Last Updated on July 18, 2023 by Ernest Godia
While staining can significantly beautify wood by accentuating its grain, it does little to protect the surface from damage. Therefore, any stained wood surface requires a durable sealant to protect it and prolong its lifespan.
Whether you are a professional woodworker or a hobbyist DIYer, knowing how to seal stained wood can help you achieve the best results in your wood project.
This article provides the various methods you can use to seal your stained wood surfaces and offers detailed procedures for getting the job done like a pro.
How to seal stained wood
Wear your protective gear and gently stir your polyurethane to mix well. Next, dip a paintbrush in the can and apply a thin layer of polyurethane over the stain. Let it dry for 24 hours, scuff the surface with high-grit sandpaper, tack off the dust, and add more layers as desired.
Let the sealed surface cure for as long as recommended.
Do you have to seal the wood after staining?
Yes, you need to seal the wood after staining. Wood stains partially seal the wood pores to reduce the extent of moisture and water absorption, but their primary role is to color the wood without offering adequate protection.
Sealing wood with a durable topcoat sealer will protect the stained surface against damage from water and heat. The sealant also protects the wood from scratches, food stains, and fading due to human traffic or use.
Types of sealants for stained wood
Here’s a brief overview of each product to help you choose the most suitable option for your project.
Polyurethane is a household name in woodworking—this reliable product pairs well with paint, wood stain, and oil sealers to provide durable protection.
Polyurethane is available in two formulations—water-based and oil-based. Water-based poly is best used over a water-based wood stain. The oil-based variety can be used over both water-based and oil-based wood stains. Both types can be applied using a brush, roller, or sprayer.
Oil-based poly offers a superior seal against discoloration, scratches, heat, and water damage. It’s most suited for outdoor areas because it is designed to withstand erratic outdoor weather. However, it can also be used indoors, especially in heavy traffic areas like hardwood floors.
On the other hand, water-based poly is best used on indoor stained surfaces.
Polycrylic is a water-based protective finish that blends with water-based stains and paints. While in the can, it appears milky, but when applied, it dries into a crystal-clear, solid film.
Polycrylic is most suitable for indoor use on surfaces with moderate human and animal contact. It applies easily with a paint or foam brush, roller, or spray gun and dries equally fast.
Polycrylic does not yellow over time, making it the perfect choice for sealing tinted and light-colored wood stains.
Shellac is a versatile product used as a pre-stain sealer or a wood finish. It is a fast-drying product that protects stained surfaces from water damage and moderate scratches.
Shellac can be applied using a foam brush or an aerosol can. Based on the function of the stained wood, you can choose to use clear or amber shellac and then buff it to activate a satin sheen or French polish.
A shellac finish is best used on indoor furniture and decorative wood pieces. This is because shellac never cures into a rock-solid film, and regular contact might scar or rub off the luster.
Another popular high-performance, durable finish that can seal stained wood and prolong its lifespan is lacquer.
Lacquer is best applied over the stain using a spray gun. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated space and wear your safety gear because lacquer can harm your health if inhaled.
Lacquer dries fast, almost instantly, unlike polycrylic and polyurethane. This product is quite unforgiving of mistakes, so it is essential to practice on sample surfaces like a piece of scrap wood before the project if you are a beginner.
How to apply sealant on stained wood?
Now that you know the different types of sealants available, it’s time to look at how you can apply them over the stained wooden surface. Keep reading.
Supplies you will need to seal stained wood.
Depending on the method you choose, you may require some or all the products in this list.
- Foam brush
- Synthetic bristle brush
- Spray gun
- Tack cloth
- Rubber gloves
- Respirator mask
- Clean rag
Method 1: Sealing stained wood with Polyurethane
First on the list is the polyurethane sealer. This method works for both water and oil-based poly.
Step 1: Choose the appropriate polyurethane product.
Choose your preferred product (oil- or water-based polyurethane) depending on the type of stain underneath and where your wooden project is—indoors or outdoors. Then, open the polyurethane can and gently stir the product to mix it well.
