Can You Stain Over Varnish?

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Stained your beautiful woodwork only to seal it with varnish and realize the color’s all wrong? I’ve made every mistake imaginable when it comes to wood stains and varnishes, and I’ll show you how to fix discolored varnish without starting over.

You’ll learn a simple step-by-step process to revive the original wood tone without hassle or frustration. I’m betting you have the supplies on hand already.

QUICK ANSWER:

Yes, you can stain over varnish. This technique, known as glazing, enhances wood grain and adds depth. Use gel stains for best results, especially over oil-based finishes.

What Is Varnish?

Varnish

Varnish is a clear, hard, protective coating or film. It is not to be confused with wood stain. It usually has a yellowish shade due to the manufacturing process and materials used, but it may also be pigmented as desired. It is sold commercially in various shades.

Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent, plus a metal drier to accelerate the drying. However, different types of varnish have different components.

After being applied, the film-forming substances in varnishes either harden directly as soon as the solvent has fully evaporated or harden after evaporation of the solvent through curing processes, primarily chemical reaction between oils and oxygen from the air (autoxidation) and chemical reactions between components of the varnish.

Resin varnishes dry by evaporation of the solvent and hardens quickly on drying.

Varnish is used to protect wood from moisture, dirt, and scratches. It also enhances the natural beauty of the wood. Varnish is commonly used on furniture, floors, and other wooden surfaces.

Here are some of the benefits of using varnish:

  • Waterproofing: Varnish can help to waterproof wood, making it more resistant to moisture damage.
  • Durability: Varnish is a very durable finish that can withstand wear and tear.
  • Aesthetics: Varnish can enhance the natural beauty of wood, giving it a glossy or satin finish.
  • Protection: Varnish can help to protect wood from scratches, dents, and other damage.

Here are some of the drawbacks of using varnish:

  • Shrinkage: Varnish can shrink as it dries, which can cause cracks or gaps in the finish.
  • Yellowing: Varnish can yellow over time, especially if it is exposed to sunlight.
  • Hazardous fumes: Varnish can emit hazardous fumes when it is applied or when it is drying.

Overall, varnish is a good choice for protecting and enhancing the beauty of wood. However, it is important to be aware of the potential drawbacks before using it.

What Are The Types of Wood Stains?

There are three main types of wood stains: oil-based, water-based, and gel stains. Each type of stain has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to choose the right type for your project.

Oil-based stains are the most traditional type of stain. They are known for their rich colors and durability. However, oil-based stains can be difficult to apply and clean up. They also have a strong odor, which can be unpleasant.

Water-based stains are a good option for those who want a less toxic finish. They are also easier to apply and clean up than oil-based stains. However, water-based stains do not penetrate the wood as deeply as oil-based stains, so they may not be as durable.

Wood Stain

Gel stains are a type of water-based stain that is thicker than regular water-based stains. They are often used to create a more dramatic effect. Gel stains are also easier to apply than regular water-based stains, as they do not drip as easily.

Here is a table that summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of these types of stain:

Type of stainAdvantagesDisadvantages
Oil-basedRich colors, durableDifficult to apply, clean up, and have strong odor
Water-basedLess toxic, easier to apply and clean upDoes not penetrate wood as deeply as oil-based stains
GelThicker than water-based stains, easier to applyDoes not penetrate wood as deeply as oil-based stains

The best type of stain for your project will depend on your specific needs and preferences. If you are looking for a rich, durable finish, then an oil-based stain is a good option.

If you want a less toxic finish that is easy to apply and clean up, then a water-based stain is a good option. If you want to create a more dramatic effect, then gel stain is a good option.

Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing a wood stain:

  • The type of wood you are staining: Some woods, such as oak, take stain better than others.
  • The desired color: Wood stains come in a variety of colors, so you can choose the one that best matches your project.
  • The finish you want to achieve: Wood stains can be used to create a variety of finishes, from a natural look to a more dramatic look.
  • The time you have to complete the project: Oil-based stains take longer to dry than water-based stains.
  • Your personal preferences: Some people prefer the look and feel of oil-based stains, while others prefer water-based stains.

With so many different types of wood stains available, you are sure to find the perfect one for your project. Just be sure to consider your specific needs and preferences before making a decision.

