood look is desired, the wood can be sealed using a clear sealant or finish. Sealing helps protect the wood and enhances its natural beauty while providing a suitable surface for subsequent paint layers if desired.

On the other hand, if the intention is to paint directly on the basswood, skipping the sealing step is an option. This approach allows the paint to interact directly with the wood surface, showcasing its grain and texture while adding color and design.

Sealing basswood

To ensure consistency in your paint job, it is necessary to seal the basswood. Various options can be used for sealing, such as wood primer, shellac, or other clear finishes. However, it is important to note that when using water-based finishes, precautions should be taken due to their tendency to raise the wood grain. This grain raising can result in a rough surface texture, requiring additional sanding and surface preparation. It is advisable to test the water-based finish on a small, inconspicuous area of the basswood before applying it to the entire surface.

Sealing basswood

Importance of sealing basswood before painting

Sealing the basswood serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it helps to create a smooth and uniform surface, allowing the paint to adhere properly and prevent any blotchy or uneven appearance.

Additionally, sealing the basswood minimizes the absorption of paint into the wood. This is beneficial for several reasons. It reduces the amount of paint needed for coverage, saving both time and money. It also helps to maintain the vibrancy and color consistency of the paint, as less paint is absorbed into the wood fibers. This is especially important when working on larger projects or when using paints with high transparency.

Painting Basswood

Painting basswood is a straightforward process that is similar to painting any other type of wood. There is a wide range of paint options available, including professional-grade wood paints and artistic paints, allowing you to choose the type that suits your project best.

When using waterborne finishes, one thing to be mindful of is the potential for raised grain. However, it’s important to note that raised grain is not always a significant issue, and sometimes any fuzziness is barely noticeable. The extent of raised grain can depend on factors such as the fineness of your sanding and the specific type of basswood you are working with.

To ensure that you are satisfied with the final result, it is advisable to test a sample piece of wood with your preferred finish before committing to the entire project. This will give you a clear idea of how the finish will look on the basswood and allow you to make any necessary adjustments or refinements to achieve your desired outcome.

Mego Kimani

Hi there, my name is Mego Kimani, and I am the owner of Woodmeter, a website dedicated to wood finishing. At Woodmeter, we offer a comprehensive resource for woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts, providing information on everything from achieving the perfect finish to product recommendations and technique guides. Our goal is to empower our community with the knowledge they need to create beautiful, long-lasting finishes on their projects, no matter their skill level or experience.