Can You Apply Stain Over Shellac? (Explained!)

Can you put stain over shellac? This is a common question among DIYers and here is the answer to it.

You can apply stain over shellac. This is because shellac has impressive adhesive features so water and oil-based stains will stick to it. Also, shellac is designed to prevent stains and moisture from bleeding through.

This means that shellac will repel moisture underneath but it will not prevent the stain from going down or penetrating the material. So, stains generally stay strong on shellac.

However, you should know that applying stain over shellac is a task best suited for fresh, porous, or unfinished wood as these surfaces are usually uneven. So the shellac will dry first as a smooth undercoat allowing the stain to dry smoothly.

Does Stain Stick To Shellac?

Generally, stains stick to shellac because shellac when dry doesn’t repel stains. However, you should know that stains only stick properly to shellac after the shellac has been sanded. Sanding the shellac first creates tiny ridges in the shellac for the stain to stick to.

Applying stain over a thick coat or over multiple coats of shellac will not allow the stain to stick. This is because the thick shellac coating would have sealed the pores and grains in the wood completely making it impossible for the stain to stick to the wood. A general rule is to only apply thin or light coats of shellac especially when you will stain over the shellac later.

Thinning the shellac before applying it makes the stain stick better. When you thin the shellac, the coat becomes lighter so it doesn’t seal wood pores. This makes it easier for the stain to penetrate and stick. Also, thinning the shellac makes it dry faster so you can stain over it sooner.

How Long Does Shellac Have To Dry Before Stain?

How Long Does Shellac Have To Dry Before Stain?

Generally, you should let the shellac coating dry for at least 4 hours before applying stain over it. This is to give the shellac enough dry time so it can become hard and strong enough to withstand sanding and to support the stain.

Water-based shellac dries faster than oil-based shellac. You can safely stain over water-based shellac coating 90 minutes after applying the shellac. Oil-based shellac on the other hand takes between 4 and 8 hours to dry enough for stain.

The number of shellac coats, the thickness of the shellac, moisture, humidity, and ambient temperature all affect how long it will take before the shellac can be stained.

If you stain over the shellac while it’s still wet, the results will be catastrophic. The first thing you’ll notice is that the stain and the shellac will not dry. Regardless of how long you wait, the stain will remain tacky or sticky. This is because you didn’t let the shellac dry enough and as such, the stain can’t dry either.

So there will be excess stain that will turn semi-solid and sticky. If it’s an oil-based stain, the stain will continue to smell for days in addition to being sticky. In such cases, the solution will be to remove the entire stain and shellac and start from scratch.

To be sure how long to wait before staining over shellac, you can check the manufacturer’s instructions on the shellac paint container. Now, let’s find out how to apply wood stain over shellac easily.

How To Apply Wood Stain Over Shellac?

Applying wood stain over shellac isn’t difficult but the task can turn messy if you don’t follow the right steps that will be revealed below. But before we go on to the steps, you’ll need a few tools and supplies:

  • Fine-grit sandpaper (320-grit)
  • A can of stain
  • Paintbrush
  • Degreaser
  • Paint thinner (or denatured alcohol)
  • Clean cloth

Here is a 5-step procedure to stain over shellac:

1. Clean and Degrease The Shellac

Clean and Degrease The Shellac

This step is for existing shellac coats. If the shellac has already spent some time on the surface, it would have accumulated filth, grease, and oils.

You’ll need to remove all these with a degreaser and a clean rag before applying the stain. If it’s a fresh shellac coat, you don’t need to degrease it as it hasn’t stayed too long on the surface to accumulate filth.

If you don’t have a degreaser, you can use a solvent, rubbing alcohol, or dish soap to carefully wipe the shellac.

2. Sand The Shellac

Sand The Shellac

The next step is to sand the shellac coating. You should sand the shellac with fine-grit sandpaper. 320-grit to 400-grit will do the trick. You don’t need to sand the shellac deeply. You only need to pass the sandpaper across the shellac coating a few times to sand it for stain.

Remember to only sand the shellac if it has dried enough or cured. This will take about 90 minutes for water-based shellac and at least 4 hours for oil-based shellac. If you sand wet shellac, the shellac will be removed by the sandpaper. The shellac will also gunk up the sandpaper making it unusable.

After sanding, there are sure to be dust nibs and grain on the surface. You need to remove the dust so they don’t cause bumps in the stain.

You can wipe off the dust with a clean rag or a soft brush. You can also use a vacuum to remove the dust. You just need to ensure that the surface is clean and smooth after sanding.

3. Apply The Stain

Apply The Stain

The next step is to apply the stain on the shellac. You can do this using a paintbrush or a spray gun. Professional painters also apply stain using clean rags and foam. So use the method you are familiar and comfortable with.

