Should You Oil Wood Before Staining Or Varnishing?

Working with woodwork is a delicate process. There are factors you need to know beforehand to ensure the project comes out in top shape. After all, you want your hard work to look good after you finish, right? So, that begs the question, should you oil wood before staining or varnishing? If that is what you are wondering, you're in the right place! 

If you want to avoid uneven blotches in your woodwork, it is essential to prepare the wood beforehand. Regarding oiling wood in advance, you should oil wood if you decide to use oil-based stain. This way, you can avoid complications. By complications, we mean mixing substances. For example, if you oil wood beforehand and then use a water-based stain, the stain will have trouble adhering to the oil coating. 

Staining wood is a tricky topic. There is a lot to cover before you get a definite answer to your situation. The reason is that not all circumstances are the same. So, it is essential to familiarize yourself with what finishing your wood entails. If you would like to find out more, keep reading ahead.

A woman using a paintbrush to paint with varnish on a pine chair or table, Should You Oil Wood Before Staining Or Varnishing?

Pre-applications To Wood

So, as we mentioned earlier, you should oil wood if you are using an oil-based stain. Why is that? First, let's address why you would need to oil wood in the first place. 

Oiling wood is a protective, decorative, and water-repellent substance. You oil wood to make it a pleasing sight to see. Additionally, it makes the surface water-resistant. It will not allow most substances to penetrate deep into it! 

The molecules in oil are small enough to seep into the wood. This reason is why it makes a great protectant. Though, it will not hold up for surfaces because it does not apply an adequate surface layer. 

Two Types Of Oils

There are two oils that you will become familiar with regarding wood: drying and non-drying. Drying oils will develop a solid film when it comes in contact with oxygen. Nut oils like tung and boiled linseed are some that you might have heard of. 

Vegetable and mineral ones are the common non-drying oils you will find. As the name implies, non-drying oils will stay wet indefinitely. They are more of a wood treatment rather than a finish.

What To Do?

Click here to see this danish oil on Amazon.

So, if you want to apply a nice finish and a protective resin layer, you should oil your wood with danish oil. Although some consider it as a finish, it is more than its name implies. As some suggest, it is a mixture of oil and varnish. For those who are not familiar with what that means, let's break it down. 

The oil present in the mixture will bring out the potential wood has in regards to looks. Coupled with varnish, it will protect the surface of the wood. Meaning, it will be able to resist heat, scratches, chemicals, and stains. 

Regardless, you will want to stain the wood before applying an oil finish. In general, the process should go: 

  • Apply wood conditioner (for softwood like pine)
  • Then, apply stain
  • Finally, use oil of your choice


Can You Stain Over Oiled Wood? 

What if you do not want to use danish oil? After all, it might not provide the look you want. Additionally, you might want to use a stain to give you the desired look. So, will stain and oil clash when you attempt to mix them? 

Yes, stain has to penetrate deep inside to change the color of the wood. As mentioned above, drying oils like danish oil also dig deep into the wood. They dry and create a protective layer that will not let any moisture in. In essence, this situation means that the stain will not be able to seep into the surface. 

What It Means

Since it can not get through the surface, it will produce uneven blotches. In strictly technical terms, you can apply a stain, and it will alter the color of the wood. But, it will not produce the same results in every area. 


Click here to see this varnish on Amazon.

You might be thinking, what about varnish? Will it have the same difficulties as a stain? No, it is an oil-based solution that will penetrate the wood surface without a problem. If the woodwork was oiled beforehand, the varnish hardens over the older layer. 

What Oils Can You Stain?

Most wood oils on the market have some solution that allows them to harden. Meaning, you will not be able to slap stain over many oils. The only exception is mineral oil. You can stain mineral oil-treated wood if you use an oil-based one. 

Gel Stain

Click here to see this gel stain on Amazon.

If you must use stain, there are variations out there that can help you accomplish your goal. Some users report success using gel stains. The reason being that gel stains do not need to soak into the wood. It works much like paint. They give an appearance of stain because of the see-through color. 

Do You Need To Varnish After Staining?

Carpenter using paintbrush applying paint or varnish on wooden board in carpentry workshop

Staining gives the wood a rich color that is nice to see. However, it does not do much regarding protection. Your woodwork will need a layer that can protect it from moisture and other factors. So, it is a good idea to apply varnish after staining wood. 

The stain does not dry quickly. To avoid an unwanted situation, you should wait 24-48 hours. This timeframe should be enough to allow it to dry completely. For those that want to be more careful, 72 hours should be enough to consider applying varnish. 

Which Is Better Varnish or Stain?

As mentioned above, varnish and stain have two different jobs. Stain colors wood by adding pigments. It makes the wood more pleasing to the eye. However, since it is essentially a color modifier, it does not provide adequate protection. 

So, if the wood gets scratched or spills, it will not retain its color. Additionally, it will be more susceptible to drying out. From here, the question is the type of finish you will need. Varnish is typically for outdoor use. On the other hand, polyurethane is the better option for woodwork like hardwood floors. 

Is It Better To Oil or Varnish Wood?

Applying protective varnish or wood oil on a wooden boards

Since varnish does contain oil, it begs the question, which is better, oil or varnish? Both will need to penetrate the wood. It is easy to see how it can be a difficult choice. Though, each option does have its pros and cons. 

Oil is a better option for antique and exotic hardwood. It does not crack or peel like varnish can. However, this comes at the cost of surface protection. The wood will be more susceptible to scratches and spills. The positive side of this situation is that you can fix these problems quickly. 

By applying oil instead of varnish, you can skip additional steps and begin sanding right away. Additionally, you will only require one coat of oil to get things back up to shape. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Varnish

Unlike oiling and staining, applying varnish to woodwork requires a little more thought. Ideally, you will have to spread varnish with a floor finish applicator. You will have to put extra care into the application process to avoid streaks. It will need multiple coats. And, you need to sand one before you apply another. 

However, the extra work does not come unrewarded. Varnish can typically last up to 10 years before you need to apply a fresh coat. In comparison, you will need to recoat your woodwork with oil every 1-2 years. Additionally, since it stays on the surface, it is durable against impacts and spills. It will save you the headache of worrying about any substances digging or seeping into the wood. 

So, it depends on your needs. Oiling is easy to apply and reapply. Varnishing requires a lot more work. But, it will take years to consider reapplying. 

Can You Apply Stain Over Danish Oil?

Dark stain application on new oak hardwood floor

Danish oil is a mixture of varnish and oil. It penetrates the wood, fills in the pores, and latches onto the grains. So, applying stain over danish oil will not work. A solution to this problem would be to opt for gel stains. They work like paint. 

Otherwise, you will have to sand the wood until you reach the bare surface. Alternatively, you can use a chemical stripper to remove it. The results after will be mixed. 

Final Takeaway

Woodwork requires a lot of considerations. It is essential to find out what works best for your situation. This way, you end up with desired results instead of a blotchy mess. We hope you found the information above helpful. 

Before you go, do you have other wood finish concerns? Are you wondering if you can epoxy a wood floor? We have the answer! For more information, check out our post here

Do you want to know if epoxy soaks into the wood too? For the answer and more, check out our post here. Until next time! 

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