Last Updated on January 29, 2023 by Ernest Godia
After staining wood do you have to seal it? This is a question that many woodworkers and DIYers have asked themselves at some point.
Staining wood can enhance its natural beauty and bring out its unique grain pattern, but it doesn’t do much to protect the wood from the elements.
So, do you have to seal wood after staining? Indeed you should!
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of sealing the wood after staining and some of the best sealers you can use to enhance your projects.
After staining wood do you have to seal it?
After staining wood, it is essential to seal it to protect it from water, heat, and UV rays and lock in the stain’s color. While staining can enhance the natural beauty of wood and bring out its unique grain pattern, it doesn’t protect the wood enough.
What are the benefits of sealing wood after staining?
Staining and sealing wood is a two-step process necessary for enhancing its aesthetics and prolonging its lifespan.
If a part of you is still asking whether you should seal the wood after staining, this section gives you the benefits of a protective sealer for your stained wood.
1. Enhancing the wood’s aesthetic appeal
The sealer provides a glossy and smooth finish that will accentuate the wood grain’s natural beauty while making the color pop. This effect can make the wood look more vibrant and eye-catching, especially in a high-visibility area like a dining area or living room.
2. Preventing fading and discoloration
The sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause the wood stain to fade. Exposure to moisture can darken or change the color of the wood.
Fortunately, a clear coat of sealer will provide a barrier that protects the stained wood from the damaging effects of the elements.
3. Preventing water damage
A sealer creates a hard-film barrier on the surface, protecting the wood from water damage.
Wood stain soaks into the wood and colors it but leaves the wood pores open. Since the surface is porous, water can seep into the wood fibers and cause them to swell. Such wood can eventually crack or warp.
4. Protecting against wear and tear
Typically, a good sealer protects the stained wood from the damage of sharp objects.
Sealers dry into a rock-hard film resistant to scratches, dings, scuffs, and other types of damage. This feature is especially beneficial for wooden surfaces in heavy traffic areas, like kitchen countertops or dining tables.
What happens if you fail to seal stained wood?
Now that you know what a sealer protects the stained wood from, you should realize it will be susceptible to many problems if you fail to seal it. But let me paint a clearer picture below.
It will fade and be discolored.
Exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors will make the stained wood look dull and faded. Consequently, this can cause the wood to appear older than it is and, honestly, quite unsightly.
It will experience water damage.
Without a sealer, water can penetrate the stained wood and leave ugly water stains that are difficult to remove.
An outdoor surface in regular contact with water will start warping or cracking over time. This will eventually make the wood unstable and unsafe to use, and in extreme cases, it may need replacing.
It will wear sooner
The stained wood is bound to get scratches and dings from regular contact with pets and humans. All this wear and tear will eventually make the surface look old and worn sooner.
It will be more challenging to clean.
Unsealed stained wood can be more challenging to clean without damaging the wood stain.
In addition to these issues, not sealing the wood can void any warranty that may come with the product, as the manufacturer may consider it a misuse of the product.
How long should you wait to seal the wood after staining?
You should wait a minimum of 24 hours after staining wood before you apply a sealer.
However, the exact time you should wait before sealing depends on the type of wood stain used, the number of coats applied, and climatic conditions.
Water-based stains dry fast and should accept a sealer after 24 hours. On the other hand, oil-based products dry slowly and may need up to 48 hours after the last coat before going in with a top coat.
Temperature, humidity, and airflow also affect the speed at which the wood stain dries. Warmer temperatures with low humidity and sufficient airflow will dry the stain in record time.
In contrast, cooler temperatures with high humidity and poor air circulation will prolong the stain’s dry time.
In any case, it’s always best to check the manufacturer’s instructions on dry time for the specific product you’re using. Also, ensure you’re working under the optimum climatic conditions.
Factors to consider when choosing a sealer for stained wood surfaces
Each project is unique and will have its own set of requirements. Therefore, choosing a sealer best suited for your specific project and its intended use is essential.
Use the following considerations when choosing a clear coat for your stained wood surfaces.
a) Ease of use
Some sealers are easier to use, while others require a particular skill set and specific equipment.
For example, some sealers come in a spray can, making the application much faster and more convenient. In contrast, others come in a can that requires a paintbrush, roller, or spray gun to apply.
