How to Use Stain Over Paint & Painted Wood – 2024


stain over paint

How to Use Stain Over Paint & Painted Wood – 2024

If you’ve been following along, you know I just finished up this carved DIY angel wings sign.  And, you guys, I *love* it.  

That pretty design, that rustic feel, it’s just so, so lovely.  But I’m gonna be honest and tell you I spent hours (literally, HOURS) googling how to finish this beauty.  

Can you apply stain over paint?  Google didn’t have a clear answer.  

Turns out, YOU CAN.  So, if your are curious like me about how to use this finishing technique, then keep on reading all about how to apply stain OVER paint like a pro!

How to Apply Stain Over Paint

There are lots of projects where you paint over stains, like painting an old wooden dresser. But what about the other way around? What about using stain OVER paint?

This finishing technique leads to really pretty results! It’s not as common, though. So finding reliable user-tested tips and tricks can be a little challenging

Why Use Stain Over Paint?

There are many reasons to use stain over paint rather than the other way ’round.

From refinishing painted furniture to adding depth and dimension to carved details, using stain OVER paint is an awesome and easy finishing technique for your projects.

Refinishing Painted Furniture

Let’s say you headed off to the thrift store (an old pastime of mine!) and found a beautifully painted yellow end table. While you like yellow, the shade is juuuust a bit too bright. And the piece, in general, looks a bit too new.

Instead of repainting the entire piece, you might consider adding stain over the paint. Lightly sanding down the edges to expose the wood, then staining OVER the paint would add depth and interest.

Of course, this finishing technique would give a rustic, farmhouse feel to your end table. So if that’s your jam, you’re in luck. (It’s certainly my jam over here!  Didya see this bench I built?!

Adding Depth to Carved Details

If you’re into carved signs like me, using stain over paint is a beautiful way to bring out engraved details.

We’ll talk about HOW to use this technique more below (keep on reading!), but stain sinks well into carved places, giving that punch of depth that makes a piece shine.

Supplies & Materials You’ll Need for Using Stain Over Paint

When it comes to using this finishing technique, you’ll need to gather up a few supplies. Head out to your garage (or local Home Depot) to round up the following supplies:

  • Latex paint. I almost always buy the oops paint in the paint section at Home Depot. I look for a nice bright white that has more of a blue than yellow undertone. You could buy a color from the swatch, but I almost always find what I need (for cheap!) in the oops section.
  • Paintbrush. Hands down, a good paintbrush is worth the investment. 
  • Sanding paper. I typically use 120 grit, then 220 grit sandpaper
  • Sander. My favorite sanders are the Ryobi orbital sander and the Ryobi corner sander. Either will work great for this!
  • Respirator mask. Because you can’t buy new lungs.
  • Stain. My favorite shade **hands down** is Minwax Provincial. You can buy this at Lowes or Amazon. Home Depot stopped selling this brand a little while back.
  • Optional: Floetrol additive to ensure a smooth finish on your paint.
  • Staining rags, foam brushes, or staining brush. I use both, honestly, and flip back and forth with which I prefer. I keep a dedicated paint brush on hand for stain since it’ll get a brown hue over time, no matter how much you wash it. 

How to Use Stain Over Paint Step-by-Step

When using this finish, it’s important to remember that there’s little you can do to wreck it up.

Take a deep breath and dig in. First things first? Break out the paint.

Step 1: Paint Your Piece

If you start with a painted surface already, skip on down to step 2. But if you were like me, using raw wood, then you’ll need to paint it first to achieve this finish.

This was what my sign looked like while I was building it with scrap wood. Raw, boring pine.

First things first, you need to paint it. Getting a perfect painted finish is harder than it looks? Let me break down my three can’t-miss-em tips for getting a beautiful painted finish every time.

wood sign making

Tip: Read the Can

Want to know my number one tip for painting like a pro every. single. time? It’s gonna blow your mind.

Read the can.

Yep, you heard me. Do the one thing that most people just don’t do.

The can is going to tell you a lot. The typical dry time, the time needed between coats, and the temperature range recommended for painting and drying.

You guys, this is IMPORTANT stuff. Read the can.

Tip: Mix Your Paint Well

Another step a lot of people miss? Mix your paint well. Seriously. Kind of like blending eyeshadow, just when you think you’re done, do it again.

Grab those stirring sticks at the paint store and make sure all the solvents in your paint are totally mixed together before you begin.

Tip: Consider Additive

If I want a super smooth finish on glossy paint, I almost always use an additive like Floetrol. What does this do? It smooths out the paint, so that brush strokes disappear.

I don’t use Floetrol on all my pieces. If the final piece looks worn and weathered, I sometimes prefer the brushstrokes to shine through. I like when it looks imperfect.

But if I’m covering a large surface, using high gloss paint, or want a glass-like finish, I use Floetrol. A good example is the vintage inspired toybox I built for my daughter.

Now, while I didn’t apply stain over it, you can see how the painted surface is perfectly smooth. This could provide an interesting base layer for staining over the top.

