How to keep dark grey / black paint pristine on interior timber

Recent months have seen a plethora of blog posts by interior designistas on the virtues of inky decor schemes. If you aren’t already painting your woodwork fifty shades of grey, you won’t be part of the monochromatic In Crowd, let me tell you. They can look rather fabulous, as this small selection shows: Dark grey or black skirting boardsHowever although it might be a great look when first done, keeping them looking pristine is another matter as a Twitter enquiry from Amy over at FlorrieAndBill suggested, very annoyingly her grey painted skirtings have started to chip 😦

Here are some tips I have from years of experience to try and help stop such decor tragedies happening to you!

  • STAIRS: If your timber is already painted, as stair strings often are, first protect your carpet edges with a decent quality masking tape. Best case scenario = remove the carpet and re-lay after painting so you can get right down to the edges of the stair treads and risers. If you can’t remove the carpets, use a flat edge knife to press the edges of the masking tape gently down into the crease between the carpet and the timber. Lay some cloths or old curtains down to protect any remaining carpet.
  • Gently sand the top coat of the existing paint using a sanding paper numbered 120, rough enough to get a good key for the new paint to stick to, not too rough to scratch the surface deeply. Use thin gloves if you value your delicate hands. If you don’t lightly sand the original top coat, just enough to take the shine off but not too much to go through to the wood below, the new paint may chip off if banged and show the pale paint underneath, no matter how much you spend on a good quality paint. Once thoroughly sanded, vacuum all the dust away and wipe with a lightly dampened cloth to clean away any remaining dust. Allow to dry for 15mins or wipe with a dry cloth.
  • You don’t need a primer as the wood has been previously painted. The next step after sanding is to use a dark grey undercoat, which *sticks* to the existing paint and provide a great substrate both physically and colour wise for the new dark topcoat colour. Don’t ever fall for that “One Coat” paint, it’s rubbish.
  • Which top coat paint to use? My opinion is that you get what you pay for. Cheap paint gives a cheap thin finish, exactly what you don’t want if it’s a luxury dark effect you yearn for, like the images above. Most wood paints, whether eggshell, satin finish or gloss, are water-based these days to be kinder to the environment but you can still buy oil based paint.

MOREGEOUS TIP: The surefire way to see whether paint is water or oil based is to look at the brush cleaning instructions on the tin. If it says clean with water, the paint is water based and will be touch dry after painting in under hour, if it says clean with white spirit or proprietary brush cleaner it’ll be oil based and takes up to 7hrs per coat to dry. Water based paints are perfectly fine for indoors and cut down on time immensely, with vastly improved formulations now meaning they’re also durable and hardwearing. The main difference is you don’t get the same *spread* of the paint after you lay or lift the brush off, meaning more likelihood of brush marks so go easy on application, have a light hand and take your time. I like water based unless I’m going for a super sheen high gloss finish. Most people opt for a contemporary matt eggshell look and water based paint is perfect for this.

  • Use a good brush with an angled head and go carefully and slowly, constantly checking your masking tape is protecting the carpet edges. I like Purdey brushes but you may have your favourite brand or even a favourite brush!
  • Allow the undercoat to dry as per instructions for the brand then paint with your chosen colour, usually two coats, allowing the advised time between coats. You can see how easy described these last stages are, and that’s because good decorating is all in the prep!
  • BARE WOOD: It’s highly unlikely that you’ll have bare wood on staircase strings unless someone has gone to great trouble to sand them all back and if that’s the case, I doubt you’ll be then painting them black?! Much more likely if you need to paint bare timber is that you own a new build or have had an extension or renovation works done. The general advice when going for dark colours on bare new wood is to first use knotting solution on any pine knots to stop oil leaking through water based paints and spoiling the finish, then prime the bare wood with a grey primer, then undercoat, then paint.
  • However, for super dark skirtings, door frames or floors, constantly under attack from vacuums, heavy feet and kids toys a little extra may be required…..

MOREGEOUS TIP I’ve tried this method, first dyeing – not staining – the wood using a wood dye like Rustin’s Ebony and allowing to dry before priming etc. What this ensures is that the top few millimetres of the wood is actually stained, so even with knocks or scratches, particularly if you’re painting a floor, it takes much more to see through to bare wood. This ONLY works with bare wood, you cannot stain already painted wood.

  • Once you’ve stained your bare wood, which can be done before the joiner has fitted it or once it’s on the walls, wipe it with a cloth, allow to dry and then use a dark grey primer/undercoat, then your chosen top coat colour as above. As I said, this staining isn’t obligatory, it’s just a little belt and braces tip which helps you achieve a deeper, darker look and added protection against bare wood ever showing through.

I’m going to stress again, use a good quality paint. The darker the colour, the more difficult it is to get a good look from just two coats, which should be all you need for deep grey glamour. Cheap paints might mean four coats and if you’re no expert painter that means more likelihood of drips, splashes and a right old mess. There’s a reason people opt for Downpipe from Farrow & Ball or Lamp Black from Little Greene – great coverage, rich colours and ease of use, and I say that from experience.

Decent decorating is all in the prep and going from bare or white to the darkest hues means taking the proper steps and doing it right to get that wonderful look above. Good luck & let me know how you get on!

4 thoughts on “How to keep dark grey / black paint pristine on interior timber

Add yours

  1. Downpipe & Railings (F&B) for us. Did work out a bit more expensive than we’d originally thought, but as you say – “you get what you pay for” and that is so true! We now have a gorgeous room that won’t need redecorating for quite some time 🙂

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