How to Paint Over Stained Wood

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Wood staining is a popular technique used to enhance the natural beauty of the wood while preserving its texture and grain. However, there may come a time when you want to change the look of stained wood by painting over it.

Painting over stained wood presents unique challenges, but you can achieve a beautiful and long-lasting finish with the right approach and techniques. Here, our woodworkers will share the painting process and offer helpful tips and safety precautions for successful results!

What Makes Painting on Top of Stained Wood So Hard?

Painting over stained wood can be more challenging than painting bare wood or other surfaces. There are several reasons for this:

staining Poplar

Painting Over Wood Stains

Necessary Tools and Materials

Before you begin painting over stained wood, gather the following tools and materials:

Step 1: Remove Lax Varnish and Sand the Wood

Before painting, removing any existing varnish or sealant from the stained wood surface is essential. You can use a chemical stripper or sandpaper to accomplish this.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the stripper, and if sanding, start with medium-grit sandpaper and then move to fine-grit sandpaper to create a slightly roughened texture on the wood surface.

Step 2: Wipe the Wood and Let it Cure

After sanding, wipe the wood surface with a clean, lint-free cloth to remove any dust or debris. Allow the wood to cure for sufficient time to ensure it is scorched before proceeding to the next step. Curing time can vary depending on the type of wood and environmental conditions.

Step 3: Coat With Primer

Priming the wood is crucial for promoting paint adhesion and providing a uniform base for the paint. Choose a primer suitable for your specific wood and paint type, ensuring compatibility.

applying primer

Apply the primer evenly using a high-quality brush or roller, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the primer to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Step 4: Wipe the Wood Using a Cloth

After drying the primer, inspect the surface for any imperfections or excess primer. Wipe the wood surface gently with a clean, damp cloth to remove any excess primer and ensure a smooth and clean surface for paint application.

Step 5: Paint the Wood

Select a high-quality paint suitable for your project, considering the type of wood and the desired finish.

Using a brush or roller, apply thin and even coats of paint to the wood surface. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying additional coats. Multiple thin coats are preferred over a single thick coat to avoid drips, unevenness, and prolonged drying times.

Step 6: Apply the Finish

Applying a protective finish is optional but we highly recommend doing so, as it can enhance the durability and longevity of the painted surface. Choose a finish suitable for your specific paint type, such as a clear varnish or polyurethane [1]

Apply the finish according to the manufacturer’s instructions, ensuring even coverage. Allow the finish to dry completely before using or placing objects on the painted surface.

General Finishes Oil Base Gel Stain

How to Paint Wood Applied with Oil-Based Stain

Prep Your Workspace and Clean the Surface

Preparing your workspace is crucial for a successful paint job. Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows or using fans.

Lay down drop cloths or plastic sheeting to protect surrounding areas from paint splatters or spills. Clean the surface of the stained wood using a wood cleaner or denatured alcohol to remove any dirt, oils, or contaminants that could affect paint adhesion.

Prep the Painting Surface

Lightly sand the stained wood surface with fine-grit sandpaper to create a slightly roughened texture for better paint adhesion. Wipe the surface with a clean cloth to remove sanding dust.

Sanding & Deglossing

If the oil-based stain has a glossy or sealed finish, it’s essential to sand or use a liquid deglosser to remove the shine and provide a suitable surface for paint adhesion. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the deglosser or sanding process.

Use a Primer and Prime Your Wooden Surface

Oil-based stains can be challenging to cover with paint due to their composition. To improve adhesion and prevent bleed-through, apply the best oil-based primer to the stained wood surface.

sanding wood over shellac

Ensure the primer is suitable for oil-based stains and compatible with the paint you intend to use. Apply the primer according to the manufacturer’s instructions and allow it to dry completely.

Apply Paint and Finish

Once the primer has dried, you can paint the stained wood. Choose a high-quality color for your project and compatible with the primer and stain.

Apply thin and even coats of paint using a brush or roller and wait for each coat to fully dry before you apply the succeeding coats. Follow the product manufacturer’s instructions for accurate drying times and recommended number of coats.