A Little More About Gel Stain

Gel stain is a type of wood stain that is thicker than regular water-based stains. It is made with a gelling agent that helps to thicken the stain and prevent it from dripping.

A coat of gel stain is often used to create a more dramatic effect, as they can be applied in thicker coats. They are also easier to apply than regular water-based stains, as they do not drip as easily.

Gel stains are typically made with water-based pigments, but they can also be made with oil-based pigments. Oil-based gel stains are more durable than water-based gel stains, but they are also more difficult to apply and clean up.

Gel stains are a good option for projects that require a high level of control over the color. They are also a good option for projects that require a thick coat of stain, such as outdoor furniture or decks.

Here are some of the advantages of using gel stain:

  • Thicker than water-based stains, easier to apply: Gel stains are thicker than regular water-based stains, which makes them easier to apply. They do not drip as easily, and they are less likely to cause runs.
  • Creates a more dramatic effect: Gel stains can be applied in thicker coats, which creates a more dramatic effect. They can also be used to highlight the grain of the wood.
  • Durable: Gel stains are typically more durable than regular water-based stains. They are less likely to fade or chip, and they can withstand more wear and tear.
  • Easy to clean up: Gel stains are typically easier to clean up than regular water-based stains. They can be wiped away with a damp cloth, and they do not leave a sticky residue.

Here are some of the disadvantages of using gel stain:

  • Does not penetrate wood as deeply as oil-based stains: Gel stains do not penetrate the wood as deeply as oil-based stains. This means that they may not be as durable in the long run.
  • More expensive than regular water-based stains: Gel stains are typically more expensive than regular water-based stains.
  • Can be difficult to find: Gel stains are not as widely available as regular water-based stains.

Overall, gel stains are a good option for projects that require a high level of control over the color and a more dramatic effect. They are also a good option for projects that require a thick coat of stain.

However, they are not as durable as oil-based stains and can be more expensive.

Are There Water-Based Varnishes?

Water-based varnishes are a type of varnish that are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to solvent-based varnishes. They consist of acrylic resins that have been dissolved in water, making them a safer choice. Water-based varnishes are easier to apply than oil-based varnishes, but they are also less stable.

Can You Apply Stain Over A Varnish Finish?

Yes, you can stain wood over a finish, but it is not always recommended. The type of finish you have on the wood will determine whether or not you can stain over it.

  • Oil-based finishes: You can stain over oil-based finishes without sanding, but you will need to use a gel stain. Gel stains are thicker than regular stains and will not soak into the wood as deeply. This will help to prevent the oil-based finish from bleeding through the stain.
  • Water-based finishes: You can stain over water-based finishes, but you will need to sand the finish lightly first. This will help the stain to penetrate the wood more evenly.
  • Varnish: You cannot stain over varnish without sanding first. Varnish is a very hard finish that will prevent the stain from penetrating the wood.

If you are unsure whether or not you can stain over a finish, it is always best to consult with a professional woodworker.

If you are going to apply stain over a coat of varnish, here are some tips for you to consider:

  • Use a gel stain if you are staining over an oil-based finish.
  • Sand the finish lightly if you are staining over a water-based finish. A fine-grit sandpaper will work for this.  The fine-grit sandpaper won’t remove much but will remove enough to allow stain to penetrate to reach the wood. Clean the wood after sanding with a tack cloth.  The entire wooden surface should be sanded.
  • Apply the stain in thin coats to the entire wood surface, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat. A foam brush will work well for this part of the process.  Even on varnished wood, and with a little sanding, the application of a stain will enhance the wood grain and help it come to life.
  • Wipe away any excess stain with a damp cloth.
  • Seal the stained wood with a clear finish.

Here are some of the factors to consider when staining wood over a finish:

  • The type of finish you have on the wood.
  • The color of the finish you want to apply a coat of stain over.
  • The desired color of the stained wood.
  • The amount of time and effort you are willing to put into the project.

If you are looking for a quick and easy way to change the color of your wood furniture, staining over a finish is a good option. However, if you want to achieve a specific color or finish, you may need to sand the wood first.

Does Varnish Yellow With Age?

Yes, varnish can yellow. Oil-based varnishes will all yellow, some more than others. Polyurethane finishes will also yellow over time. However, modern technology has extended the amount of time it takes to yellow and reduced the extent it can yellow by.

