View Full Version : Priming Masonite Boards

06-14-1999, 10:35 PM
I have only ever used pre prepared boards that you buy at art suppliers for oils and acrylics and I would like to start painting on Masonite boards (They are cheaper and Ive heard that they are just as good).
Could someone tell me what I need to do to start with this. Ive read that I just need to prime the board with about 3 coats of gesso, sanding inbetween. Is there anything more I should know?

Diana Lee
06-14-1999, 11:08 PM
Have you ever painted on clay board? It's masonite with a clay like surface on it. it works well if you have a time limit or you like to paint in layers. The clay seems to suck up the oil and it drys very fast.

06-15-1999, 01:06 AM
No I havent ever used clay board. I suppose I could get it from my art supplier. Is it generally very expensive? This may seem like a dumb question but how is the clay 'stuck' to the surface? Anyway, thank you for the reply.

06-16-1999, 12:13 AM
I just wanted to let you know that I have called around at the local art stores here and asked them if they have or know of clay board. They said no, they have never heard of it. We often don't have things here in Australia that you have in the USA. Oh well!

Jackie Costa
06-16-1999, 07:47 PM
Hi Amanda, just make sure to coat the back at least once to prevent warping. I have used different undercoats(gesso,acrylic,alkyd) and have had good luck with all.I reverse directions of each coat. Sometimes I sand them and sometimes not. Experiment til you get the surface you prefer. I used to have my adult school painting students make small four inch square samples to experiment with.
Hope this info helps.

Jackie Costa
06-16-1999, 07:58 PM
If I am a junior member the rest of you must be very very old. I am 67 years, or maybe junior just refers to a new member.I of course am very young in spirit. Someone let me know, please

Roger E
06-20-1999, 08:01 AM
He he....Jackie....I think that the "Jr." is just a matter of having posted a new reply. I am 59 and so at this stage, I find "Jounior" in front of my name a welcome thing. He He.
Amanda....I often use Masonite. I find that it helps give me the "shine" that I prefer in many paintings. It is inexpensive, easy to manipulate (cut to size), and gives a very different look. Simply give it a few coats of Gesso, shanding between coats if you want shine, and as suggested before, be sure to coat the back of the board. One piece of advice; you will find that the lack of tooth will result in the paint being pulled from the brush very differently that with canvas. A little practice may be needed. By the way, ever tried painting on the "back side"? The one with the nibs? Try it, you might like it.

07-06-1999, 04:26 PM
I hope this settles your question: you can purchase masonite at any lumber store, and they will most likely be able to cut to whater size you prefer. (It is also the cheapest way) Be sure to specify "untempered" masonite. A 1/4" is usually best, although 1/8" works for panels smaller than 10". About 14 pieces of 11"x 17" can be cut from one sheet of masonite, as it is usually sold by a sheet. The easiest way to prime it is with acrylic gesso. Brush each coat in alternating directions, meaning, do your first coat in one direction, sand, the second in the laterally opposite direction, sand, etc. Usually three to four coats work well. The surface will be like a lattice work of brushstrokes at this stage. An almost mirror-smooth surface is also attainable: get some silicone "wet" sand paper from the hardware store (it is usually meant for automotive finishing), wet the surface of the panel with some water, and "wet" sand the surface. You'll notice that the water will reactivate the gesso slightly and remove any minute grooves from the brush application. Wait until it dries, apply another layer of gesso, and wet sand it again to the desired finish. Even better, use Winsor Newton Oil primer to finish it off to get a terrific surface.
Clay board, by the standards of most professional painters, is horrible. As is absorbs the oil, so does it absorb the vibrancy of your colors and dulls it down. Thus, more paint must be used, etc. It is a waste in general.

07-30-1999, 08:17 AM
I have been using masonite for years. I prime it two ways
1. I use a short mapped roller to roll on the gesso. It takes very little time to coat the entire masonite sheet. After I get the gesso on I keep rolling using the weight of the roller only as pressure. Apply one or two more coats this way as well as one on the back to keep the masonite from buckling. This creates a wonderful semi-smooth surface to paint on.
I also use old fashioned white shellac. Apply one coat, then sand lightly and apply another. I was told this is not going to disintegrate my paintings but would like more information if anyone has any.



