Can You Apply Shellac Over Stain?

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

If you’re looking to refinish wood furniture, you may wonder if applying shellac over stain is possible.

If you’re unsure, I’m here to help and share if you can shellac over stain and provide tips for achieving a successful outcome. I’ll also help you understand how shellac works and how to prepare your surface for stain or shellac application.

Understand Your Wood And Stains First

Understanding your wood and stains is essential for woodworking and finishing projects. Stains, sealants, and shellac have varying degrees of compatibility with various types of wood.

How Shellac Works When Applied Over Stain

Shellac is a versatile, practical finish that enhances and protects stained wood. Proper application techniques can create a beautiful, durable finish lasting years. I’ve used it on various woodworking projects, and it never disappoints. 

materials needs on applying shellac to wood finish

Shellac is terrific when applied over stain, and it dries quickly. It can be used on any piece of woodwork. However, it is unsafe for food use, so keep it away from discolored cutting boards and other kitchen implements.

You also need to determine if what you applied to your wood is an oil or water-based stain. If you have an oil-based stain, your shellac should also be oil-based.

How Long to Let Stain Dry Before Applying Shellac

The recommended drying time for a stain before applying shellac can vary depending on the type of stain and the specific brand of shellac being used.

General wisdom—and personal experience—suggests waiting at least 24 hours for your stain to dry before going in with the shellac. This allows the stain to fully dry and cure, ensuring the shellac adheres appropriately.

However, it’s always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific products, as drying times can vary. Some stains may require longer drying, while some shellacs may recommend waiting less than 24 hours.

When in doubt, my advice would be to play it safe and wait a little longer. This will help ensure a smooth and even finish for your project.

staining raw mango wood

Essential Things to Consider When Applying Shellac on Top of Stain

When applying shellac on top of a stain, there are several essential things to consider to ensure that you get the best possible results:

Can You Apply Shellac Over Tacky Stain?

Applying shellac over tacky or sticky stain is a no-go in my book. Doing so will compromise how well the shellac adheres and give you a finish that’s less than ideal.

The tackiness or stickiness of the stain indicates that it has not thoroughly dried or cured, and attempting to apply shellac over it can cause the two finishes to mix and create a messy, uneven result.

Resolving sticky stains can be achieved by either removing any residual stain or applying a stain thinner to the specific areas that have been affected.

applying shellac over stain wood

Can You Use Shellac Over Water-Based Stain?

Yes, you can use shellac over water-based stain, but it’s essential to ensure it is completely dry before applying it. Water-based stains tend to dry more quickly than oil-based ones, but it’s still a good idea to wait at least 24 hours after applying the stain to ensure it’s fully dry and set.

It’s also a good idea to test the compatibility of the shellac with the water-based stain on a small, inconspicuous area. If there are no signs of incompatibility, proceed with the complete shellac application.

Can you put shellac over gel stain?

It is possible to apply shellac over gel stain. Still, it’s essential to ensure the stain is completely dry before applying the shellac. I recommend thin, even coats and absolutely doing a test run to check compatibility.

By following these guidelines, you can achieve a beautiful, durable finish that will protect and enhance the natural beauty of the wood.

(How about putting shellac over a lacquer finish? Is it recommended? Find out next!)

Why is it Hard To Stain Over Shellac?

Staining over shellac can be challenging due to its sealing properties and potential to alter the color of the stain. In my experience, a light sanding can help create a surface that’s more receptive to staining. So, choose your stain wisely, and maybe do some test patches to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

applying shellac finish on wood

Is it Okay to Stain Over Shellac?

It is possible to stain over shellac, but it’s essential to remember that shellac is a sealer and can make it challenging for the stain to penetrate the wood fibers.

Staining over shellac can also alter the color of the stain, as the natural color of shellac can add a yellow or amber tint to the wood.

Applying Shellac Over Stain: Tools & Steps

Required Materials

Step 1:

Before applying shellac, ensure the stain is completely dry. Use fine-grit sandpaper (such as 320 grit) to lightly sand the wood’s surface, then use the rag to remove debris.

Step 2:

Use the cotton cloth (twisted around to make a ball shape) and saturate it with shellac. Apply shellac to the surface and let it dry for 30 minutes.

preparing materials on applying shellac

Step 3:

Make sure you can still reuse the applicator/cotton cloth by keeping it in a sealed bag. The fuzziness can be removed by lightly sanding the surface with 320-grit sanding paper after the first shellac application has been set.

Step 4:

Apply a second coat, and let it dry for 30 minutes before applying a third coat and allowing it to dry for another 30 minutes. Use a rag and denatured alcohol [1]to remove shellac flakes.

Step 5: (Optional)

Apply a paste wax to give your project a glossier look.

See Also

applying wax on wood


Will shellac stick to oil-based stain?

Yes, shellac will stick to oil-based stain. It can seal the oil-based stain to enhance and protect the wood. However, it’s important to note that shellac can be easily scratched or damaged, so there may be better choices for high-traffic areas or surfaces exposed to water or other liquids.

What is shellac made of? Is it a good finish?

Shellac is a natural resin secreted by the lac bug or Laccifer lacca found in Southeast Asia and India. It is a good finish choice for many applications, especially when a clear, natural-looking finish is desired.


So can you shellac over stain? Yes, shellac enhances and protects the wood surface on top of stain. However, it’s essential to ensure the stain is completely dry and the surface is prepped before applying shellac.

Also, be sure to choose shellac appropriate for your specific application and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully for the best results.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!