How to Care for a Class Set of Wood Painting Palettes

Discover how to make your wood painting palettes last years and even get better with age.

wood palettes

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Welcome to the wonderful world of wood painting palettes. Once you adapt to how to care for them, you will never revert back to the white, plastic, impossible-to-clean kind.

Please Note

This how-to article is for using oil paint only. These procedures are not appropriate for acrylic painting.

How to Prep a Wood Palette

The first thing you need to know about wood painting palettes is that they need a little time and attention before you use them for the first time in your classroom. Most wood painting palettes are delivered raw, meaning they have not yet been properly treated for use.

You will need oil (preferably linseed) and a cloth/paper towel.

***WARNING*** Do not EVER leave an oil-soaked rag or paper towel crumpled. It can spontaneously combust. After use, immediately lay flat to dry outside, and always dispose in an outside garbage can. *Disclaimer* SAA is in no way responsible for damage caused by using information provided in this article.

Because oil-soaked rags can spontaneously combust if left crumpled and abandoned, I NEVER let my students prep new painting palettes. I always do these in batches on my own to make sure that there is never an oil-soaked rag lying around where I don’t know about it. The good news is that if you do it correctly, you only have to do it once and your palettes will last years.

So, if I haven’t scared you away from the magic of wood palettes, let’s discover how to prep them.

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How to Prep Wood Painting Palettes

  1. Rub them down with oil and a cloth. Dab a few drops of oil on the palette, then rub vigorously with a cloth until the wood changes to a slightly darker color.
  2. Use the right amount of oil. The oil should not be dripping off of the palette. If it is, you have used too much. Rather, you should use just enough oil that it quickly absorbs into the wood when moved around by the cloth.
  3. Make sure to cover all the wood on BOTH sides of the palette. If you only oil one side of the palette, it will warp, especially if the palette is made of thinner wood like I prefer to use in the classroom.
  4. Let the oil absorb and dry for several hours, and then repeat this process several times for new palettes.

You only have to do this prepping process for brand new palettes. Once they start being used regularly, your students will maintain the palettes by using proper cleanup procedures.

Proper Clean-Up Procedures for Palettes

  1. Remove all excess oil paint on palette by scraping it with a palette knife. Any useable paint from the class set of palettes can be moved to a central palette and stored in the freezer. The unusable paint should be wiped into a paper towel and discarded. There should be a small amount of paint remaining on the palette. This is good.
  2. Add a few drops of Gamblin Gamsol to the palette and rub over the front of the palette. (This will thin out and pick up the remaining oil paint and distribute it around the palette. Gamsol is the only thinner I would ever use in my classroom as it has almost no smell. It is formulated to evaporate at a slower rate than other options and is by far the least obnoxious choice to use in a classroom setting. You can read more about Gamsol and its safety properties here: https://gamblincolors.com/studio-safety/studio-safety-create-without-compromise/)
  3. Make sure to use the same rag to rub the back side of the palette. It is important to always apply oil (or in this case diluted oil paint which contains oil) to the front AND back of the palette in order to keep it from warping. Do not skip this step! (In this case, the small amount of remnant oil paint is being used to patina the palette. Because the oil is diluted with pigment, the rag/paper towel is not in danger of spontaneously combusting like pure oil on a rag. It should, however, be disposed of in a fire safe trash can or an outside garbage can.)
  4. Never let paint dry on the palettes. Depending on how hardened the paint is when you discover it still on the palette, it may need to be sanded off and the palette re-oiled.

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If you follow these procedures for prepping and maintaining your palettes, you will discover that your palettes actually get better with use. Every time they are wiped down, it helps build a nice patina that makes the surface easier for mixing on. You can get years and years out of a class set of palettes when cared for correctly.

Wood Palette RecoMmendationS

I personally prefer to use thin wood palettes in my classroom because they are light, and when you are handling 25+ palettes at a time this makes a big difference. The downside is that they are more prone to warping if you are not very careful about always rubbing down both sides after every use. These palettes are 3mm thick:

If you prefer slightly more robust painting palettes that are less likely to crack or break over time, a standard thickness palette will work quite well in the classroom, even if it is a little heavier. These palettes are 4 mm thick:

What do you think? Are you ready to attempt wood painting palettes in the classroom? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. Thank you! I was considering using wooden palettes for my classroom, but was intimidated by the care that they need. Can you recommend a good vendor for a classpack?

    1. I like these because they are thin and therefore much lighter. Because they are thin though, it is important to always make sure that both front and back get wiped regularly to avoid warping. Students tend to neglect one side sometimes, but a few reminders gets them into good habits. Please note this is an affiliate link:

  2. How would these instructions differ for water-soluble oil painting?
    If not linseed oil, could you use water-soluble oil paint medium? What about olive, canola, mineral, cottonseed, or sewing machine oil?


    1. Hi there, I do not recommend using water soluble oil paints, and do not have any expertise to share with you on how to best manage them. I encourage you to try traditional oil paints, they are much less mess and hassle than most people fear. You can check out our other articles on How to Clean Oil Painting brushes for more guidance.

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