First of all…what is Masonite?

Masonite is brand of hardboard that was invented in 1924 and was originally used for many construction applications. It is formed using the Mason method of compressing and blasting wooden chips with steam and then forming them into boards. No glue of other material is added. Only natural ingredients are used which makes it an environmentally friendly product.

Although I still call it Masonite, I have been told by the lumber yards that the Masonite brand is no longer manufactured.  It is now referred to as Hardboard for High Density Fiberboard.  MDF for Medium Density Fiberboard is also available but is undesirable because it is  held together with formaldehyde which makes it non-archival  and doesn’t take the paint very well.  (Please see Jim Parker’s comment below for more updated information).

Both come in 4’x6’ sheets of ¼ or 1/8 inch thickness that I cut down to the desired size.  When ordering from your local lumberyard, be sure and speak to someone who is knowledgeable on this subject.

Tempered Masonite:

  • It is more durable, but not as desirable for a painting support.
  • It is impregnated with oils to make it water and wear resistant.  (I hear they might be making ‘tempered’ without the oil nowadays, but I don’t want to risk it…)
  • Acrylic gesso will not bond correctly because of the oils and may not survive the ages.
  • It might yellow the painting with age.
  • Conservators consider tempered Masonite a poor support.

Untempered Masonite:

  • Widely used by artists and thought safer for archival painting
  • Less durable than tempered, chips a bit easier
  • Will not yellow with age

Prepare the panel/board:

  • Lightly sand the smooth side of the panel.  This allows the gesso to bond to the wood more easily.
  • Apply one layer of gesso in horizontal strokes across the panel using a soft brush (I use an Oriental Hake brush)
  • Use a roller if desired (this changes to an even ‘stippled’ texture)
  • Allow to dry
  • Lightly sand (if you want a smooth surface)
  • Apply second layer of gesso in vertical strokes across the panel.  This makes a slight ‘weave pattern’ to the gesso and adds some ‘tooth’ to the panel
  • Use a roller if desired
  • Allow to dry
  • Sand (if you want a smooth surface)


  • To prevent warping of larger panels – gesso both sides.
  • For extra large boards over 30×40, I suggest ‘cradling’ the back of the board.  Cradling makes the panels’ rigid using wood bars that are glued to the back of the panel.  My custom framer does this for me.
  • Make sure you use at least 2 coats of gesso because Masonite is highly absorbent and the paints will sink otherwise
  • Use a tweezer to pick out any brush hairs, clumps or lint

Preparing a panel with gesso is an easy process and only takes about ½ hour from start to finish. I usually make an assembly line and gesso a series of panels all at once. Sometimes I use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. Once dry, I can immediately begin to paint on the prepared panel and expect great results! Masonite allows me a smooth surface for fine detail, glazes and texture.

Give it a try!

Lori 🙂


You might like to see these other related posts:

Save Money: Learn How to Gesso a Hardboard Panel for Painting

Painting with Acrylics, The Mystery Explained!

Water Soluble Oil Paints: Facts, Tips & Why I Use Them

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