10-24-1999, 05:23 PM
I have been using masonite with great success. As my format is large (1.2m x 1.2m), I stabilize it by gluing flat lengths of wood on the reverse side, with woodglue. I only ever use the smooth side, which I sand, then apply a coat of sanding sealer. When that is dry I apply a coat of universal undercoat, and then a coat of acrylic PVA paint. This process is timeconsuming, but you can sell your work without fear of future repercussions. Rgds, lez.

05-18-2007, 02:17 PM
I too have had a hard time priming my canvases. Sanding them is a big pain in the butt. I then oil the canvas and on the close inspection, I see "microdermabrasion" marks on the surface(tiny little holes). This can't be good for a canvas. I will try another coat+wetsanding, maybe I'll have a better luck. Also I hate sanding. All that sand flying around. FLYING AROUND! And when you accidentally sand down your canvas and see little fuzzy threads hanging down? :eek: Don't ask. I have tried using a roller. Maybe I used the wrong type, I used a "hard rubber" one, the largest one I could find. Paid a fortune for it too. All I got was a mess(countless deep ugly grooves) Oh, man! I just want to get smooth!:lol: I should try a "mapped one" (whatever that means). I'll get a WN primer. Oh, I've got an idea: why don't somebody manufacture EGGSHELL SMOOTH WOODEN BOARDS, so I can buy them without all this hassle? I am NOT having fun, and I am not learning. This is definitely not an artistic experience. But, I have one humongous canvas(5x5) which I dread to think of sanding. In fact I refuse to do it. I want a "magic roller".

05-18-2007, 02:45 PM
First off, it isn't really masonite. What are you really using?

I will assume it is hardboard or MDF, and so:
If you want to do the simplest thing, just rub linseed oil onto the panel and let it dry. Both sides should be done to preclude warping. The panel will suck up much of the oil, so apply it liberally, and wipe off the excess. (I wait an hour) No sanding, perfect oil/oil layer/layer adhesion, no oil pull-out from your colors layers, and it is cheap. The only down side is that you dont get a white panel...Gesso contributes whiteness, but is there anything positive other than that?

Just the opinion of one old fool,


05-18-2007, 02:47 PM
This is an interesting thread and thanks for all the information. I had never heard of "wet" sanding before and also I'm glad to hear about the problems with clayboard, which I was thinking of trying but now I won't (don't think it's very cheap) I've been using the canvas boards from the craft store but feel that I need to get a better quality surface to work on as my work improves (I hope). Because I use a painting knife instead of brushes I prefer a solid immovable surface rather than canvas and masonite sounds like just the thing.

One question to whoever would know, what kind of glue would you use to attach a piece of canvas to masonite or MDF board? Or would you do that?

Marmari--thanks for adding a little laughter to my day.

05-18-2007, 02:50 PM
Lotusguy, we just cross posted--that's a good idea about rubbing linseed oil into the panel, I like a darker surface anyway. Do you rub it into the sides too?

Thanks for your input.

05-18-2007, 04:19 PM
Yeah, I basically wet the whole thing. It may be from me being a messy buggar, but is winds up all soaked in oil.

Other folks have recommended using Acrlic medium to glue canvas to boards, but I have no actual, first hand experience. If you want a canvas texture, why not find hardboard with a weave-like texture on one side? I have done that, but I prefer the smooth side. You should try all the combinations you can think of, and use the one(s) you like the most. That is how I wound up with oil primed panels. You may not like it all, but if you never try it...


05-18-2007, 05:14 PM
Thanks, Dennis. Actually, I don't particularly want the canvas texture but I've heard of some people attaching canvas to board and was just curious. I use enough paint (although I don't make thick strokes with the painting knife like some I've seen) that not very much ground shows anyway.

