Do You Have to Seal Wood After Staining it?

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It’s upsetting to spend so much time and effort on a project and find it damaged, discolored, and decaying in the next couple of weeks. If you’re already at that stage of staining, you might start to wonder if you have to seal it after staining the wood surface. Let’s find out!

Do You Need to Seal Stained Wood?

Without some kind of sealant, wood becomes dry and lifeless. Finishing is not the same thing as staining. Stains are designed to darken or dye wood by applying pigments, but they do not serve as a layer of protection to the wood.

When the stain is rubbed into the wood, the grain pattern is accentuated, and the wood takes on a more dramatic appearance. Stain darkens the wood and reveals its grain pattern, but it does little to protect it from the elements. 

sealing wood after staining

So, it is highly recommended to seal right after staining. Adding a few sealer coats over the wood stain will close its pores, reducing the wood’s ability to absorb moisture, protecting it from some ultraviolet light, and extending its lifespan. 

Sealing and resealing wood or furniture every few years can greatly extend its useful life.

How Long Should You Wait to Seal the Wood After Staining?

The wood stain must be allowed to dry following the manufacturer’s instructions before applying a clear coat, as otherwise, the stain may be wiped off or pulled up when the clear coat is applied. 

If you apply the clear coat by brushing or wiping it on, you’ll likely leave streaks in the wood stain, so we recommend spraying it on instead of using a brush. You’re more likely to notice streaks or marks in the stained piece if you don’t let it dry for a specified time

Use our chart as a guide for knowing how much time you have to let the stain dry.

Stain Type

Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain

Varathane Classic Penetrating Wood Stain

Minwax Gel Stain

Varathane Gel Stain

Recoat Time

4-6 Hours

2 Hours

8-10 Hours

2 Hours 

Dry Times



8 Hours

8 Hours (oil-based stain)


24 Hours (water-based stain)



24 Hours

6-8+ Hours


(up to 24 hours)

What Happens if the Stained Wood Isn’t Sealed? What are Other Alternatives?

What matters most is the context of its intended use. Even if it is safely hung on a wall indoors, it will eventually crack, warp, and fade from exposure to ultraviolet light and humidity, no matter how well-protected it is. Besides that, though, the effect won’t be very noticeable.

However, the rate of wear and tear will increase if the product is put to use in a location where it will be subjected to moisture, sharp objects, heavy foot traffic, or spills.

In little time, the workpiece will appear old due to scratches, rot, wear, staining, and denting. While the “distressed” aesthetic may appeal to you, remember that it will require more frequent replacement.

Oil-based polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, and varnish (sometimes known as alkyd) are the three most used sealants for wood.

Oil Base Polyurethane

You can also apply waxing and hard-drying oils to seal stained wood, but they have a steep learning curve, require a lot of work, and require more care and attention than polyurethanes and alkyds [1].

Number of Clear Coats to Apply on Stained Wood

After staining wood, you have to seal it with at least three coats of wood sealer. 

With clear coatings, three layers are the minimum that manufacturers recommend if you want maximum protection against surface damage. When applying on with wood, we recommend using 3 or 5 coats maximum.

Adding a clear protective coat finish in thin layers saves time and makes it easier to correct imperfections between coats if they occur. 

A thicker final clear coat is sometimes applied to guarantee the desired durability. Using high-grit paper (between 220 and 600 grit), you can sand between coatings.

sealant applied on wood

Sand only between applications of clear finish and do not sand the stained wood. If you sand the stained area directly, the stain will come off, but you’ll also leave behind some major surface damage that you or others will be able to notice right away.

Identifying the Best Type of Clear Coat to Put on a Newly-Stained Wood

Project Type

The clear topcoat you use on your items in high-traffic areas, such as dining room tables, must be very sturdy. Those standards are unnecessary for less-visited, smaller projects.

Color of Wood and Stain

Some clear coats are completely transparent, whereas others have a golden or amber hue that complements particular wood stain colors. Use caution and make a decision based on personal tastes.

