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Re-staining Over Previously Stained Woodwork

Stain Previously Stained Wood — If you have stained trim or cabinets etc… and you want to stain them a different color there are a couple of ways to go about this. One method is to use a “shading varnish” which is simply a tinted varnish or urethane which will alter the color of the woodwork much like looking through a shaded lens (“sun glasses” effect). Shading varnishes are transparent colored clear coats which go over the top of the previous woodwork.

Stain Previously Stained Wood

Stain Previously Stained Wood

Re-staining Over Previously Stained Woodwork (Image Source)

Wiping Stains

The second method for changing the color of previously stained woodwork is to re-stain it. You cannot use a standard penetrating stain for this because the surface is already “varnished” and sealed. But you can re-stain by using a “wiping stain”. Wiping stains can be applied to sealed surfaces for the purpose of changing the color of previously stained woodwork.

Prepare the Surface

The old varnish / clear coat will need to be cleaned and dulled first. Clean the surface thoroughly with Krud Kutter. There may be years of “Pledge” or similar types of spray cleaners and polishes on the surface which will need to be removed as these will repel and prevent the wiping stain from adhering to the surface.

Once cleaned, the surface will need to be dulled. If your woodwork was installed in 1978 or later, I would sand the surface to dull the old varnish which will give the wiping stain a surface with some “tooth” to it to adhere to. Sand with 220 grit sandpaper and remove the dust when completed by vacuuming and follow up with a final wipe with a micro mesh (oil-less) tack rag.

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Pre-1978 Woodwork

Don’t sand the surface if your trim or woodwork is pre-1978 or older as it may contain lead. If your woodwork is pre-1978, you must do an flawless cleaning job (if you have peeling problems down the road it will most likely be because the surface was not cleaned well). Once cleaned, prime the woodwork with dewaxed shellac. Zinsser’s Seal Coat is a dewaxed shellac. This coat will serve as a “primer” for the wiping stain. Allow this to dry.

Applying the Oil Based Wiping Stain

My strong preference for a wiping stain is Old Master’s Wiping Stain. This stain will have lots of “open time” and has very good adhesion. You will apply the wiping stain with a brush (a rag won’t work for this type of application). I like the white china bristle brushes for this because they are softer. Apply the stain in the direction of the woodgrain being careful to observe the joints. Do a clean job at the joints, staying with the woodgrain direction. Rebrush the length of the stain with a dry white china bristle brush to soften and even out the staining as needed.


You will need to let the stain dry for about 48 hours before you can varnish it. I would seal the surface with one coat of shellac (dewaxed only – Seal Coat), before varnishing or using polyurethane, this will prevent the varnish or urethane from re-wetting or lifting the stain which will still be a bit sensitive to mineral spirits at this point.


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