Therefore, choose a type of sealer that will encourage your efforts to seal the stained wood.
b) The color of the wood and the wood stain
Some sealers have a tint that can change the color of the stained wood surface, while others won’t; choose wisely.
For example, oil-based polyurethane is popularly known to add an instant amber glow to the surface and tends to yellow over time.
On the other hand, water-based polys don’t alter the color of the wood or the finish, regardless of age.
c) The location of the stained wood (outdoor vs. indoors)
If the stained wood is a deck, outdoor furniture, or any exterior application, choose a sealer formulated for outdoor use. These sealers should be highly durable, waterproof, UV resistant, and weatherproof.
However, a sealer for indoor surfaces may not have to be UV resistant but should still be water-resistant, scratch resistant, and equally durable.
d) The size of the project
Some sealers are better suited for larger projects, while others are better suited for smaller ones.
For example, if you’re working on a large project, like staining a deck or a wooden fence, you’ll likely need several liters of sealer, preferably packaged and sold in larger quantities.
On the other hand, if you’re working on a small project, such as a picture frame or a small piece of furniture, choose a sealer that comes in a smaller container. This helps you avoid ending up with a lot of leftover products that may go to waste.
e) The type and function of the project
The type of sealer you choose will depend on the project you’re working on and its intended purpose.
For example, if you’re working on a project exposed to a lot of wear and tear, such as a kitchen countertop or an outdoor surface, you’ll want to choose a highly durable and scratch-resistant sealer.
On the other hand, choose a sealer that provides a high-gloss finish if you’re working on a project meant for decorative purposes, such as a piece of art or a display case.
f) The type of wood stain (oil vs. water-based)
The type of stain on the wood should influence the sealer you plan to use.
Choose an oil-based sealer for your oil-stained wood for compatibility and an immaculate finish. The same goes for water-based stains and sealers.
How to seal stained wood for outdoor use
If you’re planning to use your stained wood project outdoors, it’s crucial to seal it properly to protect it from the elements.
We’ve done a detailed article on how to seal stained wood on our website; take a look.
But here’s a brief layout of the process.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A clear sealer formulated for outdoor use
- A paintbrush or roller
- A clean, dry rag or brush
- Allow the stained wood to dry completely before applying the sealer.
- Use a paintbrush or roller to apply the sealer to the wood, making sure to cover all surfaces evenly.
- Use a clean, dry rag or brush to remove any bubbles or drips from the surface of the wood.
- Allow the sealer to dry completely before applying a second coat.
- Repeat the process for a second and third coat if desired.
How many coats of sealer should I apply?
Generally, most projects require two to three coats of sealer. However, you may need more or fewer coats depending on the type of sealer you’re using, the type of stained wood you’re working with, and the level of protection the surface needs.
What is the best topcoat to use over stained wood?
You can use one of the many available topcoats over stained wood, including polyurethane, polycrylic, and lacquer.
Polyurethane is a popular choice for a topcoat over stained wood because it provides a hard, durable finish resistant to scratches, scuffs, water damage, and other types of wear and tear.
Polyurethane is available in two varieties; oil-based and water-based. You can apply either type using a paintbrush, roller, or spray gun.
Oil-based polyurethane provides a warm, amber color and can enhance the natural color of the wood. It’s also water-resistant and UV-resistant, making it an excellent choice for outdoor projects.
Water-based polyurethane dries clear and doesn’t yellow over time. It also has less toxic fumes during the application and curing process, making it ideal for interior surfaces.
Pros and cons of using a polyurethane sealer
- Durable finish
- Scratch resistant
- Good for indoor and outdoor use
- Can yellow over time
- Oil-based polyurethane takes longer to dry and can release strong fumes.
This is another popular sealer for wooden surfaces. Polycrylic is a water-based topcoat that dries into a clear, glossy sheen and doesn’t yellow over time.
It’s a good choice for projects that will be used indoors, such as picture frames, decorative woodwork, and furniture, because it’s less durable than polyurethane.
It’s also less toxic and has fewer fumes than polyurethane, making it friendly to use indoors. You can brush, roll or spray polycrylic over your stained surfaces.
