Procedure Of Painting Over Varnished Wood – (Can You Do So?)

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The varnish is excellent as it ensures durability & gives a shiny look to the furniture. Though most people love their furniture to be varnished, some may think otherwise. If you have already got a piece of varnished furniture & wants to paint over it, this article is for you.

You may have purchased varnished furniture recently & want to paint it according to your personal preferences. Now the question arises can you paint over varnished wood? The answer is yes, you can. Follow this article to have proper guidelines for painting over varnished wood.

Can You Paint Over Varnished Wood?

Short answer – yes, you can paint over varnished wood. But, the procedure isn’t the same as painting over bare wood/wooden surfaces. To make it simple to understand, you’ve to remove the varnish before starting painting. Follow this article to know precisely how you should paint over varnished wood. 

How Do You Paint Over Varnished Wood?

You’ve to do some thorough inspection before you can decide the proper procedure of painting over varnished wood. For example, damaged furniture requires more care before you can start painting. I’ll be explaining these steps in-depth in the coming steps by steps guide. 

Things You’ll Need To Get Started

Painting over varnished wood will feel way more manageable if you’re well prepared. Make sure you’ve all of these products listed below before you proceed to paint. 

  • Lint-Free Cloth      
  • Household Cleaner Or Detergent
  • Medium To Fine-Grit Sandpaper
  • Oil-Based Primer
  • Oil-Based Paint
  • A Roller, Brush, or Paint Sprayer
  • Wood Filler

How To Paint Over Varnished Wood: A Complete 6 Steps Guide

Now that you’ve all of the required products, it’s time to paint! Let me warn you about something – it won’t be an easy task. Unless you’re a DIY- enthusiast, I don’t recommend doing this job without an expert’s navigation. If you’re still interested in painting over varnished wood, follow the steps below & you’ll do everything correctly. 

Step 1: Clean The Varnished Wood Surface

Cleaning is essential as it removes unwanted dust & chemicals from the wooden furniture/wooden surface. Do go too extreme with the cleaning process. Just wipe the surface area with a lint-free cloth & household cleaner or detergent.  

Keep in mind; the varnish isn’t waterproof, so try to make the cleaning duration minimum. Also, make sure to dry for some minutes before hop onto the second step, which is more critical.  

Step 2: Use The Wood Filler (If Needed)

If you’re working with heavy traffic furniture, that furniture may be damaged to some extent. However, please don’t leave them unchecked while painting. If you do so, you won’t be able to give a decent look to your newly painted furniture. Use the wood filler to fill cracks & damages to the surface area. Also, clean the rotten wood & fill that wood chunk with the wood filler. 

Step 3: Sand The Varnished Wood

Now it’s time for sanding. As I stated above, you’ve to peel off the varnish from the wood surface completely. Why? Because paint doesn’t adhere appropriately with varnish. It may sound complicated to sand & it is difficult. 

You can use mid-grit sandpaper to sand varnish. It will be both time-consuming and high labor work. Try using liquid sandpaper if you’re in a hurry. Make sure your wooden furniture is undamaged before using liquid sandpaper to remove the varnish. 

Step 4: Apply Oil-Based Primer

After the cleaning & varnish removal process is completed, it’s time to add some elements to help the paint adhere more durably. Prime the bare wood with an oil-based primer. Use the brush to apply oil-based primer onto the wood surface & let it dry overnight. 

Step 5: Mildly Sand The Primed Wood

Just after the primed wood dried completely, use a medium to fine-grit sandpaper to mildly sand the primed wood. It will help to achieve a smoother surface for the paint to stick for a more extended period.

Step 6: Apply Your Desired Paint  

After properly priming & sanding the wood surface, it should be ready for painting. Oil-based paint fits best with an oil-based primer. As I’ve recommended oil-based before, I would recommend using any oil-based paint for the best result. 

What Kind of Paint Should You Use?

You can use both water-based paint or oil-based paint based on your personal preferences. However, you have to use a water-based primer if you want to use water-based paint. Also, oil-based paint sticks best with an oil-based primer. 

Even though you’ve already used an oil-based primer, you can use quality acrylic paint onto it. But my recommendation will be with the same type of primer & paint for utmost performance.

Precautions While Painting Over Varnished Wood

You’ve to keep yourself safe while doing these types of extreme professional tasks as a Do-It-Yourself project. Follow these precautions below while painting over varnished wood: 

  • Safety First; Use Mask While Sanding & Painting     
  • Get A Safer & Well-Ventilated Workplace     
  • Follow Manufacturers Guideline For Safer Working Experience

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can You Paint Over Varnished Wood Without Sanding?

Yes, you can paint over varnished wood without sanding. You have to use deglosser, also known as liquid sandpaper, to remove the wood’s varnish layer. However, deglosser only works best if the surface condition is 100% fine without any damages. 

Can You Paint Straight Onto Varnished Wood?

No, you can’t & shouldn’t paint straight onto varnished wood. It won’t be beneficial to you & the wood surface. Varnish doesn’t allow the paint to adhere correctly. For this reason alone, you’ve to eradicate the varnish to paint over the wooden surface. 


I hope this article has fulfilled your queries regarding painting over varnished wood. This task might seem overwhelming to some of you & it’s a tough job to do. If you’re new to DIY stuff, I don’t recommend you do this without an expert’s navigation. 

However, if you still want to do it – follow the precautions thoroughly. Don’t perform the sanding & painting task in an isolated place because those elements are highly flammable. With that said, seek any expert advice if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

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