After the paint has dried, you can apply a protective finish if desired, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Tips & Safety Precautions When Painting On Top of Stained Wood

Can vinegar used on painted surface

Should You DIY or Hire a Pro?

The decision to paint over stained wood yourself or hire a professional depends on several factors, including your level of experience, the complexity of the project, and your personal preferences.

While painting over stained wood can be a DIY project, it requires careful preparation, attention to detail, and appropriate materials. If you lack the necessary skills or feel unsure about the process, hiring a professional painter or woodworker may be a wise choice to ensure a flawless and long-lasting finish.

DIY Painting over Stained Wood

Painting over stained wood yourself can be a fulfilling and cost-effective option, especially if you enjoy tackling home improvement projects and have some experience with painting. Here are some factors to consider if you decide to go the DIY route:

1. Level of Experience: Assess your painting skills and experience. Have you completed painting projects in the past? Are you comfortable with the necessary steps, such as surface preparation, priming, and applying paint? 

If you have little to no experience, it’s important to be prepared for a learning curve and dedicate time to research and practice techniques.

Choosing best paint paint for a plywood

2. The Complexity of the Project: Consider the size and complexity of the project. Painting a small piece of stained wood, such as a side table or a wooden frame, may be more manageable for a DIY approach.

However, tackling larger surfaces like walls or cabinets may require more time, effort, and skill to achieve professional-looking results. 

4. Time and Availability: DIY projects often require a significant time commitment. Painting over stained wood involves multiple steps, including surface preparation, drying times between coats, and applying finishes. Ensure you have the time and availability to dedicate to the project, as rushing the process can lead to subpar results.

5. Budget: DIY painting can save you money on labor costs, but it’s essential to consider your budget for materials and tools. Invest in high-quality paint, primer, brushes, and other necessary supplies for the best results. Remember that mistakes or the need for additional materials can impact your overall expenses.

Hiring a Professional Painter or Woodworker

Hiring a professional painter or woodworker may be the more suitable option in certain situations. Here are some reasons why you might consider hiring a professional:

selecting best exterior paint

Expertise and Skill: Professionals have the necessary training, knowledge, and experience to handle complex painting projects, including over-stained wood. 

They understand the nuances of surface preparation, choosing the right products, and applying paint evenly. Their expertise can ensure a superior and long-lasting finish.

Time and Convenience: Hiring a professional can save you significant time and effort. They will handle all aspects of the project, from surface preparation to the final coat, allowing you to focus on other priorities. 

Additionally, professionals often work efficiently and have the necessary tools and equipment to complete the job promptly.

Professional Results: A professional painter or woodworker can deliver superior results if you desire a flawless and high-quality finish. They have access to premium materials and techniques that can enhance the durability and aesthetic appeal of the painted surface. 

spray painting

Professionals can also provide valuable advice and recommendations based on their expertise.

Complex Projects or Customization: If you have a large-scale project, intricate details, or specific customization requirements, hiring a professional may be the best choice. 

They have the skills and resources to handle complex surfaces, intricate designs, and specialty finishes. Their expertise can bring your vision to life with precision and finesse.

spray painting block of wood with Rust-Oleum 245210


Do you need special paint to paint over stained wood?

Yes, it is recommended to use paint that is specifically formulated for use on wood surfaces. Look for paints labeled as suitable for wood or trim and ensure compatibility with your chosen primer.

How to tell if you can paint stained wood?

You can check if stained wood is suitable for painting by performing a simple water droplet test. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the surface and observe if it absorbs into the wood or beads up. If the water is absorbed, the stain penetrates the wood, making it suitable for painting.

What's the best paint for stained wood?

The best paint for stained wood depends on the project and desired finish. Choose a high-quality paint compatible with the primer and stain, and consider factors such as durability, coverage, and the desired aesthetic result.


Painting over stained wood can be a challenging but rewarding process. You can achieve a beautiful and durable painted finish by following the appropriate steps, using the right tools and materials, and taking the necessary precautions. 

Whether you decide to refresh the look of a stained wood piece or transform an entire room, painting over stained wood allows you to customize and breathe new life into your woodworking projects. With careful preparation and attention to detail, you can create stunning results showcasing your woodworking skills and style.

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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