Acrylic vs Oil Paint on Wood


Sooner or later you may wonder if you should be using acrylics or oil based paints on wood craft.Some people think oils are theΒ  superior medium. I for one, studied painting in college and we worked in oils.Β  However it’s a myth that acrylics cannot replicate the beauty of oils. The people who say this (not judging them, I probably thought that way too, once) may have picked up some low-grade brand of paints and were disappointed.

Oil-based paint can be very good for wood. They look natural.They will also produce a waterproofed end result, giving you peace of mind.Β  To the left is a nightstand I stained a few years ago. It started off pure white and since most of my furniture is in the dark mahogany/cherry family, I wanted it to match as close as possible. I’m not sure if I gave it one coat or two I took it, and the drawers out to the backyard to do the work.

(I think it could use another coat, personally….I see some show through)

I picked a sunny period without any chance of rain…Oil based stain takes a few days to dry so you want to make sure it won’t get wet before that time.

Composition of Oils and Acrylic Paints 🎨

Well, it all comes down to the formula in each. Let’ s start first with the different paints’ ingredients.

Oil Paint

The constituents of oil based paint is mainly a suspension of color pigment (usually oxide based) and linseed oil . Without going too much into a history lesson here, it gained popularity around Renaissance Europe as a more preferable medium to temperas due to their superior blending abilities.

The oil based paint you see at the local home improvement store, just like artists’ oil paints, was formulated with linseed oil.

You will need turpentine to clean up afterward, so there’s that..Turp is flammable, so take precautions. There is also an “odorless” paint thinner (it does live up to its name but its still flammable) Because its clear and transparent, it’s easy to mistake it for water, so if you’ve got it portioned out in a jar you’ll want to be sure to label it!

The thing about acrylics, is you can always add a few additives or emulsions to improve the texture. Oil based paint isn’t intended to be mixed in this manner…it’s already ready to go.

oils vs acrylics
Some of my old tubes of paint ..both mediums


Acrylic Paint

Acrylics developed much later on the scene – (think mid- 20th century. ) Their makeup includes plasticizers, color pigment and a polymer emulsion. As a fun fact, it was originally developed as a form of latex house paint before making its way into the art studio. The chemical makeup gives acrylics their ability to blend together, adhere easily to various surfaces (other than canvas) and only necessitate water for mixing and cleaning.

As a highly versatile medium, it’s great for balsa wood (think model airplanes) and unfinished too, like that used for plaques and signs, if you want to use multiple colors and perhaps include an intricate design.

Related: Best acrylics for woodcrafts

Color shifting

Another thing to point out, acrylics tend to dry darker…this is called a “color shift”.

Oil Paints Are Smellier…πŸ‘ƒ

Oils do have a distinctive odor to them. It is not foul by any means but it is distinctive. One reason I always pulled out my acrylic set when I got the urge to “practice” is that I didn’t want to offend my roommate, because, well, you know, some people are sensitive.

No judgement there…Acrylics don’t have much of a scent to them at all, if any (unless they get really old, and in that case they may be unusable).


How to use oil paints on wood

Be sure you lay down drop cloths first. and choose a well-ventilated area to do your work in. Have your jar nearby with your thinning solution of choice (Turpentine, odorless paint thinner, etc., ) and be sure to label it. Also have lots of cleaning cloths nearby too.

If you have any parts of the wood object you don’t want stained, use some painter’s tape to mask those parts. I did that for the handles of the nightstand drawers above.

Always resist the temptation to touch anything for at least three days.You can’t really tell upon first glance, if it’s dry or not, since oils don’t shift in color upon drying. If you wish to apply a second coat, make sure to wait until this period is up.

Remember to wipe the excess off on paper towels and rags thoroughly before cleaning the brush bristles later. And last of all, make sure the rags go somewhere out of sight (after all, they are classified as a potential fire hazard…)

are acrylics same as oil paints


I think acrylics are best suited for small scale wood pieces, especially if you want to do something creative with more than one color.

I hope this guide to using oils on wood is helpful for you, and you can make an informed decision about which paint to use. Good luck!

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