There are also varnishes that don’t yellow, such as water-based products, lacquers, and Minwax’s Polycrylic. Lacquers are popular because they don’t yellow with age, protect well against liquids, and require very little maintenance.

Solvents such as turpentine, white spirits, and other mineral spirits can also be used to remove a yellowed varnishing layer, and that includes polyurethane finishes.

Remember as we say all of this that the term “varnish” refers not only to a particular product, but also generally to finish – varnishes, polys, lacquers, polycrylic, are also referred to as varnishes, even though they are not specifically a varnish. 

We hope that makes sense. It’s kind of like the term “Kleenex,” which is a specific brand name product, but also a term generally applied to facial tissue.  Coke might fall into that same category.

Test Your Woodworking Knowledge!

What Is Glazing In Woodworking?

Glazing in woodworking is a technique that is used to add depth and color to a wood finish. It is done by applying a thin coat of translucent color over a base coat of finish. The glaze can be applied with a bristle brush, a foam brush, a sponge, or a rag.

There are many different types of glazes available, including oil-based glazes, water-based glazes, and gel glazes. Oil-based glazes are the most common type of glaze, and they are known for their rich colors and durability.

Water-based glazes are a good option for those who want a less toxic finish, and they are also easier to clean up. Gel glazes are a type of oil-based glaze that is thicker than regular oil-based glazes. They are often used to create a more dramatic effect.

Glazing can be used to achieve a variety of effects, including:

  • Adding depth: Glazing can be used to add depth and dimension to a wood finish. This is done by applying the glaze in thin coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat.
  • Changing color: Glazing can be used to change the color of a wood finish. This is done by choosing a glaze that is a different color than the base coat of finish.
  • Highlighting grain: Glazing can be used to highlight the grain of the wood. This is done by applying the glaze to the raised areas of the grain.
  • Creating special effects: Glazing can be used to create a variety of special effects, such as antique finishes, faux finishes, and marbleized finishes.

Glazing is a relatively easy technique to learn, and it can be a great way to add depth and color to your woodworking projects. However, it is important to practice on scrap wood before glazing a finished piece.

This will help you to get the hang of the technique and to see how the glaze will affect the color of the wood.

Here are some tips for glazing wood:

  • Choose the right glaze: The type of glaze you choose will depend on the desired effect. Oil-based glazes are the most common type of glaze, but water-based glazes and gel glazes can also be used.
  • Apply the glaze in thin coats: Glaze is a translucent color, so it is important to apply it in thin coats. This will help to create a more natural-looking finish.
  • Allow each coat to dry completely: Before applying the next coat of glaze, it is important to allow the previous coat to dry completely. This will help to prevent the glaze from blending together and creating a muddy finish.
  • Wipe away any excess glaze: After applying the glaze, use a damp cloth to wipe away any excess glaze. This will help to create a smooth and even finish.
  • Seal the finished project: Once the glaze has dried completely, seal the finished project with a clear finish. This will help to protect the finish and prevent it from fading.

Glazing is a versatile technique that can be used to add depth, color, and interest to wood finishes. With a little practice, you can learn how to use glaze to create stunning finishes on your woodworking projects.

We mention all of this because applying stain over varnish is a form of glazing.  It does add depth, and it does help highlight the wood grain. 

Can Varnish Be Colorized?

Yes, you can colorize varnish by mixing it with a compatible stain, artists’ pigments, or dyes. You can also stain over a varnish coat, which is called glazing, as we mentioned above.

Here are some other ways to colorize varnish:

  • Using Minwax Polyshades, which is a poly varnish with oil-based stain added to it
  • Using a tinted polyurethane varnish
  • Making your own glaze by mulling linseed oil with pigment
  • Mixing paint and varnish to achieve different painting techniques

Varnish is a clear barrier that protects wood, so it usually doesn’t significantly change the color of the wood. However, oil-based varnishes can “warm” the wood up a little bit.

If the varnish you are considering glazing with wood stain has been colorized to a darker color, though, it will be difficult to achieve a lighter color of the wood with a light-colored stain.  

No videos for this one.

We watched a few, but none we could find were directly on topic or even close to direct.  We’ve given enough information to answer the question and more, though, and if you follow our suggestions for prep, choice of stain, etc, and have the patience to work through the process, we’re confident you will get a good result. 

Remember – this is woodworking, and it’s supposed to be fun.

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