Image of vanished wood. So, Can You Paint Over Vanished Wood?

Can You Paint Over Varnished Wood? Best Varnish Tips for DIYers


Can you paint over varnished wood? Well, varnishing over your wooden structure does so much from decoration, customization to protection.

As it is a case for all of us, humans are not rigid to change and would do everything to get that ” It’s new” feeling around our homes and surrounding generally. What happens in the event that you want to have a new finish on your wooden structures, from kitchen tables, kitchen cabinets and kitchen counter tops? Can you paint over varnished wood?

Yes, you can paint over varnished wood provided you are using the right materials, painting formulas and following the right painting process.

The perfect paint formula for varnished wood is a water-based acrylic paint. If you choose the oil-based paint, it would be best if you prime the surface with an an oil-based primer, and not an acrylic one.

The varnish is a thick and clear protective coat applied to protect and add an extra shine to surfaces. It is suitable for wooden surfaces like tables, floors, doors, etc. You may want to change the look of any of these surfaces using paint, but the varnish always seems like a hindrance because the color won’t stick.

The good news is that you can paint over varnish, but you have to follow a particular flow of tasks to prepare your surface correctly and guarantee a flawless finish. Keep reading for full information on how to revive your old varnished wood with paint properly.

How to Properly Paint Over Varnished Wood

Painting over a varnish is not enough, you should ensure that the final finish you get is seamless with a striking first impression. For you to achieve that finish that you badly want, it would help if you follow the right steps. These steps are as follows:

Preparing the Surface

  • First, clear the surface. Get rid of all hardware on the surface. These could be metal trimmings or knobs, handles, etc. Then use a clean rug and your regular household cleaner to clean the surface you want to paint. If there is anything stuck to the wood, use a scouring pad to scrub it off, wipe off the debris then let the wood dry.
NOTE: Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging of your cleaningImage of application of latex paint, but can you paint over lacquer? product.
  • Fill up all cracks and other imperfections in the furniture(If any) using putty filler and a scraper or a putty knife. Wood putty is a creamy paste that woodworkers use to level out any imperfection in wood to ensure that you have a smooth and even surface to paint. Professionals recommend using a scraper that is wide enough to cover the cracks you are filling so that the putty goes onto the timber flat. Let the putty dry before proceeding.
  • Sand the wood using fine-grit sandpaper to even out the surface. You may use a sander to make the task effortless or use sand by hand to reach all the tricky spots. You don’t have to remove the varnish altogether. Just etch the surface enough for the primer to stick appropriately.

If you are working on a large surface, sanding may be tiring and time-consuming. In this case, you may have to use a de glosser. A deglosser/liquid sandpaper is a chemical that removes varnish. It takes a considerably less amount of time to prepare a surface for refinishing. Just paint or spray the deglosser on to the wood, let it sit for the allotted time then wipe it off.

  • Wet a clean rag with water, then wipe off all the dust and debris to ensure that they do not get trapped under the paint. Any dust caught under the paint will make the finished work look uneven.

Applying the Primer

After preparing the surface, don’t jump straight to the color; instead, apply a primer first. Primers, though expensive, will save you a lot of repaint money in the future. They are the foundation of your paint job and ensure that your color lasts longer and looks better. 

In addition to that, primers seal porous parts in wood and prevent any previous stains or color from showing under your fresh coat of paint. For a perfect finish:

Choose The Right Primer for you.

There are three main types of primers, Oil-based primers, latex primers, and shellac primers. All three types of primers work well, but most painters swear by oil-based primers.

Oil-based primers have been the standard primers for decades. These primers work with both oil and latex paints, making them very versatile and usable on a wide variety of surfaces. 

You can use a paint roller to make long even strokes if you are working on a large surface. You can also use a paintbrush for any areas that are hard to reach with a roller. Just make sure that it is the ideal brush for the type of primer you are using. 

Let the product sit and dry for a while before applying the paint.

Apply the Paint

With your wood perfectly prepared and primed, you may now apply the paint. 

Can You Paint Over Varnished Wood Without Sanding?

Generally, I don’t advise my readers to paint over varnish. However, it does not mean that you cannot paint over varnished wood. If you choose to go the painting way, it would be best to sand the surface before painting. 

As much as I am a fan of sanding over varnish before painting, there are alternatives to sanding. If you want to give your varnished surface permanent protection then you can choose to use Chalk paint and follow it with a topcoat sealer.