I am going to get some 1/4" MDF board and give the linseed oil a try. I'm assuming stand oil would do the same thing.?? I was trying to learn old master methods of layering so have several different ingredients for different solutions of mediums, all of which aggravated a chronic sinus condition I have so am scrapping all that and going back to the painting knife.

05-18-2007, 06:45 PM
...Gesso contributes whiteness, but is there anything positive other than that?...

There is in terms of aging. There are all sorts of tiny pests that like to eat wood, and also wood deteriorates, so if paint is applied directly to it, your work will suffer. Painting on a primed surface assits in any future restoration that may need to occur. Also, oil paint tends to thin as it ages and grow more transparent, so a darker surface could become a problem there as well. A primer also adds a structural element for the paint film to adhere to that is more compatible than if oil is directly applied to wood. The wood surface alone may be unevenly absorbant.

Using linseed oil as a finish of sorts like this is not necessarily unreasonable, but aside from the points above, it seems like a waste of medium compared to using a proper primer or gesso. I also recommend sizing the panel. I use shellac.

As for mounting canvas to board, in the past I used hide glue. I found PVA glues or mediums to be unreliable, unless I used something like BEVA. These days I've been using a dextrine paste product called "Yes!" (http://www.ganebrothers.com/products/adhesives/yes_paste.htm) that works extremely well and dries quickly.

05-18-2007, 06:57 PM
Hi DBClemons, thanks for the information. I am always amazed by the knowledge people have and willingly share.

05-18-2007, 09:05 PM
Hi Joyce.
Re stand oil
I have gotten out of the medium buying business, and the only stuff I add to oil paint is oil and OMS in the house, or oil and turpentine outdoors. I finally figured out that a simpler film structure would lead to a more stable film structure. It was true in semiconductor manufacture, and I believe it is true in oil paint. (And like most believers, I'm probably wrong.) But the logic has some elegance to it.

Hi David;
I'm sure you are correct in your beliefs, but I thought I'd throw my decision data points out for your thought.
Wood ages and has pests. Totally true, and I don't care. I have seen many antiques, most were worthy of upkeep. If someone likes one of my works enough to be heartbroken when weavils eat it, they will employ someone to restore it. Or not. I'll be long gone. The probablility of me (or anyone on this board) producing such a thing are miniscule: there are few Leonardos, I know I am not one of them. I just like to paint.

I can guarantee linseed oil strengthens the surface of wood. I have seen the electron microscope photos and ion probe results. (dont ask) It wicks into the internal structure of the fibers, and reinforces them like resin in fiberglass. It is surely unevenly absorbed, which I why I let it sink in for an hour. My thought is that once the surface fibers are saturated, the oil is securely mechanically engaged with the substrate. It is not laying on top of or around the fibers, it is within and throughout them. Further application of oil (color, this time) makes a thicker single film. I see much less penetration of other primers, particularly acrylic. It just doesn't seem to get "sucked into" the panel. And in turn, the color coat doesn't get the oil sucked out of it, as I have noted with other coatings. Kilz works, certainly. But it is oil with TiO2 in it. I'm cutting out the midlleman, just using oil.

Shellac seals the wood surface and prevent the oil from penetraiting the wood fiber. I view this as a negative property, while you see it as positive. Have you noticed that you can easily scratch a shellac film off with your fingernail? Straight oil is much tougher.
Finally, one of my guides through life has been "KISS,Keep it simple stupid ." I know you can make things too simple, but if given a choice of a simple procedure, and very complex procedure that achieve the same results, I always bet on the simple one. And I collected handsomely on a whole lot of those bets.

Thanks for your time,

Still just the opinion of one old fool,

05-19-2007, 10:11 AM
Dennis, anyone who just likes to paint is okay by me. ;) However...

Preparing my work surface to the best manner I know is not me trying to pretend to be Leonardo. In fact, have you seen the condition of his Last Supper? If I were building a house, it needs a good foundation. I can easily and economically prepare the surface to make it nice to work on and built properly, that's most important to me and the folks I'm selling to. It doesn't start with the paint. I vote for simplicity as well, and my preparations are definetly not complicated.

