Can You Stain Over Varnish? (Process Of Staining Over)

Staining over varnish gives your furniture an uplifting look. But most of the furniture we need to stain is already varnished. It will not give the same result by staining over varnish as it would give by staining over fresh unvarnished wood.

Though you still would want to add a new coat of stain to your varnish.

Can you stain over varnish?

Yes, you can stain over varnish. But to get a more detailed look you need to clean the surface properly. You also have to sand the piece for a better outcome. Choose the perfect staining product according to the characteristics of the wood. Finally, seal the stain by using a good sealer.

To know the precise process of staining over varnish, read along!

Can You Stain Over Varnish?

Varnishes wood dry to a glossy, enamel-like finish. They also serve as a strong, protective barrier between the hue of the wood and the rest of the world. 

The goal of varnish is to ensure that nothing passes by it and tarnishes the colour of the wood beneath it.

You can stain over varnish in old furniture too.

If you want to stain it, you can do it in two ways. You can stain the varnish without sanding and after sanding.

Staining the Wood Without Sanding the Varnish

Sanding wood is sometimes necessary. But you can stain the wood without sanding if your piece doesn’t have much topcoat and the piece must be in a good shape.

For this, you need to follow some basic and simple steps-

  1. First of all, You need to clean the whole piece. Remove all the dust from the piece. Otherwise whatever you do with it, it will not look good.
  2. After cleaning, you will have to scuff the piece a little bit. Even if the piece was uneven before, it will be perfect for staining after scuffing. It’s not needed if your workpiece was even beforehand.
  3. You need to vacuum the piece after scuffing. If you skip the scuffing part, you can skip this one too. Then it will be ready for staining.
  4. Now you can stain the piece without sanding. Here I will describe some of the methods of staining the wood piece.

There are some products which you can use for staining your wood piece. Check out the recommendations for choosing wood stain-

You can do chalk paint on your piece if you want to skip sanding. It will give you an appealing look. It can give you a matte finish. It’s the easiest procedure and it doesn’t require any preparation.

Mineral paint stain is identical to chalk paint in that it does not require any preparation or priming. It adheres to almost everything. Fusion, for example, is so long-lasting that it’s waterproof, stain-resistant, and doesn’t even need a topcoat.

You can also use a darker stain over your previous stain. It will overshadow the previous one. You can test it on a small patch and then if you like it, you can do it all over the piece.

But you can face some problems if you don’t sand before staining. Like you can have a blotchy finish if you were not careful. Sometimes the piece was varnished a long time ago. 

As a result, after applying stain to the entire surface, certain regions will absorb pigment equally while others will not. This will create a blotchy surface as the ultimate outcome. Even then if you get a blotchy gel stain, you can remove it very easily.

So, it’s preferable to sand before varnishing. Thus there will be no risk and it will last for a long time.

How Should You Stain Over Varnished Wood After Sanding?

You need to follow some simple steps to stain over varnish wood. If you follow the instructions you can stain over your furnished workpiece.

Step 1: Cleaning The Piece Properly

To begin, clean the entire wooden area using a cleaner to eliminate any dust, filth, or dirt that has accumulated over time. This is critical since filthy surfaces will detract from the final effect, resulting in a blotchy appearance.

Step 2: Light Sanding of Your Wooden Piece

After cleaning the surface area, you need to sand the piece a little bit to even out the uneven structure and the stain from that. You will need 320 grit sandpaper for this. Before staining, you need to dampen not only the wood piece but also the sandpaper. 

Don’t be too harsh on the surface while sanding. It will damage the texture of the wood. Keep spraying on the wood while sanding to keep it damp. Do a light sanding a few times and keep the same pressure in the whole area.

After that, you have sand with regular sandpaper which is of 400 grit. It will help your wood to absorb the stain properly and with ease. Thus your piece will be ready for staining.

Step 3: Applying the Stain

This is one of the most important parts of the article. In this phase, you need to test and identify which type of stain and which colour would look best on your wood piece. Before applying a stain, you have to make sure that the piece is not wet or damp.

There are different kinds of staining products in the market. Among them, these ones are more popular.

Product 1: Oil-based gel stain

In this category, you can try oil-based gel stains. It is very popular for upcycling wooden products. Gel stains give a glaze to your product and provide you with the best oil-based stain possible and have the brightest, finest hues.

But you can face some problems like it takes time to dry. So, you will need more time to use it.