Alternatively, go for a special bonding primer to prepare the surface for painting without necessarily having to sand over the surface.

How to Remove Varnish from Wood Using Varnish Stripper

There are so many steps that you can employ if you are looking to remove varnish from wood.

Varnish stripper presents the most effective way of removing varnish from wood thanks to its intricate ability to quickly get into all the nooks and crannies on the wood.

You should know a few things before you buy a varnish stripper. 

  • Some of these varnish strippers can only be used outdoors as they come with chemical content and toxic fumes. So if you’re stripping a banister, it would help if you always checked the packaging to determine if it’s safe for indoor use.
  • There are two notable types of varnish strippers for woodworking. The first one is the solvent based strippers that are less expensive, gentle on the wood, and come with the ability to penetrate deeper into the grain.

Solvent strippers also come with a pungent smell which explains why you should use them in ventilated areas or outdoors.

  • Caustic based strippers are great alternatives to solvents. They are most effective when used with thick layers of paint or varnish. Above all, these strippers work faster and more effectively. They don’t have very strong fumes making them more suitable for indoor uses.

Caustic strippers tend to interact with chemicals in the wood (mainly mahogany and old oak), resulting in staining or scorching. 

I, therefore, advise that you test it on a small hidden patch before using it on your structure to avoid instances of unwanted stains.

Here’s how to use a varnish stripper.

Prepare the Area

Depending on your type, the chemical varnish or paint stripper can be pretty harsh. Therefore, it is crucial that you put the proper steps to protect the surrounding area in place.

It would be best to lay down dust sheets around and underneath the wooden piece you want to strip. If the wood is close to or adjacent to a wall, ensure that you protect the wall.

Ensure that all the doors and windows are open to allow air to circulate for proper ventilation within the working area. More so if you are working indoors.

Apply the Varnish Stripper

Before you apply the stripper to the surface of your wooden structure, ensure to check the manufacturer’s recommendation and direction of use first. Typically, there’s a slight variation in different types of varnish strippers.

Overall, you must apply a good layer of stripper to the wood with the help of an old (or disposable) paintbrush.

Allow It Time 

Here’s the crucial part of the stripping process. Applying the wood varnish stripper would help if you allowed enough time for the stripper to work.

Usually, the manufacturer’s instructions on the label regarding the amount of time you should allow the formula to stay on the surface for it to strip effectively.

To get the best results, it is vital that you strictly adhere to the said instructions. 

Anything short of it could lead to poor results or time and money wastage as you would be forced to redo the whole work and possibly have to buy another stripping formula. 

Additionally, you need to pay a close watch on the stripper to make sure it does not dry out or damage your wooden structure.  

Scrape Off

At this stage, all you need is a metal scraper to gently scrape away the varnish from the surface and expose the wood. Ensure that the varnish is soft enough to come out easily without much effort.

Sometimes, you might not remove all the varnish from the surface on the first attempt. So all you will need to do is to go through the steps again to ensure that all the varnish is stripped from the surface of the wood.

Finally, read through the manufacturers’ recommendations again to certify whether or not you need to wash down the surface to remove the extra chemicals on the surface.

How to Remove Varnish from Wood Using Sandpaper

Use sandpaper

Sandpaper is another method that you can use to remove varnish from the surface of your wood furniture.

If you have plans to remove the varnish before painting over the wood, then this method presents an effective way of prepping the wood for painting. 

Additionally, you will find this method a natural with a chemical-free opportunity to remove varnish.

What you might not like about sanding as a method of stripping varnish from wood is the labor intensity that comes with sanding.

Even as you sand, you should be careful not to etch too deep into the wood; you should therefore start with 150-grit sandpaper, then sand the entire surface. 

Once you are through, you can move to 220-grit sandpaper and repeat. The 220 grit sandpaper should get the job done.

A random orbital sander will make your work easier, especially if you are sanding a flat surface.

For irregular surfaces, it would be best if sand by hand.

How to Remove Varnish from Wood Using Heat Gun

Image of the best heat gun for paint removalA heat gun works similarly to a stripper by softening and loosening the varnish to make it easier to remove. A heat gun will not scorch the wood, so you will still have to scrape off the varnish or paint.

When you are stripping with a heat gun, it is advisable that you always wear protective gloves and goggles.

Also, ensure that you pay close attention to what you’re doing, considering how wood is susceptible to heat.

