Can You Stain Over Tung Oil?

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Applying stain over tung oil is possible, but it requires careful consideration and proper technique to achieve the desired result. The process is not always straightforward and can be tricky if not done correctly.

If this is your dilemma, I’ll provide valuable insights and guidance on how to effectively stain over tung oil to avoid potential damage to your wood and ensure an even and consistent appearance in this article.

Can You Apply Stain on Oiled Wood Surfaces?

Applying a stain on wood that has been oiled is possible, but its effectiveness may not be as good as on untreated wood. The reason for this is that most wood stains are designed to penetrate the wood’s surface, but they cannot do so because of the barrier created by Tung oil. 

Tung oil is a type of wood finisher and sealer applied to wood to make it resistant to oils, moisture, and liquids. Once applied, it creates a protective layer on the wood surface, preventing anything from passing through it. 

This makes it difficult for stains to penetrate the wood fibers, resulting in an uneven and blotchy appearance. 

staining maple wood

However, two methods can be used to apply stain over oiled wood: a stain on top of an oil finish that won’t cure or a gel stain instead of oil paint. These methods will be discussed further in the following paragraphs. 

Using a Stain On Top Of an Oil Finish That Won't Cure

One method of applying stain on top of oiled wood is a non-curing oil finish. Tung oil hardens and polymerizes, whereas this particular finish does not. Instead, it sits on the surface of the wood in a wet state. 

A stain can be applied over a finish of oil that is not curing without causing splotches or blotches to form. Mineral oil is an example of an oil that doesn’t cure that can be used this way. 

However, Tung oil is a curing oil and will harden and solidify on the wood surface, preventing the stain from penetrating the wood. 

Using a Gel Stain Instead of Oil Paint

Another method is to use a gel stain over the oiled finish. Gel stains are thick and sit on the wood surface rather than penetrating the wood fibers. This means they can be used on top of a Tung oil finish without causing blotches or splotches to form. 

applying gel stain

To utilize this technique, begin by applying a layer of Tung oil to the wooden surface and ensure it dries and cures thoroughly. Subsequently, use a brush or cloth to apply the gel stain, adhering to the manufacturer’s recommended drying times.

Lastly, to safeguard the finish, apply a clear topcoat or sealer over the gel stain. This method has the potential to create a stunning and uniform color on surfaces treated with Tung oil.

Can Gel Stain Be Applied Over Tung Oil??

Applying Gel stain on top of a Tung oil finish is possible. Unlike other stains, Gel stain does not penetrate the surface of the wood and instead forms an even finish on top of the Tung oil coating. 

This makes it compatible with any oil finish, regardless of its hardness. Gel stain can adhere well to the polymerized Tung oil coating and provides a smooth, even surface without any blotchiness. 

gel based stain

Before applying the Gel stain, it’s important to lightly sand the Tung oil finish. This gentle sanding will create a slightly rough texture on the Tung oil coat, enhancing the adhesion of the Gel stain and ensuring a more effective application.

Best Stain Options to Apply Over Tung Oil

Applying Stain Over Tung Oil in 7 Steps

Staining over Tung oil is possible, but it’s essential to be mindful of the fact that stain tends to adhere better to untreated wood compared to treated wood. Nevertheless, with proper guidance and technique, you can achieve a successful stained finish on Tung oil-treated wood.

staining materials and gears

This is a great way to add color to your woodworking project while also enhancing the natural beauty of the wood. To begin, there are several materials that you will need to complete the task. These include:

Step #1: Prepare the surface

To commence the process, it is crucial to select a well-ventilated area that promotes effective drying and sufficient air circulation.

This precautionary step ensures your safety by safeguarding you from the harmful chemicals released during the application of Tung oil and stain.

preparing work area

It’s recommended to wear a mask and gloves before starting to avoid any contact with the chemicals and prevent inhalation of fumes. Preparing the wood surface this way ensures the finishing process is safe and effective.

Step #2: Clean and sand

The second step in applying stain on top of Tung oil involves cleaning and sanding the wood surface. Firstly, the entire surface should be cleaned with a clean rag or cloth to remove any dirt or dust that could mar the wood’s appearance or cause blotchiness. 