To spray stain on shellac, you’ll need to first thin the stain with paint thinner so it can be properly expelled through the nozzle of the spray gun without clogging the tip.

On shellac, you can apply up to 4 light coats of a water-based stain. For oil-based stains, 3 light coats are enough. If you apply too many coats of stain, the stain will not stick well and can turn sticky. After applying the stain, ensure to wipe off the excess with a clean cloth so the stain can dry smoothly.

4. Seal The Stain

Seal The Stain

The final step is to seal the stain and this can only be done when the stain is completely dry. Though sealing stain on shellac isn’t necessary, doing so helps the stain to become stronger and more durable.

Also, professional painters advise sealing stains on shellac with a clear coat to create a glazed finish where the stain color appears trapped between two glossy layers.

You can also seal stain on shellac with other types of sealant like lacquer, polyurethane, wax, and the likes.

Different Types Of Stain That You Can Apply Over Shellac?

Different Types Of Stain That You Can Apply Over Shellac

Now that you know how to apply stain over shellac. Let’s check out some common types of stains and see if you can apply them over shellac.

Wood Stain

You can use wood stain over shellac after sanding the shellac. Sanding the shellac helps to create scars in the shellac for the wood stain to bite into. This is important because wood stains by design need to penetrate the shellac to stick. So the tiny scars you created make it possible for the stain to stick better.

You should also know that water-based wood stains stick better to shellac than oil-based wood stains. That’s because water-based stains don’t need to penetrate deeply to stick. So, putting an oil-based stain on shellac which is most likely oil-based too will be too much on the wood.

Gel Stain

You can apply gel stain over shellac because gel stains are topical stains. This means that gel stains don’t need to penetrate to stick. Since the gel stain doesn’t need to penetrate, the stain will stay strong on the shellac.

You can even apply gel stain over thick shellac. However, you should know that gel stain and shellac are both water-resistant and durable meaning that they offer the same type of protection. So, putting gel over shellac might be unnecessary.

Water-Based Stain

You can put water-based stains over shellac. In this case, all you’ll need to do is to clean the shellac and sand lightly with fine sandpaper. You should know that you’ll have to seal the water-based stain when it becomes dry.

Oil-Based Stain

You can apply oil-based stain over shellac but you have to ensure that the shellac is compatible with oil-based stains. If the shellac doesn’t accept oil-based stains, the stain will peel off.

You also need to sand the shellac before applying the oil-based stain. This gives the oil-based stain better adhesion. It also helps to thin the oil-based stain before applying it to the shellac. This way, the stain becomes lighter and penetration isn’t difficult.

Can You Mix Shellac and Stain?

You can mix shellac and stain if the base or solvent of both finishes is the same. Mixing oil-based shellac and water-based stain will ruin the stain.

If you are to mix shellac and stain, here are a few tips and rules to abide by:

  • Only add the stain to the shellac and not the other way around. If you add the shellac to the stain, it becomes difficult to know the exact amount to add. Also, the consistency of the mixture will be affected. On the other hand, adding the stain to the shellac helps to tint the shellac.
  • Ensure the base is the same. You should only mix shellac and stain that have the same base or solvent. So water-based stains can only be mixed with water-based shellac and oil-based stains should be mixed with oil-based shellac. Mixing shellac and stain with different bases will affect not just the consistency but the color and dry time.
  • Always stir after mixing shellac and stain. Stirring the mixture helps to loosen lumps in the mixture. Stirring also makes the paint flow and color even.
  • Test the mixture after mixing. After mixing shellac and stain, ensure to test the mixture on wood or cardboard to see if it dries properly. If it does, you can use the mixture on the main surface. This helps to prevent a poor finish.

Can You Apply Shellac Over Stain?

You can apply shellac over stain but shellac goes better on water-based stains. To put shellac over oil-based stains, you’ll need to ensure the oil-based stain is completely dry. You’ll also need to sand the oil-based stain before putting shellac over it.

You shouldn’t apply shellac over baby furniture or stained cooking equipment as shellac is not food safe. You should also know that applying shellac over stain is for wood that accepts stain well like Oak. Since these woods accepts stain well, they wouldn’t such the stain.

But for wood that doesn’t accept stain well, you should use shellac before the stain and not after. The shellac will help to condition the wood so the stain can properly stick.

Final Words

Overall, you can use stain over shellac easily. In most cases, all you need to do is to sand the shellac first and the stain will stick.

You can also apply shellac over stain but only do so on wood that accepts stain well. You should remember not to mix shellac and stain unless the base is the same.

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