Again, read the bottle to determine the right proportions. When I use an additive, I pour both my paint and Floetrol into a separate container like my Handy Pail. Then, you guessed it, and I mix more than I think I need.

white toy box
white toy box


Tip: Paint Your Surface with a Good Brush

When I paint, I use a nice brush rather than a roller. This is a preference probably drawn from my days studying art at school.

Load your brush and paint in thin, even strokes, overlapping slightly as you work down the piece.

Depending on the coverage, I’ll paint either one or two coats. For this angel wings sign, I used one coat of latex paint as the base layer for my stain.

This picture below gives you a good sense of how thick a layer of paint I used. You can still see the wood grain show through the paint. I did that intentionally because I wanted the piece to have a rustic feel.

angel wings DIY wood sign woodcarving tutorial for woodworking

Step 2: Sand Your Paint Off

Now you have a beautifully painted surface. If you’re working with an older painted piece, clean your surface with a mild solvent before continuing.

Once your painted surface is ready, some fun starts when using this finishing technique: sanding back the paint.

It seems funny to take paint OFF a piece you want to paint. But I prefer when some natural wood peeks out along the paint edges.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to grab your sander and some 120 and 220 grit sandpaper. And start standing!

(Also: safety tip: wear a respirator mask. You don’t want paint dust in your lungs. Promise.)

When sanding down paint, there are a few tips to ensure you have an authentic piece using this finish. First, sand select areas only!

wood sign making

Tip: Sand Select Areas Only

Sigh. This tip. I wish everyone knew it.

I’m in several DIY Facebook groups where people post their refurbished or farmhouse DIY projects. And you guys, I cannot tell you how many people sand their projects incorrectly.

When sanding, you can’t go all willy-nilly with your sander, running it over every part of your surface. Nope, you need to sand select areas only.

And what are the select areas? We’re talking edges, junctions, and high points.

Think about your sander as an “aging device.” Use your sander where the paint would naturally weather and strip down. Stick to edges of frames, corners, and junctions between pieces, and high points like embellishments.

Do not (I repeat!) do not randomly sand off paint in the middle of a large, flat, evenly painted surface. You’ll end up with an inauthentic finish and a piece you don’t love.

Tip: Use a Light Hand

This tip has been learned the hard way, y’all. I can’t tell you the number of times I was sanding (select areas only, of course) and accidentally oversanded.

The Ryobi corner sander, in particular, gets me every time. I forget how mighty it is! And then I end up taking off more paint than I wanted.

So use a light hand. Remember that you shouldn’t need to push down on your sander. Move it around, but use a light hand and a slight amount of pressure. You can always take off more paint later, but once it’s off, it’s off.

(Unless you repaint it.)

Step 3: Add the Stain Over Paint

Once you’ve painted and prepped your piece, it’s time to add stain! Let’s look at some simple tips to make this step easy and smooth.

Tip: Choose the Right Stain

A big question is this one: “But which stain should I use?” I recommend using a water-based stain like Minwax provincial (my fave!). There are, of course, A TON of colors, so have fun picking a tone you like.

Pinterest is a great option for seeing stain colors across different pieces.

In the search bar in Pinterest, type in the stain you like, and you’ll see lots of results of the stain IRL. In real life.

Watch out for using polyurethane or wax-based stains over paint since the stain is more likely to slick off the surface rather than absorb.

Tip: Apply the Stain Correctly

Again, seems like a silly thing to say, but be sure to READ THE CAN. The can will tell you all about the recommended application and drying times.

I prefer to apply stain with a rag or dedicated staining paintbrush, although I’ve used foam brushes like these often, too.

I apply the stain using a relatively light hand, wait for the depth of color, then wipe it off.

Be sure to wipe off ALL THE STAIN, or the pooled areas will get sticky. They’ll never dry quite right. (Yep, I learned this lesson the hard way. GULP.)

Safety Tips To Keep in Mind when Applying Stain over Paint

  1. Be sure to wear a respirator when you’re sanding paint or stain! You don’t want any of that dust to get into your lungs. Safety first!
  2. Wear gloves when you’re staining to protect your hands.
  3. Also, work in a well-ventilated area, particularly when applying stain over your paint. Having air circulation will help the fumes spread out.

Another Idea: Work in Thin (We’re Talking THIN) Layers

In my tutorial, I’m showing you how to use a regular application of stain over a regular application of paint.

But what if you were to work in thin (I’m talking THIN) layers?

I encourage you to hop over to the Rustic Duck’s guide to using stain-over paint. She has this amazing technique for using stain over paint that produces subtle tones, keeping the wood grain apparent.

I love, too, her fearlessness when it comes to mixing and finishing media. So pretty!


Update: this article has been VERY popular on this site. I’ve gotten so many questions from readers. Let’s cover some of the main questions people ask when wondering how to apply stain over paint.

Leave questions in the comments below!

Can water-based stain be used over paint?

Yes, a water-based stain can be used over paint!

This type of stain is ideal for use on various surfaces, including wood, concrete, brick, and metal.

It is also suitable for use on both interior and exterior surfaces. Water-based stains are easy to apply and provide a unique finish that adds character to any project.