Once the wood is clean, you should sand the surface of the wood to remove any roughness or bumps and create a smooth surface. Sanding towards the grain direction promotes better Tung oil absorption and prevents scratching. 

It also helps the Tung oil to go deep into the surface of the wood evenly and provides a strong base for adhesion. Additionally, sanding opens up the wood’s porous to allow Tung oil to be absorbed better. 

clean surface

After sanding, removing all residues and sawdust using a dust collection system or clean cloth is crucial since they can be challenging to remove after applying Tung oil because of the adhesion. 

Once the surface of the wood is appropriately prepared, it’s ready for Tung oil application.

Step #3: Apply Tung oil

To apply Tung oil, stir it well with a fork to ensure no air bubbles are present. Then, pour into a container and consider adding turpentine or mineral spirits to thin the oil for easier application. 

A 1:1 ratio of thinner to Tung oil is recommended to promote faster drying. To put on the oil, either soak a lint-free tack cloth in the Tung oil or utilize a paintbrush for larger areas.

It’s important to apply the oil uniformly towards the wood grain to promote absorption, as Tung oil seeps deep into the wood, and any remaining oil will form a coat on the surface. 

pouring tung oil

Apply Tung oil to the entire surface and ensure no areas are left uncovered or missed, and Allow the initial layer to dry for approximately 24 hours. Then, allow the Tung oil to dry and solidify overnight before putting on more coats.

Once the initial layer has dried completely, use a light sanding technique or ultra-fine steel wool to smooth out the wood surface and improve its adhesion for the next layer. The second coat should be applied in the same direction as the grain. 

Repeat this process for a minimum of four to five coats to achieve excellent protection and an appealing appearance for the wood. Allow every coat to dry for at least 24 to 72 hours before applying the next one. To ensure efficient and fast drying, apply Tung oil in thin coats.

Step #4: Let the surface dry and cure

After administering the last coat of Tung oil, allow it to dry and solidify for at least 3 days. The Tung oil will undergo a chemical polymerization reaction with atmospheric oxygen during this time. 

This reaction will cause the Tung oil topcoat to solidify, harden and form a waterproof and durable finish on top of the surface of the wood. This protective shield safeguards the wood from rotting, moisture, and humidity. 

applying tung oil

Once the Tung oil finish has fully cured, the next step is to proceed with staining, if desired. If the woodwork or furniture already has a Tung oil finish and you intend to apply stain on top of it, steps 3 and 4 can be skipped and proceed directly to step 5.

Step #5: Sand the finished surface

In preparation for staining on top of the Tung oil finish, perform scuff sanding, which involves creating scars and ridges on the surface of the Tung oil finish. This process assists the stain in penetrating and soaking into the Tung oil finish.

Sanding also enhances the bonding between the wood stain and the Tung oil finish, making it a necessary step before staining. 

It is crucial to use light scuff sanding only, as coarse grit sandpaper can potentially damage the current finish, weakening the surface of the wood protection. 

sand surface

After sanding, remove all sawdust, as imperfections can affect the adhesion of the wood stain and Tung oil. Additionally, sanding is one of the most crucial stages in staining on top of a Tung oil finish since it guarantees that the gel stain adheres correctly to the Tung oil finish.

Step #6: Apply gel stain

After cleaning and scuff sanding the wood surface, it is ready for the application of gel stain. Using a paintbrush, apply the stain over the wood surface, following the direction of the wood grain to ensure an even spread. 

Again, unlike other stains, gel stain does not penetrate deep into the wood. So gel stain is particularly well-suited for use on top of a Tung oil finish. 

I recommend applying thin layers of gel stain to ensure an even and quick drying between each coat. One or two coats should typically suffice to attain the desired wood color.

Step #7: Let dry

Letting the stain dry completely after application for a minimum of 2 to 3 days is important. Staining on top of Tung oil may take longer to dry and cure than when working with untreated wood, as wood stain tends to work better with untreated or bare wood. 

drying paint on wood

However, gel stain can help you achieve the perfect attractive and protective finish with minimal mistakes. If the wood stain is completely dry, there should be no problems with using the furniture or woodwork.