Step 2: Apply polyurethane.
Use a brush to apply polyurethane to the wood surface; brush the product in long strokes, going with the grain. Then, apply a generous amount of polyurethane to the end grains since they are the most absorbent part of the wood.
Step 3: Let the first coat dry.
After the first coat, let it dry for a minimum of 24 hours, but allow longer drying time if necessary. The drying time varies depending on humidity, temperature, and the type of polyurethane used.
Step 4: Sand between coats.
Use 400-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the entire surface to remove any imperfections. Then, use a clean rag or tack cloth to remove the dust particles.
Step 5: Apply more coats as desired.
Apply two or more coats of polyurethane until you achieve your desired look.
Repeat the process in steps 3 to 6 until you’re satisfied with the number of layers applied. Do not sand the last coat.
Step 6: Let the sealed surface cure in a well-ventilated space.
This cure time can last anywhere between 21-35 days.
Method 2: Sealing stained wood with Shellac
If you prefer shellac, here’s another simple way to seal stained wood step by step.
Step 1: Preparation
You can dissolve shellac flakes in denatured alcohol to make your own batch of shellac finish. Or, you can buy a ready-to-use shellac finish and start your project.
Denatured alcohol is quite caustic, and the fumes can be unbearable. Therefore, ensure you wear protective gear and work in an airy or well-ventilated space.
Step 2: Apply the shellac
Dip your brush into the shellac and apply the product with the grain. Work on a small area at a time to achieve a flawless finish because shellac dries fast.
Step 3: Let it dry
Do not interfere with the surface while the shellac dries.
Step 4: Reapply multiple coats as desired.
Apply 3 to 4 coats of shellac sealant for a flawless finish, ensuring the preceding layer is completely dried before recoating.
Leave the shellac surface to cure for as long as necessary—buff with a soft cloth to activate the sheen.
Method 3: How to seal stained wood with Lacquer
We’re keeping it simple; here’s another straightforward way to seal stained wood step by step.
Step 1: Preparation
Wear your safety gear first because lacquer is highly toxic when inhaled. Also, make sure your workstation is well-ventilated but not windy.
Step 2: Apply Lacquer
Hold the spray gun 8 to 12 inches away from the surface and spray a thin coat of lacquer on the stained wood furniture. Move the spray gun steadily over the surface to avoid drips and build-ups in one spot.
Step 3: Let it dry
Lacquer takes about 30 minutes to completely dry, but allow more time if necessary.
Step 4: Apply additional coats
Apply additional coats of lacquer in the same way as described above. If you notice any drips, back-brush them immediately to keep the surface flawless. Apply 3 to 4 coats of lacquer for a smooth finish and better coverage.
Step 5: Let it cure fully
Leave the sealed surface to cure fully before handling the furniture.
Method 4: Sealing stained wood with Polycrylic
Follow this step-by-step process to seal your stained wood using polycrylic.
Step 1: Prepare the surface.
Ensure the stained wood is dust free and that your workstation is adequately ventilated.
Step 2: Apply the polycrylic
Dip your synthetic bristle brush in the polycrylic and apply thin and even coats in the direction of the wood grain.
Step 3: Let it dry.
Polycrylic takes 2 hours to dry, but allow more time if necessary. Scuff the surface with fine-grit sandpaper and wipe off the dust using a tack cloth.
Step 4: Apply additional coats.
For a sturdy finish, apply 3 coats of polycrylic to your stained wood.
Step5: Let it dry and cure
Allow the sealed wood surface to dry and cure thoroughly before resuming full use.
Other ways of sealing stained wood
Here are other products you can use to seal stained wood. However, their usage is limited to fewer or no contact surfaces if they are to last a decent number of years. Take a look.
Sealing stained wood with oil
Drying oils, such as Tung oil, dry into a hard film through a chemical process called oxidation.
These oils are best used over oil-based stains to add a layer of protection from moderate damage. Here’s how to get it done step by step.
- Step 1: Clean and lightly sand the stained surface.
- Step 2: Apply the first coat of Tung oil using a foam brush or clean rag.
