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I'm trying to repaint a wooden retail store sign. Its lettering is still crisp, but the rest of the wood it's on has darkened with exposure to weather, making the whole thing less legible.

About the sign:

  • The wood is some kind of plywood, apparently designed for use in building boats. I can probably get the technical name of the material
  • The wood was barely sealed, or not sealed at all
  • The lettering was painted with 1-shot sign-painting enamel (this was probably before their change in formula)
  • I want to cover the whole outward-facing section of the sign with color
  • The sign is mounted to the storefront, and I do not have permission to take it down. I was told that the mounting is "complicated" and the store owner doesn't want nit futzed with

Constraints and considerations:

I figure that unless I entirely sand off the existing lettering, I have to use oil-based paint, since latex won't adhere well on top of it (right?). I'm worried because I can't reach the back of the sign where it's mounted to the storefront. That means the oil-based paint I apply to the front will prohibit the wood from fully expanding in front, but not in back, increasing the risk of cracking the paint.

I'm also worried about adhesion between the oil-based paint and wood that has been exposed to the outdoors for a long time, no matter how dry it seems to be (I'm waiting for some really sunny days).

My tentative plan so far:

  1. Sanding the surface of the sign
  2. Applying oil-based exterior primer (with a roller)
  3. Applying an undercoat (Is this necessary? I'm unsure) (with a roller)
  4. Applying oil-based exterior paint (with brushes and a roller)
  5. Applying 1-shot sign-painting enamel for lettering (with brushes)

Question: Is my plan sound?

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  • I normally prefer water-based paints, but for exterior wood and metal I go for oil. I'd use a combined primer/undercoat. Can you get a picture or two, indicating the current state and noting what you'd like to end up with?
    – Chris H
    Dec 12, 2022 at 10:21
  • An important point, I guess: do you want to salvage the current painting, at least partially? Maybe for historical, artistic or sentimental reasons...
    – virolino
    Dec 13, 2022 at 6:54
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    I would go "out-of-the-box" and create a completely new sign, with the proper materials and the proper techniques. And then install it on top of the current one. So, the current sign does not get removed (according to the request), and the store front looks cool again.
    – virolino
    Dec 13, 2022 at 6:56

1 Answer 1

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Why not use Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus? It blocks oil and water-based stains, no sanding, dries fast, is OK for exterior & is water-based. You can use finish a coat of your choice. Only caveat I can think of is that the sign should be completely dry at the time it’s worked on.

The reason I'm suggesting this is that I have used Zinsser as a standby for many/most things that need undercoating before painting--shed & house painting, signs, all kinds of other projects. I am not affiliated with Zinsser in any way, and there are probably many other brands that would work as well, though people in the trades recommend it very often.
I wouldn't use it for artwork, etc., and I would research requirements for surfaces I've not worked on before.

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  • 1
    Hi! Yes, I have used Zinsser as a standby for many/most things that need undercoating before painting--shed & house painting, signs, all kinds of other projects. I am not affiliated Zinsser in any way, and there are probably many other brands that would work as well, though people in the trades recommend it very often. I wouldn't use it for artwork, etc., and I would research requirements for surfaces I've not worked on before. Looking forward to reading more on this site, it's great.
    – Ruth
    Dec 30, 2022 at 6:41
  • I've added your comment to your post, so it's more obvious why you recommend a/this specific brand. Yes, it is a great site! I'm looking forward to seeing more of your input :)
    – Joachim
    Dec 30, 2022 at 19:42

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