Ease of Application

For a clear topcoat, you can use a paintbrush or a lint-free cloth to apply the coating. A spray can or paint sprayer can be used to paint the other types. When deciding, which course of action will be less challenging for you?

Indoor vs. Outdoor Use

How long do you plan on keeping your stained surface inside versus outside? If your clear coat is going to be used outside, it must be watertight and UV-resistant.

uv protectant on wood

Different Types of Wood Sealing Products

Polyurethane (Oil and Water Based)

This is a widely used wood finishing material since it is long-lasting and inexpensive compared to other alternatives. Do not confuse a topcoat sealer like polyurethane with a sanding sealer. 

Topcoats made from this material aren’t recommended for use while painting furniture because of the yellowing that often occurs as they cure. While it is only a problem for paints with a light color, staining is still a fantastic alternative.

For touch-drying or a second coat, re-apply polyurethane in as little as one to two hours. The whole dry time should be at least 24 hours. Let the sealer coat properly dry, and read the product’s description and instructions before using it.

Thinners are unnecessary for water-based polyurethane. But you can thin oil-based polyurethane or alkyd with mineral spirits at a 50/50 ratio.

MINWAX Fast-Drying Polyurethane

Polycrylic

Our woodworking experts’ go-to finish is the Minwax Polycrylic. Compared to other clear coatings, this sealer coat does a remarkable job of retaining its transparent color after being applied over paint. 

If you’re concerned about applying a clear coat of Polycrylic sealer over the stain, you shouldn’t be. Polycrylic is known for its transparency, and this sealer has gained a lot of traction among customers who need to remove light or colored stains.

The most common color choice is a grey stain because it is light, and consumers don’t want it to be yellow with time. To maintain the gray color of the stain, you can opt for Polycrylic.

Lacquer

It just takes 30 minutes or less for the lacquer to dry, so with a little sanding between thin coats, you’ll be set to go. But lacquer has a negative side as it is highly poisonous and has a very noticeable smell.

Suppose you don’t have the right equipment for spraying lacquer. Use is as simple as spraying it uniformly. Keep it within the house, as it’s not safe for use in the great outdoors.

Lacquer

After application, yellowing or ambering is possible, though it probably won’t be evident on dyed wood.

How to Seal Stained Wood + Best Tips and Tricks

Sealers are typically applied over the stain, or the wood itself, if it has not been stained. It closes the wood’s pores, giving it a smooth finish.

Here are some pointers on how to seal wood stain. If you follow these tips, you’ll have far better results.

sealing the wood
sealing the stained wood

Alternative Option: Wood Stain and Sealer in One

Using an all-in-one stain and sealer on a piece of wood is recommended if you do not wish to apply multiple products and multiple layers of stains and sealers. It’s a good option for beginners because a two-in-one product combines the two formulas.

FAQ

What is the difference between staining and sealing?

A sealer will stop water from seeping in and encouraging decay. Whereas a stain will prevent the wood from drying out and cracking or checking and turning gray, a stain will also block UV light with an extra pigment.

Is it recommended to put polyurethane on stained wood that’s not fully dried?

We do not recommend putting water or oil-based polyurethane on stained wood that has not dried because the sealer’s adherence will be reduced, increasing the likelihood of peeling or flaking. 

The sealer coat may not also cure correctly if applied over a wet stain, making you start the application process again.

How do you seal stained wood for outdoor use?

You can seal stained wood for outdoor use with a linseed or tung oil coat. Use a protective finish like polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer to preserve wood stains. You can also use a stain and sealer combination to finish and protect the wood.

Conclusion

Deciding if you have to seal wood after staining it is entirely up to you. But doing so is highly recommended to prevent stains and wear from foods, beverages, human touch, and piercing items. The primary function of wood stain is to provide color to natural wood. 

Furthermore, the wood stain will lose its vibrancy without being sealed. Putting a sealer coat will make the grain and color stand out more.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson

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