Can you Stain over shellac?

Last Updated on April 6, 2023 by Ernest Godia

Wondering whether you can stain over shellac on your next project? Absolutely. 

Shellac is a great sealer and primer, but it can also make it challenging for stains to penetrate the wood and achieve the desired color.

However, with the right preparation, tools, and approach, you can successfully stain over shellac and achieve a beautiful finish that will last for years. 

In this article, we’ll provide expert tips and tricks for staining over shellac like a pro.

Let’s get started!

Can you stain over shellac?

Yes, you can stain over shellac. Shellac is an excellent sealer that doesn’t interfere with the staining process. First, ensure the shellac base is completely dry, then scuff the surface to texturize it. Tack the dust, apply the stain, and dry it thoroughly before recoating.

Should you apply shellac on the wood surface before staining?

In most cases, applying shellac on the wood surface before staining is a good idea. It is easy to use, dries in less than an hour, and has properties that can enhance the quality and longevity of your woodwork.

One of the benefits of this product is its ability to seal the wood pores. This prevents water and moisture from penetrating and seeping into the wood, which can cause warping, cracking, or decay.

A coat of shellac can also block the tannins and resins in woods such as pine and teak, which can bleed through the stain and discolor it over time.

Applying shellac on the wood surface before staining creates an even base for the stain to adhere to, resulting in a more uniform and crisp finish.

How to stain over shellac

Types of wood to shellac before staining

You can use shellac on any type of wood, but some woods may benefit more from shellacking before staining. Here are some examples: 

  1. Softwoods

Such woods, including pine, fir, and poplar, absorb stain unevenly, resulting in a blotchy finish. Shellacking the surface helps seal the pores and promote an even and consistent stain absorption rate.

  1. Exotic woods 

These include rosewood, teak, and ebony. They have high oil content, preventing the stain from adhering correctly. 

Shellacking such woods before staining helps to block the oils from bleeding through to the surface and causing discoloration. It also creates a barrier between the wood and the stain, improving adhesion.

How to stain over shellac

Shellac is a resin product obtained from the secretions of a female lac bug native to India and Thailand. This product is refined into three common types: dewaxed shellac, waxed shellac, and garnet shellac. 

Dewaxed shellac is best for staining over because it does not contain wax. Waxed shellac can impede stain absorption, causing it to bead up or not absorb properly.  

Garnet shellac is darker colored and is mainly used for finishing and less for staining. 

While staining over shellac is pretty straightforward, here are some potential problems you may encounter and how to troubleshoot them.  

  • The stain may not absorb evenly or may appear blotchy. This is a consequence of applying the shellac unevenly or failing to sand it properly. You can avoid this problem by ensuring the shellac is applied in thin, even coats and is sanded to a smooth finish before staining.
  • Another potential issue is that the shellac reacts with the stain, causing it to lift or smear. This happens if the shellac is stained before it fully cures or the stain coats applied are too thick. 

To avoid this, ensure the shellac cures for at least 24 hours before staining, and apply the stain in thin coats.

If you’re ready to proceed, here’s a list of what you will need for the job.

Supplies needed

  • Denatured alcohol
  • Sandpaper (150-220-grit)
  • Tack cloth 
  • Shellac (clear or tinted)
  • Shellac applicator (brush or pad)
  • Wood stain     
  • Finish coat (polyurethane, lacquer, or wax)

Step-by-step procedure

Now that we have established that staining over shellac is possible, let’s get into the detailed process of achieving the best results.

Step 1: Clean and sand the wood

This is a crucial step when preparing wood for staining. Begin by wiping the surface with a damp cloth to remove dust or dirt. 

Then, sand the surface with 150-grit sandpaper to create a smooth and even surface. Be sure to sand in the direction of the grain.

Finish sanding with 220-grit sandpaper to eliminate scratch marks and rough spots. Brush off the sanding dust and tack the surface, or wipe with a cloth dampened in mineral spirits.

Step 2: Prepare the shellac for application.

Next, prepare the shellac according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can purchase pre-mixed shellac that’s ready to use and get working.

However, if you have shellac flakes, dissolve them in denatured alcohol before application. Let the mixture dissolve for a few minutes, and then stir it again before applying it to the wood surface.

Step 3: Get a suitable shellac applicator.

You can apply shellac with a brush, pad, or sprayer. The choice of applicator depends on the size and complexity of the project. You can use a brush or pad for small and simple tasks. 

However, if you’re working on a large project or some intricate pieces, you’re better off using a sprayer for effortless and flawless coverage.

Step 4: Apply a thin coat of shellac.

Dip the applicator into the shellac mixture and apply a thin coat to the wood surface, working in the direction of the grain. Ensure the coat is even and uniform, without drips or bubbles.

Step 5: Wait for the shellac layer to dry.

Let the shellac dry for at least an hour before sanding. The drying time may vary depending on the temperature and humidity in your workspace. 

