Applying Stain Over Shellac (Can You Do it & How To)

Shellac is a penetrating finish that protects wood from moisture, water, and other damage. But, can you stain over shellac?

You can stain over shellac, but you must sand it to create tiny ridges that the wood stain can soak into. If you don’t sand, shellac coating will prevent stain to stick because of its moisture-resistant layer. 

Also, since shellac is a penetrating finish, it has already filled the wood’s pores. Since the wood pores are already filled, wood stain can’t penetrate the pores and won’t stick. However, sanding will remove some parts of the shellac, allowing the wood stain to penetrate the wood.


Regular stain doesn’t stick directly to shellac. That’s because shellac is a moisture-resistant finish and will repel the wood stain coating. However, regular stain sticks over sanded shellac. Sanding will create tiny ridges that the wood stain can penetrate into. 

Also, it’s best to apply shellac before stain on woods that don’t accept stain well. Wood stain doesn’t stick on non-porous wood types, so you can apply shellac first, and then apply the wood stain over it. 

You must thin the shellac before applying it to the wood so the coating becomes lighter and doesn’t fill (or seal) the wood pores. This allows the wood stain to penetrate the wood pores and stick better.

Water-based wood stains stick better to shellac than oil-based wood stains. That’s because the water-based type doesn’t need to penetrate a surface deeply to stick. So, if you put an oil-based stain on shellac, which is likely oil-based, will be too much on the wood.

You can also apply gel stain over it. Gel stain is a tropical finish and doesn’t need to penetrate a surface to stick. So, it will stick over shellac without penetrating its coating.

Shellac Dry Time Before Stain

How Long Does Shellac Have To Dry Before Stain?

You must allow the shellac to dry for 4-8 hours before applying stain over it. This gives the coating enough time to dry and harden to become strong enough to withstand sanding and support the stain.

Water-based shellac dries faster than oil-based shellac. You can re-coat water-based shellac within 4 hours, but you must wait 8 hours to re-coat oil-based shellac. The dry time also depends on the thickness of the coat, room temperature, and humidity levels. 

If you stain too soon, the finish will turn sticky, tacky, or might peel off. That’s because wood stain won’t dry over a wet coating, so the finish will peel off. 

How To Apply Wood Stain Over Shellac?

Staining over shellac is hard because the moisture-resistant coating will prevent the stain from penetrating the surface and sticking. So, you must sand the moisture-resistant layer to create gaps where wood stain can penetrate into. 

Here are the tools you need:

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

1. Clean and Degrease The Finish

Clean and Degrease The Shellac

First, clean the shellac coating. Shellac attracts dust, dirt, and filth while drying, so you must clean it before applying stain. If the coating isn’t clean, dust will prevent the wood stain from penetrating the wood pores.

To clean a shellac finish, apply a degreaser and use a clean rag to wipe the dust off. You can use rubbing alcohol, solvent, or dish soap as an alternative to a degreaser. For fresh coating, wipe the dust off the coating with a clean rag only. 

2. Sand The Shellac

Sand The Shellac

Sanding will remove some parts of the shellac, allowing the wood stain to penetrate the wood pores.

To sand it, use fine-grit sandpaper (320 or 400-grit). Don’t use coarse-grit sandpaper, as it can remove the entire coating. While sanding, wipe the sandpaper across the coating without adding pressure. You don’t need to sand it deeply.

After sanding, remove the dust using a clean rag or soft brush. 

3. Apply The Stain

Apply The Stain

After you sand the shellac coating, apply wood stain. 

To apply wood stain to shellac:

  1. Use a paintbrush or sprayer. 
  2. If you use a sprayer, thin the wood stain because its flow is too thick to be sprayed without thinning. 
  3. Apply 3-4 coats of wood stain. 
  4. Wait until one coat dries before applying the next one. 
  5. Remove the excess.
  6. After the final coating dry fully (cure) before using the surface.

4. Seal The Stain

Seal The Stain

After staining over shellac, seal the finish. That’s because the wood stain isn’t durable or resistant to water. So, if the finish is exposed to water it will get removed or washed off.

So, if you want the finish to last longer, seal it with a waterproof sealant. You can use polyurethane, wax, or spar varnish for this. If you seal it with a clear coat, you will create a glazed finish where the stain color will appear (look) trapped between two glossy layers.

Mixing Shellac and Stain

You can mix shellac and wood stain if the solvent of both finishes is the same. So, you can mix oil-based shellac with oil-based wood stain. However, you can mix water-based wood stain with oil-based shellac (or vice versa). 

If you are to mix these two finishes, 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 stain to shellac helps to tint the shellac.
  • Ensure the base is the same. You should only mix shellac and stain with 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. If you mix finishes with different bases the consistency, color, and dry time will be affected.
  • Stir.  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 them, 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.

Applying Shellac Over Stain

You can apply shellac over the wood stain. Shellac is a top coat that will protect the wood stain from moisture, water, scratches, and other damage. However, you must lightly sand the oil-based wood stain to remove its glossy finish that prevents good adhesion. 

Wood stain changes the color of wood, but doesn’t protect it. So, if you applying a top coat, such as shellac, over it is necessary.

Final Words

You can stain over shellac. But, you must heavily sand the shellac coating to create gaps where the stain will penetrate. If you don’t sand, stain won’t stick over it. That’s because it won’t be able to penetrate the moisture-resistant coating of shellac. 

Tony Adams
Tony Adams

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about,

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