Wash the Wood Surface

With the help of clean, warm soapy water, clean the wood to remove dirt, dust, and any other foreign component that may react with the heat.

Use the Heat Gun

Just like we did with the varnish stripper, I recommend that you go through all the instructions on the procedures before you can start on your project.

Set the heat gun to low or medium heat levels, then hold the gun closer to the surface without touching the actual surface. 

Focus on a specific patch before moving heat slowly over the area.

Soon as you notice the varnish softening, scrape it away before moving on to the next section of the wood.

Final Touches

Varnish stripping by heating might not be 100% perfect, and you will likely be left with some spots of varnish. Especially the ones that are in difficult to reach places. 

In such a case, sandpaper will be the best bet even as you look to tidy up the patches.

How to Varnish Wood

In case you removed the varnish for yellowing over time, it will be best if you protect the bare wood.

There are so many varnishes available that will not yellow but only leave you with a rich, glossy finish. You should consider such formulas to avoid having to redo your finish every short time.

Here are the steps involved in the application of varnish over wooden surfaces.

Clean the Wood

As it is with the start of most DIY projects, you need to clean the wood before any other subsequent steps. Use white spirit plus a lint-free cloth to wipe down the surface of the wood and remove grease, dirt, and other foreign particles.

Sanding the Wood

With the help of 120-grit sandpaper, sand to smooth the surface. Sanding will help the varnish stick and result in a smooth finish.

If you removed the previous coat using sandpaper, you don’t necessarily need this step.

Applying the Varnish

Properly stir the varnish to attain a smooth consistency with zero lumps.

Dip your paintbrush in the can containing the varnish, wiping off any excess of the rim of the tub.

Paint your surface in the direction of the wood grain with a smooth finish.

After you have applied the coat to your wooden surface, ensure that you are well aware of the drying time of the formula to avoid touching it before it has dried.

Allow the formula to dry between the coats.

Can You Varnish MDF?

Image of MDF. Can You Varnish Over MDF?Yes, you can varnish MDF; however, you will not end up with the same textured finish as would have been the case with other wood. 

The difference in the texture is explained by the fact that the MDF does not have a grain; therefore, the varnish formula will only give the MDF a shiny protective coating with no character.

Additionally, the MDF is porous too. If you sprinkle water over MDF, it will absorb it and permanently discolors, so it would be tricky to use varnish on MDF.

In place of varnish, you can buy MDF sealants that protect the wood, dry transparent, and above all, you can apply varnish over it as a final coat.

If you are not for the idea of a sealant, then you will have to apply very thin coats of varnish to create protective layers over the wood.

I recommend that you sand in between the layers of varnish, wipe away the dust, and repeat until you are satisfied with the color and coverage on your surface.

Can You Varnish Over Chalk Paint?

Chalk paint is preferred in the painting of furniture because of its fantastic coverage as well as the matt finish. 

You don’t necessarily have to seal or finish chalk paint; it will act as a top coat and resist wear and tear with good quality paint.

It is okay to varnish over chalk paint, even though it is unnecessary. 

Can You Varnish Over Emulsion?

An emulsion is majorly used as wall paint. Therefore, if you want to paint over wood, I recommend you go for a paint created for use on wooden structures as it will give you a better and a lasting finish.

It does not mean that I rule out varnishing over emulsion; I don’t recommend such a move. 

As a good practice, You must always use a specialist paint for your job, which, in this case, would be wood paint.

Can You Varnish Over Wax?

You cannot varnish over wax because the wax will bubble and peel off.

If you plan to varnish over a waxed surface, you will first have to remove the wax before applying your varnish.


Varnish remains an attractive coating amongst wood worker. It offer so much to wooden structures from beauty to protection against aggressive elements such as spills and more.

As it is with all humans, demanding for a change is not something unusual. Anyone would want to give their respective wooden structures such as tables and cabinets a new look. So what happens when the structure was previously varnished and you are looking to paint it?

Can You Paint Over Varnished Wood?

If you were wondering if it is possible to paint over varnish, the answer is yes. Even though possible, the task requires precision. Follow the steps listed above to revive that old piece of furniture in your home and turn it into something amazing.

As I conclude this discussion, I hope that you have had so much information to take you to the next step in you quest to paint over your varnished furniture or any other wooden structure.

Do you have any concerns about the subject of discussion? Any questions, opinion or general observation? If that that’s the case kindly use the comment section below to reach out to me.

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