Shellac wood finish is highly is preferred among woodworkers mainly because it is quick and easy to apply. DIYers also love it since it helps them save time on their projects and produces a beautiful, mellow finish.

However, wood stain is the best way to accentuate the wood’s natural grain. So, can you stain over shellac to tap into the benefits of both products?

Read along to learn if and how you can stain over shellac.

Can You Stain Over Shellac

Absolutely. Shellac bonds tenaciously to unfinished and finished wood surfaces, so you can apply it to bare wood and stain over it with great success. Then, ensure you seal the stained wood afterwards to lock in the color and provide lasting results. When you follow this approach to treat your wood, you create a color coat trapped between layers of wood finish, referred to as a ‘glaze.’

But, Should You Stain Over Shellac?  

While shellac will bond to oil and water-based stains, you should only use shellac before staining if the wood does not take stain too well. 

Various wood species absorb stains differently. Some of them accept stain without issues, but others have uneven grain and pores on their surface, hence becoming splotchy when stained.

As a rule of thumb, you should only shellac before staining if the wood does not accept stain well.   

Woods to Shellac Before Staining 

When you apply shellac before staining, it acts as a pre-stain wood conditioner, ensuring the wood absorbs stain better. This is ideal for woods such as pine, maple, birch, cherry, and rosewood that have tight grains and become splotchy when stained. 

While at it, you want to keep the thin base coat of dewaxed shellac thin to seal the wood only partially and even out its pores but not block them altogether.   

Woods to Stain Without Shellac  

Do not use shellac before staining woods like oak, ash, and hickory that have large open pores and strong grain patterns. Such woods are known for absorbing stains evenly and having their grains pop after staining. 

On the other hand, wood such as poplar benefits from a shellac poplar wood finish, as it brings out the wood’s natural grain and provides a smooth, glossy surface.

The quick-drying property of shellac allows for easy application, making it an excellent choice for finishing poplar projects with efficiency and enhancing their overall appeal.

Recommend Reading: Best finish for ash wood

How to Stain Over Shellac 

Staining over shellac requires knowing how to thin the shellac with denatured alcohol and keeping a light hand while applying the base sealer coat. 

Ideally, you want to cover the entire surface with a thin coat of dewaxed shellac without overwhelming the wood grain. Therefore, thinning it with denatured alcohol will ensure easier application, better coverage, and the best results. 

That said, here are the supplies you will need for this exercise. 

What you will need 

  • 320-grit and 400-grit sandpaper
  • Shellac 
  • Applicator, preferably a ball of cotton wrapped in a cotton rag 
  • Denatured alcohol (optional)  
  • A scrap piece of wood 
  • Sealable container 
  • Wood stain
  • Clean rag

The procedure to follow 

The first thing you want to do is practice the wood finishing on a piece of scrap wood with the shellac and stain. This step should help you get the hang of the process and sneak peek of the final look to expect.     

Step 1: Prepare the shellac

To achieve the right consistency for your purposes, you may need to thin the shellac with some denatured alcohol. If this is the case, ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 

You could also buy the product in a ready-to-use state, so consider inquiring about thinning the shellac from the supplier when buying it. 

Step 2: Sand the wood 

When working with shellac, you need to scuff sand the wood with fine-grit sandpaper for the best results. In this case, consider using a 320-grit piece for the desired results. 

You could start with medium-grit sandpaper if the wood has a significantly uneven surface. Once you have leveled it with the medium grit sandpaper, you can proceed to the 320-grit for the final sanding. 

Then, use a damp rag to clean the entire surface and remove all the sanding dust. You will want to let the wood dry for one to two hours, depending on the weather, before applying the shellac.   

Step 3: Prepare the applicator

The best tool for applying a thin coat of shellac on wood is a ball or cotton wrapped in a cotton cloth to form a rounded cotton material. 

To create this tool, place the cotton ball in the middle of a small piece of cotton cloth, fold it into a ball, wrapping the cotton inside. The part with the cotton ball will form ahead while the rest of the cloth extends out into a handle. 

You can then use a rubber band to tie the neck, closing it up and securing the ball in place.  

Step 4: Apply the shellac

Saturate the head (a ball-shaped piece of cotton material) with the shellac and rub it on the wood along the grain. Consider starting in the middle and working your way to the ends.  

You may flatten the ball a bit before saturating it with the shellac just to make it cover a larger surface area of the wood with each sweep. And ensure the cloth is wet with the shellac before rubbing it on the wood.

You will need to re-saturate the ball of cotton material from time to time until you have covered the entire surface with the product. 

Step 5: Let it dry 

Allow the first coat to dry. Shellac drying time is about 15 minutes or less. 

You may add another coat of shellac or proceed to stain, depending on how deep you want the stain color to be. To determine the number of coats of shellac you will need, test with one and two coats before proceeding to your project.   

If you are adding another coat, keep the applicator in a sealed container to maintain its freshness while waiting for the surface to dry.

Step 6: Stain the wood

Once the final coat of shellac has dried for about an hour, go over it with 400-grit sandpaper to remove any fuzziness. The 400-grit sandpaper is the best for sanding sealers.

Next, use a rag to apply your selected wood stain. Rub the stain along the direction of the grain and wipe off the excess before it dries and becomes tacky. 

If you prefer a deeper stain color, you may add another coat of deck stain after the first one has dried, then let it dry completely according to the instructions on the label.   

Step 7: Seal it

The final part of this project is to apply a sealant. This can be any clear coat of your choice. And, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s application instructions for the best results.


Why is it important to apply shellac before staining? 

Some woods have uneven pores and tight grain; hence do not absorb stain well. If you are working with such woods, applying shellac before staining will help even out the pores and ensure the wood does not form splotches when stained. 

Can you oil over shellac? 

No, you cannot oil over shellac since shellac dries hard, so the oil will not penetrate it. Furthermore, oil over shellac will be redundant, offering virtually no protection to the wood.

Recommend Reading: How to Stain Furniture that is Already Stained

Can shellac be used before staining?

Yes, shellac can do an excellent job sealing the wood before applying a stain. In this case, it will act as a pre-stain wood conditioner, ensuring more even and smother staining free form blotches. We recommend using shellac before wood staining only for woods with tight grains like pine and birch that do not stain well.

Can you stain over paint?

Yes, you can stain over painted wood. However, it’s essential to prepare the surface properly. Sand the painted wood to create a rough surface, apply a wood conditioner if necessary, and then use a wood stain designed for staining over painted surfaces for the best results.

Can you seal over shellac?

Applying a transparent sealant such as acrylic lacquer over shellac is recommended to protect the finish from water and alcohol damage. Clear coating on top of shellac is the recommended way to produce a lasting shellac finish.

Can you shellac over stain?

Yes, you can shellac over gel stain, an oil-based or waterborne stain. Shellac is a natural resin that is compatible with oil-based and waterborne stains and dries hard. These properties make it a suitable candidate for use over a coat of deck stain. 

Read: How to Strip Shellac from Wood

Do you have to seal the wood after staining?

Sealing wood after staining is not compulsory, but it is a highly recommended way to finish and waterproof wood simultaneously. While wood stains offer some protection, the wood remains significantly porous and vulnerable to UV and water damage. Sealing also locks in the color, ensuring lasting protection and color. 

Recommend Reading: Can You Put Polyurethane Over Shellac?

So, Can You Stain Over Shellac?

Using wood stain over a coat of shellac can provide excellent results if done correctly. Thankfully, you have this tutorial to guide you through the process and ensure your next staining project is successful.

Please share any thoughts in the comments section below.     

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