Product 2: Fast Dry Wood Stain

Fast dry wood stain dries very fast and gives you a natural look in a very short period of time.

By this, you can quickly dry wood stains. Nanoparticles in this slightly elevated stain improve colour clarity and emphasise wooden texture, resulting in the right hue in only one layer. But sometimes it will need more layers to get the perfect one.

Product 3: Solid Water-proof Stain

Solid wood stain gets its name from the fact that it leaves a solid, dense appearance. It changes the colour of your wooden piece completely. 

It helps to give you a bright and gorgeous look that will last long. It also seals and protects the wood. Thus you don’t need to use any additional sealer. You can use the Thompson waterproof stain.

Product 4: Water-Based Gel Stain

Water-based stains are very easy to apply. They spread very easily on the wooden surface without getting overlapped. 

Water-based wood Stain is a great product to apply. It gets blended on its own without much effort. You just need to remove the excess stain in time. 

As a beginner, you try and practice with this type of stain. But you will need more products to get the perfect finish. You can use the gel stain by Retique

Product 5: Eco-Friendly Stain

As a nature lover, you may want to use an eco-friendly stain. There are not many eco-friendly stains in the market. 

It’s not only good for your health but also protects nature. Moreover, its packaging is almost unscented, biodegradable, harmless, and non-flammable. But it is a little expensive so many of us can not afford to use it.

There are some other products which you can use for staining your wood piece. Check out The other recommendations for choosing eco-friendly stains-

You may also use vinegar steel wood stain but it may not work well.

Choose the best stain you will use according to your need considering all the pros and cons. I would recommend using a darker stain.

Step 5: Drying the Wood Stain

After applying the stain, you need to wait for it to dry. You can keep the piece under sunlight for a quick dry. Polyurethane works great as a sealer. You can use any other sealer. Do this only if your stain doesn’t include a sealer.

Usually, it takes 24-48 hours to dry completely depending on the type of stain. Don’t touch the stain or do anything on the surface before that. Otherwise, it will ruin the finish.

If you want to recoat, you need to wait for drying. Otherwise, the finish will not be even on the whole surface. And it will ruin your perfect outcome.

Step 6: Sealing the Workpiece

After staining it properly, you have to seal the stain. Doing so will give a long-lasting look.

There are some products that you can use for sealing the stain in your wood piece. Check out the recommendations for choosing a wood sealer-

Tips While Staining Over Varnished Wood

While staining over your varnish, keep in mind the small things. This is when your work will be effective.

  1. You should be careful of your safety. Use safety measures like wearing protective glasses and gloves. Besides, try to do it in an open space.
  2. Choose your stain according to the texture of the wood. Different stains match perfectly on different types of wood.
  3. Because the result on the wood is uncertain, try your stain pigment on an unnoticeable area before staining the project’s most prominent sections. It will help you to understand the result. Thus you will not make a mess.
  4. Vacuum the dust properly. Otherwise, dust will hamper while staining and it will not give a smooth finish.
  5. For a darker stain try to recoat. If you stain a single layer, it will give a lighter finish. So, you need to recoat for a few times
  6. You can use a pre-stain wood conditioner. It will help the stain to settle properly and give you the best outcome.
  7. You can use a slab of wood over your previously varnished wood and then stain it.

If you follow these tips, you can stain over your varnished wood more precisely.


 Can you stain over laminate furniture?

It’s very difficult to stain over laminate. The laminate can not penetrate or soak stains. So to stain laminate furniture you may use gel stain because unlike typical stains, it does not need to absorb into the material as completely. You may also use latex paint. 

 Can you stain over a polyurethane finish?

Yes, you can stain over polyurethane. For this, you will need gel stains. You won’t need any sanding or stripping to stain with gel stain. Gel stain itself contains a little amount of polyurethane. Besides, you can use a coat of Minwax poly shade over your polyurethane.

How can you stain over epoxy resin?

Yes, you can stain over epoxy resin. But you need to be careful about that. You can’t use oil-based stains over epoxy resin. You can’t use water-based stains too, cause resin doesn’t work in moist environments. If you use a gel stain, use stain over epoxy. This works more like paint than stain.


In this article we have answered that can you stain over varnished wood. We also explained how you can stain over varnished wood with sanding and without sanding. 

If you follow all the steps and consider all the tips, you can easily stain over your varnished wood.

Best of luck!

Kevin Smith

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