To ensure the shellac is completely dry, lightly touch the surface with your finger. If it feels tacky, it still needs to dry for longer.

Step 6: Lightly sand the shellac base.

After the first coat of shellac has dried, lightly sand the surface with 220 grit sandpaper to create a slightly rough base for the stain to adhere to. Be sure to sand lightly and avoid sanding too aggressively, as this can damage the shellac base.

Clean the surface with a cloth to remove any sanding residue before applying the stain.

Step 7: Apply the wood stain. 

Apply the wood stain over the shellac base, working in the direction of the grain. Use a clean cloth or brush to spread the stain evenly and thoroughly, covering all the wood surfaces.

Let the stain dry for the recommended duration—typically 4-8 hours—before recoating.

Step 8: Apply a sealer or topcoat

You can brush on or spray a coat or two of your preferred sealant on the stained surface to protect against damage and prolong its lifespan. 

Your options for a finish coat include polyurethane, polycrylic, varnish, and lacquer. Choose a finish coat appropriate for the project and the desired level of protection. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply the finish coat evenly. 

Let the finish coat dry completely before using the finished piece.

Which wood types should you stain before shellac?

Not all wood types require a coat of shellac as a pre-stain sealer. Some of the wood types that can absorb stain just fine include;

  • Ash
  • Birch
  • Cedar
  • Hard Maple
  • Hickory
  • Mahogany
  • Oak

These woods have a tight, even grain pattern that absorbs stains evenly across the surface. With such properties, they do not require any pre-stain sealer or conditioner to achieve flawless results. 

That means after sanding and cleaning the surface, you can apply the wood stain as you would any unfinished wood.

After staining these hardwoods, you can use clear shellac as a topcoat sealer. Shellac will then protect the stain and the wood beneath it from water damage and discoloration.

However, the suitability of shellac as a topcoat sealer is limited to interior projects and surfaces with minimal traffic.

How long should shellac dry before staining?

It is recommended to allow the shellac to dry for at least one hour before proceeding to stain the wood. However, the drying time of shellac can vary depending on several factors, including ambient temperature, humidity, and thickness.

How do you make shellac darker?

If the color of the shellac is too light for your project, it’s possible to darken it by adding dark-colored aniline powder dye or liquid wood stains. 

Dye stain over shellac

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Add a tablespoon of the dye to the shellac and stir to darken the shellac. Repeat this process until the desired dark color is achieved.

Alternatively, you can tint shellac darker by adding a small amount of liquid wood stain. The amount of stain added will depend on the desired color. Make sure to stir the mixture to ensure you’re getting the correct, darker shade of shellac.

Can you apply gel stain over shellac?

Yes, you can apply gel stain over shellac. However, it is essential to ensure the shellac is completely dry before applying the gel stain. 

A gel stain is a thick, heavily pigmented stain that sits on top of the wood surface rather than penetrating it. This makes it an excellent option for use over shellac, which can create a barrier that prevents traditional stains from penetrating the wood.

Be sure to test the gel stain on a small area before applying it to the entire surface to ensure it adheres properly.

Can you paint over shellac?

Yes, you can paint over the shellac finish. However, it’s important to note that shellac can be difficult to paint over, especially if it’s tinted or sealed with wax. 

Before painting over shellac, lightly sand the surface to create a rough texture to which the paint can adhere. 

Additionally, it’s important to use a primer compatible with shellac, such as an oil-based primer, to ensure the paint adheres properly.

Can you shellac over stain?

Yes, you can shellac over wood stain. In this case, the shellac is a top-coat sealer meant to protect the stained surface from damage. 

However, you must let the stain dry completely before applying the shellac to avoid smudging the stain.

Also, remember that shellac can lighten the color of the stain. Therefore, choosing a shellac color that complements the stain is essential. 

Can you stain over waxed shellac?

No, you cannot stain over waxed shellac. The wax creates a barrier that prevents the stain from adhering to or penetrating the wood surface, resulting in an uneven and blotchy finish. 

Before staining over a waxed shellac layer, remove the wax coating by sanding the surface using denatured alcohol or a wax stripper.

Can you tint shellac with stain?

Yes, you can tint shellac with stain to achieve a custom color. You can add liquid stain into shellac, stirring gently to achieve your desired color. 

An alternative method of tinting shellac is by adding aniline dye stains. Stir a bit of the dye into the shellac to dissolve the colorant. 

Be sure to test the color on a small area before applying it to your entire project to avoid unwanted color variations.

Can you stain over shellac: Summary

Staining over shellac can be a fantastic way to enhance the natural beauty of your wood surfaces while guaranteeing protection and durability. 

By following the steps in this guide and taking proper precautions, you can achieve a beautiful and long-lasting finish that you’ll be proud to show off. 

So whether you’re staining a piece of furniture or refinishing your hardwood floors, try staining over shellac for a stunning result that will stand the test of time.

We hope you found this article helpful and informative. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments. 

Happy staining!

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