Recently stripped some paint off of old wood furniture and noticed the first layer directly on the wood was red. Looked like a red primer. Was likely painted some time in the 50's or 60's. Color looks like a red oxide primer used for metal but I saw some references to red lead primer online which may be what this is. Even that doesn't make much sense since those primers are also primarily used for iron in wet locations such as boats which this isn't.

Top coats were light colored so I don't think it was tinted to match the top coat. A little confused to see it on the wood so wondering if anyone might know anything about why it was used on this cabinet, what it might be and why it was used.

1 Answer 1


Rather than speculating, go grab a cheap lead test kit from the hardware store.

Red and white lead, asbestos, carbon tetrachloride were all very popular and widely used things right up until they were not. Red primer on anything of that vintage has a strong potential to be lead-based.

  • I always go on the assumption that any paint of that era is lead based and treat it accordingly. What I'm confused about was the use of red lead based paint. From what I could find seemed it was generally used on metal and wood exposed to water. This isn't in a wet location. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 16:21
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    If the primers on hand were red lead and white lead, and you were following the practice of using a contrasting primer so that you were not having thin spots in the top coat, a light colored top coat would be undercoated with red lead.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 16:31

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