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Can You Stain Over Shellac or Shellac Over Stain? (Answered)

Furniture and woodworks are essential components of our indoor environments whether it be our homes or our offices.

These furniture and woodworks have not only become a necessity but also serve to improve the looks and aesthetics of our interiors – which is why people invest a great sum in making these objects look good as new by using shellac or staining the surfaces.

Can you stain over shellac?

You can apply stain over shellac and it is commonly done so because shellac bonds with the wooden surface efficiently. Shellacs can strongly bond to both unfinished and finished wooden surfaces so you can stain over them to protect the shellac layer and give a glossy outlook.

Wood stain is a finish that contains colored pigments suspended in the solvent and is used to color wood. The solvent used is often water, alcohol, shellac, lacquer, varnish or polyurethane.

These stains cannot penetrate the pores of the wood which is why they don’t bond and thus deteriorate off the surface.

Shellac is also a colored finish used on wooden surfaces. Shellac finishes form a film that protects the surface of wooden objects. Unlike stains, shellac is typically known to penetrate deeply into the wooden pores and bond strongly with the wood.

Stains react differently on wooden surfaces, if the surface is smooth then it can be stained without issues but if the surface is rough and grainy – the stain layer will have a messy and uneven texture.

Which is why shellac is often used on the wood since it prepares the wood for applying stain over it. With shellac, woods absorb stain more effectively and prevent any messy textures.

Can I shellac before stain? Why is it important to apply shellac before staining?

Shellac can be used before staining and is commonly coated by a stain layer on the wooden surface. Shellac is effective at sealing many species of wood compared to stain and bonds very well with most wood, which is why they are used before staining.

It is used as a pre-stain wood conditioner for staining as it makes the wood surface smoother to prevent blotches from forming when staining.

It is important to apply shellac on the wooden surface before staining because many wooden surfaces cannot effectively absorb and bond with the stain whereas the shellac can penetrate the uneven pores and coat the harsh grainy surface of the wood to form a smooth layer.

Doing so creates a smooth surface on the wood that is suitable for staining and thus the stain layer remains more durable and gives a glossy look instead of forming blotches.

How long should shellac dry before staining?

Shellac dries very fast as it can be dry to the touch in 15 minutes or less time but on average it would take 30 minutes to properly dry.

In most cases, you would want to apply multiple layers of shellac to deepen the stain color and to make the layer heavier and durable.

It is important to give the shellac at least an hour to dry properly if you are thinking of recoating over it because an undried shellac layer might pick up sandpaper grains while you are sanding the layer for recoating.

It is recommended that you use clear shellac and apply three to four coats on the wooden surface before staining. Make sure you give at least an hour between each recoat to make sure each layer is completely dry.

The first coat seals the wood so it would generally take a bit longer to dry if the layer is thick, whereas the consecutive layers would take less time depending on the layer thickness.

How do you stain over shellac wood?

The process of staining over shellac wood is simple and does not require much expertise. The process is explained in detail below:

Sand the wood surface to smoothen it:

Before you start to apply the shellac into the wooden surface, you need to make sure the surface has been sanded properly to ensure that the shellac can properly penetrate through the pores, deep into the wood.

To do so, you need to start to scuff the wooden surface with a medium-grit sandpaper.

Once the initial sanding is complete, you use a 320-grit sandpaper for the final sanding procedure. Following that, you need to clean the surface with a rag damp with alcohol and let the surface dry.

Apply the shellac into the surface:

Before applying, you need to thin the shellac with denatured alcohol and then dip a woolen or cotton ball into the shellac solution. Start by applying shellac in the middle and rubbing your way to the edges.

Stain the wood after the shellac has dried:

Allow the shellac to dry for 30 minutes before applying 3 or 4 more coats over it. As the final coat has dried, use a 400-grit sandpaper to sand it and wipe it with a rag. Finally, use a rag wet with the stain to rub and apply over the surface.

Can you shellac over stain?

It is possible to shellac over stain however that depends on what type of wood you are using. The woods that bond well with stain can take the stain first and then have shellac applied over it. But if the wood cannot absorb the stain well, it might result in blotches and messy looking coats.

Shellacs are known to work amazingly in both finished and unfinished wood surfaces and they have excellent penetration abilities to reach deeper into the wood whereas stains also can coat a wooden surface but they don’t work well on all kinds of wood.

But you can shellac over stains on types of wood that stain well and bond strongly. Since shellac is sticky, it can be applied over stains with no issues at all.

Yes, you can shellac over stains. But you need to consider the wood type for that. You can apply the stain first if the wood you chose stains well. Or else go for shellac first for better result.

You should use oil-based shellac if you’re using oil-based stain and water-based shellac for water based stains – but it is recommended to use both oil-based since they perform better.

Can you shellac over gel stain? Can shellac be applied over varnish?

It is strongly recommended that you do not apply shellac over gel stain because doing so will damage both the stain and the shellac layers.

Gel stains remain sticky even after they have dried and therefore they don’t suit well with shellac. When using shellac over stains, you have to make sure that the stained wood is completely dry before applying shellac.

However, if you have already applied gel stain and want to shellac it, you can remove the gel layer by wiping the excess stain from the surface using a rag wet with stain thinner.

Apart from that, shellac can be applied over almost anything such as varnish. Due to the sticky nature of shellac, it will stick to almost any type of surface.

So if you wish to shellac a varnished surface, you should sand the surface lightly with a 220-grit sand paper and then shellac it.

How long should stain dry before shellac?

Wood stain layers take as long as 2 days to properly dry depending on the type of wood you are using. It is necessary to make sure that the stain has properly dried before applying shellac to prevent any blotches in the coat.

Applying shellac to an undried stain layer could be disastrous to both the shellac and stain layers as both of them will be ruined. Shellac is sticky and so is undried stain, and applying it prematurely will ruin the stain layer as well.

How do you apply shellac to stained wood?

Follow the detailed steps below in order to apply shellac to stained wood:

Sanding the stained surface:

First use a 320-grit sandpaper to sand and clean the stained surface until it is smooth. Next take a cotton ball wrapped in cloth and wet it with shellac before rubbing the stained wooden surface

Applying first shellac coat on the stain:

Rub the wet cotton ball all over the stained surface thoroughly and wait 30 minutes before the next recoat.

Sand the shellac coats in between:

Use a 320-grit sandpaper to sand the shellac after it has dried and clean the surface with a rag for the next coat. Continue this cycle 3 to 4 times with 30 mins intervals between each coat.

Final Thoughts

Stain can be applied over shellac, and it is usually done so since shellac bonds well with the hardwood surface. Shellacs may strongly adhere to both unfinished and finished hardwood surfaces, allowing you to stain over them to protect the shellac layer and provide a glossy appearance.