Painting Knotty Pine Walls

Painting our knotty pine walls has been an odyssey, to say the least. To do it right it took a ton of prep, trial and error, and some really good respirators.

Knotty pine is difficult enough to prep and paint, but ours had gouges from . . . cats? . . . teenagers? Seriously, in some areas it looked like an animal had shredded the walls and in others there were scratched-in hearts. We also discovered that it was coated with years of pipe smoke buildup. This all led to a hefty amount of prep we needed to do before we could even begin to paint the walls.

Prepping Knotty Pine

The first big step in prepping knotty pine is some heavy-duty cleaning. We used hot water and TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate) to scrub the walls. This served a couple purposes: deglossing the surface of the wood and eliminating caked-on tar and nicotine buildup on the walls.

Knotty Pine Close up.

A close up of our knotty pine paneling before we started cleaning.

How to paint knotty pine.

You can see where the nicotine and tar had darkened the walls around the electrical outlet.


We made sure to wear gloves for this to prevent absorbing any nicotine through our skin, and also just because it was gross. We went over the wood multiple times. We would have to change the water about every four to five boards because of the yellow gunk that we were ringing out of our sponges. Even with all the scrubbing, I’m sure we left a little residue behind. It looked so much better when we finished though, and anything we couldn’t scrub off completely would eventually be encased in paint.

Our next step was filling in all of the scratches, holes. and gouges with wood filler. I used a latex-based wood filler and a plastic putty knife to smoosh (technical term) it into the holes. I went over the dried wood filler the next day with a dry sanding sponge to smooth out any bumps. Once we had all the walls cleaned and the holes filled in, we moved on to priming.

Priming Knotty Pine

Because of the glossy pine surface and the nicotine buildup, we really needed a serious primer, something that gets the job done even if you have to wear a hectic mask while you’re doing it (which we did). We chose Zinsser BIN oil-based shellac primer. This stuff is the absolute best. It coats and seals everything in and, because it’s a shellac, it fully encases any residue to prevent it from surfacing. We also used BIN to prime our cabinets in our rental house and it worked like a charm there too. I seriously can’t say enough good things about this primer. It has very strong fumes though so make sure you wear a quality paint respirator while you’re painting.

How to paint over knotty pine wood paneling.

The holy grail of primers: Zinsser BIN.


You will need to use a brush to cut in at the top and bottom edge of the wall, as well as the grooves between each board. I would recommend buying a cheaper brush that you can throw away because this paint is incredibly difficult to clean from brush bristles. You can put the brush in an airtight baggy in between uses and then dispose of it when you are completely finished. You can use a roller to apply the paint to the rest of the wall, where it is flat. We needed at least two coats over everything, but it looked great when we were done

How to paint knotty pine walls.

Painting the grooves in the knotty pine.

How to paint knotty pine walls.

One extra tip about Zinsser BIN: because it is an oil-based shellac, it is very runny and it dries quickly. If you’re used to latex-based paints, you’ll be surprised by it’s thin consistency. Don’t worry though, it will still coat better. You do have to be careful about drips and splatters though. In the picture above, you can see the little splatters that got all over Michael’s glasses and mask.

How to paint knotty pine.

And Now, More Prep

Okay, so prep usually comes before the painting, but with knotty pine, you will start to notice areas that need more work as you are priming. One of the most obvious areas is the gap between each board. There is a thin gap that recedes too far into the wall to be adequately covered by paint alone. Instead, you need to caulk each of these seams. We went through three tubes of caulk to do this. You just need a thin bead of paintable caulk down each seam. Wet your finger and run it down the seam to smooth the caulk out. Use paper towel to wipe off any excess.

If you have spotted any knots, holes or scrapes that you missed before, go back over them with some wood filler and then lightly sand off the excess with a dry sanding sponge before you move on to the final coat of paint.

The Final Few Coats

Once you are done with priming and caulking, you can start putting your top coat of paint onto the walls. We wanted to go with a flat paint to minimize the wall texture, but we opted for eggshell because the room was so close to the kitchen. We just decided to keep the room white for now so we went with Behr Premium Plus interior paint in ultra pure white. We purchased the same color in semigloss for the trim.

Painting knotty pine walls.

How to paint knotty pine.

Ready for the latex paint after our second coat of primer.

Once again, you have to cut in with a brush at the top, bottom, and seams. You can roll on the rest. You will most-likely need multiple coats, even with the walls fully primed. Still, you’ll be amazed by how great it looks once you’ve finished the first coat.

We actually had to pause our painting after our first top coat because we had contractors coming in to do the tile. We were hoping to finish before they started, but we will just put down some good drop cloths and finish it up once they are done. Still, the room looks miles better than when we started and it is so exciting to see it changing right before our eyes.

Look for an update soon with some beautiful tile and the finally-finished walls. It’s going to be an entirely different room!





  1. Nate
  2. Kathy G.

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