- Step 4: Wait for the first coat to dry. This can take up to 72 hours for pure Tung oil or a few hours for adulterated Tung oil.
- Step 5: Apply additional coats and let them dry completely between each subsequent coat.
- Step 6: let the finished surface cure completely and then buff with a soft cloth to bring out some sheen.
Sealing stained wood with wax
Waxing stained wood is another way to seal it. In this case, you would need to use paste wax. Note that this method is only practical when used on decorative pieces because the wax isn’t the most durable option.
Using it is pretty straightforward: apply the paste wax using a soft cloth or wax brush. Let the wax layer dry for at least 24 hours before applying the following layers. You can layer multiple coats of wax as you desire.
After the last coat, let the waxed surface dry for about 48 hours, then buff it to activate a gloss, or you can leave the surface matte. Let the wax cure for another week or two before using the sealed surface.
How To Seal Stained Wood For Outdoor Use
Sealing stained wood for outdoor use is essential to protect it from moisture, sunlight, and other environmental elements. Follow these steps to properly seal stained wood for outdoor applications:
- Prepare the Wood Surface: Ensure the stained wood surface is clean, dry, and free from dust and debris. Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any loose particles.
- Choose the Right Sealer: Select a high-quality exterior wood sealer suitable for outdoor use. Look for sealers with UV protection to prevent fading and discoloration.
- Check Weather Conditions: Choose a day with mild weather conditions for sealing. Avoid extremely hot, cold, or rainy days, as they can affect the sealer’s application and drying process.
- Test the Sealer: Perform a small test on an inconspicuous area of the stained wood to ensure compatibility and the desired finish.
- Apply the Sealer: Stir the sealer thoroughly before application. Use a paintbrush, roller, or sprayer to apply an even coat of sealer to the stained wood. Work with the grain for a smoother finish.
- Allow Drying Time: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time. It’s crucial to allow the first coat to dry completely before applying subsequent coats.
- Sand Between Coats: Lightly sand the wood surface between coats using fine-grit sandpaper. This helps the new coat adhere better and results in a smoother finish.
- Apply Additional Coats: Depending on the sealer’s instructions and the desired level of protection, apply one or more additional coats of sealer. Allow proper drying time between each coat.
- Consider a Topcoat: For added protection, consider applying a clear topcoat or varnish over the sealer. This can enhance the durability and longevity of the seal.
- Buff and Polish (Optional): If you desire a glossy finish, consider buffing and polishing the sealed wood surface after the final coat has dried.
- Regular Maintenance: Regularly inspect the sealed wood for signs of wear or damage. Perform touch-ups and reapply the sealer as needed to maintain its protective properties.
Recommended read: Pressure-treated wood sealer for cut ends.
Benefits of Sealing Wood After Staining
If you wonder whether sealing stained wood is worth the time and effort, here is a rundown of the reasons to consider it.
It preserves the wood’s aesthetics
One of the primary reasons for sealing stained wood is to preserve its aesthetics. The sealer creates a protective barrier that prevents the color from fading or wearing off due to exposure to sunlight, moisture, or daily use.
It offers Protection Against Moisture and Weathering
Wood is susceptible to damage from moisture, which can cause it to warp, swell, or even rot. A topcoat sealer acts as a waterproofing agent, repelling moisture and protecting the wood from environmental elements.
Sealing Prevents Pest Infestations
Unsealed wood can attract insects and pests, leading to potential damage and compromise in structural integrity. Sealing helps create a barrier against these pests, reducing the risk of infestations.
Sealing Enhances the Durability and Longevity of the Stained Surface
Wood sealers provide an added layer of protection that enhances the wood’s overall durability and longevity.
What happens if you don’t seal stained wood?
If you don’t seal stained wood, several negative consequences can occur over time:
- Fading and Discoloration: Unsealed stained wood is more susceptible to fading and discoloration caused by exposure to sunlight and UV rays. The vibrant and rich color of the stained wood may fade, resulting in a dull and lackluster appearance.