They are available in many colors. You can mix them to create custom shades.

The quick drying time makes it a good option when you don’t have time to wait for oil-based stains to dry.

Additionally, water-based stains are easier to clean up than oil-based products and do not emit any harmful fumes during application or drying time.

Can you stain over paint without sanding?

Sanding is usually a necessary step before staining. Sanding makes an even surface for the stain to stick

But, if you are in a pinch, it is possible to stain over paint without sanding.

  1. Make sure that the paint is completely dry. Also, make sure to read the back of the can.
  2. You should also apply a coat of primer beforehand to create an adhesive surface for the stain.
  3. Lastly, you’ll need to use extra-fine steel wool or sandpaper with grits ranging from 220 – 400 over the painted surface. This will help the stain stick.

With these steps, you can successfully stain over paint without sanding!

What happens if you put wood stain over paint?

If you put wood stain over paint, the result can vary! It depends on the type of paint and the type of wood stain you use.

Generally, if you use a water-based wood stain over an oil-based paint, the wood stain will not stick. You may see signs of cracking and peeling.

On the other hand, if you use an oil-based wood stain over latex or acrylic paint, it is likely to adhere better and create a stronger finish.

However, this should be tested beforehand. Results can still vary depending on the types of products used and how well you apply them.

How do you make painted wood look stained?

You can make painted wood look stained. Here’s how:

  1. To make painted wood look stained, you’ll need to start by sanding. Use a medium-grit sandpaper.
  2. This will help give the paint a rough texture and create a more authentic look.
  3. After sanding, apply a coat of stain.
  4. Make sure to use an oil-based stain formulated for use on painted surfaces.
  5. Allow the stain to dry completely.
  6. Apply a clear protective sealant.
  7. Finally, you can use a rag or brush to lightly buff the surface of the wood. This will create an even finish. The project will look like it has been stained naturally over time.

Is there a stain that goes over paint?

Yes, some stains can be applied over paint. Stains can be applied over oil-based paints, water-based paints, and even latex paint.

Depending on the type of stain used, you might need to take special steps such as sanding or priming before it is applied.

Applying a stain over paint can help enhance the color and texture of an object. Also, it will allow the underlying paint to still show.

It is important to follow all instructions for mixing and applying a stain properly to achieve the desired results. (Have I said read the can enough in this post?)

How to stain over painted cabinets?

Staining over painted cabinets is a great way to give them a fresh look.

  1. Start by cleaning the cabinet surfaces well.
  2. Lightly sand any glossy areas with a fine-grit sandpaper.
  3. You can then apply a gel stain evenly with a foam brush or cloth, working in small sections at a time.
  4. Allow the stain to penetrate for several minutes before wiping off any excess.
  5. Once all surfaces have been stained, seal the wood with an appropriate sealer. This will help protect your finished project from dirt and moisture.

With patience and attention to detail, staining over painted cabinets can be an easy DIY project that yields beautiful results.

How to stain over painted furniture?

Staining over painted furniture is a great way to give your furniture a unique look!

  1. The first step is to choose the right stain for the project. You’ll need to ensure that the stain you choose is compatible with the paint used on the furniture.
  2. Once you have selected your stain, properly sand the furniture’s surface to create a smoother surface. This will help the stain stick.
  3. Before applying the stain, use a damp cloth to remove any dust or debris on the furniture.
  4. Then apply one thin coat of stain with a brush or rag.
  5. Allow it to dry completely before adding additional coats as needed.
  6. Finally, seal off your stained piece with a coat of polyurethane for added protection.

How to stain over paint for antique look?

Staining over paint for an antique look is a great way to add character and charm to any piece of furniture.

  • To start, begin by sanding the painted surface with medium-grade sandpaper.
  • Then wipe down the surface with a damp cloth to remove any dust.
  • Next? The paint job! Add a coat of paint and allow to dry.
  • Sand the edges.
  • Next, stain the wood! Apply a wood stain of your choice using a brush or cloth.
  • Make sure to work in the direction of the grain!
  • Allow plenty of time to dry before applying a sealer or wax.
  • Once the sealer has been applied, you can use steel wool or wire wool to create an antiqued patina on the surface.

This will help bring out some of the details that may have been hidden.

Can you apply stain over milk paint?

Milk paint is a type of decorative paint that is made from all-natural ingredients. Milk paint does not require a primer.

It has an old-fashioned, chalky look to it, which I love. Milk paint is used to paint new or old furniture and craft projects.

The question then becomes, can you apply stain over milk paint? The answer is yes, but with some considerations.

First of all, it is important to make sure that the surface is extremely clean before applying the stain.

You should also use gel stain to stain wood with milk paint. Gel stain will stick better.

Also, you may want to add a few drops of mineral spirits to the gel stain. This will make it more translucent.

Let’s Wrap This Up!

Painting over stained wood is a great way to add texture to furniture! With proper preparation and quality materials, you can ensure that your finishing job will stand up to wear and tear for years to come.

I hope this post was helpful to you! Have you tried using stain over paint? How did it go? What other questions or comments do you have?

stain over paint