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Can you re-stain over varathane?

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I built a bed a few years ago then stained and varathaned it. Now my daughter wants to use it in her apartment but she wants me to re-stain with a darker stain. My problem is that I don't know if I can just stain over the existing varathane or will I need to re-prep the whole thing. If I can't re-stain over the varathane, how do I get the varathane off?

The way stains work is by pigment transfer. What this means is that the pigment in the stain (the colour) is mixed up in a carrier (the liquid) and as it is applied to the wood these pigments lodge into the pores and fibers of the wood. After the carrier evaporates the pigment is left behind, colouring the wood.

Because your bed has had the wood sealed, there is nothing for the pigment to stick to, so simply going over the existing finish isn’t an option. You do have a couple of ways you could go however:

1. Strip the existing finishes (I’d recommend a quality chemical stripper), finish sand the piece and re-apply the stain of your choice, then topcoat again. Or:

2. If you have spray equipment, you can order tinted topcoats from most professional paint and finishing stores. Because the colour is right in the topcoat, the more coats you apply, the darker the colour becomes. If possible, bring a sample of the colour you have, as well as the can of the topcoat you used with you into the store. They can then ensure the new topcoat and the old will be compatible.

Good luck with the refinish!

Ryan Shervill

Ryan Shervill is a field editor and contributor to Outdoor Canada, as well as an avid hunter and shooter. He is also Canadian Home Workshop’s online Ask a Pro and contributing editor.

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