- Moisture Damage: Stained wood that is not sealed can absorb moisture from the environment, leading to swelling, warping, and cracking. In humid or wet conditions, the wood can become vulnerable to rot and decay, reducing its structural integrity.
- Stains and Spills: Without a protective sealer, stained wood is more prone to absorbing spills and stains from liquids such as water, oil, or other substances. These stains can be challenging to remove, compromising the wood’s aesthetics.
- Pest Infestations: Unsealed wood attracts insects and pests, such as termites and wood-boring beetles. These pests can cause extensive damage to the wood, leading to costly repairs or replacements.
- Reduced Service Life: The absence of a protective sealer accelerates the natural wear and tear of stained wood. As a result, the wood’s lifespan is significantly shortened, and it may need to be replaced sooner than expected.
- Difficulty in Cleaning: Sealed stained wood is easier to clean and maintain, as spills and dirt can be wiped off without much effort. Unsealed wood, on the other hand, can absorb stains and become challenging to clean thoroughly.
- Lack of Durability: Sealing provides an additional layer of protection that enhances the wood’s durability. Without this protection, the stained wood is more susceptible to scratches, dents, and other damages from regular use.
- Compromised Aesthetics: Stained wood that is not sealed may lose its original beauty and luster over time. The lack of protection can result in a worn-out appearance, making the wood look aged and less appealing.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When You Stain and Seal Wood
To ensure a successful sealing process, avoid the following common mistakes:
- Over-application of the Sealer
Applying too much sealer can lead to uneven drying and an unnatural appearance. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for application to achieve the desired results.
- Rushing the Process
Sealing stained wood requires patience and attention to detail. Rushing through the process may result in subpar outcomes.
- Ignoring Proper Ventilation
When working with sealers that emit fumes, ensure adequate ventilation to protect your health.
- Neglecting Post-Sealing Maintenance
Once the wood is sealed, proper maintenance is necessary to retain its beauty and protection. Regular cleaning and touch-ups will help prolong the sealer’s effectiveness.
How long after staining wood can you seal it?
Let the stained surface dry for 24 to 48 hours before sealing it. This drying time will vary depending on the weather in your region, the type of wood stain used, and the number of coats applied.
Can you seal stained wood before painting?
No, you should not seal stained wood before painting it. Paint adheres well to bare wood. If you were to paint over a sealed piece, be ready to watch it flake.
Do I use clear sealant for stained wood?
Ideally, you should use a clear sealant on stained wood to help you retain the color of the stained surface. You can achieve this by using clear products or those that dry into a transparent film when applied to a surface.
What do I use to seal stained wood floors?
Go for oil-based polyurethane when sealing stained wood floors. Hardwood floors receive heavy foot traffic, so you need to protect them with a water-proof, stain, and scratch-resistant product, which is where oil-based polyurethane comes in.
Do I have to seal stained wood?
Yes, must seal stained wood to protect it from external damage such as scratching, heat and water damage, and stains from human touch and pets. Wood stain partially protects the wood from absorbing water and moisture; it doesn’t shield it from other forms of external damage.
What is the best time to seal stained wood?
It is best to seal stained wood after it has fully dried from the staining process. This typically takes 24 to 48 hours after applying the wood stain.
Can I use a paintbrush to stain and seal wood?
Yes, a paintbrush is a common and effective tool for applying wood sealer. It allows for precise application and better control over the coating.
How long should I wait between coats of sealer?
Waiting at least 4 to 6 hours between coats is generally recommended. However, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific sealer you are using.
Can I stain wood after sealing it?
It is generally not advisable to stain wood after sealing it, as the sealer may prevent the stain from properly adhering.
How to Seal Stained Wood – Conclusion
We have discussed six ways how to seal stained wood. Which one resonates with you? Our favorite sealant product is oil-based polyurethane because of its ease of application and unmatched durability.
We hope this article helps you choose and use the best sealer for your beautiful stained surfaces.
If you liked this article, feel free to share it with your network. Also, share your experience in the comments below to let us know how the abovementioned methods worked for you.