I talked to friends who had painted their paneling and found out what primer they used. I talked to the paint department people at 2 different home improvement stores. And I read what little I could find online...everyone said to use different primers. I finally narrowed it down to Zinsser brand primers, and I ended up contacting the company to see what they would recommend for my specific application.
They recommended Zinsser B-I-N primer, which is a shellac-based primer. No sanding necessary, it seals in wood sap, and it's quick drying. It's not cheap though - $40+ for a gallon! I wasn't going to cheap out on this critical step though. Other supplies:
- Angled brush (for the trim & edges)
- Several roller covers (I used 1/4" nap to really get into all the grooves. I bought 3 and threw them away after every coat of primer/paint - easier than trying to clean them)
- Painter's paper & tape (for covering floor & mantle from drips)
- Denatured alcohol (not pictured - for cleaning the primer off of the brush in between coats. Mineral spirits/paint thinner don't work on the shellac-based BIN primer.)
- Paintable, flexible interior caulk (I used DAP Window/Door/Trim Sealant in white)
- Latex paint
First step: clean the walls and prep the space. I started priming with a small angled brush and did all of the trim work first, then used a standard roller for the large flat areas. The B-I-N primer was interesting - it has a milk-like consistency and dries to the touch on the wall within a minute. It did a pretty good job of filling the wood grain texture too. After 1 full coat there was already quite a difference!
I used 3 bottles of caulk over 7.5 hours (over the course of a couple days) to get all of the trim looking right. I found that using my finger and a wet rag to smooth the bead out was the most effective. Messy, but effective. I filled every nail hole, every place a piece of trim met another piece of trim/wall board, where the crown molding met the ceiling, and even some of the wood knots that were clearly visible through the paint.
After the caulk came 3 coats of paint (the first coat was a flat finish, and somewhere during that we decided to switch to eggshell. It probably would have been fine with just 2 coats of paint if we hadn't changed mid-paint-job). I used Behr paint and primer in one in a color match to Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray. It's a light, almost beige-y neutral that picked up the lighter colors in the fireplace stone and floors. Just like with the primer, I started with the angled brush for all of the trim, then used the roller on the larger flat areas.
Just when I couldn't bear to look at trim anymore, I had more trim to paint: the door & window casings, window stiles and muntins, and back of the interior door (which had been stained in 1970-something). All of these areas had already been primed with 2 coats of the B-I-N primer, and subsequently got 3 coats of white trim paint.
I am soooooo happy with how this turned out! The room feels so much bigger and brighter (and no longer orange). I only wish we had done this sooner and not lived in a dark cave for so long. This room is now begging for grown up furniture and pretty things on the walls...so that's my next project!
In case you are contemplating a project like this, here is a quick rundown on the time involved for our approximately 15' x 20' room:
2 hours prep work: cleaning walls, taping off windows
11 hours for 2 coats of trim primer
7.5 hours of caulking (so. many. edges.)
8.5 hours for 3 coats of paint
8 hours for 3 coats of paint on crown mold/door trim/door/window trim
1 hour clean up/scrape splatter off windows
about 38 hours
If you are thinking about painting old judges' paneling in your house, do it! It really updates the room and it's crazy how much bigger it makes the space feel. Good luck!