By following these steps, you can stain over a Tung oil finish successfully without creating a mess. 

Is It Possible To Apply a Water-Based Stain On Top Of an Oil-Based Stain?

Applying a water-based stain over an oil finish is not recommended because the oil barrier hinders the water-based stain from entering the wood. This creates an uneven and patchy look since the water-based stain does not stick to the oil finish.

Instead, using a gel stain rather than the oil finish is recommended, as it can stick to the existing finish without seeping through it. 

water based stain

Using a water-based stain on top of an oil-based finish is generally not recommended, as the two are incompatible. It is possible to stain on top of a Tung oil but with the use of gel stain only.

Is It Possible To Apply Tung Oil Over Stain?

Yes, applying Tung oil on top of the stain is possible. 

Tung oil is a popular choice for finishing wood because it enhances the natural beauty of the wood grain and provides a protective layer against water and other elements. When applied over a stain, Tung oil can deepen the color and add a rich, glossy finish to the wood.

However, before applying Tung oil over the stain, it is important to ensure it has completely dried and cured. This usually takes several hours or even a day or two, depending on the type of stain and the humidity and temperature of the environment.

It’s advisable applying 4 to 5 layers of Tung oil over wood stains for a better and enhanced finish. After the Tung oil has hardened, it interacts with the surrounding atmosphere to produce a solidified, polymerized coating that blocks moisture from entering.

using tung oil

Once the stain has dried and cured, apply Tung oil using a clean, lint-free cloth or brush. Apply the Tung oil in thin, even coats, and allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one. 

Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying time, as well as any safety precautions. Overall, Tung oil is a great choice for finishing wood and can be used over the stain to enhance its color and protect the wood.

Which Finish Is Most Suitable To Apply Over Tung Oil?

When selecting a finish to use over Tung oil,  always choose one that is oil-based, as water-based finishes will not adhere properly and will not produce the desired results. Some of the best finishes to use over Tung oil include:

Shellac and lacquer are both fast-drying and provide a hard and protective coating. Furniture wax is another option that can be used to protect the Tung oil finish and give the wood a natural, matte finish. 

applying shellac finish on wood

Polycrylic is a clear finish that can protect the wood and Tung oil finish without yellowing over time. Gel stain is a thick stain that sits on the surface of the wood, making it a great option for use over Tung oil. 

Spar varnish is another good option, as it is designed to withstand outdoor elements and provides excellent protection against water damage. 

Polyurethane is a popular choice because it is a synthetic resin that creates a hard and durable coating, protecting the Tung oil finish and the wood beneath it. In short, you can stain over polyurethane without any hesitation. 

Ultimately, the choice of finish will depend on personal preference and the project’s specific needs.

See Also: Can You Stain Over Wood Burning?

Is It True That Tung Oil Can Cause Wood To Turn Yellow?

Tung oil generally does not cause wood to turn yellow. However, the exact effect of Tung oil on wood can vary depending on the type and quality of the wood, as well as the method of application and the environment to which the wood is exposed.

Yellow Pine Amoire

Tung oil is a natural oil extracted from the Tung tree’s seeds [1]. It is commonly used as a finish for wood because it is durable, water-resistant, and easy to apply. 

Unlike other oil-based finishes such as polyurethane, Linseed oil, and varnish, which tend to yellow over time, Tung oil provides a clear finish that retains the natural color of the wood for a long time. 

It is worth noting that other factors, such as exposure to sunlight and air pollution, can cause wood to turn yellow over time. 

Additionally, if Tung oil is applied improperly or the wood is not properly prepared before application, it can result in an uneven or discolored finish. 

Douglas Fir furniture

Therefore, following proper techniques and guidelines when using Tung oil or any other wood finish is important to ensure the best possible results.


Certainly, staining over Tung oil is feasible with careful consideration and thorough preparation. By taking your time and paying attention to the details, you can achieve a stunning stained finish that enhances the wood’s inherent beauty and character.

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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.

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