Can You Stain Over Varnish? How To Do That?

can you stain over varnish

Once the varnish is applied, the wood will get prevented from scratches and abrasions. But there are some occasions we aren’t satisfied with the outcome we get after varnishing the wood.

So, once the varnishing is done, I have tried to apply a stain over the wood to get the perfect finish I want. But that was different than applying stain over unvarnished wood. So, let’s talk, Can you stain over varnish?

Here’s what I discovered:

Yes, you can stain over varnish without any issue. But staining varnished wood is different than staining untreated wood. Clean and sand the wood using fine-grit sandpaper before applying stain over varnish to remove dust, debris and to emphasize wood grain which helps to take the stain better.  

But there’s more to know about it.

So, we’ll explore can you stain over varnish and how to do that.

I’ll share my experiences as a full-time woodworker to get a better outcome when staining over varnished wood.

From this article I’ll deeply discuss can you stain over varnished wood without sanding, can you stain over polyurethane finish and how to stain over any exciting finish, and other frequently asked questions about stain over varnish as well.

So, let’s get going!

Can You Stain Over Varnished Wood Without Sanding?

Stain over varnished wood without sanding is not recommended. Because staining should do after sanding the wood surface thoroughly.

Otherwise, the stain will not penetrate inside the porous structure of the wood.

Once you do the varnish, the entrance to go inside of the wood through porous vessel structure will be blocked.

Therefore, once you apply stain on top of the varnished surface, the wood won’t take the stain, and wood grain will also mask off.

So, first, you need to remove the varnish top layer by sanding and get the wood itself exposed to the environment.

Then apply the stain coat evenly throughout the surface. This will be easy for you because the wood will easily absorb the stain and spread evenly.

What If You Stain Over Varnished Wood Without Sanding?

This can lead you up to serious trouble of blotchy surface. If you have varnished the wood and haven’t touched it over years, probably there will be some spots that varnish worn off. 

So, once you apply stain to the whole surface some areas will absorb stain evenly, but some are don’t. this will lead the ending result to a blotchy surface.

In my opinion, sanding varnished wood before applying stain is worth and durable.

How To Stain Over Varnished Wood?

There are several steps you need to follow to stain over varnished wood.

Hereby I have listed down steps, how to stain over varnished wood without stripping the surface. They are,

  1. Clean the wooden surface.
  2. Wet Sanding the wood.
  3. Regular sanding of the wood.
  4. Apply stain all over the surface.
  5. Let the wood cure and dry.

So, let’s discuss each of the following steps one by one to know how to properly stain over varnished wood.

1. Clean The Wooden Surface

First of all, take a cleaner and wipe the whole wood area to remove dust, grime, and dirt that has been placed over time.

This is pretty much important because dirty surfaces will ruin the outcome and result in a blotchy surface.

2. Wet Sanding the Wood

Once you feel the wood is nice and clean, next thing you need to focus on the wet sanding.

Take 320 grit sandpaper and sand the whole surface. While you’re doing this make sure to spray water for the wet sanding process.

Normally I wet my sandpaper and as well as the wooden surface before light sanding.

Never do rough sanding because that can destroy the beautiful wood grain. If you do the light sanding repeatedly, you’ll end up with fresh-looking wood which looks like it has never been used before.

While you’re sanding make sure to apply even pressure throughout the wood.

Otherwise, once you apply the stain coat there will be some spots with random blotchiness.

You never have to sand the previous varnish coat. Otherwise, you’ll get a blotchy surface once you stain.

3. Regular Sanding the Wood

Once you’re done with wet sanding, take 400 grit sandpaper and do regular sanding all over the wood area.

This will prepare your wood to take the stain well and open porous structure and wood grain to spread the stain evenly throughout the wood.

With regular sanding, you have already completed the 50% of the total staining over the varnished surface process.

After regular sanding, make sure to remove sawdust using a damp cloth and leave the wood for 24 hours until it dries completely before applying the stain.

4. Apply the Stain

Once you step onto the staining stage, you need to have a clear idea about what type of stain matches your wood color and grain perfectly.

Here are some of the best stain products that I personally use when I’m staining over the varnished wood surface.

  • General finishes oil-based gel stain
  • Minwax penetrating wood finish
  • Varathane classic wood interior stain
  • Rust-oleum ultimate stain
  • Ready Seal exterior stain and sealer

If you wish to gain a darker finish, go with gel stain, or glaze for a better finish. They can obscure wood grain if you select darker colors.

Always make sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from stains. Then take the stain can, dip the paintbrush to it, and apply the stain all over the wood along its wood grain to take the stain evenly.

When you’re staining the wood, pigments will penetrate through the porous structure and create dark deep colors along the wood grain.

If you have gone with a thin coat of stain, you’ll probably end up with light colors and for thick coats, you’ll end up with dark colors. So, make sure to do the process wisely for a better outcome.

As a woodworker, I suggest you go for thin coats of stain when you’re applying stain over varnished wood. Because staining varnished wood is not the same as staining untreated wood.

When you stain over varnish, there is always some amount of stain that doesn’t penetrate well through the wood because of the varnish block.

So, try to go with thin coats to spread the stain evenly throughout the wood with uniform absorption.

5. Let the Wood Dry Completely

After the supplication of stain over varnished wood surface, let tew od dry completely before going for the second coat of stain.

In my experience, once you stain over varnished wood, it takes approximately 48 hours to dry the coat completely with even nice absorption.

Never apply stain until you feel the wood is completely dried. Otherwise, you’ll mostly end up with blotchy ruined surface and you’ll have to redo the whole process from the beginning.

Once the wood is completely dried, apply the second coat of stain and let the wood nearly 24 hours before finishing the task. 2-3 coats of stain are well enough to get the perfect finish you want.

Can You Apply Water-Based Stain Over Varnish?

Never apply water-based stain over the varnished surface because varnish is an oil-based finish made of resins, solvents, and oils.

Never apply water-based stain over oil-based varnish because they’re completely incompatible and you’ll get some hidden patches that will destroy the wood.

This is not a problem if you’ve applied water-based stain over water-based polyurethane.

Can You Stain Over Polyurethane?

It’s not possible to apply stain over polyurethane finish. Stain does not penetrate through the wood grain, and you won’t get the grain pattern.

But with gel stain, you can apply it over a polyurethane finish. It does contain some sort of polyurethane as well. 

Therefore, gel stain is compatible with polyurethane and bonds well with it. Apply the gel stain following the same stain procedure as discussed before to get whatever color you want.

Did I cover all you wanted to know about: Can You Stain Over Varnish?

So, in this article we have widely discussed can you stain over varnish and how to do that perfectly.

By following the above method you’ll be able to stain over the varnished wood surface without stripping away the old finish.

But always make sure to apply fine/medium grit sandpaper which helps stain to penetrate more deeply inside the wood.

Furthermore, we have discussed can you stain over a polyurethane finish and what is the best type of stains we can use for those tasks.

Hope you have gained good knowledge about the question, can you stain over varnish to make your wooden furniture, cabinets, or woodworks make more beautiful with ease.

So, grab a piece of varnished wood and practice with it before going for a large project. Have fun!

Walter Parker is a woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking! Read More About Him! Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

1 thought on “Can You Stain Over Varnish? How To Do That?”

  1. Іt’s very easy to find out any matter on net аs compared to books, as I found this piece of writing
    at this site.


Leave a Comment