As for using oil on the wood directly, like I said "not necessarily unreasonable" to do so. I wouldn't, but you certainly may. True, shellac prevents oil from penetrating to the wood, that's the purpose of a size, which is why I use it. It will be tempered with gesso or primer, and then painted over, so no fingernails will be scratching it, nor would it be thick enough to be scratched. Just a couple coats is all that's necessary. Make your own tests of the methods you choose, read up about them to determine they're sound, and go from there; that's all I expect.

05-19-2007, 11:51 AM
The only down side is that you dont get a white panel...
The only downside Dennis? ;)

Shellac seals the wood surface and prevent the oil from penetraiting the wood fiber. I view this as a negative property, while you see it as positive. Have you noticed that you can easily scratch a shellac film off with your fingernail? Straight oil is much tougher.
I don't know what kind of shellac you're using but IME it's a might tougher than that :D

And let's be complete here: when shellac is applied to wood it's highly thinned in the first coats, and it most definitely soaks into the fibres of even a close-grained hardwood (I know from first-hand experience trying to sand it off!) and, as I'm sure you know, especially on end grain. Wood-based boards are pretty similar in their absorption characteristics to end grain.

Anyway, I too have some doubts about the long-held view that wood needs to be sealed from oils and there is a case to be made that sizing isn't a requirement for wood (and possibly wood-based boards). But seeing how paint finishes age directly on wood I do think that some care and thought into the prep procedure is a good idea, assuming one has certain longevity concerns. Without those there are few reasonable working practices that would lead to catastrophic failures of course, but for long-term stability the common preparation procedures of the past have their proven track record to guide us.

One question to whoever would know, what kind of glue would you use to attach a piece of canvas to masonite or MDF board? Or would you do that?Definitely. It's a very good idea in fact - adds stability to the canvas (largely preventing cracks) while giving you that attractive canvas texture to paint on. Unfortunately the best glue for the job is open to question. There's more info in some past threads but I would use a good-quality PVA, acrylic medium, carboxymethylcellulose (a brand to look for would be Tycel) as well as Klucel; and of course, if you're a traditionalist, a hide glue of some kind.

If you don't actually want a canvas texture then either use a very fine-weave synthetic fabric (most polyesters are very fine and even) or just size and prime the board material itself and paint on that directly.


05-19-2007, 12:53 PM
Hi Einion,
I have nothing against using shellac, it is a fine material. I have used it on furniture (another hobby) for decades. I used it as a final finish, and as a sealer to prevent uneven adsorbtion of stains. It is however more brittle than an oil film. (At least in my experience, it seems more brittle.)
My thoughts on the shellac go like this: Would it be a good idea to put a layer of oil paint down, then apply a layer of shellac, and then put more oil paint down. I think it would be asking for trouble, as it increases the number of interfaces that must formed and held over time. I know from semiconductor manufacturing that film interfaces are likely failure points. I know from painting cars that it is true in that film as well. I think it is probably true in other films, including oil paint films. If it is not a good idea to put them between layers of oil, then is it a good idea to put the original layer of oil on top of shellac? Why not just put oil into the wood and keep building the film from that base.

Yeah, I know it isn't the way it has "always been done", but I made a pretty good career out of rethinking "how it's always been done". I think people should reevaluate traditional methods. Surely some of them were started by idiots with clout. Why shouldn't some idiot without clout rethink them?

Just the opinion of one old fool,


05-19-2007, 12:59 PM
Another thought that might be beneficial to longevity: I have been lightly sanding the slick surface of the MDF board before applying any gesso/primer. My reasoning is that some sanding scratches will add a bit of tooth for the gesso to grab on to.

05-19-2007, 06:14 PM
I think you are absolutely correct in scuff sanding before using gesso. I'm just saying that I'm so lazy that I don't want to do the sanding, dusting, gessoing,drying, sanding, dusting, gessoing,drying, sanding and dusting before I start to paint on a panel. So I let oil soak into the fibers, wipe it off, let it dry, and start painting.

Still an old opinionated fool, but willing to listen,