Pros and cons of polycrylic sealer
- Clear, glossy finish
- Easy to apply
- Doesn’t yellow over time
- Less toxic fumes
- Not as durable as polyurethane
- Not UV-resistant
- Not recommended for outdoor use.
Lacquer is a popular topcoat used on stained wood because it dries quickly and provides a water-resistant, high-gloss finish.
Application is relatively easy using a sprayer. However, its fumes are strong and harmful to your health; therefore, use it while wearing a respirator and protective goggles.
Lacquer is ideal for indoor projects, particularly surfaces exposed to minimal wear and tear. Therefore it’s primarily suitable for stained surfaces like decorative woodwork, antique furniture, and musical instruments.
However, it’s less durable than polyurethane or polycrylic; it’s unsuitable for outdoor use or high-traffic areas.
Pros and cons of Lacquer sealer
- Dries quickly
- High-gloss finish
- Ideal for indoor projects
- Can be flammable
- It can be more challenging to work with and require specialized equipment or knowledge.
- It has stronger and more toxic fumes.
D. Wood Stain and Sealer in One
This type of product combines a wood stain and a sealer in one, making it a convenient option for those who want to stain and seal their wood in one step.
However, these products may not be as effective as using separate wood stains and sealers. The pigmentation may not be as rich, and the sealer may not be as durable as separate products.
This option is suitable for small projects and those who want to save time and money. However, it may not be the best option for large projects or projects exposed to heavy use or the elements.
E. Drying oils like Tung oil
Tung oil is another alternative worth a shot at sealing stained wood. This oil can cover oil and water-based stains in a solid protective coat. Pure tung oil is safe to use on indoor surfaces and can stand up to outdoor weather.
Its performance isn’t as durable as oil-based poly, but it provides reliable protection to the target surface.
However, it takes forever to dry, and you may need more coats than you would use with other topcoat sealers.
Pro tips for applying a sealer over wood stain
- Safety first: If using an oil-based polyurethane or lacquer sealer, wear your respirator mask to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. Also, work in a well-ventilated area.
- Make sure the wood stain is completely dry before applying the sealer. Applying the sealer too soon can cause the stain to bleed or have the sealer look cloudy and blotchy.
- Ensure the stained surface is clean and dry. Wipe the surface with a soft, dry cloth to remove any dust that has settled on the wood; otherwise, achieving a flawless finish will be a pain.
- Apply the sealer in thin coats to ensure that the sealer dries evenly without drips or bubbles.
- Use a high-quality brush or spray gun to ensure the sealer applies effortlessly across the stained surface. Since most sealers are self-leveling, avoid over-brushing to ensure the finish doesn’t have brush marks.
- Allow the sealer to dry completely before applying additional coats or using the finished surface. The exact duration largely depends on what the manufacturer recommends.
- Don’t over-apply the sealer to avoid creating a cloudy appearance.
Does stain seal wood?
No, a stain only adds color to the wood and accentuates the grain. To provide durable protection, you will need to apply a separate topcoat sealer to the wood. Water-based stains tend to raise the grain and leave the pores open, while oil-based stains may seal the pores to a certain degree.
How do you seal stained wood for outdoor use?
To seal wood for outdoor use, first ensure the stained wood is completely dry and dust-free. Next, stir your oil-based polyurethane to mix well. Brush or spray a thin coat of poly on the stained wood. Let the first coat dry completely before layering more coats, about 2 to 3.
What happens if you seal the wood before the stain has dried?
By sealing the wood before the stain dries, you’ll smear the stain and cause streaks, resulting in an uneven finish. This is particularly true if you’re applying the sealer with a brush. Still, if you were to spray the sealer on a wet stain, you would have a cloudy finish.
Can you seal stained wood with wax?
Yes, you can use wax to seal stained wood. However, it’s best suited for interior surfaces that experience minimal traffic. This is because the wax isn’t as durable as other sealers and may not provide enough protection for stained wood.
So, after staining wood do you have to seal it? The short answer is yes!
In the end, sealing wood after staining is an essential step in protecting and preserving your wood surfaces. You just have to choose the best sealer for your project and refer to our article for the right procedure for sealing stained wood.
So don’t skimp on this step if you want your project to look its best for years to come.
If you found this information helpful, please share it with your fellow woodworkers and DIYers.